Every kitchen has its staples. More often than not, when you’re looking to pack flavor into a dish, the fish sauce will be one of the first ingredients you grab. This type of sauce has been a staple sauce in Asian cuisine for thousands of years, and it’s now enjoyed by people from different cultures all over the world.
Fish sauce is known for putting the very important umami flavor in sauces, dips, and dishes. Fish sauce is usually made by combining salt, fish or krill, and water along with the unique flavors that are chosen by the manufacturer. The mixture is then placed into a wooden barrel and left to ferment for a minimum of 1 year.
There are hundreds of fish sauces out there, all different in their own ways. Knowing what the best fish sauce is to purchase can be challenging, so we’ve created a guide on the best fish sauces out there. Before reviewing each of these fish sauces, and we’re going to take you through a buying guide to make sure you will get the right one for your meals. (But in case you are familiar with the fish sauce, just move to the next section using the “Table of contents” below)
What is Fish Sauce?
Chances are if you’re reading this you already know what fish sauce is, but we wanted to provide a bit more information about it.
So the basic definition of this type of sauce is fish (mainly anchovies) mixed with sea salt (potentially other ingredients such as sugar) that is fermented for at least a year. The remaining liquid is called fish sauce. Fish sauce has a different name in each Asian culture.
In Thailand, it’s called nam pla. In the Philippines, it’s called patis. In Vietnam, it’s called nuoc mam. In Korea, it’s called aek jeot. It’s believed that fish sauce came before soy sauce. Fish and meats were the first foods to ever be fermented by the Chinese population. After that, soy beans were introduced and soy sauce was created.
How to Determine the Best Tasting Fish Sauce
With so many fish sauces out there, it can be hard to pinpoint what brand has the best flavor. Here are some pointers to consider when deciding what sauce tastes best:
- The only ingredients you should be able to taste are fish and sea salt. This will help determine how “pure” the fish sauce is.
- Fish should be the main flavor that you taste, followed by salt. It shouldn’t be the other way around.
- The fish should taste like they’ve been from the ocean, they shouldn’t be overly “fishy” and the smell shouldn’t be overwhelmingly off-putting.
- It shouldn’t be too sweet. Some sweetness is okay, and some sauces will be naturally sweet from the anchovies themselves.
What to Consider When Shopping For this Sauce
Chances are, the first sauce you try won’t be your favorite. It can take trying a few to find one that you really love. Everyone’s taste buds are different, so it’s truly a personal decision.
Some people like their sauce sweet, others like it fishy, some like the fishy smelling scent, others don’t. Some like their sauce really salty, others like undertone flavors such as smoke or maple. Here are some things to consider when finding out what fish sauce is right for you.
Read the nutritional label and ingredients
If you’re looking for a true traditional fish sauce, it should only have two ingredients (salt and fish). Sometimes it can say “fish extract” or “anchovy extract” and that’s still just as good. Try to look if it’s made out of one type of fish, or multiple. All of the best fish sauces will only be made out of one type of fish. The most common one is anchovy, but mackerel and shad fishes are common too.
Try to avoid sauces that have added preservatives and unnecessary ingredients in them. Adding preservatives can make the process of making fish sauce finish faster, but it just won’t taste the same.
Check the nitrogen content
You can tell how much nitrogen a fish sauce has by the number of degrees N it has. Not all fish sauce bottles include their nitrogen content, but if you do see a bottle stating degrees N it’s always a good sign.
The nitrogen indicates how much protein a fish sauce has. The higher the protein content, the better tasting it will be. 30°N is the standard for fish sauce, but high-quality brands of fish sauce are 40°N and even 50°N. The higher the nitrogen content, the higher the price will likely be. Even if it’s just a few dollars more, it’s definitely worth it for the higher quality.
Inspect the color
Most fish sauces have different hues and colors. Some are light and transparent, others are thicker and darker. The color actually helps tell you what the weather was like during the creation of the sauce.
