I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of fish sauce substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce are easy, ready-to-go substitutes for fish sauce. Or you can go back to the origins of fish sauce and use minced anchovy filets. You can easily make a vegan fish sauce substitute with dried shiitake mushrooms and a splash of soy sauce.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made a Thai salad dressing to test out different fish sauce substitutes.
Fish sauce is made from anchovies that have been salted and fermented for months. It sound’s gross, but it’s got a distinct umami kick to it that means it can lift a dish from bland to amazing with a few drops.
In terms of flavor it’s super salty and funky, with a background caramel sweetness.
Fish sauce is a staple in Asian cuisine and you’ll find it in everything from stir fries and pho, to salad dressings. But it’s a great flavor booster for Western dishes too – from pasta sauces to stews!
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Soy sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Dried mushrooms||Replace in a 1:1 ratio with mushroom broth||9/10|
|Anchovies||1 tbsp fish sauce = 1 filet or 1 tsp anchovy paste||9/10|
|Worcestershire sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Shrimp paste||1 tbsp fish sauce = 1/2 tsp shrimp paste||8/10|
|Oyster sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
|Vegemite + honey + hemon||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||6/10|
|Vegan fish sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
Common uses of fish sauce
Here are some popular ways to use fish sauce and the best substitutes for those situations:
- As a flavor enhancer: All of the substitutes I’ve mentioned will work as a flavor enhancer, but the easiest option is soy sauce mixed with a little vinegar. Dried shiitake mushroom broth is also fantastic.
- For marinades and dressings: Anchovies are a great substitute in dressings. While soy sauce, shrimp paste, and Worcestershire sauce are perfect in marinades.
- For dipping sauces: Try using soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or oyster sauce.
Soy sauce or tamari
Soy sauce is one of the most straightforward substitutes for fish sauce, and it’s an easy pick for vegetarians or vegans.
It’s got a similar umami punch, with a background sweetness, so you can use it as is in the place of fish sauce.
But the flavor isn’t as complex or deep.
If you want to bring it closer to fish sauce there are a few things you can do:
- Mix soy sauce with an equal part vinegar to add more sharpness. Then round the flavors out with a pinch of salt.
- Add a minced anchovy for every tablespoon of soy sauce.
- Mix 1/2 a teaspoon of lime juice with each tablespoon of soy sauce.
These simple modifications will add more taste dimensions to the soy sauce
Want a gluten-free alternative? Use tamari, liquid aminos, or coconut aminos instead (these are perfect soy sauce substitutes).
They’re slightly sweeter than regular soy sauce though, so you’ll want to add a little more salt and vinegar to balance the flavor.
How to substitute: replace fish sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with soy sauce, or your modified soy sauce mixture.
Dried shiitake mushrooms
Dried shiitake mushrooms are another easy (and delicious) vegan alternative to fish sauce for soups and stews.
I recommend shiitake mushrooms in particular because they have the meatiest flavor out of all the dried mushroom varieties.
Steep the mushrooms in hot water, strain out the sediments, season with salt, and voila – you have an umami-loaded broth ready to use!
And if you want to take things to the next level, simmer the dried mushrooms with water, soy sauce, and salt before straining.
I added the soy sauce, and the resulting mushroom broth had so much flavor!
Psst… you’ll likely have leftover broth, but don’t worry you can store it in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
How to substitute: replace fish sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with the mushroom broth.
Fish sauce is generally made from anchovies, so using these tiny fish as a substitute is a logical step.
Lots of people are wary of adding anchovies to their food because they think they’ll leave a super fish aftertaste.
But in reality they’ll melt into your sauce leaving behind a savory umami flavor that no one would ever trace back to anchovies. Need proof?
Did you know most Casear salad dressing contain anchovies?!
Simply mince the anchovy filets and add them when you’d add the fish sauce.
You can also use anchovy paste, one teaspoon of paste is equivalent to one filet.
How to substitute: replace 1 tbsp fish sauce with 1 anchovy filet or 1 tsp anchovy paste.
Worcestershire sauce is fish sauce’s cousin from another continent! It’s super popular in England where they use it like soy sauce.
It has a vinegar base flavored with anchovies, tamarind paste, molasses, and cloves.
The result? A meaty sauce that’s less salty than fish sauce, but has loads of depth and a nice tanginess to it.
It’s got a noticeably different flavor or compared to fish sauce, but if you’re not using much this wont make a big difference to your dish.
My Thai dressing was delicious!
Pro tip: Worcestershire sauce is the secret ingredient in my famous bolognese sauce.
