Fish Sauce Substitutes

Fishing for Flavor? Catch The Best Fish Sauce Substitutes Here!

Fish sauce, a pungent and savory condiment, has been a staple in many culinary traditions, lending depth and umami to dishes from around the world. However, the diverse dietary preferences, allergies, and ethical considerations of modern consumers have led to a growing need for viable substitutes for fish sauce. This guide aims to delve into the world of fish sauce alternatives, exploring a range of options that can replicate the unique flavor profile of fish sauce while accommodating various culinary requirements.

Fish Sauce Substitutes

1. Soy Sauce and a Bit of Lime Juice

When you’re in a pinch, one of the simplest yet most effective substitutes for fish sauce is a combination of soy sauce and lime juice. This blend captures both the salty and umami elements of fish sauce while adding a tangy kick to mimic its complexity.

Flavor Profile

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce brings in the salty and umami notes, acting as the primary replacement for fish sauce. It is rich in amino acids, which contributes to its umami quality.

Lime Juice

A splash of lime juice adds a tangy brightness that complements the salty depth of the soy sauce. This hints at the slight acidity often found in fish sauce and adds a layer of complexity to the substitute.

Ratio and Usage Guidelines

A general guideline for this substitute is to mix three parts of soy sauce to one part of lime juice. For instance, for a recipe calling for 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, you could use:

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoon of lime juice

Feel free to adjust the ratio based on your personal taste and the specific requirements of the recipe. Some dishes might benefit from a tangier note, while others may require a subtler touch.

Cooking Applications

This substitute works well in a range of dishes:

  • Stir-Fries: Use it as you would fish sauce for seasoning.
  • Soups: Add to taste, keeping in mind the saltiness of your broth.
  • Marinades: Mix with other ingredients like garlic and spices for a flavorful marinade.

2. Tamari (Gluten-free Soy Sauce)

Tamari, a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce, offers a rich, salty, and umami flavor profile similar to fish sauce, making it another excellent substitute. Particularly suitable for those with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease, tamari provides an accessible option without compromising on taste.

How It Differs From Regular Soy Sauce

Tamari is made primarily from soybeans, with little to no wheat content, which accounts for its gluten-free status. In comparison, traditional soy sauce often contains wheat as a primary ingredient. The higher soybean content in tamari also results in a darker, richer sauce with a slightly thicker consistency than typical soy sauce.

Flavor Profile

Tamari has a more balanced, less salty flavor than regular soy sauce, providing a deep umami note. Due to its robust taste, tamari can stand in for fish sauce without overwhelming a dish.

Suggested Recipes

This substitute works exceptionally well in:

  • Gluten-Free Stir-Fries: Tamari can be used as a one-to-one substitute for fish sauce in most stir-fry recipes.
  • Salad Dressings: Its milder flavor pairs well with other ingredients like vinegar and olive oil.
  • Dipping Sauces: Combine tamari with ingredients like minced garlic, ginger, and a dash of sweetener to create a dipping sauce that closely resembles one made with fish sauce.

Ratio and Usage Guidelines

For most recipes, tamari can be used in a one-to-one ratio as a direct substitute for fish sauce. However, because it lacks the fishy notes inherent to fish sauce, some cooks like to add a bit of seaweed or kelp powder for a more complex flavor.

3. Coconut Aminos

Coconut aminos is a liquid seasoning made from the sap of the coconut tree, naturally fermented to create a rich, salty, and slightly sweet condiment. It’s an excellent alternative for people who want to avoid soy and gluten while still capturing some of the salty and umami notes that fish sauce provides.

Flavor Profile

Coconut aminos brings its own unique blend of flavors:


Although less salty than traditional fish sauce or soy sauce, coconut aminos still offers a good amount of salinity to any dish.


Like fish sauce, coconut aminos also provides a subtle umami flavor, although less intense.

Slightly Sweet:

One distinguishing feature is its inherent sweetness, which can add an extra layer of flavor to your dishes.

Ratio and Usage Guidelines

Because coconut aminos is less salty than fish sauce, you may need to use more of it to achieve a similar level of saltiness. Generally, you can use it in a 1.5:1 ratio in comparison to fish sauce. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, you could use:

  • 1.5 tablespoons of coconut aminos

Adjust to taste, and remember that the sweetness of coconut aminos can influence the overall flavor of the dish.

