Can Vegans eat fish sauce? (how to replace it)

In this blog post, we answered the following question: Can Vegans eat fish sauce? We also give you some ideas to replace fish in the vegan diet whether you are missing its flavor or nutritional properties. 

Can Vegans eat fish sauce?

Vegans cannot eat fish sauce, since it is made from a mix of fish and sea salt (5). Vegans do not eat fish and meat products, whose proteins are replaced by other proteins of vegetable origin, which can be found in tofu and soybeans.

The  recommended substitute for the fish sauce is soy sauce, although while it gives us the salty aspect and umami, it does not offer us the deep, earthy character of the original fish sauce.

Over half a million people in the UK (≈1% of the population) follow a vegan diet where all animal sources are substituted with plant-based alternatives. Veganism quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 in the UK with 600 000 vegans reported in 2019 (1).

Foods that replace fish in the vegan diet

Both on a nutritional level and a gastronomic level, we can find alternatives to avoid consuming fish.

  1. For its nutritional properties:
  • Protein intake (2)

If what we are looking for is a food rich in proteins and we are concerned about not obtaining them from fish, we will have to opt for vegetable protein sources such as legumes, seitan, quinoa, hemp seeds, or suitable combinations of foods.

Legumes would be the first option. Due to its great variety and the diversity of recipes that we can prepare with them, they will guarantee us a good supply of proteins without getting bored with them.

Soy, despite being a legume, deserves to be discussed separately. It is complete in amino acids so it is a good quality protein. Besides, we find it in a multitude of formats and preparations. Tofu, tempeh, or textured soy offer us an impressive range of possibilities in the kitchen.

Seitan is a protein food derived from wheat so it not only contains gluten but is also pure gluten. Because it comes from a cereal, it is not a complete protein and it would be necessary to accompany it with a legume to improve its quality.

Some seeds such as hemp or pseudo-cereals such as quinoa or buckwheat are good sources of protein and it is interesting to include them in our daily lives.

Microalgae are microscopic algae rich in protein, carbohydrates, lipids and other bioactive compounds. Microalgae-derived proteins have complete essential amino acid profiles and their protein content is higher than that of conventional sources, such as meat, poultry and dairy products. In addition, they are a source of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Therefore, microalgae and its derived compounds have been recently used as dietary supplements and sources (2).

  • Fatty acid contribution

But if there is a reason why the consumption of fish is generally recommended, it is because of its content in fatty acids, especially Omega3.

In the plant world, we can also find foods rich in this fatty acid, especially rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). We can turn to flax seeds and walnuts, especially. Using flax oil in salads or dressing our dishes with ground flax seeds is a simple and rich way to include it.

Alpha linolenic acid can also be found in hemp-seeds, chia seeds, leafy green vegetables (both terrestrial and marine), soybeans and soy products, and wheat germ, as well as in their respective oils. A direct plant source of EPA and DHA is microalgae, through which fish acquire them. Plant sources may be superior because they do not contain the contaminants that fish contain, including heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, as well as industrial pollutants (3).

  1. By its flavor:
  • Taste of the sea:

If we miss the salty taste of fish, our allies to achieve it will be algae: using seaweed as a condiment in some dishes will allow us to remember the taste of the sea.

Nori seaweed is easy to find and we can use it chopped or ground to flavor broths and soups or give the tofu a sea flavor.

The wakame seaweed, the sea spaghetti, or the hijiki seaweed have more flavor and by using a small amount in our rice dishes we will give a very interesting touch.

A lesser-known alga is a cochayuyo alga. Traditional from South America, specifically from Chile, it is much thicker than the others and in addition to flavor, it provides consistency. It can be added cut into pieces and previously hydrated in many dishes such as rice, sautéed with vegetables, or stews.

In addition, seaweed is a source of important antioxidants. Several reports have been focused on the enrichment of food products with seaweed extracts to evaluate their preservative properties and/or nutritional benefits. Extruded maize product enriched with red seaweed Porphyra columbina showed higher total phenolic content and antioxidant capacity than the extruded maize without seaweed. Addition of edible seaweeds, Sea Spaghetti (Himanthalia elongata), Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida), and Nori (Porphyra umbilicalis) to low-salt food systems, enriched the samples with soluble polyphenolic compounds thereby enhancing the antioxidant capacity of the systems (4).

  • Taste of a typical dish:

On many occasions, it is not the fish itself that we can miss but the taste of a specific dish that is traditionally made with fish. Pickled tuna, smoked salmon, marinated fish, or seafood salpicón, for example, are dishes that beyond being made with fish have a very specific flavor.

In this case, we will have two options, either to resort to commercial substitutes, which luckily are getting better and better both in texture and flavor or to be very creative in the kitchen and try to adapt these dishes ourselves. Generally, the strongest flavors are due to spices. This is the simplest option, since we will only have to use the same type of dressing to emulate the flavor.

Some ideas can be:

  • Marinate tofu tacos with a marinade before coating or breading.
  • If we wrap slices of tofu in nori seaweed and then batter it in a mixture of chickpea flour and water, we will have fillets similar to the fried fish of the typical “fish & chips”.
  • We can also make a vinaigrette with onion, pepper, tomato, and hydrated cochayuyo seaweed to remember the salpicón.
  • You can crush seitan into small pieces, or use textured soy, season it with oil, vinegar, some bay leaves, and some chopped nori leaves to get a maceration that may remind you of tuna.

As you can see, there are many alternatives and options so that, if you do not want any fish to die to be on your plate, you can eat rich and healthy without missing it.

Other FAQs about Vegans which you may be interested in.

Can Vegans eat curry sauce?

Is icing vegan?

Can vegans eat chocolate?

Conclusions

In this blog post, we answered the following question: Can Vegans eat fish sauce? We also gave you some ideas to replace fish in the vegan diet whether you are missing its flavor or nutritional properties. 

Since vegans do not eat fish meat, they cannot use fish sauce either. The most common alternative is to use soy sauce to obtain the umami taste. Fish undoubtedly has an interesting supply of vitamins, proteins, minerals, and fats that are very appropriate for the body (5). But all of them can be substituted with plant foods!

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know!

References

  1. Gallagher, Catherine T., Paul Hanley, and Katie E. Lane. Pattern analysis of vegan eating reveals healthy and unhealthy patterns within the vegan diet. Public Health Nutr, 2022, 25, 1310-1320.
  2. Alcorta, Alexandra, et al. Foods for Plant-Based Diets: Challenges and Innovations. Foods, 2021, 10.
  3. Hever, Julieanna. Plant-based diets: A physician’s guide. permanent j, 2016, 20, 3.
  4. Jerez-Martel, Idaira, et al. Phenolic profile and antioxidant activity of crude extracts from microalgae and cyanobacteria strains. J Food Qual, 2017.
  5. Saisithi, P. Traditional fermented fish: fish sauce production. Fisheries processing. Springer, Boston, MA, 1994. 111-131.