When you need fish sauce substitutes, there are so many great tasting alternatives that you can use in a pinch, on a whim, or because you or someone you love has dietary restrictions! Read on to find out all of the best tasting options and exactly how to use them to make your recipe turn out wonderfully!
Fish sauce is a common ingredient used in Asian cooking. While you have probably tasted it in some of your favorite dishes, you may not have known what it was you were tasting.
Moreover, as you set about trying to make your own favorite Asian inspired dishes at home, you may wonder what fish sauce is overall.
What Is Fish Sauce?
Fish sauce is made from small fish like krill that are salted and then left to ferment (usually up to two years). Even though the process of making fish sauce takes some time, it is a very common condiment.
Therefore, you can easily find fish sauce in the grocery store.
Just because you can find it in the grocery store, doesn’t mean you will always have it on hand when needed. In addition, knowing it is made with actual fish may have you rethinking if you want to buy it.
Additionally, if you are just making one recipe you may not want to invest in a bottle of fish sauce.
The Best Substitutes for Fish Sauce
Whether it is a dietary preference, or you simply don’t want to buy fish sauce, I have you covered! Here are ten tasty choices to use as a substitute.
1. Soy Sauce
The easiest substitute for fish sauce is soy sauce. It is a simple ingredient that most people already have in their kitchen. Moreover, it’s a taste that people are already familiar with.
So, while using soy sauce will shift the overall taste of the dish slightly, you will still have a flavor you know and love.
Since soy sauce is another common ingredient used in Asian cooking, it will offer a similar feel to your dish. The biggest thing to consider when using soy sauce as a substitute is that it is quite a bit saltier than fish sauce.
Therefore, you may want to leave out any additional salt that your recipe calls for.
While soy sauce is a vegan friendly option it is not gluten-free. It is also not a good choice for those with soy allergies.
When it comes to an easy substitute though, soy sauce is number one. You can use it in a direct 1:1 substitution for fish sauce in any dish.
If you feel like the taste of soy sauce is too basic for your dish you can easily bump up the flavor by adding chopped up anchovies or rice vinegar. Ratios will vary for these additions, so it is best to start with a small amount and then adjust the flavor as desired.
If you like the idea of a simple and straightforward substitute, but not the idea of gluten, then tamari is a great choice. Known as the soy sauce of Japan, tamari is both gluten-free and vegan friendly.
Tamari is made with soybeans like traditional soy sauce. However, the base for tamari is from miso paste. This concentrated soybean paste gives tamari a much richer flavor than soy sauce.
Since fish sauce also has a more complex and richer flavor, tamari can be a nice flavor exchange. However, if you feel like the flavor will overpower the dish you can easily dilute it with a bit of water.
If you want to dilute the tamari, use a 50/50 split of tamari and water to replace 1 measurement of fish sauce (¼ cup of tamari + ¼ cup of water = ½ cup of fish sauce). If you don’t want to dilute the tamari, then you can use it in an easy 1:1 exchange for fish sauce.
3. Liquid Aminos
On the other end of richness, liquid aminos are a milder tasting option. Liquid aminos are made from soybeans that are mixed with water during the refinement process. Therefore, they resemble the earthiness of soy sauce, but are much milder.
Their similar flavor to soy sauce makes them a good substitute for fish sauce. They are especially great if you want to increase the nutritional value of your dish. Liquid aminos contain around 16 essential and non-essential amino acids that offer several health benefits.
While not soy free, amino acids are another good option for those who want a gluten-free and vegan friendly substitution. They can be used in a 1:1 exchange in any recipe.
4. Coconut Aminos
For the easy substitute that meets the holy trifecta of vegan friendly, gluten-free, and soy free, coconut aminos are your best bet. Made from coconut sap, coconut aminos are a rich brown sauce that looks like fish sauce (and soy sauce and tamari).
Unlike fish sauce though, coconut aminos are sweeter. Therefore, if used as a substitute you will probably want to add some extra salt or seasoning. While it won’t be an exact match for fish sauce, you will still get a wonderful rich flavor that resembles the umami of the fish sauce.
Use coconut aminos in an easy 1:1 substitution for any recipe.
5. Vegan Fish Sauce
If your main goal is a vegan friendly sauce with a similar taste, then a vegan fish sauce is your best bet. There are several great brands on the market these days. You may need to do some searching at specialty food stores or online though, depending on where you live.