Cooking Applications

Coconut aminos is highly versatile and works well in a range of recipes:

  • Marinades: Use in place of fish sauce for a slightly sweeter, less salty marinade.
  • Stir-Fries: Add directly into the wok as you would with fish sauce.
  • Salad Dressings: Mix with other ingredients for a soy-free, gluten-free dressing.

4. Vegan Fish Sauce

For vegetarians and vegans who miss the unique flavors of fish sauce, or for those with fish allergies, a vegan fish sauce can be an excellent alternative. This sauce is usually made from a combination of seaweed, soy sauce or tamari, and other flavor-enhancing ingredients like mushroom soy sauce or miso.

Flavor Profile


Seaweed and mushrooms are excellent sources of umami, mimicking the depth of flavor that fish provides in traditional fish sauce.


Soy sauce or tamari offers the necessary saltiness, making this a balanced alternative.


Seaweed can mimic the slight fishy flavor of traditional fish sauce, providing a more authentic flavor profile compared to other substitutes.

Ratio and Usage Guidelines

In most cases, vegan fish sauce can be used as a one-to-one substitute for traditional fish sauce. However, always taste and adjust according to your recipe and personal preferences.

Cooking Applications

This substitute is highly versatile and can replace fish sauce in various dishes:

  • Curries: Use it in place of fish sauce for an authentic-tasting yet plant-based curry.
  • Soups: A splash can add complexity to vegan pho or other Asian-inspired soups.
  • Dipping Sauces: Mix with lime juice, garlic, and sugar for a vegan-friendly dipping sauce.

DIY Option

If you’re inclined to make your own vegan fish sauce, combine the following ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons seaweed (like kombu or nori)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon mushroom soy sauce for added umami

Simmer all ingredients for 20-30 minutes, then strain. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

5. Miso Paste and Water

Miso paste, a fermented soybean paste widely used in Japanese cuisine, can also serve as an effective substitute for fish sauce, particularly when diluted with water. This option is especially beneficial for vegetarians and vegans or those who want a break from the strong, fishy notes of traditional fish sauce.

Flavor Profile


Miso is rich in umami, thanks to its fermentation process. This makes it an excellent candidate for mimicking the savory depth that fish sauce adds to dishes.


Miso is inherently salty, although the level of saltiness can vary depending on the type of miso used (white, yellow, or red). This covers another key attribute of fish sauce.

Ratio and Usage Guidelines

Because miso paste is thicker than fish sauce, it’s advisable to dilute it with water to achieve a more liquid consistency. A general guideline could be:

  • 1 tablespoon miso paste
  • 1–2 tablespoons water

Mix until well blended, and use in place of 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. The ratio can be adjusted based on the miso’s saltiness and your flavor preferences.

Cooking Applications

This miso-water mix can be versatile:

  • Soups and Stews: Use it as a flavor base, adding it early in the cooking process to allow its flavors to meld with other ingredients.
  • Stir-Fries: Blend with other sauces and seasonings for a balanced flavor profile.
  • Marinades: Combine with other ingredients like garlic, ginger, and herbs for a complex, umami-rich marinade.

Gluten-Free Options

For those avoiding gluten, look for miso made from rice or other gluten-free grains. Note that not all miso is gluten-free, as some versions are made with barley or other gluten-containing grains.

6. Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce, a fermented liquid condiment originally from England, might not be the first substitute that comes to mind when you’re out of fish sauce. However, its complex flavor profile makes it an interesting alternative, especially for Western dishes that call for an umami kick.

Flavor Profile

Umami and Savory

The sauce is made from a variety of ingredients including anchovies, vinegar, molasses, and tamarind extract, among others. These components bring a depth of flavors ranging from sweet to savory to slightly tangy.


Worcestershire sauce has a lower salt content compared to fish sauce, but it still adds some saltiness to dishes.

Ratio and Usage Guidelines

Worcestershire sauce is generally less potent than fish sauce, so you might need to use more of it to achieve a similar flavor intensity. A good starting ratio could be:

  • 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce for every tablespoon of fish sauce

This ratio can be adjusted based on personal taste preferences and the specific recipe you’re following.

Cooking Applications

This sauce works well in a broad range of dishes, albeit with a flavor twist:

  • Stews and Casseroles: Provides a savory depth to meat-based dishes.
  • Marinades: A splash can make your marinade more complex and robust.
  • Salad Dressings: Mix with oil, vinegar, and herbs for a flavorful dressing.

