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The Ultimate Guide to Fish Sauce: Everything You Need to Know

45 min Cook
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  • Immerse yourself in the world of fish sauce through this ultimate guide, offering insights that cater to both novice enthusiasts and seasoned chefs. Elevate your culinary skills by embracing the complexity and richness of this essential condiment.

Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in many Southeast Asian cuisines, such as Vietnamese, Thai, and Filipino. It is a pungent, salty, and savory condiment made from fermented fish, typically anchovies. Although it may not sound appetizing to some, fish sauce is a flavor enhancer that can transform a dish from good to great.

The origins of fish sauce can be traced back to ancient Rome and Greece, where a similar condiment made from fermented fish was used in cooking. However, it was the Southeast Asian countries that perfected the art of making fish sauce, and today, it is an essential ingredient in many dishes. Fish sauce is used in marinades, dipping sauces, stir-fries, and soups, and it adds depth and complexity to the dish. It is also a common ingredient in many vegan and vegetarian dishes, as it can add umami flavor without using meat.

If you are new to using fish sauce, it can be overwhelming to choose the right brand and know how to use it properly. This ultimate guide to fish sauce will provide you with all the information you need to know about this magical ingredient. From the history of fish sauce to the different types of fish sauce available in the market, this guide has got you covered. So, whether you are a seasoned cook or a beginner, read on to learn everything you need to know about fish sauce.

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History of Fish Sauce

Fish sauce has a long and rich history that dates back more than 2,000 years. The first recorded fish sauce was produced by the ancient Greeks along the coastline of the Black Sea. The abundant fishery resources of the region may have been a significant factor in Greek colonization of the area, even as early as the 7th century BCE. The Greeks called their fish sauce “garos” and it was made by fermenting whole fish with salt in large clay jars.

Fish sauce was also popular in ancient Rome, where it was known as “garum”. The Romans were particularly fond of a type of garum made from the intestines of mackerel, which was considered to be of the highest quality. Garum was used as a condiment and seasoning, and it was prized for its umami flavor.

Fish sauce was also a staple in many Southeast Asian cuisines, including Vietnamese and Thai. In these countries, fish sauce is known as “nuoc mam” and “nam pla”, respectively. Traditionally, fish sauce was made by fermenting small fish, such as anchovies or sardines, with salt in large earthenware pots. The resulting liquid was then strained and bottled.

Today, fish sauce remains an essential ingredient in many Southeast Asian dishes, and it has gained popularity in other parts of the world as well. While the production methods have changed over time, the basic principles remain the same: fermenting fish with salt to create a flavorful and versatile condiment.

1. How to Cook

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Thai and Vietnamese Cuisine: Discover Hot Thai Kitchen’s Fish Sauce Recipes

Thai and Vietnamese cuisine often share similar ingredients and flavors, and one ingredient that is commonly used in both cuisines is fish sauce. Fish sauce is a salty, savory condiment made from fermented fish and is a staple in Southeast Asian cooking.
If you’re interested in exploring the delicious world of fish sauce and want to try some recipes, Hot Thai Kitchen is a great resource. Hot Thai Kitchen is a popular YouTube channel and website that features authentic Thai recipes and cooking techniques.
Here are a few fish sauce recipes from Hot Thai Kitchen that you can try:
1. Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum): This refreshing and spicy salad features shredded green papaya, tomatoes, green beans, peanuts, and a flavorful dressing made with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and Thai chilies.
2. Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass Pork (Thit Heo Nuong Xa): This classic Vietnamese dish combines marinated pork with fragrant lemongrass, garlic, and fish sauce. The result is a juicy and flavorful grilled meat that is perfect as a main course or in Banh Mi sandwiches.
3. Thai Spicy Basil Chicken (Pad Krapow Gai): This quick stir-fry dish showcases the bold flavors of Thai cuisine. Ground chicken is cooked with garlic, Thai chilies, fish sauce, and fresh basil leaves, creating a spicy and aromatic dish that is best served with rice.
4. Vietnamese Fried Spring Rolls (Cha Gio): These crispy and delicious spring rolls are filled with a mixture of ground pork, carrots, mushrooms, and vermicelli noodles. The fish sauce dip served with these spring rolls is the perfect accompaniment, adding a sweet, savory, and tangy flavor to the rolls.
These are just a few examples of the many fish sauce recipes available on Hot Thai Kitchen. Whether you’re a fan of Thai or Vietnamese cuisine, or simply want to explore new flavors, these recipes are a great starting point for incorporating fish sauce into your cooking. So grab a bottle of fish sauce and get ready to bring a taste of Southeast Asia into your kitchen!

