Substitutes for Fish Sauce

Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in many Asian cuisines, known for its rich, savory, and umami flavor. However, there are instances when you might find yourself in need of a substitute, whether due to dietary restrictions, personal taste preferences, or simply running out of the ingredient in your pantry. The good news is there are several alternatives that can mimic the taste and depth of fish sauce, making it easier to recreate your favorite dishes without compromising flavor.

Understanding the role fish sauce plays in a dish can help you find the best substitute. Typically made from fermented fish or shrimp and salt, this sauce brings umami – the savory taste – to dishes, balancing out sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors. When looking for an alternative, it’s essential to consider not only the umami aspect but also the saltiness and distinct taste that fish sauce imparts. Luckily, there are various substitutes to choose from, such as soy-based sauces, seaweed-based options, and even some mushroom-based alternatives.

Key Takeaways

  • Fish sauce substitutes can provide the umami and saltiness needed in recipes
  • Soy-based, seaweed-based, and mushroom-based alternatives are available
  • Understanding the role of fish sauce in a dish can help you choose the best substitute
3 Substitutes for Fish Sauce

Understanding Fish Sauce

Fish sauce is a popular ingredient in many cuisines, particularly in Southeast Asia. It is primarily made by fermenting anchovies with salt, providing the sauce with a unique umami and salty flavor. As a result, fish sauce is often used to enhance the taste of various dishes, lending depth and complexity to their flavors.

When you use fish sauce, you’ll notice that its intense flavor comes from the fermentation process, during which the anchovies break down, releasing natural compounds responsible for the umami taste. Umami, often described as a savory or meaty flavor, is considered the fifth basic taste. It contributes to the deliciousness of a dish and is one of the key reasons fish sauce is a staple ingredient in many recipes.

In addition to its umami properties, fish sauce is also known for its saltiness. During the fermentation process, salt is added to the anchovy mixture to draw out moisture and preserve the fish. This imparts a strong salty taste to the sauce, making it an excellent seasoning in various dishes to amplify their flavors.

Bear in mind that fish sauce can vary in flavor, aroma, and quality, depending on the type of fish used, fermentation process, and other factors. When choosing a fish sauce for your recipes, consider trying out a few options to find the one that suits your preferences best.

So, when you encounter a recipe that calls for fish sauce or are simply interested in enhancing the flavor profile of your dishes, remember that fish sauce is an incredibly versatile and flavorful ingredient. By understanding its unique umami and salty qualities, as well as the importance of proper fermentation, you’ll be better equipped to incorporate it into your cooking and to explore potential substitutes when needed.

Why Substitute Fish Sauce

There are various reasons why you might want to substitute fish sauce in your cooking. One common reason is because of dietary restrictions. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, using fish sauce is not an option, as it is made from fermented fish and contains animal products. Opting for a substitute allows you to maintain your dietary principles while still enjoying the flavors of many Asian dishes.

Another reason for substituting fish sauce is due to allergies. Some individuals might be allergic to fish or seafood, making it necessary to find an alternative that provides a similar taste without causing adverse reactions. By using a substitute, you can safely enjoy your meals without compromising your health.

Furthermore, substituting fish sauce is a great idea if you’re looking to reduce your sodium intake. Fish sauce can be quite high in sodium, which can be a concern for those who are monitoring their blood pressure or trying to limit their sodium consumption for other health reasons. Using a lower-sodium alternative allows you to keep the flavor without burdening your health.

In summary, substituting fish sauce with a suitable alternative can help you cater to various dietary needs, allergies, or health concerns. Exploring different substitutes can allow you to broaden your culinary horizons while making sure your meals are enjoyable, flavorful, and safe for everyone at your table.

Soy-Based Substitutes

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is a versatile substitute for fish sauce, as it provides a similar umami flavor. It is made from fermented soybeans and can be used in various dishes to enhance the taste. To maintain a balanced flavor profile, you may need to adjust the saltiness by adding a bit more soy sauce than the recipe originally calls for with fish sauce.

For a vegan option, you can look for a vegan soy sauce, which is made without any animal by-products. However, one note of caution: if you are sensitive to gluten, remember that standard soy sauce often contains wheat.


Tamari is a great alternative to fish sauce, especially for those who follow a gluten-free diet. Tamari is a by-product of the miso-making process and is very similar to soy sauce, yet it contains little to no gluten. It shares the same umami-rich taste as soy sauce but may be slightly less salty.