7. Mushroom Sauce

Mushrooms are renowned for their rich umami flavor, making them an excellent candidate for fish sauce substitution. Varieties like shiitake, porcini, and oyster mushrooms possess compounds that mimic the savory depth found in fish sauce. Harnessing the umami potential of mushrooms allows for the creation of a sauce that can bring complexity and depth to a variety of dishes.

Making Mushroom-Based Sauce at Home

Creating a mushroom sauce involves sautéing or simmering mushrooms to extract their flavors and umami compounds. This can be achieved by rehydrating dried mushrooms and using the resulting liquid as a base, or by simmering fresh mushrooms with aromatics and seasonings. Blending the cooked mushrooms produces a thick and savory sauce that can replicate the depth of fish sauce.

Incorporating into Stir-Fries, Soups, and Dressings

Mushroom-based sauces can be seamlessly integrated into a wide array of recipes. Stir-fries benefit from the deep umami notes, while soups gain complexity with the addition of mushroom sauce. It can also serve as a flavorful component in dressings, marinades, and gravies. The adaptability of mushroom sauce makes it a versatile alternative that can contribute to the overall umami profile of a dish.

8. Anchovy Paste and Salt

Anchovy paste, a concentrated blend of anchovies, vinegar, and sometimes seasonings, can serve as a direct and potent substitute for fish sauce. When you’re in a pinch and looking for a quick way to mimic the salty, fishy richness of fish sauce, a combination of anchovy paste and salt might be your best bet.

Flavor Profile


The main ingredient, anchovies, closely resemble the foundational flavor of fish sauce.


Adding salt to anchovy paste enhances its saltiness, making it closer in profile to fish sauce.


Anchovies are rich in natural glutamates, offering a strong umami flavor, which is a characteristic of fish sauce.

Ratio and Usage Guidelines

Anchovy paste is more concentrated than fish sauce, so a little goes a long way. Here’s a guideline for substitution:

  • For every tablespoon of fish sauce, use about 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of anchovy paste combined with a pinch of salt.

It’s essential to adjust this ratio according to your taste and the dish you are making.

Cooking Applications

The combination is versatile and can be used in various culinary applications:

  • Pasta Sauces: Elevate a simple tomato sauce with a dab of this mixture.
  • Marinades: A small amount can add complexity to meat or vegetable marinades.
  • Salad Dressings: Incorporate into vinaigrettes for a salty, umami kick.

9. Clam Juice and Salt

Clam juice, the broth obtained from clams, is another unconventional but effective substitute for fish sauce in certain scenarios. When paired with salt, it provides both the sea-derived flavor and the saltiness that you find in traditional fish sauce.

Flavor Profile

Seafood Essence

Clam juice brings a mild oceanic flavor, making it a good stand-in for the fishy aspect of fish sauce.


While clam juice on its own is less salty than fish sauce, adding a pinch of salt can bring it closer in flavor profile.


The natural flavors of clam juice also contribute to a subtle umami undertone, though it may be less pronounced than in fish sauce.

Ratio and Usage Guidelines

Clam juice is generally less concentrated than fish sauce, so you may need to use a bit more to get a similar intensity of flavor. A useful ratio might be:

  • 2 tablespoons of clam juice plus a pinch of salt for every tablespoon of fish sauce

This ratio can be adjusted according to taste and the specific needs of the recipe.

Cooking Applications

Clam juice with salt can serve various culinary purposes:

  • Seafood Stews and Soups: An excellent option for chowders and bisques where a seafood flavor is desired.
  • Risottos: Use as part of the liquid to cook the rice, adding a rich, oceanic element.
  • Pasta Sauces: A splash can elevate a marinara or seafood sauce.

10. Seaweed-Based Sauces

Seaweed-based sauces offer a unique and innovative approach to replicating the umami flavor of fish sauce. Seaweeds are naturally abundant in glutamic acids, the compounds responsible for umami taste. By harnessing the essence of seaweed, these sauces can provide a similar depth of flavor that resonates with the umami notes found in fish sauce.

DIY Seaweed Sauce Recipes

Crafting a seaweed-based sauce at home allows for customization and experimentation. One approach involves simmering dried seaweed (such as kombu) with water to create a flavorful broth. This broth can be reduced and concentrated to form a base for dishes. Another method involves rehydrating dried seaweed and blending it with ingredients like soy sauce, garlic, and ginger to develop a savory sauce reminiscent of fish sauce.

