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Are there any good substitutes for Fish Sauce for cooking Thai food?

This is due to a severe food allergy (anaphylaxis) to all forms of seafood, so I'm unable to substitute for other fish-based products.

  • I concur with the others: a light soy sauce would be my choice as well, but note that there is nothing that is a good substitution for Thai fish sauce (even fish sauces from other countries, say Vietnam, have quite a different taste). – user553 Jul 17 '10 at 12:10
  • 1
    Have you tried Vegemite or Bovril? – Mr. Mascaro Jan 13 '15 at 16:30

14 Answers 14

25

Try mixing hoisin or miso into low-sodium soy sauce.

From one of my favorite bloggers, Smitten Kitchen, "I often see low-sodium soy sauce suggested as an alternative but I’m not convinced it’s a fair swap. There’s something more caramelized and fermented in the fish sauce that you’d miss. If you feel like playing around, I might whisk some additional hoisin or even miso into that soy sauce for a more complex flavor."

  • I never thought to do this. That sounds great. – Rob Jul 22 '10 at 12:36
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    I believe Cook's Illustrated suggested using a combination of soy sauce and mushroom stock to substitute fish sauce. (I usually use soy and kelp, but either way you're getting extra glutimates/nucleotides in there to enhance flavor.) – SourDoh Jul 11 '13 at 21:45
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    +1. Hoisin or miso will both provide a good dose of the umami which would have been provided by the fish sauce; mushroom stock would also be a useful contribution in that regard. – Vince Bowdren Jul 12 '13 at 11:11
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    Careful about "hoisin" (海鮮). That is the same term that Cantonese speakers use to describe oyster sauce -- condiment for boiled/steamed vegetables. Make sure you are getting vegetarian oyster sauce, which is made by both Chinese and Thai food manufacturers. Check for this character -- 素 -- to know if it is vegetarian. – kevinarpe Dec 14 '13 at 6:18
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    Hoisin sauce is sometimes flavored with star anise, cloves or other strong spices. While that will perfectly fit in a vietnamese pho, it could make a mess out of the flavor profile of a thai curry. – rackandboneman Aug 2 '16 at 7:45
11

If you cannot have fish at all, try using grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Fish sauce has two basic flavors: a sweeter one that is similar to Reggiano and a stronger one that is similar to cooked broccoli. If I were to experiment, I would try a mixture of the two, with maybe some of the juice made from the inside pulp of tomatoes (the gel-like thing with the seeds).

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    +1 for the flavor analysis and creative suggestion. Don't know if it would actually work, but I never would have thought of that. – Carey Gregory Nov 9 '13 at 1:09
9

You should look into vegetarian fish sauce. If you can't find it, but can find a vegetarian (anchovy-free) Worcestershire sauce, that will provide some of the flavour, though we haven't tried it with Thai food. :-) A salty chicken bouillon might also do the trick in a pinch.

3

Seaweed and lemon juice, that's what I'm using right now. I was just using the seaweed because I like it, was using lemon juice and soy sauce as the fish sauce replacement, but am pleasantly surprised that seaweed is providing that fish sauce flavor.

2

http://thegentlechef.com/blog/?p=1563

This briny infusion is rich in “umami” (a loanword from the Japanese which can be described as a “pleasant savory flavor”) and can be used in equal amounts as a replacement for traditional fish sauce in your favorite Southeast Asian recipes. This recipe yields about 1 cup.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ cup tamari, soy sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos™
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 T (4 g) dried shredded wakame (seaweed)
  • 1 oz (28 g) dried shiitake, porcini or portabella mushrooms
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 2 T mellow white miso paste -

Technique Bring all ingredients except for the miso to a boil in a small saucepan. Cover, reduce the heat to a vigorous simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Mix the miso into the macerated mixture.

Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a glass jar, pressing the solids with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Seal and refrigerate until ready to use. Due to its salt content, this sauce should stay fresh for several months in the refrigerator.

  • Ah man. That sounds delicious. – Preston Jun 20 '15 at 22:08
1

You can safely leave out the fish sauce without attempting to replace it with anything. First of all, it's really more fishy than salty, so substituting soy sauce often makes your dish too salty. Secondly, most curries or stews only call for a small amount of fish sauce and there are such wonderful things going on spice-wise in Thai cuisine that you really don't miss it.