If the fish sauce was exposed to lots of bright sunshine while the salt was being removed from the fish extract, it will have an overall lighter color. If there wasn’t as much sunlight and it was a lengthier process removing the salt from the fish extract, the sauce will be darker in color. It will also have a more complex and deeper flavor.
Sometimes you’ll find cloudy fish sauce, and this isn’t a bad thing. It usually means that the protein content in that sauce is pretty high. When it comes down to it, there is no wrong color that sauce should be.
If you’re looking for a sauce with a deep and complex flavor, try a darker sauce. If you want to try a bottle that isn’t overwhelmingly strong and more subtle, try a lighter colored sauce.
Smell the sauce before you use it
Obviously, this isn’t something you can do until after you purchase the fish sauce. The smell usually indicates is the sauce is good or not. There will usually be a distinguishable fish smell, but it shouldn’t smell bad.
Sauces with additives usually will smell less than those made by hand. In regards to the color of the sauce, the lighter colored fish sauces are usually less smelly since they were in the sun longer.
Finally, taste it
This is the last step in picking your favorite sauce. Good sauce will taste like fish, not like salt. The salt flavor will come after the fish flavor, along with the sweetness if it has any. Good sauce won’t taste bitter at all. Your tastebuds will give you a better idea of the sodium content compared to the nutrition label. Some will have too much salt, some not enough, but the perfect sauce will have the ideal balance of salt.
Without further ado, here’s the list of the best fish sauces that you can buy online.
Best Fish Sauces Reviewed
Thai Kitchen Gluten Free Premium
Thai Kitchen is a brand that most of us are familiar with since it’s found in many groceries stores in North America. The company uses salted anchovies that are carefully pressed. This Thai sauce has a specific savory flavor that is specific to Thai cuisine.
In addition to pressed salted anchovies, the Thai Kitchen Gluten Free Premium also contains water and sugar. The sugar adds a whole other dimension to the flavors. Due to the added sweetness from the sugar, this sauce is commonly used in sweet and spicy Thai dishes. It helps balance out the spice.
As the name suggests, the Thai Kitchen Premium is gluten-free and can be used in replacement of soy sauce for most recipes. 1 tablespoon of this sauce contains 2 grams of protein.
Get the look: Thai Kitchen Gluten Free Premium
Red Boat Premium
This sauce is the secret ingredient that any cook needs. Whether you’re a professional cook or a passionate home cook, Red Boat Premium can take your dishes to the next level. Red Boat Premium is made in Vietnam with traditional fermentation methods.
The Red Boat Premium is made out of black anchovy that was salted just minutes after being caught from the sea. After that, it was aged for more than one year in wooden barrels. The anchovies are only caught from a special island with crystal clear water.
This sauce contains literally only two ingredients – anchovies and sea salt. It’s not watered down, there’s no MSG or any preservatives. Instead, the sea salt acts as a natural preservative. It’s naturally gluten-free and shellfish-free for those who have allergies.
For many fish sauces, you can tell the quality of them based on their protein levels. Red Boat 40 N has the highest natural protein content compared to all other fish sauces. The high protein level adds to the delicious savory flavor. The black anchovies used also provide a high amount of minerals and various B vitamins.
Red boat was one of the first brands to state the degrees on their fish sauce (40°N for this specific one). Degrees are used to measure how many grams of nitrogen per liter of fish sauce there is. The grams of nitrogen per liter directly correlates to how much protein the fish sauce has.
All of the high-quality sauces will have more than 30°N. The higher this number goes, the more complex and rich the flavor will be.
Get the look: Red Boat Premium
Lucky Brand Thai
This sauce is a favorite of many due to the great taste and affordable price. It also comes in a pretty large bottle of 23 Fl. Oz.
The ingredients of this Thai fish sauce are anchovy extract, salt, sugar, and water. Due to the fact that this contains anchovy extract instead of actual anchovies, the flavor isn’t as strong. If you do like strong sauce flavors, you can simply add more.