Fish sauce is my favorite seasoning, arguably the most important ingredient in Thai cuisine. This sauce recipe is a tribute to its incredible versatility. Often referred to as the best fish sauce, it’s the heart and soul of countless Thai dishes like Pad Thai. Fish sauce condiment is not just a favorite seasoning in the kitchen; it’s an amazing secret ingredient. In Thai, we call it “Nam Pla,” while in Vietnamese, it’s known as “Nuoc Mam.” Mam Nhi, or “proper sauce,” is the term used for the best fish sauce. Per my dad’s theory, many people don’t know that it’s more of an umami bomb than just fish sauce. And for that, we make prepared fish sauce or “Prik Nam Pla,” with Thai ingredients like chilies and lime. With Red Boat brand fish sauce, you’ll experience the delicious Thai and Vietnamese flavors that make it an indispensable part of both cuisines.

The Ultimate Guide to Fish Sauce

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Understanding Fish Sauce


Fish sauce is a condiment made from fermented fish and salt. The highest quality fish sauce contains just two ingredients: fish and salt. However, some brands will add sugar or hydrolyzed wheat protein to balance out the fishiness, which you might prefer if you want a milder flavor. It’s best to avoid preservatives like sodium benzoate.

The type of fish used to make fish sauce varies depending on the region. In Southeast Asia, anchovies are the most commonly used fish, while in Japan, mackerel is used. Other fish that can be used include tuna, sardines, and bonito.

Process of Making

The process of making fish sauce involves fermenting fish and salt. The fish are layered with salt in large vats and left to ferment for several months. During the fermentation process, enzymes and bacteria break down the fish proteins into amino acids and peptides, which gives the sauce its unique umami flavor.

After fermentation, the fish sauce is strained to remove any solids and bottled for sale. The longer the fish sauce is fermented, the more complex its flavor becomes.

It’s important to note that fish sauce has a strong odor due to the fermentation process, but this odor dissipates when it’s used in cooking. Additionally, fish sauce is high in sodium, so it should be used sparingly.

Varieties of Fish Sauce

Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in many Southeast Asian cuisines, and there are many different varieties available. Here are some of the most common types of fish sauce:

Vietnamese Fish Sauce

Vietnamese fish sauce, also known as nuoc mam, is made from anchovies and salt that have been fermented for several months. It has a clear, amber color and a pungent, salty flavor. Vietnamese fish sauce is often used in dipping sauces, marinades, and soups.

One popular brand of Vietnamese fish sauce is Three Crabs Fish Sauce, which is known for its high quality and rich flavor. Another popular brand is Red Boat Fish Sauce, which is made from black anchovies and has a deep, umami flavor.

Thai Fish Sauce

Thai fish sauce, or nam pla, is made from a combination of anchovies and salt that have been fermented for several months. It has a light, salty flavor and is often used in stir-fries, curries, and dipping sauces.

One popular brand of Thai fish sauce is Tiparos, which is known for its clean, bright flavor. Another popular brand is Squid Brand Fish Sauce, which is made from high-quality anchovies and has a rich, savory flavor.

Japanese Fish Sauce

Japanese fish sauce, or shottsuru, is made from a variety of fish, including mackerel and sardines, that have been fermented for up to two years. It has a dark, rich color and a deep, savory flavor. Japanese fish sauce is often used in soups, stews, and marinades.

One popular brand of Japanese fish sauce is Katsuobushi Shoyu, which is made from bonito flakes and soy sauce and has a smoky, umami flavor. Another popular brand is Usukuchi, which is a light-colored fish sauce that is often used in delicate dishes like clear soups and sashimi.

