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Fish Sauce vs. Soy Sauce

No Asian cuisine is complete without one of these delicious Asian sauces. Fish sauce and soy sauce are fermented heaven in a bottle, with both sharing some qualities that may leave some wondering how they compare to each other. 

Both are made from fermented ingredients and are used to add flavor and depth to a wide range of dishes. But there are some slight nuances that put one above the other in certain dishes. So, let’s put them to the test. A fish sauce vs soy sauce showdown. How do they size up to each other? We’ll soon find out!

What Is Fish Sauce?

This sauce has been used for a long time and is believed to have originated in ancient Rome. Though its fame certainly hasn’t dwindled out, as it’s still active in many parts of the world, particularly in Southeast Asia. It’s made from fermented fish and salt with a pungent, umami, and salty flavor that can also come in different types depending on the fish used and the fermentation process. 

Fish sauce is typically applied as a seasoning or marinade for meat, fish, and vegetables and can even be used as a dipping sauce. It’s also a great source of protein but is high in sodium, so keep its use to a minimum.

What Is Soy Sauce?

This is one of the most commonly used sauces across the board. Soy sauce is a delicious fermentation of soybeans, wheat, water, and salt with a rich, salty taste and can be used as a marinade, dipping sauce, or flavor enhancer.

There are different types of soy sauce available, such as light, dark, and tamari, with the light one being lighter in color and saltier in taste, the dark one with a more complex flavor and darker in color, and the tamari being a gluten-free version.

A typical soy sauce has an umami flavor, is low in calories, and has antioxidants, making it a healthier alternative to other condiments. However, it can be quite high in sodium.

Similarities and Differences Between Fish Sauce and Soy Sauce


For thousands of years, fish sauce has been an essential ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine, used to make dishes like pad Thai and Vietnamese nuoc cham sauce. In contrast, soy sauce originated in China over 2,500 years ago and has since become a staple in many Asian cuisines. It’s made by fermenting soybeans with wheat and salt.


Fish sauce has a strong, pungent flavor often described as salty, savory, and umami. Soy sauce, though, has a milder flavor that’s also salty and savory but with a slight sweetness.


Fish sauce is widely used in Southeast Asian cuisines, such as Thai, Vietnamese, and Filipino, to add a distinct umami flavor to dishes like pad Thai, green papaya salad, and Vietnamese pho. Meanwhile, soy sauce is a common ingredient in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dishes, used to enhance the taste of dishes like stir-fries, sushi, and teriyaki chicken.

Nutritional Value

Fish sauce has a higher protein content than soy sauce, while soy sauce contains more iron and potassium. But both sauces are low in calories and do not contain any fat. However, they should be used in moderation as they are high in sodium.

Fish Sauce vs Soy Sauce: Can You Substitute Them?

Fish sauce and soy sauce are not interchangeable in most recipes, as fish sauce packs a fishy flavor that soy sauce lacks. While substitution can be done, it’s generally not recommended, as fish sauce has a much stronger flavor than soy sauce and can overpower other ingredients in a dish. This being said, it’s best to use the sauce called for in the recipe.

Can I Use Soy Sauce And Fish Sauce Together?

Yes, you can use either sauce together. In fact, they are often used together in specific Asian dishes to add a delicious fusion of depth and complexity of flavor. However, they are quite salty, so you may need to adjust the amount of salt you use in your dish accordingly. It’s also a good idea to taste your dish as you go and adjust the seasoning as needed.

How to Choose Between Them?

Fish sauce vs soy sauce. This can be difficult for many to decide on when looking for one to use. But when deciding between fish sauce and soy sauce, it ultimately comes down to personal taste and the dish you are preparing, but there are a few factors to consider:

Flavor Profile

Fish sauce, made from fermented fish, has a salty, savory, and slightly sweet flavor. Soy sauce, made from fermented soybeans, also has a salty, savory, and slightly sweet flavor and is commonly used in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dishes. When choosing between either sauce, try to consider the overall flavor profile of your dish and use them within reason to avoid overpowering the taste.

However, there are some instances where fish sauce and soy sauce won’t work in a dish. Say you’re making a delicate dish that requires a subtle flavor. Neither sauce would be appropriate. With this, consider using a lighter sauce, such as oyster sauce or hoisin sauce.

Salt Content

Both fish sauce and soy sauce are high in sodium, but fish sauce tends to be saltier. If you are watching your salt intake, you may want to use soy sauce in moderation or look for low-sodium options.

Dietary Restrictions

Fish sauce is not suitable for vegetarians or vegans since it’s made from fermented fish. However, soy sauce can be made from soybeans and is a great alternative for those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Color and Appearance

Fish sauce is typically a dark brown color and has a thin, watery consistency. Soy sauce, though, ranges in color from light to dark brown and has a thicker, more syrupy consistency.

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