Vegan Fish Sauce Substitute is a staple in my kitchen. That’s because I love creating new recipes from Southeast Asian cuisine. Just like pasta and garlic are essential in an Italian kitchen, fish sauce is always within reach for the Thai or Vietnamese cook.
Do vegans eat fish sauce?
Now you might wonder why any vegan or vegetarian would bother with a substitute for fish sauce. Why not just use soy sauce and skip the fermented fish?
Well, think of a time you ordered a vegetarian dish at a Thai restaurant that knocked your socks off. Perhaps you tried to recreate it at home. But did you have the same disappointing experience I did? Time and again, my attempts to ace a favorite authentic Thai meal missed the mark. While I couldn’t put my finger on it, something crucial was missing.
Once I realized everything that went into the food at our local Thai restaurant, the mystery was solved. Restaurants don’t always disclose the fish sauce splashed liberally into soups and entrees when they print vegetarian items on their menu. If you want to avoid this unique fermented condiment, it takes a little extra vigilance.
It was clear then we had to ask if we wanted fish sauce left out. Hubby is strictly vegetarian. Also, I aspire to create as many vegan recipes as possible. Naturally, I didn’t want to use fish sauce when making my favorite Thai Style Hot and Sour Soup.
Still, we craved the mouthwatering impact of those traditional Southeast Asian flavors. Thus, Vegan Fish Sauce Substitute was born.
- Wakame Seaweed - Wakame is a brown seaweed in the ocean high in minerals and omega-3s. I like to use the type that is already cut and looks black once it's dried. It's the same seaweed used in many restaurants for miso soup. It expands tremendously when it's rehydrated. Thus the wide green ribbons in soup look very different from dry wakame in a package.
- Soy Sauce - Whichever type you typically cook with is fine for this recipe.
- Sesame Oil - Just a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil adds a roasty flavor that gives depth to the sauce.
- Dried Mushrooms - Shiitake is the dried mushroom used and an essential ingredient because it contributes umami in spades, just like wakame and soy sauce.
- Plain Oil- Completes the richness of the sauce and compliments the stronger tasting toasted sesame oil.
- Garlic - Gotta have the garlic.
- Lime - The slightly bitter edge of lime juice over lemon juice is perfect for the sauce. Be sure not to substitute any type of vinegar.
- Sea Salt - Fine grain sea salt is best here.
- Coconut Sugar - Organic unrefined coconut sugar adds sweetness and a touch of caramel. Terra Soul is one company that provides sustainably-farmed, unrefined, and GMO-free sugar.
- Peppercorn - Select whole black peppercorns.
Can I make it oil-free or gluten-free?
Yes, you can make this recipe without any oil if you prefer. It won't be as rich or have the same mouthfeel, but all the other intense flavors will come through.
You can also make it gluten-free by substituting tamari made with 100% soybeans and without wheat.
What does it taste like?
I did a lot of kitchen experimentation and research to identify the main flavor components needed to replace fish sauce. No, this plant-based version does not taste like fish.
Instead, it is deeply salty like the ocean, with just the right combination of funk, tangy brine, caramel, and umami that fermented fish sauce provides. It’s layered with flavor and gives real impact to dishes.
Because fish sauce is prevalent throughout all of Southeast Asia, you now have a plant-based condiment to branch out to a world of new recipes. I know I can't wait to try a number of Burmese and Malaysian specialties.
But don't stop there. You might like to make my incredible King Oyster Mock Clam Chowder which uses this seafood-free seasoning. Plus, a recipe for linguine with vegan clam bits is on the way. Vegan Fish Sauce Substitute is truly an amazing food to have on hand.
More vegan seasonings
Vegan Fish Sauce Substitute
- 2 cups water
- 4 cloves garlic halved
- ¼ cup dry wakame seaweed
- ½ cup sliced, dry shiitaki mushrooms
- ½ cup soy sauce or tamari for gluten-free
- 1 TB coconut palm sugar or brown sugar
- 2 teaspoon peppercorns
- 3 TB fresh lime juice
- 2 TB sea salt
- 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
- 1 TB avocado oil or plain vegetable oil
- Place everything in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and lower heat. Cover loosely and cook at a constant low boil for 20 minutes. Mixture will reduce down a little.
- Remove from heat and let steep until cool.
- Place a strainer over a bowl and pour sauce in. Shake pulp and press gently with back of a spoon. Don't press pulp through strainer.
- Transfer to a glass bottle and refrigerate. Vegan Fish Sauce Substitute keeps for at least 6 months.