5 Fish Sauce Substitutes for Cooking

pouring fish sauce into a spoon

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Fish sauce is an accurately named liquid ingredient that adds a salty, fishy flavor to recipes. It is made by coating small fish, such as anchovies, in salt and letting them ferment in large barrels for several months. The final result is fish sauce, which can be bottled and added to savory recipes.

Most commonly associated with Asian cooking, fish sauce adds flavor to recipes like pad Thai noodles, stir-fries, and more. It is mainly salty and fishy but also adds elements of sweetness to savory dishes. Fish sauce is also described as having an earthy, umami flavor.

Because fish sauce has a unique flavor that is difficult to replicate, omitting it altogether is also an option if you do not consume fish products or do not have this ingredient in your pantry. If you would like to use an ingredient in its place when cooking, you may have success with these fish sauce substitutes—some of which are vegan- and vegetarian-friendly.

Why Use an Alternative?

Fish and seafood products can be part of a balanced diet and a nutritious source of omega fatty acids. However, there are several reasons why someone would seek fish sauce substitutes. Those who follow a meal plan that limits animal-based foods, have seafood allergies, lack access, or simply do not have fish sauce on hand may want a substitute.

Vegans and vegetarians do not consume meat and seafood, though pescatarians do. When you omit some or all animal products from your diet, it is not as easy as avoiding fish. You must also check ingredient labels for animal-based ingredients and byproducts.

Like the name suggests, fish sauce contains fish. Vegans and vegetarians may consider checking certain foods, such as stir-fries and other Asian-style dishes, for ingredients like fish sauce. If a recipe calls for fish sauce, vegans and vegetarians will need to seek out an alternative ingredient or omit it altogether.

Fish and shellfish are among the most common food allergies in the U.S., according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Food allergies arise when the body’s immune system produces antibodies that react with a certain type of food, causing symptoms of an allergic reaction. If you have fish or shellfish allergies or suspect you may be allergic to certain ingredients in fish sauce, you should explore fish sauce substitutes for cooking.

Another good reason to use a fish sauce alternative in your recipe is simply because it can be hard to source. Fish sauce can be hard to find or inaccessible in some areas.

It is usually found in the Asian or ethnic food section in most grocery stores, and it is typically available at Asian supermarkets. If you do not have access to fish sauce or do not have any on hand, you may have success completing your recipe with other ingredients in its place.

Fish Sauce Nutrition

This nutrition information for 1 tablespoon (18 grams) of fish sauce is provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 6.3
  • Fat: 0g 
  • Sodium: 1,410mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0.66g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0.66g
  • Protein: 0.91g

Fish sauce, which is added to food in such small amounts, is not a significant source of calories, protein, fat, or carbohydrates. However, it contains 1,410 milligrams of sodium. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day for adults, and the recommended serving size of fish sauce contains approximately 61% of that.

Popular Substitutes

Fish sauce substitutes typically replace the salty, savory flavors that fish sauce adds to recipes. However, the vegan- and vegetarian-friendly alternatives do not offer the fishy flavor. These fish sauce substitutes help to deepen the taste of your recipe by adding salty and umami flavors.

Soy sauce

Soy sauce is a suitable substitute for fish sauce because it is a liquid condiment and made with fermented ingredients. It nails the salty flavor of fish sauce, and it can also be high in sodium, yielding a similar nutritional profile.

You can substitute soy sauce for fish sauce at a 1:1 ratio because they are both liquids. To satisfy the fishy flavor that fish sauce adds to many recipes, adding minced fish such as anchovies or sardines is optional.

Tamari

Tamari is a gluten-free Japanese-style soy sauce substitute, so naturally it can be used to replace fish sauce in a recipe. Like soy sauce, tamari can be used to substitute fish sauce in equal amounts as it is also a liquid and has a salty flavor.

Worcestershire sauce

Though you may not expect it, fish sauce can have a sweet flavor. To mimic that flavor along with the saltiness, opt for Worcestershire sauce if you’re looking for a substitute. Worcestershire sauce is a condiment that deepens the flavor of dishes like steaks, stews, sauces, marinades, and more.

Though it is not a traditional ingredient in Asian-style cooking, it can be used in certain recipes like noodles, dumplings, marinated meat, and salads. It is lower in sodium than fish sauce, so it may be preferred by those following a low-sodium meal plan. Use it to replace fish sauce at a 1:1 ratio.

Hoisin sauce

Made from fermented soybeans, hoisin sauce offers the fermented aspect of fish sauce with the salty flavors of soy sauce. It is a thick sauce that is often used as a glaze or dipping sauce.

It has a slightly sweet flavor, so it is often compared to American-style barbecue sauce. Because hoisin sauce has an umami flavor, it may serve as a substitute for fish sauce.

To substitute fish sauce with hoisin sauce, mix hoisin sauce with soy sauce at a 1:1 ratio. This offsets the sweetness of hoisin sauce. Then use the mixture to replace fish sauce in equal amounts.

Oyster sauce

Those looking for the closest flavor profile to fish sauce may want to consider oyster sauce because it is also a fish product. Though it is not suitable for vegans, vegetarians, and people with allergies to shellfish, oyster sauce offers the salty and fishy flavor of fish sauce in a similar format.

Oyster sauce has a thicker consistency than fish sauce while fish sauce has a fishier flavor. However, the two can be used interchangeably at a 1:1 ratio.

A Word From Verywell

Replacing fish sauce in savory recipes often yields similar results because these substitutes have salty and umami flavors. Fish sauce can also add sweetness and earthiness to recipes, which is easier to replicate with alternatives than the fishy flavor.

People who are vegan, vegetarian, or allergic to fish may want to avoid fish sauce and foods made with fish sauce. In those cases, you can use fish-free substitutes in its place, though the recipe may vary slightly. 

If you do not have any dietary restrictions or food allergies that prevent you from consuming fish, fish sauce can be part of a balanced diet when consumed in moderation because it can be high in sodium.

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3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Food allergies. Updated October 2015.

  2. USDA, FoodData Central. Sauce, fish, ready-to-serve. Published April 1, 2019.

  3. USDA. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025.