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Panda Express Orange Sauce

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Last night, our kitchen magically morphed into healthy Panda Express:

You will want to put this sauce over everything. It's one of the most addictive recipes I've ever made...  if you try it, you will totally understand why people are obsessed with this sauce! Recipe here:

I remember the exact day Panda Express showed up at our local shopping mall. I was in 7th grade—the age where girls ditch their parents, get glammed up in more makeup than kabuki performers, and hang out at the mall every single weekend, feeling incredibly cool and grown up.

After Panda Express moved in, you suddenly couldn’t set foot in the building without being hit by the addictive aroma of their orange sesame sauce. It called to us as we perused the displays of glitter eyeliner at Sephora. (Why did I ever think sparkly neon green eyeliner was a good look for me?) It beckoned to us while we debated the pink pleather pants from Wet Seal. (Sadly, I did end up buying a pair.) And then, as we purchased our much-too-short shorts at Abercrombie and Fitch, the orange sesame aroma practically screamed to us. (Perhaps it was simply trying to be heard over A&F’s ridiculously-loud music.)

Finally, we’d give in to temptation, devouring every sweet orange bite.

chocolate covered katie

Last night we thought it’d be fun to make a Panda-inspired dinner, complete with chopsticks and Chinese takeout containers from Michaels. At first I thought to make tofu. But… cauliflower just seemed way more fun! For the cauliflower, I used: this cauliflower recipe.

(If you’d prefer, you can make “popcorn cauliflower” by combining 1/2 cup any type of flour with 1/2 cup water, dipping cauliflower florets into this mixture, baking 20 minutes at 425F, then pouring the sauce on top and baking another few minutes.)

orange cauliflower

To recreate Panda Express’s “secret” sauce, I first looked at the ingredients in their bottled sauce and many copycat recipes online. Then I gathered some basic ingredients common in all of the recipes (vinegar, garlic, ginger…) and played around with the proportions until the sauce tasted just as good as better than the one from Panda Express. What follows is some really, really good sauce.

You’ll want to put it on everything!

vegan chinese

Homemade Panda Express Orange Sauce

  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth (120g)
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot (30g)
  • 3-4 tbsp orange marmalade (45-60g)
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic (30g)
  • 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
  • 2 tbsp plus 2 tsp rice vinegar (45g)
  • 2 stevia packets, or 2 tbsp sugar (Liquid sweetener will work if you’d prefer; just use a bit more cornstarch for thickening.)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce (or gluten-free soy sauce) (30g)
  • optional: 1 tsp sesame oil
  • optional: green onions for garnish, crushed red chilis for a spicy variation

Whisk broth and cornstarch or arrowroot until dissolved. Now turn on the heat to low-medium and add all other ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once it’s thickened, remove from heat. Makes 300g (about 1 1/4 cup). Serve over whatever you wish: rice, veggies, soba, tofu, etc. As noted above, here are the directions if you wish to make chicken-style cauliflower (it works with tofu as well): combine 1/2 cup any type of flour with 1/2 cup water, dip florets of one head cauliflower into this mixture, bake 20 minutes at 425F, then pour the sauce on top and bake another few minutes.

View Orange Sauce Nutrition Facts


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Katie is the baker, photographer, and author of the popular blog Chocolate-Covered Katie. Her favorite food is chocolate, and she believes in eating a balanced diet that includes dessert every single day. More about Katie—> 
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  1. KK says:

    Yay 1st comment!
    Just wanted 2 say I like ur website!

  2. Lori says:

    This looks awesome. Can’t wait to try it.

  3. I love this recipe and my daughter is a die-hard Panda Express fan! I’ll have to surprise her with this for dinner. I’m really not much on Chinese, but this looks delish! Btw….I’m so with you on the ridiculously loud music at AF.

  4. Hi Katie –

    Your advice, please. I have a soy allergy, discovered it about 2-3 years ago. I REALLY miss soy sauce. Never liked tofu, though, so no big loss there. But… sushi dipped in soy sauce!!!…. OK, I’m going to stop torturing myself and get to the point.