Unlocking the Best of Thai and Vietnamese Flavors: The Mam Nhi Condiment from Hot Thai Kitchen

Mam Nhi, known as the “proper sauce” in Thai cuisine, is the true umami bomb that elevates any Thai sauce. It’s more than just fish sauce; it’s an art form that involves combining fish sauce with carefully chosen Thai ingredients. Traditionally, my grandmother ventured to the village for her prepared fish sauce, which she sold with bowls of noodles and fresh grilled cobs. The extra virgin fish sauce, like the Phu Quoc kind we use, is the first press, made from fresh fish and is famous in the village. It’s rarely used in Thai cooking, but it’s the secret behind making good fish sauce. Megachef fish sauce is the liquid gold used in Thai dishes at home, ensuring that the fish sauce quality is always top-notch. For everyday use, look for the words “nuoc mam” or “nuoc mam nhi” on the label. Vietnamese people know that Mam Nhi is something special, and it’s often saved for the family, stored in a cool place, and brought out to create new recipes like classic Thai dishes or even to enhance the flavor of fish and chips. So, whether you’re a native Thai or exploring new recipes, Mam Nhi is your key to unlocking the best of Thai and Vietnamese flavors.

Using Fish Sauce in Cooking

Fish sauce is a versatile ingredient that can add a savory, umami complexity to a variety of dishes. Here are some ways to use fish sauce in different types of cooking:

In Soups

Fish sauce can add depth and richness to soups, especially those with a clear broth. For example, a traditional Vietnamese pho broth often includes fish sauce as one of its key ingredients. To use fish sauce in soup, start by adding a small amount (such as a teaspoon) and taste as you go. You can always add more, but it’s hard to take it away once it’s been added.

In Stir-Fries

Fish sauce can be used to flavor stir-fries, adding a salty and savory note to the dish. To use fish sauce in a stir-fry, add a small amount to the vegetables or protein as they cook. You can also mix it with other ingredients, such as soy sauce or oyster sauce, to create a more complex flavor profile.

In Marinades

Fish sauce can be a great addition to marinades for meats and vegetables. It adds a salty, umami flavor that can help to tenderize the meat and infuse it with flavor. To make a simple fish sauce marinade, mix equal parts fish sauce and sugar, along with some garlic and chili flakes. Marinate your protein for at least 30 minutes before cooking.

Overall, fish sauce is a versatile ingredient that can add a unique and delicious flavor to a variety of dishes. By experimenting with different amounts and combinations, you can discover new and exciting ways to use fish sauce in your cooking.

Health Benefits and Risks

Nutritional Value

Fish sauce is a condiment that is made from fermented fish and salt. It is a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine and has been used for centuries. Fish sauce is a rich source of umami, which is the fifth taste that is often described as savory and meaty. It is also a good source of vitamins and minerals.

One tablespoon of fish sauce contains:

  • Calories: 10
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Sodium: 1180 milligrams
  • Calcium: 4% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Iron: 2% of the DV

Fish sauce also contains essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. These amino acids are important for the growth and repair of tissues in the body.

Potential Risks

Although fish sauce has some health benefits, it also has some potential risks. One of the main concerns with fish sauce is its high sodium content. One tablespoon of fish sauce contains more than half of the recommended daily intake of sodium. Consuming too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Another potential risk of fish sauce is the presence of histamines. Histamines are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process and can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Symptoms of a histamine reaction can include hives, itching, and difficulty breathing.

Additionally, some fish sauces may contain additives such as sugar, MSG, or preservatives. These additives can be harmful to some people, especially those with allergies or sensitivities.

Overall, fish sauce can be a healthy addition to a balanced diet when consumed in moderation. It is important to read the labels and choose fish sauces that are low in sodium and free from additives.

Buying Guide

When it comes to buying fish sauce, there are a few key factors to consider. In this section, we will discuss the brands to consider and how to check the quality of the product.

Brands to Consider

There are many brands of fish sauce available on the market, each with its own unique flavor profile. Some of the most popular brands include Red Boat, Three Crabs, and Squid. It is important to note that not all fish sauces are created equal, and some brands may be better suited for certain dishes than others.