How to substitute: replace fish sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with Worcestershire sauce, adjust to taste.
Shrimp paste is a strong contender as a fish sauce substitute for those not on a plant-based diet.
It’s fermented, just like fish sauce, and shares a familiar funky flavor that added loads of depth to my dressing.
Just be aware it’s very pungent, and it’s got a stronger flavor than fish sauce (which is quite an achievement!). You’ll only need a very small amount.
You can find a pot of this in most Asian grocery stores or check your local Walmart’s international aisle.
How to substitute: replace 1 tbsp of fish sauce with 1/2 a teaspoon of shrimp paste.
Oyster sauce is a great swap for fish sauce in things like stir fries.
It will replicate the briny notes of fish sauce, but it also has a prominent sweetness.
If you don’t enjoy the extra sweetness, you can add a splash of vinegar or lemon juice to the mix. Or just water the oyster sauce down slightly.
This has the added benefit of thinning the sauce, because it’s pretty thick and gloopy compared to fish sauce!
How to substitute: replace fish sauce in a 1:1 ratio with oyster sauce.
Vegemite + honey + lemon
This combination might raise an eyebrow or two, but hear me out.
It’s a good substitute if you need throw something together and happen to have all three of these ingredients in your pantry.
Vegemite is known for its salty, umami punch.
And mixing it with a bit of hot water, honey, and lemon will take the intense flavor down a notch and balance out the saltiness.
I diluted 1.5 teaspoons of Vegemite with a tablespoon of hot water, then add half a teaspoon each of honey and lemon.
It definitely wasn’t a perfect replacement for my Thai dressing, where fish sauce is pretty integral. But for something like a marinara sauce where the fish sauce is adding a deeper, more complex flavor, it’s fine.
How to substitute: replace fish sauce with this Vegemite mixture in a 1:1 ratio.
Vegan fish sauce
Like getting creative in the kitchen?
Why not try making your own vegan fish sauce?
The recipe (in the video) uses wakame and kombu to add the essence of the ocean. And both are rich in glutamates, which means they’re naturally loaded with umami goodness.
Then you add mushrooms, soy sauce, and miso paste to the mix. More umami!
I was pleasantly surprised with how close this vegan version’s flavor came to fish sauce.
The only catch? You’ll need to let the mixture ferment for three to four days for best results.
How to substitute: replace fish sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with vegan fish sauce.
Other umami rich-ingredients
If your recipe calls for only a small amount of fish sauce, there’s a huge change it’s there as a flavor enhancer.
And this means you can swap it pretty much any other ingredient with a decent amount of umami.
Here are a few otptions:
- MSG seasoning
- Seaweed (kombu, wakame powder)
- Dashi granules
- Red miso paste
- Dried shrimp (add straight into your dish or blitz into a paste)
- Maggi seasoning liquid (very salty)
Go slowly when you’re adding these ingredients because some have a strong flavor that could quickly overpower your dish.
You can always add more, but you can’t take it out!
How to substitute: add a small amount of whichever ingredient you pick in the place of fish sauce.
Substitutes to avoid
I came across loads of suggestions for fish sauce substitutes, but not all of them worked out.
Here are some I tried that I wouldn’t recommend:
- Hoisin sauce – this condiment has a strong flavor that I thought was too different from fish sauce to work as a substitute. It’s still loaded with umami though, and works well when it’s the main ingredients in a sauce rather than a flavor enhancer.
- Steak sauce – this condiment tasted nothing like fish sauce, and it can’t really be used in the same way. It’s more similar to ketchup or barbecue sauce! Save it for your rib-eye.
- Asafoetida – I love unconventional substitutes, but this spice didn’t work as a stand-in for fish sauce. Its flavor is like a combination of onion and garlic, with no traces of umami or that fishy, salty taste.
BEST Fish Sauce Substitutes + 3 To Avoid
- 2 tbsp wakame
- 2-inch knob of ginger
- ½ tsp sesame oil
- 4 cups water
- 1 kombu sheet
- 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 tsp whole peppercorns
- 1 cup light soy sauce
- 1 tsp miso paste
- 2 tbsp pineapple juice
- 1 tbsp sugar
- Combine the wakame, ginger, sesame oil and 4 cups of water in a bowl. Leave overnight to steep, then strain.
- Transfer the seaweed liquid in a saucepan and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir everything until it comes to a boil then turn down the heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, then leave to cool.
- Strain the "vegan fish sauce" and transfer into a clean bottle. Leave to ferment for 3-4 days before using.