I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different shrimp paste substitutes to find the best one.
Whatever your reason for avoiding shrimp paste is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
Here’s the quick answer.
The best shrimp paste substitutes are fish sauce and anchovy filets. Other seafood-based options you can use include Korean salted shrimp, dried shrimp, and oyster sauce. Consider miso paste, doenjang, Golden Mountain sauce, or mushroom powder for vegan alternatives. Use soy sauce as a last resort.
Read next: what to use instead of shrimp stock
I made a basic stir-fry to put eleven shrimp paste substitutes to the test.
Shrimp paste is a popular condiment in Southeast Asian cuisine made from grounded-up fermented shrimp and salt. It’s chock-full of umami goodness and boasts a fishy flavor with just the barest hint of sweetness.
The flavor is hard to replicate, but I was looking for something that added a similar funky, fishy twist.
Here’s what I tested and the verdicts:
|Fish sauce||Replace in a 2:1 ratio||10/10|
|Anchovy filets||Replace in a 1:1 ratio (add fish sauce for a more pungent taste)||10/10|
|Miso paste||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Doenjang||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Korean salted shrimp||Replace in a 1:1 ratio (mash before adding)||8/10|
|Dried shrimp||Replace in a 1:1 ratio (add fish sauce for a more pungent taste)||7/10|
|Oyster sauce||Replace in a 2:1 ratio||7/10|
|Golden Mountain sauce||Replace in a 2:1 ratio||7/10|
|Mushroom powder||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||6/10|
|Bonito flakes||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, (add fish sauce for a more pungent taste)||6/10|
|Soy sauce||Replace in a 3:1 ratio||5/10|
The best option was fish sauce for its availability and flavor. Anchovies and miso paste were also great options.
Common uses for shrimp paste and their substitutes
Here are some common use cases for shrimp paste and the best substitutes for those situations:
- Stir-fries – fish sauce, oyster sauce, Golden Mountain sauce
- Soups, stews, and curries – fish sauce, anchovy filets, miso paste, mushroom powder
- As a base for sauces and dips – fish sauce, miso paste, doenjang
- Relishes and salads – fish sauce, anchovy filets, Korean salted shrimp
Fish sauce is an excellent substitute for shrimp paste, especially if you’re allergic to seafood.
It’s made from fermented fish, giving it an intense aroma and a salty, umami flavor similar to shrimp paste.
I found fish sauce to be quite a bit milder than shrimp paste in my tests, so your dish won’t be as bold. But you can always add extra fish sauce to taste.
Another difference is the consistency. Fish sauce is runny, which can leave your sauce a little thin. But in most cases the amount you’re using means this won’t be too much of a concern.
How to substitute: use twice the amount of fish sauce as you would shrimp paste.
Anchovies (filets or paste)
Next up on our list of shrimp paste alternatives are anchovies.
These salty fish will being the essence of the ocean to your dish and add lots of umami. The filets can be less salty than shrimp paste and don’t have the same fermented funk.
To make up for this I would add an extra splash of soy sauce or even fish sauce to your dish along with the anchovies.
Anchovy filets are easy to grind up into a paste yourself, or you can but ready-made anchovy paste. The pre-made paste has added salt and more of a fishy punch.
How to substitute: replace shrimp paste in your recipe with anchovy paste or ground anchovy filets, using a 1:1 ratio.
If you’re looking for a vegan alternative to shrimp paste, look no further than miso paste.
It may not have the briny note shrimp paste has, but it imparts a rich flavor and a subtle sweetness that’ll add the same depth and complexity to your dishes.
Miso paste comes in different colors that dictate how intense its flavor is. Try white miso if you prefer a more delicate alternative.
Or if you want to achieve the same pungent notes of shrimp paste, go with the darker-colored red miso. It’s been fermented for longer, giving it a bolder flavor.
How to substitute: replace shrimp paste in your recipe with red miso paste, using a 1:1 ratio.
You probably have seen packs of dried shrimp in your local Asian grocery store.
These crustaceans are brined but not fermented, so they’ll bring a fishy twist to your dish but without the ‘funk’ that you get from fermented shrimp paste.
You can use them whole for added texture in your stir-fries. Just make sure to soak them in water to soften them up.
Or you can blitz a handful in your food processor after soaking to create a “shrimp pulp”.
Psst… mix these with a small amount of miso paste or fish sauce for some fermented flavor.
