fish sauce substitute

8 Best Fish Sauce Substitutes for Your Favorite Asian Dishes

When cooking your favorite Vietnamese cuisine, Chinese, Thai dish, or many Southeast Asian cuisine, you’ll probably need some fish sauce – a staple seasoning in Southeast Asian cooking. The liquid condiment is known for its punchy taste and aroma, bringing umami and a savory flavor to your blend of ingredients.

If you’re vegan or have a seafood allergy, you don’t need to forego your favorite Asian dishes since there are numerous substitutes you can use to pack a similar salty umami flavor. Here are the best substitutes for fish sauce when you’re in a pinch.

What is Fish Sauce?

The condiment has a thin and clear liquid consistency with a red-brown color. Although Vietnamese fish sauce generally has a lighter flavor than Thai fish sauce, they’re used and made in a similar way.

It is made from salted and fermented fish or krill which gives it its potent fishy aroma. The type of fish used may depend on the region in which it is produced. Its high salt content makes it suitable mostly for savory cooking and even though it has a strong smell, it won’t necessarily make your dish taste like fish when added in the correct quantity. It is used in dipping sauce, marinades, soups, stews, dressings, green papaya salad, curries, stir fry, and rice dishes.

Best Replacement for Fish Sauce

#1. Soy Sauce

This dark brown sauce is largely known for its use in Chinese cuisine but with its versatility, it has become popular worldwide in fusion cooking.

As its name suggests, soy sauce is made from soybeans. The beans are soaked and cooked, after which fermentation takes place with the addition of other ingredients including wheat and salt. After being pressed and strained the dark salty liquid is pasteurized and bottled.

Two important health factors to keep in mind when choosing soy sauce as your alternative are that it is not suitable for people with severe wheat or gluten allergies and that it has an extremely high salt content. You can however opt for a low-sodium variety.

Best used in: Pad Thai, Stir-fries, marinades, seafood, broth, sauces, poultry, rice dishes, dipping sauces, and beef.

Substitute quantity: Replace in equal measures

Related: What can be used as a substitute for soy sauce?

Soy Sauce Variations:

If you want to add some variation, tang, or a slight fish flavor that you feel may be lacking with regular soy, try one of these variations to up the umami and the acidity.

Soy Sauce and Anchovy

Some versions of fish sauce are made with anchovies, so adding this can offer a more authentic flavor. The great thing here is that you can control how fishy your dish tastes by adding the amount of anchovy desired. Mash one anchovy filet with 1 tablespoon of soy to replace 1 tablespoon of fish sauce.

Soy and Rice vinegar

To kick up the acidity, substitute an equal quantity of soy than required in your recipe and add a few drops of rice vinegar for freshness. Start with a small amount of vinegar and add to taste since it can quickly overpower other flavors and become unpleasant. This is ideal when you’re going with a sweet and salty sauce, dressing, or dipping condiment.

Soy and Lime Juice

Lime juice is another great way to add a little acidity and freshness and can be slightly less pungent than vinegar depending on the variety you are using. Add half a teaspoon of lime juice to one tablespoon of soy when used as a replacement.

#2. Tamari

Some manufacturers don’t include wheat in the production of tamari, so check the label if you are wheat intolerant since this may be a suitable option for you. It is also vegan-friendly. Made with miso paste which contains soybeans, it is similar to soy sauce but the production process is slightly different. This results in a less salty but stronger, rich flavor.

Best used in: Stir-fry, marinades, seafood, broth, sauces, poultry, rice dishes, and beef

Substitute quantity: Replace in equal measures.

See more: Tamari sauce alternative

#3. Oyster Sauce

Although originally made by simmering oysters, modern and commercial varieties of oyster sauce are made from oyster extracts. It also contains sugar, salt, and cornstarch with some brands including caramel coloring for a more authentic brown caramelized color and syrupy consistency.

It does not taste exactly like fish sauce, nor does it taste fishy. It is, however, used in similar applications, especially in stir fry where the two ingredients are commonly combined in the dish. Keep in mind that since it contains oyster extracts it is not suitable for people with shellfish allergies or vegans. There are, however, vegan varieties.

Fish sauce does not contain any sugar whereas oyster sauce has a high sugar content, yielding a sweet and salty flavor with a much thicker consistency. This is best used as a replacement in dishes where the thicker consistency and extra sweetness won’t be a problem.

Best used in: Stir-fry, marinades, and fried rice dishes

Substitute quantity: Replace in equal measures

Related: Oyster sauce replacement

#4. Nori or Kombu

Seaweed used in cooking is diverse and comes in many different types including fresh and dry versions, nori, wakame seaweed, naga, rishiri, and hidaka (of which the latter are 3 different types of kombu). These nutritious plants that are grown in water are mostly used in Korean and Japanese broths and soups.

Depending on the variety you use the flavor can be quite strong. Opt for wakame seaweed if you are looking for lighter flavor intensity.

Fresh seaweed is best used in: Salads, broth, and sauces

Dry seaweed is best used in: Almost any application where a replacement is needed. It can either be soaked in water to release the flavor for broth and sauces or ground to use as a sprinkle.

Substitute quantity: Check the packet instructions for the quantity recommended as this may differ according to the product you use.

#5. Worcestershire Sauce

Also made from anchovies, this condiment has a darker color, lower salt content, but similar flavor undertones that can replace fish sauce. It typically includes vinegar, molasses, tamarind extract, garlic, cloves, onion, and seasonings. It does not have a fish taste but does have a punchy pop of vinegar and spices.

Best used in: Marinades, soups, stews, and broth

Substitute quantity: Replace in equal measures

Related: Alternative to worcestershire sauce

#6. Coconut Aminos

Made from fermented coconut sap, coconut aminos are a great substitute for fish sauce for people with wheat, soy, or gluten allergies. In addition, it’s also vegan. It will bring umami notes to your dish and has the same color as soy. Keep in mind that it is also slightly sweeter. Since many Asian dishes have a slightly sweet-salty flavor profile, this should not be a problem.

If you are trying to reduce your salt intake, coconut aminos are a preferred option.

Best used in: Any recipe that requires a replacement

Substitute quantity: Replace in equal measures

Related: Substitute for coconut aminos

#7. Vegan Fish Sauce

The vegan fish sauce version is made from shiitake mushrooms, liquid aminos or soy, and sometimes seaweed. The broth is simmered and reduced to a concentrated salty and deep umami flavor, largely contributed by the mushrooms.

Best used in: Any recipe that requires a vegan alternative

Substitute quantity: Replace measure for measure

#8. Mushroom and Soy Broth

By simmering ½ ounce dried sliced shiitake mushrooms and 3 tablespoons of low-sodium soy in 3 to 4 cups of water, you can make your own condiment ideal for broths, soups, and stews.

Simmer the ingredients for 15 minutes or until reduced by half. Let it sit for another 10 minutes to release more flavor and then strain the broth. Once cooled it can be refrigerated for a week, or frozen for a few months. A great idea is freezing the cooled liquid in ice cubes so you can simply pop two ice cubes into your dish when cooking.

Best used in: Any recipe that requires a replacement

Substitute quantity: Use twice the amount of broth as a replacement


FAQs

Conclusion

With its punchy flavor and unique umami notes, fish sauce brings a great depth of flavor to a host of Asian dishes. If you don’t have any, or can’t eat it due to allergies, there are alternatives to fish sauce that will add similar flavor undertones. Most alternatives can be replaced in equal quantities.

Keep in mind that these ingredients have a pretty strong taste so when in doubt, start with a small amount and add more to taste until you get the perfect combination in your dish.

*image by Muk_Photo/depositphotos

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