What can I use instead of fish sauce for vegetarians (5 Substitutes)

In the article, we will answer the question, “What can I use instead of fish sauce for vegetarians” and the alternatives for fish sauce, especially for vegetarians. 

What can I use instead of fish sauce for vegetarians?

There are more than 2,800 fish sauce production facilities in Vietnam, which has been producing more than 200 million liters per year, worth over VND 4,800 billion. However, Vietnam’s fish sauce exports account for only about 3–5% of the production. The leading cause of the current low export volume is that there are no well-established brands of Vietnamese fish sauce overseas (1).

Fish sauce, made by the fermentation of fish, is not appreciated by vegetarians for this very reason. If you are one, don’t worry because we have you covered. Here are some tasty sauces that are vegan friendly: 

  • Soy sauce 
  • Tamari sauce 
  • Vegan fish sauce 
  • Worcestershire sauce 
  • Coconut Aminos

What is fish sauce?

A popular seasoning in East Asian cuisine and South Asian cuisine, fish sauce is a liquid condiment. It is made by fermenting fish or krill that’s coated in salt for up to two years. The countries especially known for using fish sauce are Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan. 

Fish sauce is a clear brown liquid produced by spontaneous fermentation of diverse fish such as anchovies, sardines, and menhaden. During fermentation, protein hydrolysis is caused by endogenous proteinases in the fish muscle and digestive tract as well as proteases produced by halophilic bacteria. The species most commonly used for fish sauce production is Indian anchovy (Stolephorus spp.). Anchovies are normally caught and kept on board (1).

5 Alternatives for fish sauce for vegetarians 

Soy Sauce 

If your recipe calls for fish sauce but you are making it for someone who is vegetarian, then you can switch that for soy sauce. Consisting of fermented soybeans, salt, water, and wheat it replaces fish sauce pretty well. Bonus points for also being suitable for vegans. Fish swap can be switched for soy sauce at literally a 1:1 ratio because that is how close they are to the taste. However, if you are feeling creative you can try mixing in other ingredients with soy sauce for a little extra kick. But remember to make adjustments to your recipe to fit the original taste. 

Soybean sauce is a liquid seasoning obtained by fermentation of soybeans, non fermentation (e.g., hydrolysis) of soybeans, or by hydrolysis of vegetable protein. Soybean sauces include (1) fermented soybean sauce, which is a clear, non emulsified sauce made of soybeans, cereal, salt, and water by the fermentation process; (2) non fermented soybean sauce, also known as non brewed soybean sauce, which may be produced from vegetable proteins,such as defatted soybeans that are acid hydrolyzed, neutralized, and filtered; and (3) other soybean sauce—a non emulsified sauce made from fermented and/or non fermented soybean sauce, with or without sugar,and with or without the caramelization process (2).

Tamari 

We already established that soy sauce is a good replacement for fish sauce. Tamari is a type of soy sauce, therefore, becomes a perfect substitute. It is made from different ingredients and processed differently. The ingredients consist of water, miso paste containing soybeans, and salt. Tamari, as a whole, has a stronger, richer, and less salty taste when compared to soy sauce. While you can add tamari in a 1:1 ratio, it is advisable to use it by adding a little bit and then adjusting it according to the recipe. 

Tamari shoyu, which is characterized by greater viscosity and less aroma than koikuchi shoyu (shoyu, which has a strong aroma and a deep brown color, is produced from equal amounts of soybeans and wheat) but has a darker brown color, is produced using soybeans as the main ingredient with a relatively small amount of wheat. Tamari shoyu has low ratios of sugar to acid concentrations (3).

Vegan Fish Sauce 

One of the best replacements for fish sauce, when you are following a vegetarian diet or are allergic to fish in general, is vegan fish sauce. Made from shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, and liquid aminos. Extracted from either fermented coconut sap or hydrolyzed soybeans, are liquid aminos – that are then mixed with water and salt. Much like the soy sauce, and tamari sauce, this too can be switched with fish sauce at a 1:1 ratio. 

Non-animal sources, including cereals, vegetables, pulses, nuts, seaweed, microalgae, and fungi, are versatile and offer high flexibility for designing innovative plant-based food products. Plant-based foods and beverages qualify for vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian diets and include a broad range of products mimicking animal-based foods (4).