  • agree with goblinbox (above). Unless you are craving a fish taste, i'd leave it out. I leave it out of all of my recipes now. The fishy taste AND SMELL overwhelms. I even opt sometimes for a tamari (even low-salt). Getting more familiar with the taste of the different ingredients rather than these sauces. – user21466 Nov 24 '13 at 16:04
1

Conimex makes a sweet, thick type of soy sauce called Ketchup Manis or Ketchup Bentang which we use a lot for marinades (pork, chicken satays etc) I love it put a little in fried rice, lo meins too. Yum! you can find it in some specialty food stores, Thai/asian sections and Asian food stores and online.

  • A good idea, but be warned that Ketjap Manis is often flavored with galangal (related to ginger), and is very sweet. Although I love it in fried rice, it might be better to look for 'superior soy' which is a dark soy sauce w/ sugar, but not to the molasses like quality of Ketjap Manis. – Joe Aug 2 '16 at 14:11
1

I've tried Bragg Liquid Aminos sauce which is saltier, less sweet and also tangier then regular soy sauce. I think its flavor also resembles fish sauce better than soy and it worked well with the dish I made (green papaya salad). According to its label, it's made with NON-GMO soybeans and purified water. And it's also not fermented or heated and Gluten-Free.

1

I cook with a vegetarian pho from my Vietnamese mother-in-law, who is the real deal! It calls for no fish sauce and instead calls for 1/2 c. soy sauce and 1 Tbsp. sugar in the broth. It's delicious! Maybe that's the substitute for fish sauce.

0

Your best bet is a light soy sauce, that, at least, will provide the 'saltiness' If you need a fishy flavor you could always add a little fish paste or perhaps a fillet from a tin or bottle of fish, such as anchovies. Just 'wizz' the two in a blender for a few minutes.

  • Thanks for your response, will try the light soy sauce, but unfortunately can't use fish paste or anchovies due to food allergy. I clarified the initial question. – Todd Hunter Jul 17 '10 at 12:01
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You could use a smaller amount of oyster sauce if the person was only allergic to fish... (But keep in mind that some oyster sauces also include fish sauce, so check carefully!).

That said, if the person is also allergic to oyster sauce (as your question states), then I'd probably subtitute it with some stock instead, perhaps a small amount of soy sauce, and add less sugar, because it will also be sweeter.

0

I don't believe there is a substitute for fish sauce. Soy sauce is completely different. If using as a dipping sauce substitute , use soy sauce mixed with vinegar and sugar. Another option is soy sauce mixed with fermented soybean paste, sugar, vinegar, chili pepper and water for dipping things like Vietnamese spring rolls. Another alternative would be lime juice with soy sauce and sugar to dress a salad. If cooking, I would use salt with a little MSG. MSG adds Umami that can't be achieved even with fish sauce. Worcestershire sauce is totally different from fish sauce. Spices in it are too overpowering. Hope that helps.

-3

I've not tried it, but a combination of light soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce seems like a good bet. They both provide umami, soy sauce has the saltiness, and Worcestershire sauce is also made from fermented fish.

  • Doesn't that defeat the point? – Arafangion Oct 4 '10 at 14:18
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    Since its made with fermented fish, it's fish sauce. – J. Win. Jan 31 '11 at 22:20
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Soy sauce contains E numbers that are derived from Fish! So any type of Soy sauce is out of the question for those with a fish allergy.

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    This would be a much better answer if you would say exactly which E numbers you have in mind. As it is, it contains very important information (people with fish allergy have to check if their soy sauce could trigger it), but I doubt that all soy sauces in the world use the same additives, or that the same additive is always extracted from fish. – rumtscho Jan 13 '15 at 16:21
  • Most Soy sauce contains no fish at all; I've never seen such a thing. Most soy sauces, like Kikkoman, contain wheat, soybeans, water and salt plus a preservative. In Kikkoman, that preservative is sodium Benzoate (<1%) its number is E211. Benzoic acid occurs naturally at low levels in cranberries, prunes, greengage plums, cinnamon, ripe cloves, and apples. There is no animal source for it at all. From Wiki Sodium benzoate is produced by the neutralization of benzoic acid with sodium hydroxide, AKA lye. – Jolenealaska Jan 13 '15 at 20:09
  • What he likely means are the guanylate and inosinate compounds added to SOME brands of soy sauce. These are SOMETIMES derived from fish. – rackandboneman Aug 2 '16 at 7:41

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