Fish sauce is a condiment made from fermented, salt-coated fish that's used most popularly as a seasoning, salt alternative, and base for dipping sauces. The flavor is salty, slightly sour, but mostly savory, and commonly associated with Southeast and East Asian cuisines.

Because the sauce is made with fish, it can't be consumed by vegans or vegetarians, and those with allergies to seafood are advised to steer clear.

If you're looking for the quickest fish sauce alternative to use in a recipe, plain soy sauce is typically the go-to condiment, though many find that this makes for a less complex dish that's missing the distinct, subtly meaty flavor. While it is technically possible to make fish sauce from scratch by salting your own fish and leaving the contents in jars to ferment for weeks, if you're looking for a fish sauce substitute to use in a recipe, you probably don't have that kind of time!

Some other quick substitutions include:
Worcestershire sauce
Soy sauce and mushroom stock
Soy sauce and anchovy paste
Soy sauce mixed with miso

fish sauce next to fish in bowl

Fishless Fish Sauce Substitute

This fish sauce substitution gets its savoriness from shiitake mushrooms and salt, making it a great fish sauce alternative for vegans, vegetarians, and those with seafood allergies. Use this recipe as a 1:1 substitute for fish sauce on its own or in recipes calling for fish sauce.

What You'll Need

  • 3 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1/4 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms (sliced)
  • 3 tablespoons of salt
  • saucepan
  • strainer

Step 1 - Simmer Water

Use your saucepan to bring 3 cups of water to a simmer.

Step 2 - Add Ingredients

Over medium heat, mix together 1/4 ounce of dried sliced shiitake mushrooms, 3 tablespoons of salt, and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Continue stirring until the pan contents have been reduced by half.

Step 3 - Strain and Cool

Use your strainer to filter the mushroom pieces from the mixture, then leave the sauce aside to cool. Once cooled, store in the fridge in a sealed container for up to three weeks.

fish sauce in a bowl

What Fish Sauce Is Used For

Traditional fish sauce is used as a seasoning for soups and rice-based dishes, and also gets used as a complement to meat entrees. Fish sauce is a popular base for many dipping sauces, and is frequently a salt alternative in recipes that call for that extra, tangy kick. When used as a salt alternative, fish sauce tends to provide the fishy, salty essence of seafood that works well in seafood pasta and stir-frys.

Depending on the consumer's tolerance for salt, fish sauce is sometimes watered down to accommodate palates that may not agree with the high salt content.

Why This Substitution Works

This recipe is salty like fish sauce but creates the meaty, hearty depth of a fish sauce through the use of shiitake mushrooms. Naturally, fish sauce is high in glutamates - tastebud stimulators that allow that savory umami flavor common in animal proteins. This mushroom-based substitution works because shiitake mushrooms are rich is nucleotides, molecules that enhance the umami taste sensation like glutamates. The marriage of shiitake mushrooms' nucleotides and soy sauce's glutamates creates a sauce with a comparable level of salty but meaty complexity to original fish sauce flavors.

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