Fish Sauce vs Soy Sauce

By | September 19, 2018

Fish sauce and soy sauce are both condiments commonly used in foods, especially in Asian cuisines. However, recently, people start to use fish sauce to replace soy sauce because of the alleged negative effects of soy sauce. So, what are the differences between fish sauce vs soy sauce? Are they interchangeable? Which one is actually better?

Read on below to learn more about:
– How each sauce is made
– The flavor and aroma of each sauce
– The health effects of fish sauce vs soy sauce
– Which condiment that is generally more recommended

What is Fish Sauce?
Fish sauce is a condiment that is made from fish that has been coated in salt and fermented for weeks. The fermentation process may take up to two years. Historically, fish sauces were made from a variety of fish and shellfish. The techniques vary from place to place; some use whole fish, while some others use only fish blood or viscera. See also: Sushi vs Sashimi.

However, most modern fish sauces nowadays usually only contain salt and fish, although there are some variants that add spices and herbs. The modern products are made from strong-flavored high-oil fish, such as anchovy or mackerel, shrimp, or shellfish. The base ingredients are given salt with a concentration between 10% and 30%, and then sealed in a container to ferment.

Afterwards, the fish sauce is acquired from the re-extraction of the fish mass. This is done by boiling. First-pass fish sauces are generally considered better because of the thicker texture and consistency. Second-pass fish sauces are acquired by watering down first-pass fish sauces, and are characterized by thinner texture and watery consistency.

Flavor of Fish Sauce
Fish sauce vs soy sauce has become incredibly popular for a long time because of the extremely rich flavor. There are not many ingredients in this world that can bring a meal from 0 to 100 in an instant. Fish sauce is one of them. It is sweet, salty, nutty, fishy, and umami. The rich flavor comes from the fermentation process; the longer the fermentation, the more the flavor becomes savory.

There is indeed a distinct fishiness in the sauce. Some people really hate the fishy smell. However, there are some ways to counter the issue. In the production, a longer fermentation process can reduce the fishiness. According to The Spruce Eats, you can also add some lime juice into the food to reduce or completely erase the smell.Don’t worry too much because, once in the food, the fishiness can be flanked by the rich flavor.

The rich flavor of fish sauce has made it popular in many cuisines. Although it is mostly used in Asian cooking, it has also been used in non-Asian dishes too. It can be used for stir-fries, marinades, and salad dressings. It can also add some salty, savory flavor to pastas, roast chicken, broths, and sautéed greens.

Health Effects of Fish Sauce
When you take a look at the ingredient label of fish sauce vs soy sauce, you may be surprised by the very high amount of sodium. However, note that you will only use a small amount of fish sauce at a time, so you are not going to consume that much sodium in one go. Some people even replace salt with fish sauce in order to slightly reduce their sodium intake.

Fish sauce has been used as a replacement for soy sauce, even though the flavor is not exactly identical. This is because fish sauce is believed to be healthier. Fish sauce may contain vital nutrients, such as proteins and fatty acids, which are beneficial for the body.

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Even so, to state the obvious, keep in mind that fish sauce is not suitable for people with fish allergy. Fish sauce is also not a suitable choice for vegan people. If you have fish allergy or you are a vegan, you should choose soy sauce instead.

What is Soy Sauce?
Soy sauce is a condiment of a Chinese origin, acquired from the fermented paste of soybeans, brine, roasted grain, and specific molds (Aspergillussojae or Aspergillusoryzae). The soy sauce produced in the ancient China’s Western Han Dynasty about 2,200 years ago already had a very similar form to the modern soy sauce. Soy sauce has been extensively used in the cuisines of East Asia and Southeast Asia.

There are several production methods for making soy sauce. It can be made by either fermentation or hydrolysis. However, most of the color, aroma, and flavor developments are attributed to the non-enzymatic Maillard browning. Products may vary because if the different methods, durations of fermentation, as well as ratios of salt, water, and fermented soy.

Flavor of Soy Sauce
In general, soy sauce is sweet and salty. There is also an umami taste in the flavor. However, the flavor may slightly differ from product to product.

You can determine the flavor of a soy sauce product by its color. Light-colored soy sauce usually has a thinner consistency and a saltier yet lighter flavor. Light-colored soy sauce is usually preferred when the cooking requires just a light flavor, such as when serving seafood, or if a darker sauce may ruin the appearance of the dish. Meanwhile, dark-colored soy sauce is used in more types of cooking and has a thicker consistency with a richer flavor.

Health Effects of Soy Sauce
Just like fish sauce, soy sauce is high in sodium. However, you will only use a small amount of it at a time. So, as long as you don’t use it excessively, it won’t significantly increase your sodium intake.

Still, soy sauce contains some compounds that may have harmful health effects. It contains 3-MCPD, which is a toxic substance that belongs to the group of chloropropanols. This substance may cause kidney damage, tumors, and decreased fertility.Hence, the US government has set a limit for the amount of 3-MCPD that is allowed in a soy sauce product, which is 1 mg per kg.

Last but not least, soy sauce may contain wheat and gluten. This is problematic for people with celiac disease or wheat allergy. It goes without saying that soy sauce is not suitable for people with soy allergy.

Fish Sauce vs Soy Sauce

Fish SauceSoy Sauce
- Acquired from fermented fish- Acquired from fermented soy or through a hydrolysis process
- Sweet, salty, nutty, fishy, and umami- Sweet, salty, and umami
- Has a fishy aroma- Doesn’t have an aroma
- Contains beneficial nutrients- May contain a small amount of a toxic substance
- Not suitable for vegans and people with fish allergy- Not for people with soy allergy, wheat allergy, or celiac disease

Both fish sauce and soy sauce are used in many Asian cuisines. Fish sauce has a rich flavor; it is sweet, salty, nutty, and savory. Fish sauce is generally more recommended because it doesn’t contain a toxic substance. Soy sauce is sweet, salty, and rich, but may contain a toxic substance that is harmful for your health.

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