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Unfortunately, like oyster sauce, fish sauce’s flavor derives from the process of fermenting fish for anywhere from a couple of months to a few years.
Usually, manufacturers use small fish like anchovies and coat them in salt inside large barrels, where the natural bacterias start to break down the fish, producing a briny liquid called fish sauce.
Needless to say, fish sauce is not suitable for vegans, therefore, I’ve researched a few alternative sauces that will provide you with a similar taste and consistency to regular fish sauce.
5 Vegan Fish Sauce Substitutes
Fish sauce is commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking, and it provides dishes like pad thai or pho with a rich, savory, earthy, and umami flavor.
Umami is known as the fifth taste, and it’s basically a Japanese term that translates to “pleasant savory taste”, which is derived from three umami substances that can be found in plants and animals, and fish sauce contains a lot of these substances.
As vegans we can’t have fish sauce, so we need to find sauces that have ingredients packed with umami substances, and I’ve managed to find five of them.
Vegan Fish Sauce
Vegan fish sauce exists, and you can easily find it online. Amazon, in particular, has three vegan fish sauces, including Ocean’s Halo No Fish Sauce, 24 Vegan Fish Sauce, and Tofuna Fysh’s Vegan Fysh Sauce.
They have different ingredients, but one ingredient that you will find in common is seaweed, which is a great source of umami due to its high glutamate content. Oftentimes, you’ll see kombu seaweeds being used to add depth to broths and sauces in Japanese cuisine.
Tofuna Fysh’s Vegan Fysh Sauce contains organic tamari, rice vinegar, pineapple juice concentrate, organic seaweed blend, and wasabi, which gives it a spicy punch.
Any of the vegan fish sauces are a great alternative, but you’ll probably have to order them online.
Mushroom Sauce or Vegan Oyster Sauce
Mushroom sauce is a vegetarian version of oyster sauce, however, it can also be a vegetarian version of fish sauce due to its deep, umami taste.
If you want to find the closest thing to fish sauce, Wan Ja Shan and Kikkoman produce a vegetarian oyster sauce from shitake or oyster mushrooms, which are incredibly rich in umami.
Mushroom sauces are typically made with mushrooms, water, soybeans, wheat, sugar, and salt, and most manufacturers also add seasonings and preservatives.
The sauce itself is thick and has a similar color to fish sauce, but has a more thin consistency, which is certainly not a deal-breaker, especially if you wish to use it for a recipe.
Sweet Soy Sauce
The sweet soy sauce has a dark color and viscous consistency.
It tastes like molasses because of the added palm sugar, which gives it a mildly sweet flavor mixed with the umami acidity that is characteristic of Indonesian dishes such as nasi goreng, ayam kecap, semur dragging, and gurame bakar, all of which are meat-based dishes, unfortunately.
Sweet soy sauce is made from a fermented paste of black beans, roasted grain, salt, water, and Aspergillus Wentii, a mold to which the palm sugar is added. It’s also seasoned with spices such as star anise, cinnamon, black pepper, coriander, and clove.
It’s not that similar to fish sauce, but it should work as a decent replacement in recipes.
Vegan Worcestershire Sauce
The regular Worcestershire sauce traditionally contains anchovies and fish sauce, which makes it non-suitable for vegans, and most vegetarians as well.
However, you can now find vegan Worcestershire sauce in regular supermarkets (Kroger), which you can also use to add a lovely, savory flavor to dishes. There is also Annie’s Worcestershire sauce which is organic, and also free from animal ingredients, and you can easily find it on Amazon.
Vegan Worcestershire sauce contains ingredients such as apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, onions, chili peppers, and a few other plant-based ingredients. Like the regular Worcestershire sauce, it also has a powerful umami flavor, which is essentially what you’re looking for in a vegan fish sauce replacement.
Hoisin sauce is a brown sauce with a very similar consistency to fish sauce, however, I don’t think the taste is that similar, even though you can use it as a decent substitute.
Hoisin sauce is often used in Cantonese cuisine as a glaze for meat or as a dipping sauce.
The recipe for each hoisin sauce varies based on the brand or location where it’s produced, but it usually includes soybeans, fennel, red chili peppers, and garlic.
Some manufacturers might also include vinegar, different spices, and sometimes cane sugar.
This sauce is easy to find in most grocery stores and it’s a decent substitute for fish sauce if you want to add a deep, savory flavor to dishes.
I’ve yet to come across a hoisin sauce that contains animal ingredients, but let me know if you have found one so that I can at least make other people aware of it.
Making Homemade Vegan Fish Sauce
If you can’t find any of the options above, or you simply want to opt for less processed and healthier alternatives, then the best option is to make your vegan fish sauce at home.
The Minimalist Baker has created a recipe that is easy to replicate, and it only requires five ingredients, including dulse (a seaweed), dried shiitake mushrooms, tamari, chickpea miso, water, and sea salt.
The result looks amazing and has a very resembling taste.
Even though the fish sauce is not vegan, today you’re able to find pretty good alternatives, namely vegan fish sauce, which is usually made with seaweeds that are packed with umami flavor due to their high glutamate content.
Other alternatives that you can use are sweet soy sauce, mushroom sauce (or vegetarian oyster sauce), vegan Worcestershire sauce, and hoisin sauce. However, the closest alternatives you will get to the original fish sauce are the vegan fish sauce and the vegetarian oyster sauce.
If you can’t find any of these alternatives online or in a store near you, the next best option is to make your own homemade vegan fish sauce.