Once you find a brand you like, stock up and use it for any recipe that calls for fish. It is an easy 1:1 substitution for any recipe.
If finding a vegan friendly substitution is not necessary, then consider using a wonderful sauce from across the pond. Popularly used for adding a rich complex flavor to meat dishes, this sauce that hails from England is a great substitute for fish sauce.
Why? Because it is made with fish! Like fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce is made from fermenting small fish (usually anchovies). However, Worcestershire sauce is made with several other ingredients such as molasses, onions, garlic, and other seasonings.
This results in its own distinct flavor. Consider this flavor profile suitability and whether or not it will best match your recipe.
While Worcestershire has its own distinct flavor, it offers a complex flavor profile that is missing in many other substitutes for fish sauce. Therefore, it is a wonderful choice for a close flavor exchange.
Use this in a 1:1 substitution.
7. Oyster Sauce
Oyster sauce is another popular sauce used in Asian cooking. It is made from fermenting oysters over time. This provides a final flavor profile that has a similar salty umami flavor to fish sauce.
However, while there are some similarities in taste, there are also some differences to consider. The final flavor of oyster sauce heavier and richer than fish sauce. Therefore, it will shift the overall taste of your dish. In addition, oyster sauce is thicker than fish sauce.
Due to its thickness, oyster sauce works best as a substitute for fish sauce in stir fry dishes. It is also a great choice for a dipping sauce or for Asian barbecue. If you want a consistency that is closer to fish sauce for other recipes, you can dilute the oyster sauce.
Simply add a little bit of water until you reach the desired consistency. This is also a good choice for softening the flavor.
Whether diluted or used straight from the bottle, oyster sauce can be used in a 1:1 exchange for fish sauce (if diluting the sauce, dilute it first and then measure it in a 1:1 ratio).
Seaweed is a substitute that you may not think of initially. If you are looking for a substitute that offers the same fishy taste though, it is a great choice. Especially for vegans.
Even though seaweed is a great substitute for flavor, it does take a bit of taste testing to get the right flavor. Since both fresh and dried seaweed are not in a sauce form it cannot be used in simple 1:1 exchange. Therefore, you will need to slowly add it and taste as you go.
Seaweed is a great substitute for sauces or soups. The seaweed will dissolve easier in these dishes, and you can adjust the flavor as needed. In addition, seaweed also works well in certain salads.
9. Hoisin Sauce
If you cook Asian cuisine regularly you may have this in your kitchen. That will make this an incredibly easy swap for fish sauce.
Like soy sauce, Hoisin works well as a substitute because it offers a familiar flavor found Asian cooking. This is due to its base being made from fermented soybeans. In addition, hoisin sauce has several other flavors added to it.
These added flavors provide a more complex flavor profile than just using soy sauce as a substitute. In certain dishes this will work well to replace the complexity of the fish sauce. It is best to taste the hoisin sauce first though and make sure it will complement the other flavors of your dish.
One other thing to consider is the consistency of hoisin sauce. Commonly referred to as an Asian barbecue sauce it is thicker than fish sauce. Therefore, it will work best as a glaze or in stir fry dishes. It is also a great dipping sauce.
Use hoisin sauce in a 1:1 substitution for fish sauce in certain recipes.
10. Broth (Mushroom, Fish, Beef)
Broths are good substitutes in a pinch. They can provide the saltiness found in fish sauce, as well as their main flavor.
The most difficult thing with using broth is getting a strong enough flavor. Broths do not have a concentrated flavor; therefore, you will need to use double the amount to get a strong enough flavor.
However, in many recipes the added liquid will shift the overall consistency of the dish too much.
The best dishes to use broth in as a substitute are soups and sauces.
What broth you use will be up to your preference of taste and what you have on hand. Mushroom broth is a great choice for a vegan friendly dish. Beef broth is a common one to have on hand and can work in certain dishes (determine if the other flavors will pair well with the beef).
In addition, you can find fish broth in some stores (or make your own by boiling fish bones in water).
Pick Your Favorite Fish Sauce Substitutes!
Once you have considered which fish sauce substitute will likely pair best with your recipe, go with your favorite flavors and get cooking!