Something to keep in mind though is that the sauce is quite salty. One tablespoon contains 1060 mg of sodium, so you likely won’t need to add any salt to your dish. Lucky Brand Thai contains no MSG and it’s also gluten-free.
Get the look: Lucky Brand Thai
Golden Boy Brand
Golden Boy Brand Fish Sauce is made by the company Temple of Thai. It is a light golden color. This sauce is made using traditional fermentation methods. It’s considered to be a gourmet fish sauce due to its high-quality taste.
There isn’t an overwhelmingly strong smell with this sauce. It’s a little sweet and a little bitter. The two balance each other out nicely. The only ingredients included are anchovy fish, salt and sugar. It’s not watered down like other fish sauces are.
The Golden Boy Brand is so good that it has even warned awards. Golden Boy’ssauce was given the first prize of “Best Thai Authentic Fish Sauce” by the reputable Kasetsart University in Thailand. The protein content is 7.44% by weight, and there’s only 1 gram of sugar per serving.
Get the look: Golden Boy Brand
Megachef Premium Anchovy Sauce
The Megachef premium anchovy sauce is ideal for those who would like a little bit of savory and mellow flavor in their dishes. This fish sourced from Thailand comes in a large bottle (23.6 fl. oz.).
The sauce has a unique flavor that is different from other typical fish sauce. This is due to the two years natural fermentation process it undergoes, unlike the one year for most fish sauce. It is gluten, MSG, and preservative-free and contains no artificial color. Megachef Premium Anchovy Sauce is made from fresh anchovies mixed with sea salt and can be used in a variety of ways either to marinate, season, or stir fry.
Get the look: Megachef Premium Anchovy Sauce
Son Fish Sauce 40N
Son Fish sauce is part of a generation of fish sauce that has been produced by a family-owned venture since 1951 in Vietnam. The sauce is a favorite with South Asian dishes and mostly used in place of salt to bring out an umami flavor.
This sauce is made from wild anchovies that are fermented naturally for one year with the aid of sea salt. The N in the label referred to the nitrogen levels in the sauce, which in turn shows high protein quantities in the sauce. A high level of nitrogen concentration per liter results in an intense umami flavor due to more protein quantities. This sauce is one of the few all-natural fish sauces that contains no preservatives.
Get the look: Son Fish Sauce 40N
Red Boat Fish sauce is a traditional Vietnamese fish sauce that’s currently packaged in the US. It is used to enhance depth and unique flavor in dishes, dips, and appetizers by adding a little saltiness and umami flavor. The sauce is made from only two ingredients; black anchovy, which is salted immediately after leaving the waters and fermented for about a year in traditional Vietnamese wooden barrels. The sea salt is used as the main preservative. After a year, pure fish sauce is pressed, filtered, and bottled.
Red Boat sauce does not contain any preservatives, MSG, or added water. Besides, it is free from all the bad stuff like cholesterol, sugar, trans fat, and carbs. The Black anchovies used in making the Red Boat sauce are sourced from crystal clear waters in Vietnam. The Red Boat sauce has the highest protein content than any other fish sauce. This high protein level is used to add the delicious savory flavor.
Get the look: Red Boat
Premium Fish Sauce Nuoc Mam Vietnam Multi-purpose
A typical fish sauce brand in East and South Asia, the Premium Fish Sauce Nuoc Mam Vietnam Multipurpose will add a unique savory and sweet flavor to your dishes, sauces, and dips. It has a light anchovy taste with a savory mouthfeel and slight sweetness at the end.
This sauce is gaining traction outside Asia as it can be used in both Asian and non-Asia dishes. Its main ingredients are French anchovy mixed with salt. It is then fermented for up to 12 months without adding any preservative.