    What, in your opinion, is the best substitute for soy sauce, flavor wise? I’ve looked around but never found any good answers. There are a lot of great recipes out there that call for soy sauce and I haven’t really had the time to experiment and try out different substitutions.

    My family has suffered on my behalf – no chinese food for years, unless momma’s gone, then the guys play (and eat)! 🙂 So it’d be nice to do this recipe (orange chicken has been all of ours’ fave at Panda Express too until we started eating healthy!!)….

    Thanks in advance. If you don’t know the answer – hey, maybe another challenge for you to tackle and blog about! 🙂

    1. I’ve heard that a lot of people substitute coconut aminos for soy sauce in the paleo community. I don’t know too much about it personally, but it might be with a try! Plus its a much healthier substitute!

      1. Interesting!! I’ll check that out. Thanks for the tip.

        1. Robin says:

          I know this is super late, and you’ve probably already come up with a soy-free sub, but for any future reference, Chloe Coscarelli has a recipe for soy-free soy sauce. You can google it. It’s pretty easy to make and has relatively few ingredients. It won’t taste exactly like soy sauce, but I’ve used it successfully in recipes calling for soy sauce.

    2. I don’t know if you’ve tried Braggs Liquid Aminos but it works as a substitute. although it’s much stronger in flavor so you would want to use less.

      1. Bragg’s actually has soy. It’s for people who can’t handle the gluten in soy. It’s a soy protein extract.

        I did think, maybe I’m OK with the soy protein, tried it and I got sooooo SICK. It seemed like it was ultra concentrate of what it is in soy I can’t handle, or something. Boo.

      2. Hilary says:

        I have used Braggls Liquid Aminos and it takes just like soy sauce in my opinion. And you can find it in most health food stores and it’s not too expensive!

    3. Adam says:

      Elise, definitely look for the coconut aminos that Kara suggested..

      It’s made by Coconut Secret, they make all kinds of coconut products, and it’s definitely the closest thing you’ll find to soy sauce that’s soy-free.. you can find it at Whole Foods Market

    4. I’ve never tried coconut aminos, but I’ve also heard of this. I think it is supposed to have less sodium, as well.

      I’m not certain, but I think that Bragg’s liquid aminos is also soy free. I’ve found that it tastes really similar to soy sauce.

      Good luck!

    5. Amanda says:

      Oh, I feel you on having to give up soy sauce. I had to give it up temporarily last year when I was put on a special diet, and scoured the internet for reasonable alternatives. Coconut aminos is definitely close, close enough to count (especially if you want to dip sushi in it), but it can be expensive if you use recipes that require a lot of it. I once made this recipe, and it turned out close enough for recipes that required a lot of soy sauce:

      I’m not sure I would dip sushi in it, but it lends a close enough flavor in sauces. The only issue with that particular recipe is that it’s not vegan. I never tried it with vegetable broth, so I’m not sure if it would turn out.

    6. jenny says:

      I found and now use this Soy-free Soy Sauce in the cookbook, Chloe’s Kitchen–it turns out great!
      1 c vegetable broth
      1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
      2 TBSP molasses
      2 tsp sea salt
      pinch ground ginger
      pinch garlic powder

      Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, whisk til combined. Bring to boil, whisking frequently..Reduce to medium heat and let boil for 5 min.

    7. Laura says:

      Try South River Company’s Adzuki bean tamari — it is soy free. 🙂

    8. Jenna Weiner says:

      Bragg Liquid Aminos = amazing. I don’t miss soy sauce at all. You can find it at Fred Meyer in the natural foods section (and a bunch of other stores too). You’ll have to check and see if it reacts with your sensitivity, but here’s their FAQ:

    9. nicole says:

      Do you have to use rice vinegar for this recipe? Could I use regular vinegar instead?

