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. Fish 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. We’ll explain what makes each of these fish sauces stand out, and we even included a buyer’s guide at the end.
11 Best Fish Sauces, Reviewed
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Red Boat Premium
This fish sauce is the secret ingredient that any cook needs. Whether you’re a professional cook or a passionate home cook, Red Boat Premium Fish Sauce can take your dishes to the next level. This fish sauce is made in Vietnam with traditional fermentation methods.
The fish sauce 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 fish 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 fish sauces will have more than 30°N. The higher this number goes, the more complex and rich the flavor will be.
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 fish sauce has a specific savory flavor that is specific to Thai cuisine.
In addition to pressed salted anchovies, this fish sauce also contains water and sugar. The sugar adds a whole other dimension to the flavors. Due to the added sweetness from the sugar, this fish sauce is commonly used in sweet and spicy Thai dishes. It helps balance out the spice.
This fish sauce is gluten-free and can be used in replacement of soy sauce for most recipes. 1 tablespoon of this fish sauce contains 2 grams of protein.
Lucky Brand Thai
This fish choice 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 fish 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 Fish Sauce contains no MSG and it’s also gluten-free.
Golden Boy Brand
Golden Boy Brand Fish Sauce is made by the company Temple of Thai. It is a light golden color. This fish 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 fish 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.
This fish sauce is so good that it has even warned awards. Golden Boy’s fish sauce 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.
Four Elephants Premium
Four Elephants prides itself for being a completely natural “extra virgin” fish sauce. Something that stands out about this fish sauce 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 fish 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 fish sauce 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.
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 this fish sauce 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 fish 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.
Red Boat Fish Sauce, Phamily Reserve 50N Hardwood Smoked
This fish sauce 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. This fish sauce 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 fish sauce 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. This fish sauce has flavors that are truly unique and found in no other bottles of fish sauce.
Haku Iwashi Whiskey Barrel Aged
This fish sauce 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 Iwashi fish sauce, 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.
This fish sauce is mainly used by Japanese professional chefs and at-home chefs. The Iwashi fish comes from the sea of Japan. The ingredients in this fish 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.
A Taste of Thai
This fish sauce 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 this fish sauce are: anchovy fish, salt, sugar, and water.
The water in the fish sauce is only the natural water from the sauce creation, nothing extra is added. As you might have guessed by the name, this fish 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.
Vegan Fish Sauce – Best vegan fish sauce
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.
Premium Anchovy Fish Sauce 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 this fish sauce to season their soups or blanched vegetables.
The anchovies in this fish 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 fish sauce is purely from the high protein content.
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 fish 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 fish 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 fish sauces will be naturally sweet from the anchovies themselves.
What to Consider When Shopping For Fish Sauce
Chances are, the first fish 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 fish sauce sweet, others like it fishy, some like the fishy smelling scent, others don’t. Some like their fish 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 fish 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 of the fish sauce
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 fish 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 fish 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 fish sauce is pretty high. When it comes down to it, there is no wrong color that fish sauce should be.
If you’re looking for a sauce with a deep and complex flavor, try a darker fish sauce. If you want to try a bottle that isn’t overwhelmingly strong and more subtle, try a lighter colored fish 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 fish 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 fish sauce. Good fish 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 fish 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 fish sauce will have the ideal balance of salt.
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, and how to choose the best fish sauce. 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 fish sauces work well for different dishes. For example, one fish sauce might work great in Kimchi whereas another might be perfect in Pho. We’ll let you be the judge of that!