Get the look: Premium Fish Sauce Nuoc Mam Vietnam Multi-purpose
Blis Barrel Aged
For years, many people have depended on fish sauce from south Asia as the main seasoning for Asian cuisines. The Red boat has been one of the favorite fish sauces for people outside Asia. Red boat has since partnered with bliss foods to produce rich-tasting deep flavored fish sauce; Blis Barrel Aged Fish Sauce
In this production process, Red Boat sauce that has been aging in wooden barrels for almost a year is transferred to a bourbon barrel and aged for another 17 months. This bourbon barrel is one that had been previously used to age Blis maple syrup. This sauce has such a unique taste with a great smell. It is however only available in 200ml sized bottles.
Get the look: Blis Barrel Aged
Thai Kitchen Premium Fish Sauce
This is a typical sauce in the USA, as it is found in many grocery stores. The Thai kitchen premium fish sauce provides the needed savory flavor that is found in Thai traditional cuisine. It is mostly used as a substitute for salt or soy sauce to give that delicious taste to any food. A tablespoon of this sauce contains 2 grams of protein. This sauce blends well with the tangy, spicy, and sweet flavor contained in Thai dishes.
This sauce is made by pressing salted anchovies that have undergone fermentation. Its main ingredients are anchovy, water, sea salt, and sugar. Thai Kitchen Premium Fish Sauce is MSG and gluten-free. Because of the sweet taste from sugar in the fish sauce, it is mostly used in sweet and spicy Thai dishes to neutralize the spice. It is also perfect for dressings, dipping, and marinades.
Get the look: Thai Kitchen Premium
Four Elephants Premium
Four Elephants prides itself for being a completely natural “extra virgin” fish sauce. Something that stands out about Four Elephants Premium compared to others is that it’s non-GMO project certified. It takes a lot of work to get this certification, so it’s nice to see that the company cared enough to get this done.
There are no preservatives, MSG, or article flavors and colors in this sauce. It also doesn’t contain any water. The company said they try to use organic ingredients whenever possible.
The only ingredients used are anchovy fish, sugar and salt. This makes it both a savory and sweet fish sauce. It is packed with tons of flavor, but it doesn’t have a strong aroma. The Four Elephants Premium is entirely made in Thailand, even the anchovies are sourced from regulated areas in Thailand.
It comes in a glass jar with 25 ounces. This is very appealing to some, especially those who are in the low-waste movement and trying to reduce their overall plastic consumption. Some might choose this brand over others for the sole reason that it comes in a glass jar.
Get the look: Four Elephants Premium
Red Boat Fish Sauce, Phamily Reserve 50N Hardwood Smoked
The Red Boat contains only 2 ingredients, making it 100% pure. Anchovies and sea salt are the only ingredients you’ll find in here. The sauce is gluten-free, MSG-free, and doesn’t contain any preservatives. The Red Boat was made in Vietnam but bottled in the United States. It’s a special 50N reserve, so it differs from other fish sauces because it has been extra aged.
This is one of the highest grade fish sauces out there. After the first fermentation steps, the Red Boat is then aged in barrels. Not just any barrels – barrels that used to hold maple syrup and bourbon. This adds those flavors to the fish sauce without actually adding them to the ingredients. After that, the fish sauce is smoked with hickory, mesquite, and cherry wood.
This makes the finished product extraordinary. There’s a subtle sweetness from the maple syrup, but with an added smokiness from the above-mentioned woods. The Red Boat has flavors that are truly unique and found in no other bottles of fish sauce.
Get the look: Red Boat Fish Sauce
A Taste of Thai
A Taste of Thai has a pretty strong taste of fish, but not in a bad way. It has a lot of depth in the flavor. It makes a great tasty and rich sauce for any meat. The ingredients used in the sauce are: anchovy fish, salt, sugar, and water.
The water in the sauce is only the natural water from the sauce creation, nothing extra is added. As you might have guessed by the name, this sauce is made in Thailand. Even though this sauce includes sugar, it’s very minimal at only 1 gram of sugar per serving. In terms of protein, the protein content is 8.92% by weight.
Get the look: A Taste of Thai
Premium Anchovy Gold – Best fish sauce for kimchi
Last but not least on our list is Chung-jung-one’s premium anchovy fish sauce. It can be used like any other fish sauce would be, but the company recommends using it to season kimchi. Many South Koreans use the Premium Anchovy to season their soups or blanched vegetables.
