5 Fish Sauce Substitutes for Cooking

5 Fish Sauce Substitutes for Cooking

When it comes to Southeast Asian cuisine, fish sauce is an indispensable ingredient, known for its ability to impart a salty, savory umami flavor to dishes. However, whether you’re dealing with dietary restrictions, allergies, or simply can’t find it at your local grocery store, you might find yourself in need of a substitute. In this article, we’ll explore five alternative ingredients that can mimic the unique qualities of fish sauce in your cooking.

1. Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is a readily available alternative that can replicate the salty, fermented flavor profile of fish sauce. While it lacks the distinct fishy taste, it’s a suitable substitute in most recipes, especially when a teaspoon of lime juice is added to bring in a bit of tanginess.

2. Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce, with its complex flavor from tamarind, cloves, and molasses, can serve as a fish sauce substitute. It’s not an exact match, given its slightly sweeter taste and less briny flavor, but in a pinch, it can provide a similar depth of flavor.

3. Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce is thicker and sweeter than fish sauce, but it can be thinned out with a bit of water to better resemble the consistency of fish sauce. The oyster extract gives it a seafood flavor that can imitate the essence of fish sauce in some dishes.

4. Vegan Fish Sauce

For those on a plant-based diet, vegan fish sauce options are available, often made from seaweed, mushrooms, and soy protein. These alternatives aim to offer the umami quality of fish sauce without the use of animal products.

5. Anchovy Paste

Anchovy paste, which is made from ground anchovies and vinegar, can also be used as a substitute. It provides a similar fishy flavor and is potent, so you’ll need to use it sparingly.

How to Choose the Right Substitute

When selecting a fish sauce substitute, consider the flavor profile of the dish you’re making. For vegan or vegetarian dishes, opt for a plant-based sauce. If you’re looking for something with a closer taste to fish sauce, try anchovy paste or oyster sauce. For general cooking, soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce can be suitable stand-ins.


Can I use tamari as a substitute for fish sauce?

Yes, tamari can work as a substitute for fish sauce, especially for those looking for a gluten-free option. Similar to soy sauce, it’s less intense and slightly thicker.

Is there a difference between fish sauce and anchovy paste?

Yes, fish sauce is a liquid condiment made from fermented fish and salt, whereas anchovy paste is a concentrated paste made from anchovies, vinegar, and spices.

How do I adjust recipes when using these substitutes?

Start with a small amount and adjust to taste, keeping in mind the saltiness and intensity of the substitute compared to fish sauce.

Are these substitutes suitable for those with seafood allergies?

Soy sauce and vegan fish sauce are suitable for those with seafood allergies, but always read labels to ensure there’s no cross-contamination.

What’s the best fish sauce substitute for Thai dishes?

Vegan fish sauce or soy sauce with a splash of lime juice can be the best substitutes to maintain the authenticity of Thai flavors.