If you enjoy cooking Southeast Asian fare in your kitchen but are following a vegan diet, you will run into some issues with any dish that contains fish sauce.
This unique ingredient has a very specific taste that is hard to reproduce without that primary animal ingredient. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Below, we’ve got 5 vegan fish sauce substitutes that are easy to whip up in the kitchen. Some perfectly imitate that savory, salty, umami flavor of real fish sauce, while others are great for those who’d rather skip that fishy aftertaste. We’ve also included some true-vegan fish sauce brands worth looking into and our own homemade vegan fish sauce recipe.
What is Fish Sauce?
Fish sauce is an ingredient and condiment made by coating small fish or krill in salt and letting them ferment for months or years. The result is a salty, savory, earthy, slightly sweet liquid with a very noticeable umami taste. This umami aspect, which is a flavor often attributed to aged cheeses and marinated meat, comes from the high glutamate content of the liquid.
Fish sauce is commonly used in Asian cuisine, particularly Vietnamese, Thai, Taiwanese, Filipino, Malaysian, and many more East and Southeast Asian cultures.
Some western cultures have historically used fish sauces as well. The most popular, garum, is a fermented fish sauce first crafted by the ancient Greeks and later used heavily by the Romans.
Is Fish Sauce Vegan?
Since the central ingredient in fish sauce is fish, no, it is not a vegan food. It is a safe food for pescatarians to enjoy, however, as it doesn’t typically contain any other animal ingredients.
While traditional fish sauce is not vegan, there are some vegan versions that you can buy at the store. We’ll tell you about some of our favorites in a moment.
Vegan Fish Sauce Substitutes
If you follow a vegan diet and want to cook up a meal that traditionally uses fish sauce, you have a few options of ingredients to replace it with. Which one you should choose depends a lot on your recipe, what flavor aspect of the fish sauce is most important to preserve, and if you enjoy that earthy, umami, fishy flavor or not.
1. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is one of the most obvious substitutes for fish sauce and one most home chefs are likely to have on hand.
This popular Asian condiment is made from fermented soybeans, salt, wheat, and water. It has plenty of umami flavor and is very salty. What soy sauce is missing is that deep earthy savoriness.
But, for a straightforward, easily available substitute that won’t leave a fishy aftertaste, soy sauce is a great choice.
Replace fish sauce with soy sauce at a one-to-one ratio.
Tamari is very similar to soy sauce in preparation and flavor with a few key differences.
Instead of wheat, most tamari is made with miso paste—a denser form of soy. This gives it a deeper umami flavor with less saltiness. Because most varieties are wheat-free, tamari is a great alternative for those with gluten allergies or sensitivities.
Tamari is a great fish sauce substitute but needs to be added slowly to find the right ratio for your particular dish.
Start with less than a one-to-one ratio and add slowly until you reach the desired flavor.
For those that really enjoy the earthy, fishy flavor of fish sauce but would prefer a vegan form, seaweed is going to be your best bet.
Seaweed, which is a term that refers to many different types of plants that grow in the sea, has a strong earthy umami flavor as well. It is naturally salty but not quite as intense as fish sauce, so you may need to add a touch of soy sauce or salt to really capture the taste.
Nori and kombu seaweeds make the best fish sauce substitutes. The only downside is that, whether used in raw or dried form, you’ll be dealing with a solid instead of a liquid ingredient. This can make finding the right ratio tricky.
We recommend starting with a small amount and adding more as needed.
4. Coconut Aminos
One flavor aspect few of the substitutes above can capture is the slightly sweet taste of fish sauce. This is where coconut aminos really give you the advantage.
This liquid ingredient is made of fermented coconut. It features a ton of umami flavor along with some sweetness and some saltiness. Overall, though, coconut aminos have much less sodium than fish sauce, so adding a touch of soy sauce might be helpful.
Coconut aminos can be swapped at a ratio of one-to-one.
5. Mushroom and Seaweed Broth
This substitute is going to take a little more work to throw together, but it is well worth it if you really want to imitate the complex flavors in fish sauce.
Start by adding ½ cup dried shiitake mushrooms to a pot filled with 4 cups of water. Next, add ¼ cup soy sauce or tamari, 2 4×4 inch sheets of seaweed, 2 ½ tablespoons of salt, and a dash of powdered garlic.
Bring the pot of water to a slow boil then simmer on low until the volume has reduced by half.