The anchovies in this sauce are from the South Sea of Korea. This company doesn’t just use any salt to ferment the anchovies with, they use sun-dried sea salt. This is great for preserving the natural authentic taste of anchovies from the sea. Any sediment or cloudiness in the sauce is purely from the high protein content.
Get the look: Premium Anchovy Fish Sauce Gold
Vegan Fish Sauce (Nuoc Mam Chay)
This isn’t real fish sauce, but it’s a good alternative for those who either can’t have fish or choose to not have fish. Whether it’s for allergy reasons or dietary choices, you can still enjoy the similar taste of fish sauce.
It most resembles Vietnamese fish sauce, also called Nuoc Mam Chay. This fish-free fish sauce is made without even using seaweed. The ingredients are: soybeans, cane sugar, sea salt, water, vegetable seasoning (star anise, cloves, peppercorn, fennel, cane sugar, sea salt, yeast).
Obviously, this is quite a lengthy list of ingredients but at least the ingredients are all recognizable and preservative free. You could use this vegan fish sauce the same way you would with any traditional fish sauce.
Get the look: Vegan Fish Sauce
Squid Brand Thai
Squid brand is so confident in their fish sauces that their vision is to become the go-to brand when someone thinks of fish sauce. Squid brand (also known as the Fish sauce factory) was created in 1944. Providing for the Thai community was important to the company, and high-quality fish sauce seemed like a great way to do this.
The ingredients in the Squid brand Thai are anchovy extract, salt, and sugar. The anchovy extract is made from the excess liquid which comes off small anchovy fish. The fish are covered with salt then packed into wooden barrels to ferment for a few months. The liquid remaining is then used as the anchovy extract, the main ingredient in this sauce.
Squid brand’s fish sauce is high in B vitamins and protein. You can use it in replacement of salt or soy sauce in many Asian recipes. Many people have said that it brings out any citrus flavors in dipping sauces and marinades. It has been used to season anything from kimchi to chicken.
Get the look: Squid Brand Thai
Three Crabs Brand
The three-crab fish sauce from Thailand is one of the few fish sauce that contains fructose and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. This gives the sauce a subtle sweet flavor. Other ingredients include anchovy extract, salt, and water. No MSG is added to the product.
This sauce is the best option for people looking for a less salty sauce. The tree crabs fish sauce has a terrible smell. Besides, it is not advisable to dip your finger as the taste is not great when alone.
Get the look: Three Crabs Brand
Haku Iwashi Whiskey Barrel Aged
The Haku Iwashi is made out of a different type of anchovy compared to everything else. It uses Iwashi anchovies, which are a very fatty type. They differ greatly compared to the traditional Thai anchovies used.
To make Haku Iwashi, it’s first aged for 2 years. After this, it gets refined even more. Next, it’s aged for another year in Japanese whiskey barrels. After all this aging, the flavor of the fish sauce is more mellow with just a hint of sweetness.
The Haku Iwashi is mainly used by Japanese professional chefs and at-home chefs. The Iwashi fish comes from the sea of Japan. The ingredients in this sauce are: Iawashi fish, salt, and sugar. The added sugar goes well with the leftover whiskey flavor from the sauce being aged in those barrels.
Get the look: Haku Iwashi Whiskey Barrel Aged
We hope this list of our favorite fish sauces give you some insight into the complex world of fish sauces. We included a wide variety of fish sauces so that there would be something for everyone, since we know that all tastebuds are different.
We hope this article also educated you on the process of how fish sauce is made. By now you should be an expert on what to look out for. Now that you have all this information, all that’s left to do is try them for yourself!
Enjoy experimenting with multiple different fish sauces, chances are you’ll have more than one favorite. There’s nothing wrong with this because sometimes different sauces work well for different dishes. For example, one sauce might work great in Kimchi whereas another might be perfect in Pho. We’ll let you be the judge of that!