Using Tamari as a substitute for fish sauce can be as straightforward as replacing the fish sauce with an equal amount of Tamari. You may just need to fine-tune your dish by adjusting the saltiness or diluting with water as needed.

Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce is another soy-based condiment that can serve as a substitute for fish sauce. It is made from fermented soybeans, vinegar, sugar, and various spices. While Hoisin sauce is sweeter and thicker than fish sauce, it still brings a strong umami flavor and works well in stir-fries, marinades, and various Asian dishes.

When substituting Hoisin sauce for fish sauce, keep in mind that you may need to reduce the added sugar in your recipe. Begin by using a smaller amount of Hoisin sauce and adjust as necessary to find the perfect flavor balance for your dish.

Seaweed-Based Substitutes

Seaweed is an excellent option for replacing fish sauce in your recipes, as it provides a similar umami flavor. Different types of seaweed can be used, each imparting their distinct tastes and textures.

Kombu is a type of dried seaweed that is rich in natural glutamates, which contribute to umami flavor. To create a substitute for fish sauce, you can simply soak a piece of kombu in water for a few hours, remove the kombu, and then measure the soaking liquid to use in your recipe. This method will provide a subtle umami taste and is suitable for light recipes.

Another option is to prepare a seaweed broth using a combination of dried seaweed varieties. First, you’ll need to soak the seaweeds (such as kombu, wakame, and nori) in water for at least 30 minutes. Then, bring the mixture to a boil and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes. Afterward, strain the broth and use it as an alternative to fish sauce. The broth will have a more robust umami flavor than the kombu alone.

For a more convenient option, you can try seaweed-based condiments available in the market. Some of these products, like seaweed seasoning powders or prepared seaweed sauces, can be directly incorporated into your dishes in place of fish sauce.

When using any of these seaweed-based substitutes, it’s essential to consider the strong, natural flavors they might add to your dishes. You may need to adjust the amount used and other seasonings to achieve the desired taste.

Mushroom-Based Substitutes

When you’re searching for a fish sauce substitute, mushroom-based alternatives are worth considering. They can provide a rich, umami flavor similar to fish sauce and are an excellent option for vegetarian and vegan diets.

Shiitake Mushroom

One popular option is using shiitake mushrooms. These mushrooms are known for their savory taste and can work wonders in replicating the distinct flavor of fish sauce.

To make a shiitake mushroom substitute, you can use either fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms. However, using dried shiitake mushrooms often boasts a more robust flavor.

Here’s a simple recipe to create a shiitake mushroom fish sauce substitute:

  1. Soak about 1 cup of dried shiitake mushrooms in 2 cups of hot water for 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. After the mushrooms have softened, strain the liquid into a separate container. You now have a flavorful mushroom broth.
  3. For every cup of mushroom broth, mix in 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. This mushroom and soy sauce mixture will provide a similar taste to fish sauce in your dishes.

Remember to adjust the quantities of the ingredients based on your taste preferences as the mixture can be quite salty. With this mushroom-based substitute, you’ll be able to achieve that umami depth that fish sauce adds to dishes, making it a fantastic alternative.

Other Sources of Umami

You might be looking for other ways to replicate the umami flavor that fish sauce offers. Umami, often described as a savory or meaty taste, is a key element in many dishes. It is largely derived from glutamate, an amino acid found naturally in various ingredients. Fortunately, there are many alternative sources of umami that you can explore in your cooking.

Soy sauce is a versatile and popular substitute for fish sauce, as it also contains a high concentration of glutamates. You can use it in equal amounts as a fish sauce replacement, though be mindful of its saltiness, which may vary depending on the brand and fermentation process.

Miso paste is another option, made from fermented soybeans and known for its rich umami flavor. Use it in moderation, as the taste might be quite strong. Smear it on vegetables, whisk it into soups, or use it as a base for sauces and marinades.

Worcestershire sauce is a tangy and savory condiment that can provide the umami kick you need in various recipes. To substitute fish sauce, try using double the amount of Worcestershire sauce, bearing in mind that it has a different flavor profile.

Don’t forget about anchovy paste. While it’s still a fish-based product, it can be used in place of fish sauce. A small amount will be sufficient to impart an umami taste.

For a vegetarian option, consider nutritional yeast. It’s a deactivated yeast packed with glutamates, offering a nutty and umami flavor. It can be sprinkled on various dishes or incorporated in sauces and soups.