Strain out the solids and use the liquid at a one-to-one ratio.
Vegan Fish Sauce Brands
Want a perfect vegan fish sauce substitute without the work? A store-bought version may be your best option. Here are 4 of our favorite vegan fish sauce brands.
- Tofuna Fysh – This vegan alternative is made in Portland, Oregon from fresh ingredients like tamari, rice vinegar, and seaweed.
- 24 Vegan – This California-based company is owned by a Vietnamese woman who really knows her stuff. In addition to this spot-on fish sauce substitute, they also make some awesome vegetarian spices and flavorings.
- Wholesome Provisions – This is another Portland-based business run by another talented Vietnamese chef. This sauce is a touch sweeter than others and is meant to be used as a true condiment and dipping sauce.
- Chili Mash Company – This “VFish” sauce is made by a British company using fresh mushrooms, soy sauce, and seaweed.
- Ocean’s Halo – This organic vegan fish sauce is one of the most authentic and easiest to find. Many chain grocers carry it and you can buy it online.
How to Use Fish Sauce in Cooking
Now that you know how to substitute fish sauce with a vegan alternative and have some great options for vegan fish sauce brands, it’s time to get cooking.
As we mentioned above, fish sauce is a popular ingredient in a ton of great Asian dishes including:
- Authentic pad thai
- Vietnamese dipping sauce
- Fried rice
- Thai dipping sauce
- Lettuce wraps
- Thai noodle salad
- Stir fry
But the use of this tasty sauce isn’t limited to Eastern fare. There are many ways to include vegan fish sauce in your traditional American cooking as well. Some of our favorite dishes to add vegan fish sauce include:
- Pasta sauce
- Grilled veggies
- Salad dressing
- Homemade barbeque sauce
- Pickled veggies
- Dips and marinades
How to Make Vegan Fish Sauce
One of the best parts of making vegan fish sauce (or any other homemade condiment, for that matter) is the ability to control the ingredients. You can easily adjust the saltiness and umami of this sauce, depending on your preferences. Here’s how to make vegan fish sauce at home:
1. In a small skillet over medium heat, combine the water, dulse flakes, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, salt, and pepper. Don’t add the soy sauce and miso just yet.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by about half.
3. Strain the mixture. We used a funnel with a built-in strainer, but you can also use a sieve. Let cool.
4. Add two tablespoons of soy sauce and one teaspoon of miso, then whisk well. Taste and add more soy sauce, miso, or salt as necessary.
5. Store the fish sauce in an air-tight jar or bottle for up to three weeks. To serve, garnish the fish sauce with chili pepper flakes, sliced garlic, and/or sliced jalapeno peppers.
Recipe Tips, Variations, and Substitutions
- Use more dried mushrooms. For a stronger umami taste, use 1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms when simmering the ingredients together.
- Use another seaweed. If you can’t find dulse flakes, you can also use wakame, nori, or kelp. Depending on the brand, they may be available in cut or flaked forms.
- Replace the soy sauce. Coconut aminos and tamari can be used in place of soy sauce.
- Add a sweetener. For a sweeter fish sauce, add a drizzle of maple syrup or a bit of coconut sugar.
- Try another miso. Instead of white miso, try dark aged miso for a more intense flavor.
- Skip the miso. If you want to reduce the saltiness of this sauce, omit the miso.
Vegan Fish Sauce
- 2 ¼ cups water
- ½ cup dulse flakes
- ⅓ cup dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 teaspoon salt plus more as needed
- ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 2 garlic fresh cloves, minced
- 2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari or coconut aminos
- 1 teaspoon miso paste plus more as needed
- In a small skillet over medium heat, combine the water, dulse flakes, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, salt, and pepper. Don’t add the soy sauce and miso just yet.
- Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by about half.
- Strain the mixture. We used a funnel with a built-in strainer, but you can also use a sieve. Let cool.
- Add two tablespoons of soy sauce and one teaspoon of miso, then whisk well. Taste and add more soy sauce, miso, or salt as necessary.
- To serve, garnish the fish sauce with chili pepper flakes, sliced garlic, and/or sliced jalapeno peppers.
- Store the fish sauce in an air-tight jar or bottle in the refrigerator.
- It’s normal for the fish sauce to settle while in the refrigerator.
- Before using, shake the jar or bottle.
- Use the fish sauce within three weeks.