How to substitute: replace shrimp paste in your recipe with an equal amount of dried shrimp, ground into a pulp or left whole, depending on your dish’s requirements.
Korean salted shrimp
Also known as saeujeot, this condiment is made from fermented shrimp, just like shrimp paste. If you can get your hands on it, it’s the perfect substitute.
But that’s a big if – it’s not a very common ingredient!
It shares a very similar fishy flavor to shrimp paste, but differences in the fermentation process means the flavor is milder.
Pro tip: the shrimps in sauejeot are left intact, so you may need to mash them up into a paste to better incorporate them into your dish.
How to substitute: replace shrimp paste in your recipe with an equal amount of mashed-up Korean salted shrimp.
Oyster sauce is another Asian sauce that works as an alternative to shrimp paste.
It’s a combination of oyster extract, dark soy sauce, and sugar which gives it a briny-sweet flavor that easily perks up your dishes.
It’s definitely sweeter than shrimp paste, so you might want to add something more acidic alongside the oyster sauce to balance this out. A splash of lemon juice will do.
A big plus for this alternative is how easy it is to find at local groceries. You may even have a bottle in your cupboard!
How to substitute: replace shrimp paste in your recipe with an equal amount of oyster sauce.
Doenjang is another vegan alternative to shrimp paste that has a fermented flavor.
It’s made from fermented soy beans, and doesn’t taste much like shrimp paste. But it’s great for adding umami.
Doenjang has a robust and earthy flavor profile that makes it a solid substitute for richer dishes like stews and curries.
And with the rise of interest in Korean food in recent years, you can easily find a tub of this paste in your local shop’s international food aisle.
Doenjang is chunkier than shrimp paste, but it’ll dissolve and blend well as you cook it down.
How to substitute: replace shrimp paste in your recipe with an equal amount of doenjang.
Golden Mountain sauce
This classic Thai seasoning sauce may not match shrimp paste flavor-wise perfectly, but it’s an easily accessible vegan alternative that works in a pinch.
It doesn’t have the same fishiness you get from shrimp paste, but it brings a complex, salty flavor and a massive hit of umami that’ll elevate the flavors of your dish.
Psst… can’t find it? You can also use other liquid seasoning brands like Maggi or Knorr.
How to substitute: use 1 tbsp of Golden Mountain sauce for every teaspoon of shrimp paste.
Mushroom powder comes from the land, so it doesn’t have the same oceanic flavor of shrimp paste, but everyone knows that mushrooms add umami.
Like doenjang, this substitute had more of an earthy, meaty flavor that makes it ideal for rich stews.
You can find mushroom powder in health food stores, but you can easily DIY this ingredient!
Just blitz a handful of dried mushrooms (porcini or shiitake are the best options) in your food processor, and voila – instant mushroom powder.
Pro-tip: always add the mushroom powder while you’re cooking. It needs to be heated to release its flavors.
How to substitute: replace shrimp paste in your recipe with an equal amount of mushroom powder.
Bonito flakes are made with smoked and fermented skipjack tuna, but their fishiness is a lot more delicate than shrimp paste.
I saw lots of websites suggesting bonito flakes as a shrimp paste replacement as they are, but I found the flavor to be lacking.
Instead, I recommend mixing the flakes with fish sauce and grinding them to make a paste. The fish sauce will intensify their flavor and the paste texture will make them easier to incorporate into your dishes.
How to substitute: replace shrimp paste in your recipe with an equal amount of bonito flakes and a splash of fish sauce, adjusting to taste.
Another alternative I’ve seen mentioned frequently is soy sauce, but I can only recommend this if it’s all you have and you can’t make a grocery run!
Soy sauce is loaded with umami, but its flavor is weaker and much more one-dimensional than shrimp paste.
It won’t add much depth of flavor, but if it really is your only option then it is better than nothing.
Watch out if your recipe already calls for soy sauce though – you don’t want to go overboard and add too much.
How to substitute: use 1 tbsp of soy sauce for every teaspoon of shrimp paste.
Best Shrimp Paste Substitutes [Tried and Tested]
- 2 tsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp anchovy filets, grind to a paste and add soy sauce to make it saltier
- 1 tsp miso paste
- 1 tsp doenjang
- 1 tsp korean salted shrimp
- 1 tsp dried shrimp
- 1 tsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp golden mountain sauce
- 1 tsp mushroom powder
- 1 tsp bonito flakes
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen shrimp paste substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.