5 Amazing Fish Sauce Substitutes

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Fish sauce is a popular ingredient around the world, particularly in Thai cuisine. It provides a strong umami flavor to dishes with its salty, sour notes. It is made by fermenting fish and shellfish and can be found in most grocery stores as per research by K. Lopetcharat from the Oregon State University. There are many reasons a person might need a fish sauce substitute in a recipe, such as food allergies, dietary restrictions, vegetarianism, or veganism. The taste of fish sauce, however, is very unique, and usually pivotal to recipes.

Fish Sauce Substitute

Familiarizing yourself with good fish sauce substitutes is a good move if you often find yourself cooking Asian cuisine. The best fish sauce substitutes include soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, shiitake mushrooms, white soy sauce and more!

Soy Sauce

Most recipes will not call for more than a tablespoon of fish sauce since it is strong in flavor. A tablespoon of soy sauce, with pureed anchovy filet, will serve in a pinch to provide the salty punch and slightly fishy umami, but soy sauce by itself lacks the earthiness of real fish sauce. Additionally, a squeeze of lime juice will help replace the sour flavors. It’s important to remember that substitutions do not necessarily go both ways. While soy sauce can be used in place of fish sauce, you should not use fish sauce in place of soy sauce.

A close-up image of soy sauce in a bowl

Adding a dash of soy sauce to your salads will help to bring a tangy flavor. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Worcestershire Sauce

A few drops will suffice since Worcestershire sauce is very strong. This popular condiment is made with anchovies and tamarind paste, among other things. The tamarind replaces some of the sourness that fermentation causes in fish sauce. Since there is anchovy in regular Worcestershire sauce, people who have allergies or who are looking for a vegan or vegetarian substitute opt for vegan Worcestershire sauce.

Shiitake Mushrooms

For a regular vegetarian substitution, a broth can be made by simmering shiitake mushrooms, salt, and soy sauce in water to make a broth, then straining. The reduction can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

Oyster Sauce

This can be used as a fish sauce substitute occasionally, depending on the dish. Oyster sauce is thicker and sweeter than fish sauce and will make the dish sweeter. Mixing some soy sauce with oyster sauce is more acceptable.

White Soy Sauce

This product is also known as see ew sauce and is a thinner, lighter condiment. It is brewed with wheat, instead of only soy, and has a more delicate savory flavor that still provides the saltiness of fish sauce.

Whatever substitute you use, be careful to add small amounts and taste your dish as you add it!

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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