Vegan Fish Sauce: The No-Fish Sauce You Can Make at Home

We'll shed some light on why a vegan fish sauce is a better alternative.
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / allybally4b

Vegan fish sauce is a flavorful and conscientious alternative to the beloved Southeast Asian condiment. We’ll shed some light on its benefits and how you can make a delicious plant-based sauce at home. 

In a fascinating testament to its versatility, fish sauce has traveled through many centuries and cultures to retain its spot at the table. The first reported origins of fish sauce hark as far back as Ancient Greece and Rome, where the condiment was known as gàros or garum.

Remarkably, the Italian archaeologist Claudio Giardiono has traced the earliest mentions of fish sauce in Roman literature as far back as the 4th century BC. In the Eastern hemisphere, fish sauce enjoys enduring popularity in Southeast Asian cuisine.

In Thailand, where’s it added open-handedly to most dishes, fish sauce is known as nam pla, and in Myanmar, it’s ngan bya ya. It’s also highly cherished in Laos, Cambodia, and the Philippines. Regardless of its ever-evolving names, one fact stands the test of time. Fish sauce plays a vital role in enhancing many excellent dishes, which brings us to how it’s used – and why vegan fish sauce might be a better alternative.

How Fish Sauce is Used

Vegan fish sauce is a great alternative to many traditional Southeast Asian dishes.
Vegan fish sauce is a great alternative to many traditional Southeast Asian dishes. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / ANDRODYN)

With its distinct reddish-golden-brown color, fish sauce is employed as a flavorful base for many dishes. It’s often used to marinate fish, chicken, and other meat dishes, plus homemade soups, salads, curries, stir-fries, pad thai, and omelets. Traditionally, it’s mixed with fresh chilies and lime juice to produce a bold, unmistakable flavor.

At its essence, fish sauce is typically comprised of three key ingredients:

  • fermented fish
  • water
  • salt

Generally, the fish (typically anchovies) are placed in a barrel with salt and left to ferment, taking between several months right up to two years. Next, the fish are pressed down so that the fish sauce liquid itself can be extracted.

Although some brands may deviate slightly from this simple formula, and occasionally use other fish like shrimp or squid, the basic formula of a traditional fish sauce remains fish, water, and salt. Occasionally molasses or caramel are used to enrich the flavors.

Why Vegan Fish Sauce Is a Better Alternative

Although the name vegan fish sauce might seem a bit of a misnomer, it’s a much more sustainable and ethical alternative for dishes that lean on fish sauce for a base. Although fish is arguably a great source of Omega 3, it’s more than convenient to obtain Omega 3 from flaxseeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.

On an ecological level, the fishing industry’s consequences have colossal and troubling implications that are bigger than all of us. The irreversible damage to the environment caused by overfishing and habitat destruction is occurring the world over at a highly alarming, unprecedented level, and will surely contribute to a loss in biodiversity.

To make matters worse, many more species of fish become entangled in the bycatch, leading to a further loss of marine life. Although many food manufacturing companies sing the tune of ethical fishing, the bitter truth is that the legislation surrounding the fishing industry has many loopholes that are exploited.

On another ethical level, fish have been shown time and time again to exhibit feelings and display social bonding behaviors. When it comes to the pecking order for valued species, it seems the sentience of marine life is often disregarded in the debate.

Finally, another reason why you should strive towards vegan fish sauce comes down to its benefits for your health. The classic fish sauce fermentation process involves a lot of salt, which means that ordinary fish sauce contains unhealthy levels of sodium. 

Not only will vegan fish sauce have lower levels of sodium,  the fact that it’s plant-based means that people with seafood allergies will finally be able to enjoy it in their cooking.

How to Make Vegan Fish Sauce at Home

Shiitake mushrooms are a key part of our delicious vegan fish sauce recipe.
Shiitake mushrooms are a key part of our delicious vegan fish sauce recipe. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / 6437364)

Finally, the time has come to share our delicious all-natural, organic, homemade vegan fish sauce recipe. Although it’s increasingly easy to find natural vegan fish sauce brands online, or in an organic store near you, the best option is always to make it yourself.

So without further delay, here is our homemade vegan fish sauce recipe, step-by-step:

Ingredients 

  • ¼ cup of dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tsp of sea salt
  • ¼ cup of loosely packed seaweed
  • 1 ¼ cups of water (filtered)
  • 1 ½ tsp of miso sauce (chickpea or soy miso works great. Gluten-free options also work fine)
  • 2 tbsp of tamari

Instructions

  1. Add your dried shiitake mushrooms, sea salt, and seaweed to water in a saucepan.
  2. Once boiling, cover with a lid and reduce heat. Allow simmering for 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. After that, remove your saucepan from the stove and let it cool slightly.
  4. Next, pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Be sure to squeeze the mushrooms and seaweed with a spoon for every last drop of liquid.
  5. Add your miso and tamari to the bowl. Adjust levels according to taste. Add more salt, miso, or tamari for further depth.
  6. Store your container in a refrigerator in which the vegan fish sauce should last for a month. Alternatively, pour it into an ice tray and freeze for up to 2 months.
  7. Shake well before serving. And enjoy!

Congratulations, your vegan fish sauce is ready to be enjoyed with a huge variety of delicious recipes. There are of course a few variations you can make. For instance, any other kind of dried or fresh mushroom will suffice. Additionally, you can also use coconut aminos instead of tamari for a soy-free vegan fish sauce.

You can also add some lime or chopped chilis if you fancy an extra sharpness to the flavor. This vegan fish sauce is a great addition to many Thai and Vietnamese dishes. If that’s not enough, you can also rest assured that no animals or shellfish were harmed in its making.

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