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Vegan Fish Sauce Substitute

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This vegan fish sauce substitute makes Thai and Vietnamese cuisine possible for anyone who eats vegan or is allergic to fish. When planning for a Thai cooking class with one vegan participant I found this recipe.

I previously wrote a post about store bought fish sauce the ubiquitous ingredient in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. It cannot be omitted but for those who must omit it, our cooking class group thought this vegan fish sauce substitute was an excellent replacement.

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Sweet, Salt, Sour, Bitter and Umami

With the popularity of cooking shows umami is becoming well known. It is the meaty, savory flavour taste we love and it comes from glutamates. These amino acids are found in animal protein but also in some vegetables, seaweed and fermented foods. In Thai and Vietnamese cooking fish sauce contributes to both the salt and umami taste.

Vegan Fish Sauce Substitute

Fortunately Americas Test Kitchen did all the work and gave us this recipe. They tried seaweed but it did not give the meaty punch of fish sauce. They found that dried shiitake mushrooms with soy sauce and a salty broth mimicked the taste more closely. After using it in these recipes I agree.

A jar of a Vegan Fish Sauce Substitute
Vegan Fish Sauce Substitute -photo credit Jim Little

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Lucky for me I always have a bag of dried shiitake mushrooms, also called Chinese black mushrooms. They are sold in a large bag so I give them away generously and store the rest in my freezer. I buy them at the Chinese grocery store and use them in my decidedly non-vegan Lion’s Head Meatballs.

During our Thai cooking class we used this vegan fish sauce substitute to make Yellow Chicken Curry with broccoli instead of chicken, and a Cucumber Carrot Salad. I also figured out that the store bought yellow curry paste is vegan…bonus.

A comparison of homemade and store bought gluten free Thai Yellow Curry Paste
Gluten Free Thai Yellow Curry Paste -photo credit Jim Little

Please share this recipe with anyone who might be missing out on Asian recipes that call for fish sauce. In the comments below I’d love to hear what you made with fish sauce or with this fish sauce substitute.


3 cups water
¼ oz dried, shiitake mushrooms (7g or 2-3 mushrooms)
3 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp GF soy sauce


Put water, dried mushrooms, salt and soy sauce in a saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat.
Turn down heat and simmer until reduced by half, about 30 minutes.
Strain into a glass jar. Cool, label and store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.


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