When choosing a brand of fish sauce, it is important to consider the flavor profile and saltiness level. Some brands may be more pungent and salty than others, so it is important to choose a brand that complements the flavors of the dish you are preparing.

Checking Quality

When purchasing fish sauce, it is important to check the quality of the product to ensure that it is fresh and free from any contaminants. Here are a few tips on how to check the quality of fish sauce:

  • Check the color: High-quality fish sauce should have a dark brown color. If the color is too light, it may be an indication that the fish sauce was made with low-quality fish or that it has been diluted with water.
  • Smell the fish sauce: Fish sauce should have a pungent aroma, but it should not smell rancid or sour. If the fish sauce smells off, it may be an indication that it has gone bad.
  • Check the saltiness: Fish sauce should be salty, but not overly so. If the fish sauce is too salty, it may be an indication that it was made with low-quality fish.

By keeping these factors in mind when shopping for fish sauce, you can ensure that you are purchasing a high-quality product that will enhance the flavors of your dishes.

Storing Fish Sauce

Proper storage of fish sauce is crucial to maintain its quality and flavor. Here are some tips to keep your fish sauce fresh:

  • Store in a cool and dry place: Keep the fish sauce in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Avoid storing the bottle near sources of heat such as stovetops or ovens. Exposure to air can cause oxidation, which can alter the taste and aroma of the fish sauce.
  • Keep the lid tight: Make sure to keep the lid tightly closed when not in use to prevent air from entering the bottle. Exposure to air can cause oxidation, which can alter the taste and aroma of the fish sauce.
  • Refrigerate high-grade fish sauce: High-grade fish sauce has a longer shelf life and can be refrigerated to maintain its quality. Refrigeration can also prevent the growth of bacteria and mold.
  • Avoid freezing fish sauce: Freezing fish sauce can cause the salt and other ingredients to separate, which can affect the taste and texture of the sauce.
  • Check the expiration date: Always check the expiration date before using fish sauce. Expired fish sauce can cause food poisoning and other health problems.

By following these simple tips, you can ensure that your fish sauce stays fresh and flavorful for a long time.


Fish sauce is a versatile and essential ingredient in many cuisines, especially Southeast Asian. It is a complex, umami-rich condiment that can make almost any dish taste better.

In this ultimate guide to fish sauce, readers have learned about the history, production, types, and uses of fish sauce. They have also discovered some of the best brands of fish sauce available on the market.

Fish sauce is a great source of protein and minerals, but it is also high in sodium. Therefore, it should be used in moderation, and those who are watching their sodium intake should be cautious.

When buying fish sauce, it is essential to choose a high-quality brand that uses good ingredients and traditional production methods. Look for fish sauce made from anchovies or other small fish, with no added preservatives or artificial flavors.

Fish sauce can be used in many dishes, such as stir-fries, marinades, dressings, and soups. It adds depth, complexity, and saltiness to any dish, and it is a must-have ingredient in any home cook’s pantry.

Overall, fish sauce is a valuable ingredient that deserves a place in any kitchen. With this guide, readers can confidently choose and use fish sauce in their cooking, and elevate their dishes to the next level.

Mastering Fish Sauce: A Comprehensive Guide

Embark on a culinary odyssey with "The Ultimate Guide to Fish Sauce." This exhaustive exploration covers the origins, varieties, and versatile applications of this umami powerhouse. No hands-on cooking, just a wealth of knowledge to enhance your understanding and usage of fish sauce.
prep time
15 min
cooking time
45 min
total time
1 hour


  • mortar and pestle


  • 2 tbsp fish sauce

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

  • 2-4 Thai bird’s eye chili, sliced (modify for spice preference)

  • 1.5-2 tbsp lime juice (adjust according to taste)

  • 2 tbsp sugar (adjust to taste)

  • 2/3 cup water (see notes)




Uncover the nuances of different fish sauce brands for diverse flavors. Optimize storage to preserve the quality of your fish sauce. Explore inventive ways to integrate fish sauce into your culinary creations.
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