In summary, there are choices aplenty for alternative sources of umami to replace fish sauce in your cooking. Whether you opt for soy sauce, miso paste, Worcestershire sauce, anchovy paste, or nutritional yeast, these ingredients can help you achieve a dish with deep, satisfying flavors without relying on fish sauce.

Sweet and Tangy Substitutes

When you need a substitute for fish sauce that captures its sweet and tangy essence, several alternatives can step in to save the day. Experiment with them to find the right balance of flavors for your dish. Below are four options to consider.

Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce is a popular condiment that can be an effective fish sauce substitute. Its combination of sweetness and tanginess matches the flavor profile you’re looking for. To stay as close to fish sauce as possible, you can mix Worcestershire sauce with a touch of molasses. This blend will increase the sweetness and add depth to the sauce without overpowering the dish. Start by using a 1:1 ratio and adjust to your preference.


Another option is tamarind, a fruit known for its sour and tangy flavor. It can be found as a paste, concentrate, or block, all of which provide a unique flavor to replace fish sauce. To make your substitute, mix tamarind paste with a bit of water, and then add soy sauce to create depth. You can fine-tune the sweetness by incorporating sugar or rice vinegar. Remember to start small and taste-test until you achieve the desired balance.


Vinegar can be an excellent base when replicating fish sauce’s tangy characteristics. Opt for rice vinegar for a milder touch, or use white vinegar if you prefer a stronger flavor. To imitate the sweetness of fish sauce, you can blend vinegar together with molasses or sugar. As with other substitutes, start slow and make adjustments according to your palate.

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is another option that imparts a tangy kick to your dish. Combine it with soy sauce to mirror the savory element of fish sauce, then add sweetness with a pinch of sugar. Feel free to make adjustments until you find a blend that mimics the balance you desire in your dish. Remember, the goal is to find a versatile substitute that offers a confident, knowledgeable, neutral, and clear recreation of the fish sauce flavor.

Fish Sauce in Different Cuisines

Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in many Southeast Asian dishes, including Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Filipino cuisine. If you’re looking to add a salty, savory depth to your cooking, this fermented condiment could be a perfect addition.

In Thai cuisine, you’ll find fish sauce in dishes like Pad Thai, where it provides an essential umami flavor. It’s also common in Vietnamese dishes like Pho and is a backbone ingredient in various marinades, stir-fries, and soups throughout Southeast Asia.

Japanese and Chinese cuisine have their own version of fish sauce, and you’ll often see it in dishes featuring stir-fries, broths, and soups. While not identical to the Southeast Asian fish sauce, they offer a similar umami quality to many dishes.

Ancient Romans used a fish sauce called Garum, made from fermented fish and shellfish. This sauce was widely used in their cooking, similar to how fish sauce is used in modern Southeast Asian cuisine. Some English recipes borrow this idea, utilizing ingredients like sardines for a comparable flavor.

If you have dietary restrictions or prefer plant-based ingredients, there are alternatives such as coconut aminos that can be used in place of fish sauce in many recipes. Coconut aminos provide a similar salty flavor profile and can be used in marinades, curry dishes, stir-fries, and soups.

Some dishes that include fish sauce:

  • Pad Thai
  • Pho
  • Curry
  • Stir-fry
  • Soups and broths

Fish sauce provides an essential umami flavor to numerous dishes in various cuisines. Whether you’re exploring Southeast Asian cooking or looking to add a savory depth to your meals, this versatile condiment certainly has a place in your culinary adventures.

Home-Made Fish Sauce Substitutes

Finding a suitable substitute for fish sauce can be a challenge, but you can create home-made alternatives that are both delicious and adaptable to your dietary needs. Here are a few suggestions for creating your own fish sauce substitutes.

For a vegan fish sauce option, try combining liquid aminos with some finely chopped onion and garlic. Liquid aminos is a soy-based product that provides umami flavor similar to that of fish sauce. To make this substitute, simply mix a quarter cup of liquid aminos with two tablespoons of finely diced onion and one clove of minced garlic. Let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together. This vegan alternative can be used as a one-to-one replacement for fish sauce in your recipes.