Worcestershire Sauce

Worcester sauce—a traditional English condiment with an intense flavor and composed of a mixture of ingredients, including soy sauce, garlic, onion, molasses, and anchovies—was invented in Worcester in 1835 by John Lea and William Perrins. According to Bottone, in 1835 Lord Marcus Sandys, an ex-governor of Bengal, approached Worcester chemists/grocers John Lea and William Perrins to replicate his favorite sauce. They made the sauce, but Sandys hated it, and the excess sauce was stored in a basement. After a year, the sauce, when tasted, had mellowed and hate became love and big business (2).

The sauce that we often have trouble pronouncing has the same flavour as fish sauce. They both share the same base ingredients of anchovies and are fermented for almost two years. However, Worcestershire sauce is a little less salty, a bit thicker, and does have a slightly different taste. However, if you are swapping out fish sauce for Worcestershire sauce, you can continue using our standard 1:1 ratio. 

Coconut Aminos

Extracted from fermented coconut sap, coconut aminos compliment almost every dish. They have a rich flavour. While it is a little sweeter than soy and fish sauce, the texture is darker. It has a lower sodium content than fish sauce usually has. However, it is the perfect substitute for vegetarians and vegans, as coconut aminos are wheat-free, soy-free, and gluten-free. And additionally, they are a vegan product. When you are switching coconut aminos for fish sauce, the ratio will remain as 1:1. 

Coconut is a raw material for the development of plant-based products; especially its oil is used in cheese alternatives. Previous studies reported coconut milk as a favorable medium for probiotic bacterial growth. Fermentation is an essential process to transform plant-based raw material into non-dairy alternatives. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) have been used since ancient times to ferment cereals, fruits, vegetables, meat, and milk, among others, with the preservation and organoleptic improvement purposes (5).

No fish sauce? No Problem!

While some decent alternatives have already been addressed in the blog, you can also make vegan fish sauce at home by replacing only those ingredients that do not sit well with your preferences. 

This recipe also takes into account the glutamates that are present in fish so you don’t miss out on any nutrients that are present in fermented fish. Here is what you need: 

  • Dried shiitake mushrooms
  • Soy Sauce
  • Salt

How to make vegan fish sauce at home?

  • Pour 3 cups of water in a saucepan and heat it until it starts to simmer.
  • Mix ¼ ounce of dried shiitake mushrooms, 3 Tablespoons of salt, and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and add it in the saucepan containing simmering water. 
  • Let the mixture heat until only half of it is left. This will result in a concentrated, viscous liquid. 
  • Strain your vegan fish sauce with the help of a strainer and you have your own homemade vegan fish sauce! 

To save this sauce for later use, cool and store in the refrigerator for best results. This sauce can last in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks if stored properly.  

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Conclusion

In the article, we answered the question, “What can I use instead of fish sauce for vegetarians” and the alternatives for fish sauce, especially for vegetarians. 

Citations 

  1. Tran, Quang Hieu, Thanh Tan Nguyen, and Kim Phuong Pham. Development of the high sensitivity and selectivity method for the determination of histamine in fish and fish sauce from vietnam by UPLC-MS/MS. Int j analyt chem, 2020.
  2. García‐Casal, Maria Nieves, Juan Pablo Peña‐Rosas, and Heber Gómez Malavé. Sauces, spices, and condiments: definitions, potential benefits, consumption patterns, and global markets. Annal New York Acad Sci, 2016, 1379, 3-16.
  3. Lioe, Hanifah Nuryani, et al. Chemical and sensory characteristics of low molecular weight fractions obtained from three types of Japanese soy sauce (shoyu)–Koikuchi, tamari and shiro shoyu. Food Chem, 2007, 100, 1669-1677.
  4. Boukid, Fatma, et al. Seafood alternatives: assessing the nutritional profile of products sold in the global market. Euro Food Res Technol, 2022, 1-10.
  5. Masiá, Carmen, Poul Erik Jensen, and Patrizia Buldo. Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus on physicochemical properties of fermented plant-based raw materials. Foods, 2020, 9, 1182.