  5. Katia says:

    Definitely need to try the dipped cauliflower and tofu. I love how easy your recipes are; I’ve never had one fail unless I was impatient. My favorite dish used to be the Hot Spicy Chicken Ding, but I bet I could request it with tofu or make it at home now that I’m going vegan. Vegetable lo mein my go to when I crave noodles.

  6. amanda says:


  7. I love this recipe! My husband loves chinese food, but we don’t eat it because it is so unhealthy! next time he gets the craving, i’m coming here!

  8. Basil says:

    That’s a great idea to dip the cauliflower in flour (no pun intended) and bake it. Healthy! The sauce looks great – I love mock-takeout food!

  9. I love Chinese food! My favorite dish is sweet ‘n’ sour chicken or spring rolls or General Tso’s chicken. I’ve never tried cauliflower as a chicken replacement before, but it’s a really good idea.

  10. Kari says:

    Looks amaaazing! I don’t have a recipe like this yet – and the idea about popcorn cauliflower is awesome!

  11. Adele says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I had orange chicken every day when I was in Texas a few years ago and have been missing it so much since I became a vegan (good thing we don’t have Panda Express in Norway). I tried to make a version with tofu, but it just didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. The sauce was too watery and I forgot to coat the tofu. But now. NOW. My dreams have been answered. Again, thank you so much for posting fantastic recipes and just being your awesome self. I love the way you write. So much charm and personality.

  12. karen says:

    Thanks…my family loves chinese but the youngest has egg and nut allergy so chinese resturants are out. For those that are not vegan…could you use the flour coating for the cauliflower on chicken? My kids eat pretty healthy but subbing cauliflower might be a big shock to them 🙂 I can’t seem to find a chicken coating without egg. Thank you for this site by the way…it is wonderful. I love how you have single serving and small quantity recipes.

    1. May I suggest using the Indian style of “breading” – they mix chickpea flour, rice flour (with some turmeric powder added in, can always change to a more chinese flavored herb), with some water. It’s really sticky, no need for egg. But I don’t know how well it would bake, I always fry it. Could try, though. If you like that, I can share the recipe for the breading dip.

      1. Liz says:

        I’d love the recipe!

        1. I started typing the recipe, then I remembered it’s on Google Books – here’s the link that goes directly to the right page. Scroll down to the “For the Batter” part:

          Note the part of instructions that say to GRADUALLY add water until the texture is right. One time I forgot and dumped all the water in, it was too watery. Still tasted great, the breading was just a little thin.


          1. karen says:


  13. Sarah says:

    Oh my goodness… I used to love going to Panda Express too. Thank you so much for a healthy copycat version. I’m making this tonight!

  14. Ann_Joyce says:

    Thank you!!!! I actually have a bottle of their Orange sauce & I love it, but rarely eat it because I know it isn’t good for me. This sounds just as tasty while being much healthier!

  15. I usually prefer Thai over Chinese food but this sauce sounds really good!

  16. Liz says:

    I love when you post savory recipes! Your chili and stroganoff are staples in our home, and this one will surely have to be made this week. I used to LOVE Panda Express before going vegetarian!

  17. Emily says:

    This looks great! I use a similar recipe, combining orange juice, corn starch, and honey (I don’t really use measurements). It’s not completely vegan but I’m sure a bit of agave would act similarly!

  18. Elleana says:

    sweet! panda express was my all time favorite. maybe some honey walnut shrimp makeover now? 😉

    I love your website and all of your recipes by the way, it is my goal to one day try to make every single one! haha

  19. lil deli says:

    This is amazing. You have the best ideas!

  20. moonsword says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this…it looks superyumful and I can think of oodles of uses for it. Burgers and tofu and maybe savory pancake toppings I think. 🙂
    My favorite Chinese food as a kid was always eggrolls…their crispy-crunchy-slightly greasy exteriors bursting with steamy flavorful fillings with every bite. And dipped in sauces, sometimes sweet and sometimes way too hot but always an adventure! I’ve yet to try a vegan “egg”roll that didn’t make me smile…still love ’em!

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