If you still want the taste of seafood in your fish sauce substitute, consider using minced anchovy or anchovy fillet in place of the fish sauce. To make a substitute using anchovies, blend together:

  • 4 to 5 anchovy fillets
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

Simmer this mixture for 20-30 minutes, then strain the liquid. This liquid can be used as a direct replacement for fish sauce in your recipes.

Another option for a fish sauce substitute that retains seafood flavor is to use shrimp paste as the base. To make this mixture, combine:

  • 1 tablespoon of shrimp paste
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar

Simmer the mixture for 15 minutes before straining the liquid. Like the other substitutes, this can be used as a direct replacement for fish sauce in your recipes.

Experimenting with these home-made fish sauce substitutes will help you find the perfect flavor balance for your dishes, and give you confidence in adjusting recipes to suit your taste preferences or dietary requirements.

Tips for Using Substitutes

When you’re searching for a fish sauce substitute, it’s essential to consider your specific needs and preferences. Here are some tips to help you make the best choice for your dish:

  1. Consider the sodium content: Fish sauce is known for its high salt content, which contributes to its strong flavor. Some substitutes, like soy sauce, can also have high sodium levels. If you’re looking for a low-sodium option, try coconut aminos or a homemade alternative like a blend of vegetable broth and a small amount of sea salt.
  2. Choose a versatile option: Fish sauce is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. To make sure you have a suitable substitute on hand, opt for ingredients like soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce, which can be used across different cuisines.
  3. Think about accessibility: Not all fish sauce alternatives may be readily available at your local grocery store. Choose an option that’s easy to find or make at home. Soy sauce, for example, is a common cooking ingredient that you probably already have in your pantry.
  4. Vegan-friendly alternatives: Some substitutes, like oyster sauce or Worcestershire sauce, may not be suitable for vegans. If you’re looking for a vegan-friendly fish sauce substitute, try options like miso paste or tamari.

Remember that each fish sauce substitute may provide a slightly different flavor profile. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different options until you find the perfect match for your dish. With these tips in mind, you can confidently choose a substitute that meets your needs while maintaining a delicious and flavorful result.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I use as a fish sauce alternative?

You can use soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or a homemade vegetarian fish sauce made with seaweed and soy sauce. These substitutes can provide a similar umami flavor to your dishes without using actual fish sauce. Make sure to adjust the quantity as needed to not overpower the dish.

Is hoisin sauce a good substitute for fish sauce?

Hoisin sauce can be used as a substitute for fish sauce in some dishes. However, it is sweeter and thicker than fish sauce, so you may need to adjust the amount used and possibly add a bit of water or salt to balance the flavors.

What can I use instead of fish sauce in a kimchi recipe?

For a kimchi recipe, you can substitute fish sauce with soy sauce, miso paste, or a mixture of seaweed (such as kelp) and soy sauce for a similar umami flavor. Experiment with the quantities to achieve the desired taste.

Is there a fish sauce replacement for those with fish allergies?

If you have a fish allergy, you can use soy sauce, miso paste, or a homemade seaweed and soy sauce mixture as a fish sauce replacement. These alternatives will provide a similar umami taste, while avoiding any fish ingredients.

Can I use oyster sauce as a substitute?

Oyster sauce can work as a substitute for fish sauce, as it has a similar umami flavor. However, keep in mind that oyster sauce is thicker and less salty, so you may need to adjust the quantity and add a bit of salt to achieve the desired taste.

What are some low-sodium options for fish sauce replacements?

For low-sodium alternatives, consider using low-sodium soy sauce or homemade options like a seaweed and soy sauce mixture, adjusting the amount of salt to fit your dietary needs. Another option is coconut aminos, which have a similar umami flavor but with less sodium content.

3 Substitutes for Fish Sauce

Substitutes for Fish Sauce + Recipe

Homemade Fish Sauce recipe
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Substitute
Cuisine Asian
Servings 4
Calories 88 kcal


  • 1 cup anchovy fillets
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar


  • Rinse the anchovy fillets under cold water and pat dry.
  • In a large glass jar or container, combine the water, sea salt, and brown sugar. Stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved.
  • Add the anchovy fillets to the jar and stir to combine.
  • Cover the jar with a lid or plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 2-3 days.
  • After 2-3 days, strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container.
  • Store the fish sauce in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.


Note: The longer you let the fish sauce ferment, the stronger and more pungent it will become. Adjust the fermentation time to your personal taste.


Calories: 88kcal
Keyword homemade fish sauce, substitutes for fish sauce
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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