Integration into Asian and Fusion Cooking

Seaweed-based sauces align well with Asian and fusion cuisines, where umami is a prized component. They can be used in stir-fries, noodle dishes, dressings, and even as dipping sauces. The versatility of these sauces allows them to seamlessly replace fish sauce while adding a distinct depth that resonates with the original flavor profile.

11. Tamarind Paste and Soy Sauce

While not a direct match for the unique taste of fish sauce, a combination of tamarind paste and soy sauce can serve as a substitute that brings both tanginess and umami to your dishes. This pairing works well for those who desire vegetarian alternatives or simply wish to diversify the flavor profile of their cooking.

Flavor Profile


Tamarind paste is known for its sour and tangy flavor, which can add complexity and depth to recipes, although it doesn’t replicate the fishiness of fish sauce.


Soy sauce is rich in umami, providing that savory, mouth-filling sensation that is a hallmark of fish sauce.


Both ingredients contribute to the salty component, with soy sauce being particularly high in sodium.

Ratio and Usage Guidelines

To create a balanced substitute for fish sauce using tamarind paste and soy sauce, consider the following ratio:

  • 1 tablespoon tamarind paste mixed with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce

Blend well and use this mixture as a one-to-one substitute for fish sauce in recipes. Always adjust according to personal preference and the needs of the recipe.

Cooking Applications

This mixture can be quite versatile, with applications including:

  • Stir-Fries: Use it as part of your stir-fry sauce for a twist on traditional flavors.
  • Dips and Sauces: Incorporate into sauces for spring rolls or as a dip for appetizers.
  • Soups: Add to broths to deepen the flavor profile, especially in Asian-inspired dishes.

12. Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce, a thick, dark brown liquid made from oyster extracts and soy sauce, can be an effective substitute for fish sauce in certain culinary applications. While it can’t fully replicate the fermented, fishy quality of fish sauce, it does offer a unique combination of sweetness, saltiness, and umami that can be quite complementary in various dishes.

Flavor Profile


Oyster sauce is rich in umami flavors, thanks to its base of oyster extracts.

Sweet and Salty

Unlike fish sauce, oyster sauce has a mild sweetness along with its salty undertone.

Seafood Essence

Though not as pungent as fish sauce, oyster sauce does carry a faint marine-like quality due to the oyster extracts.

Ratio and Usage Guidelines

Because oyster sauce is less salty and more viscous than fish sauce, you’ll need to adjust the quantity and may need to dilute it. A general rule of thumb could be:

  • 1.5 tablespoons of oyster sauce for every tablespoon of fish sauce

It’s best to start with a smaller amount and adjust according to taste and the specific requirements of your recipe.

Cooking Applications

Oyster sauce is a versatile ingredient that works well in:

  • Stir-Fries: It can be a key component of the sauce, offering a rich, umami flavor.
  • Marinades: Works well for marinating meats and vegetables.
  • Dipping Sauces: Mix with a little water and other seasonings for a unique dipping sauce.

13. Vegetable Broth

For those seeking a fish sauce substitute in vegetarian or vegan cooking, a well-prepared vegetable broth can be a game-changer. By incorporating umami-rich ingredients, such as dried mushrooms, kombu (a type of seaweed), and nutritional yeast, you can create a flavorful base that mimics the depth of fish sauce. Simmering these ingredients together allows their flavors to meld and develop, resulting in a broth that brings umami to the forefront.

Infusing Umami with Ingredients

Dried mushrooms, especially varieties like shiitake and porcini, contribute a potent umami punch to the broth. Kombu, known for its glutamate content, adds a delicate and distinct depth. Nutritional yeast, often used in plant-based cooking for its cheese-like flavor, enhances the overall savory profile of the broth. By thoughtfully selecting and combining these ingredients, you can replicate the umami complexity of fish sauce.

Enhancing the Depth of Vegetarian and Vegan Dishes

The vegetable broth you create can be a versatile addition to various dishes, from soups and stews to sauces and gravies. Its umami-rich nature elevates the taste of plant-based recipes, ensuring that they don’t lack depth or complexity. Using this broth as a fish sauce substitute allows you to maintain the heartiness and umami profile that traditional fish sauce contributes to dishes.

14. Fermented Bean Pastes

Fermented bean pastes like miso and doenjang have a long history in Asian cuisine, particularly in Japanese and Korean cooking. These pastes are created by fermenting soybeans (and sometimes other legumes) with salt and often grains. The fermentation process not only produces distinct flavors but also breaks down the beans into components that contribute to umami richness.

