Fish sauce is a popular ingredient made from salted anchovies or other fish that have been fermented for up to 2 years.
Most commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking, fish sauce lends its rich, savory, earthy, and umami flavor to many dishes, including pad thai, pho, green papaya salad, and stir-fries.
Umami — also known as the fifth taste — is a Japanese term that translates to “pleasant savory taste.” The flavor comes from three unami substances commonly found in plant and animal proteins, and fish sauce is rich in them.
However, if you don’t have fish sauce on hand, don’t enjoy its taste, or follow a vegan diet, you may wonder whether there are any alternatives.
Here are 8 tasty substitutes for fish sauce.
1. Soy sauce
Soy sauce, which is made from fermented soybeans, water, salt, and wheat, is an excellent alternative to fish sauce. It’s also suitable for vegans.
Due to the amino acids in soybeans, soy sauce has a rich umami flavor with a hint of sweetness.
You can swap fish sauce for soy sauce at a 1-to-1 ratio, or try mixing other ingredients with soy sauce for extra flavor:
- Minced anchovy. Mix 1 tablespoon (15 mL) soy sauce and 1 minced anchovy fillet.
- Rice vinegar. Use a 1-to-1 ratio of soy sauce and rice vinegar for extra freshness.
- Lime juice. Add 1/2 teaspoon of lime juice to every 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of soy sauce.
Tamari is a type of soy sauce. It’s processed differently than traditional soy sauce using different ingredients. These include water, salt, and miso paste containing soybeans. It may also include a type of brine called moromi, as well as a type of fungus called koji.
Unlike soy sauce, it contains little to no wheat, making it a suitable option for those avoiding gluten — just be sure to read the ingredient label first.
Tamari has a richer, stronger, and less salty umami flavor than soy sauce due to its higher soybean protein content.
You can replace fish sauce with tamari at a 1-to-1 ratio or start with a little less, adding more to the taste.
3. Oyster sauce
Oyster sauce can easily replace fish sauce in most stir-fry recipes, as it has a similar savory flavor.
However, oyster sauce is slightly thicker and would not be a good substitute for dishes that require the thin consistency of a fish sauce. One option is to add a little water to the oyster sauce to make it thinner.
Replace fish sauce with oyster sauce at a 1-to-1 ratio in stir-fries, fried rice, and marinades, but be prepared for it to yield a sweeter flavor.
Some brands contain as much as 4 grams of sugar in each tablespoon (15 mL), while fish sauce doesn’t contain any. Less expensive oyster sauce brands may also contain caramel color, a concerning ingredient with potential carcinogenicity.
4. Vegan fish sauce
If you follow a vegan diet or have a fish allergy, there are many vegan fish sauces available. They’re typically made from shiitake mushrooms, liquid aminos, and soy sauce.
Liquid aminos are free amino acids extracted from either fermented coconut sap or hydrolyzed soybeans that are mixed with water and salt. Mushrooms also contain the amino acids responsible for the umami flavor.
Vegan alternatives can be swapped for fish sauce at a 1-to-1 ratio and can be found online and in most well-stocked grocery stores.
Seaweed is an umbrella term for plants and algae that grow in water.
Seaweed is nutritious and high in the amino acid glutamate, which is rich in umami flavor. As such, it’s commonly added to broths and soups in many Japanese and Korean dishes.
High glutamate types of seaweed include nori and types of kombu, such as rausu, ma, rishiri, hidaka, and naga.
If you’re looking to tone down the umami flavor, opt for wakame seaweed instead of kombu, which has a lower glutamate content.
Both fresh and dried seaweed are good alternatives to fish sauce. Fresh seaweed works best in salads, broths, and sauces, while dried seaweed can be added to most dishes. Follow the instructions on the packet for measurements.
6. Coconut aminos
Coconut aminos, which are derived from fermented coconut sap, are easy to add to most dishes. They’re rich in umami flavor, have a dark color, and are slightly sweeter than soy and fish sauce.
They’re also lower in sodium. Fish sauce contains a wide range of sodium at 320–600 mg per teaspoon (5 mL), while the same amount of coconut aminos contains around 90–130 mg.
Plus, besides being vegan, coconut aminos are soy-, wheat-, and gluten-free. Swap them for fish sauce at a 1-to-1 ratio in most recipes.
7. Worcestershire sauce
Worcestershire sauce is popular in England and surrounding countries for its strong savory flavor. Made of anchovies, molasses, tamarind, vinegar, cloves, onion, and other seasonings, it’s a delicious alternative to fish sauce.
Since both sauces are made using anchovies and fermented for up to 18 months, they have a similar umami flavor. That said, Worcestershire sauce is much lower in sodium at 65 mg per teaspoon (5mL), slightly thicker, and may have a different flavor profile.
Swap fish sauce for Worcestershire sauce at a 1-to-1 ratio.
8. Mushroom and soy sauce broth
If you’re looking to replace fish sauce in soups or broths, consider making a savory mushroom and soy sauce broth.
Add the following ingredients to a medium-sized pot:
- 3–4 cups (710–940 mL) of water
- 1/4–1/2 ounce (7–14 grams) of dried, sliced shiitake mushrooms
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) of regular or reduced-sodium soy sauce
Simmer it for 15 minutes or until the broth has reduced by half, let it sit for another 10 minutes, and then strain the broth into a bowl.
Use it as a 2-to-1 substitute for fish sauce. Store the remaining broth in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 1 week or the freezer for several months.
Fish sauce adds a bold and savory umami flavor to many dishes.
However, if you want to avoid fish sauce or don’t have it on hand, there are many alternatives to choose from.
Most can be swapped out at a 1-to-1 ratio, though the flavor and texture may be slightly different.