Complex Flavors and Compatibility with Dishes

Miso, with its varying degrees of fermentation and flavor profiles, can serve as a potent substitute for fish sauce. It brings a combination of salty, savory, and slightly sweet notes that add depth to recipes. Doenjang, its Korean counterpart, offers a robust umami taste that can enhance a multitude of dishes. These bean pastes integrate seamlessly into soups, stews, marinades, and even dressings, providing the intricate flavors necessary to replicate the essence of fish sauce.

15. Commercial Fish Sauce Alternatives

In recent years, the market has seen a surge in commercially produced fish sauce substitutes designed to mimic the taste, texture, and functionality of traditional fish sauce. These alternatives are particularly useful for vegetarians, vegans, or people with fish allergies.

Types of Commercial Alternatives

Vegan Fish Sauce

Made from seaweed, soy sauce, and other flavoring agents, vegan fish sauce attempts to capture the umami and saltiness of traditional fish sauce without using any animal products.

“No-So-Fishy” Sauce

Some companies produce mild fish sauce alternatives that tone down the fishy flavors but maintain the complex umami and salty elements.

Allergen-Free Variants

Certain brands offer fish sauce substitutes that exclude common allergens like soy or shellfish, focusing instead on ingredients like mushroom extract or seaweed.

Key Brands to Consider

  • Fysh Sauce: A vegan alternative made primarily from fermented soy and seaweed.
  • Ocean’s Halo: Uses organic seaweed, pineapple juice, and natural smoke flavor to replicate the taste of fish sauce.
  • Coconut Secret’s Coconut Aminos: While not a direct substitute, this soy-free alternative offers a similar salty and umami profile.

Usage Guidelines

These commercial substitutes are usually designed to be used in the same quantity as traditional fish sauce. However, always read the label for specific substitution ratios and adjust according to taste and dietary requirements.

Cooking Applications

These products are versatile and can be used just like traditional fish sauce in:

  • Curries: Serve as a base or a flavor enhancer.
  • Salad Dressings: Can be mixed with other ingredients to create dressings with a rich umami profile.
  • Stir-Fries: Add to your wok along with other seasonings for a quick and flavorful meal.

Combining Multiple Substitutes for a More Complex Flavor

One effective way to mimic the complex flavor profile of fish sauce is by combining multiple substitutes. Here’s how to do it:

Umami + Tanginess

  • A combination of soy sauce for umami and a dash of lemon or lime juice for tanginess can create a multidimensional flavor.

Seafood + Umami

  • Mixing a seafood-based alternative like clam juice with an umami-rich option like miso paste can approximate the fishy-umami flavor profile of traditional fish sauce.

Sweetness + Saltiness

  • Blending oyster sauce (for sweetness and umami) with a splash of tamari or soy sauce (for saltiness) can yield a balanced and interesting flavor.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: Can I just omit fish sauce from a recipe?

A: While you can technically omit fish sauce, doing so will remove a key source of umami and saltiness. For the best results, it’s recommended to use a suitable substitute.

Q: What’s the closest vegetarian substitute for fish sauce?

A: A combination of soy sauce and a tangy element like lime juice or tamarind paste can be a close vegetarian alternative.

Q: Can I use table salt as a direct substitute for fish sauce?

A: Table salt can replicate the saltiness but lacks the umami and complexity of fish sauce. It’s better used in combination with other ingredients like soy sauce or vegetable broth.

Q: Is Worcestershire sauce a good substitute for fish sauce?

A: Worcestershire sauce can serve as a substitute, especially when mixed with a bit of water to reduce its intensity. However, it has a distinct flavor that might not be ideal for all dishes.

Q: How do I adjust quantities when using a substitute?

A: Start with a 1:1 ratio when using substitutes like soy sauce, then adjust according to taste. For thicker and less salty substitutes like oyster sauce, you may need to use more.

Q: Can I use a combination of substitutes?

A: Absolutely. Combining different substitutes like soy sauce and lime juice can create a more complex flavor profile that mimics the richness of fish sauce.

Q: Are commercial fish sauce alternatives worth it?

A: They can be, especially for those with dietary restrictions. However, they might not perfectly mimic the taste of traditional fish sauce and can be more expensive.

Q: Can I make a homemade fish sauce substitute?

A: Yes, you can experiment with ingredients like seaweed, soy sauce, and salt to create a homemade version. However, it might require some trial and error to get the flavor right.

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