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Best Shrimp Paste Substitutes | How to Replace the Strong Flavor Kick

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  November 1, 2022

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Shrimp paste is a very flavorful and versatile ingredient that can be used in many different dishes.

But what if you are cooking a recipe that calls for shrimp paste, but you have nothing in your pantry?

Well, if you’re looking to add a savory and umami flavor to your dish, but don’t have any shrimp paste on hand, some of these substitutes can come in handy.

Best Shrimp Paste Substitutes | How to Replace the Strong Flavor Kick

For example, if you’re making a Thai green curry, you can use fish sauce as a replacement for shrimp paste. Or, if you’re making a stir-fry, you can use soy sauce as a replacement.

Other substitutes include anchovies, miso paste, and oyster sauce.

I will explain in which dishes these make good shrimp paste replacements in a pinch and how to use them.

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What makes a good shrimp paste substitute?

I’ve already written everything about shrimp paste in my previous article.

However, to give you a bit of a recap, shrimp paste is a popular Southeast Asian condiment that is created with fermented shrimp and salt, imparting a distinctive umami flavor.

Its process is quite simple to produce a flavor that is pungent and has strong hints of seafood. It has a salty flavor from the salt concentration, and the fermentation gives it an umami taste.

A good shrimp paste substitute, therefore, should be flavorful and aromatic, with a strong umami flavor and perhaps some seafood pungency.

Shrimp paste can have varying levels of sweetness and spiciness depending on how you cook it. So, it’s partly up to you on how you want your shrimp paste.

It can can add a delicious salty, umami flavor to any dish, and it also has a nice texture that is perfect for adding to sauces or marinades.

Additionally, shrimp paste is a great source of protein, which makes it a perfect ingredient for those who are looking to eat healthily.

Now that we know what shrimp paste tastes like, the best substitute, therefore, is one that is closest to its taste, texture, and the flavor or umami it imparts.

Best substitutes for shrimp paste

Here are the six best shrimp paste substitutes so you can still carry on with your cravings and favorite food combo.

Fish sauce

A great substitute for shrimp paste can be as simple as fish sauce, which is easy to find either in your pantry or in the grocery store.

You could say that fish sauce is more convenient to use than shrimp paste since it’s more readily available in grocery stores.

Fish sauce is a condiment made from fish that has been salted and fermented. It is used in Southeast Asia, where it is known as nam pla.

Because shrimp paste is also made by salting and fermenting seafood, fish sauce is similar in flavor.

Fish sauce as a subistute for shrimp paste

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I am a big fan of Red Boat fish sauce which is made of wild-caught black anchovy and sea salt and contains no preservatives or MSG.

When substituting fish sauce with shrimp paste, try adding a bit of ketchup as well.

This will thicken the fish sauce so it also resembles shrimp paste in consistency making it perfect for dipping.

If you need it for a curry or stirfry, you can just add it during cooking, like you would the shrimp paste.

Soy sauce

Another available shrimp paste substitute at your disposal is soy sauce.

Just like shrimp paste, soy sauce is also salty and pungent, but it has a slightly sweet taste and a much milder aroma than shrimp paste.

Soy sauce is mostly salty, and it lacks the pungent hints of seafood shrimp paste offers.

However, it does have strong umami flavors due to the fermentation of the soybeans, hints of sweetness, and a little bit of bitterness, just like shrimp paste.

Soy sauce is also a lot less expensive than shrimp paste, so it is a more affordable substitute for those who want to add the flavors of Southeast Asia to their dishes.

As soy sauce is not a strongly flavoured as shrimp paste, use about double the amount you would use shrimp paste in your dish.

Anchovy paste

Anchovy paste is a good substitute for shrimp paste because they share a similar flavor profile.

Anchovy paste is made from anchovies, salt, and water. It can be found in the same section of the grocery store as the shrimp paste.

To use it, simply follow the recipe instructions and replace the shrimp paste with anchovy paste.

As the umami goodness in anchovy paste can be a bit milder than regular shrimp paste, due to it not being fermented, feel free to use up to twice as much.

If you can’t find anchovy paste, know you can also grab a can of anchovies in oil and chop them very finely.

Use the resulting mash as you would shrimp paste in your dish.

Anchovies make a great substitute for shrimp paste in sauces, salad dressings, pasta, and curries.

Miso paste

Miso is a traditional Japanese paste made by fermenting soybeans with salt, the fungus Aspergillus oryzae, and occasionally rice, wheat, or oats.

Miso paste is a good substitute for shrimp paste because it has a similarly salty and pungent flavor.

It is missing the fishiness of shrimp paste, which can be a plus for some that are not a big fan of seafood aromas.

And perhaps the best thing: miso paste is completely plant-based, so a suitable vegan shrimp paste replacement.

It can be used in the same way as shrimp paste, either by adding it to a dish during the cooking process or by using it as a condiment.

Oyster sauce

Oyster sauce is a thick, syrupy, and dark brown sauce. It is created with reduced oyster juices that have been salted and sugared to caramelize.

It has a potent flavor that tastes like a blend of soy sauce and barbecue sauce—earthy, salty, and just a little bit sweet.

Oyster sauce is a good substitute for shrimp paste because it has a similarly strong flavor.

It can be used in the same way as shrimp paste, added to dishes during the cooking process in order to give them an extra boost of flavor.

You should start with a tiny amount and taste frequently as you cook because of the strong flavor until you achieve the ideal flavor.

Bonito flakes

The most common use for bonito flakes is as a dashi or soup base, but they can also be used in other dishes such as salads or okonomiyaki.

And guess what, they make a great stand-in for shrimp paste in a pinch!

Bonito flakes are a dried fermented tuna that packs an ultra-rich umami punch!

These thin shreds of Skipjack Tuna can be added to soups or sauces for extra flavor.

Add them to your favorite dish as is and enjoy their fishy taste without any shrimp paste aftertaste.

Use it on top off noodles instead when making broths with vegetables like kelp seaweed soup stock (Gomokujang).

They also work well when mixed into salad dressings adding a depth of flavour not found anywhere else.

FAQs

I know you’re very much excited about trying these substitutes for your favorite dish pairing, but let me clear out some things first.

What is a vegetarian substitute for shrimp paste?

If you’re looking for a vegetarian or vegan substitute for shrimp paste, go for miso paste or soy sauce.

Both are made with only soy beans and koji mould.

Can I use dried shrimp instead of shrimp paste?

If you’re after the seafood taste, then going for dried shrimp could work. However, I don’t recommend it as these dried shrimp and shrimp paste have different textures and uses.

Where can I buy Golden Mountain sauce?

You can buy Golden Mountain sauce at any Asian grocery store, or save yourself the hassle by buying it online.

Takeaway

Shrimp paste is a popular condiment in Southeast Asian cuisine, but it can be difficult to find in some parts of the world.

Fortunately, there are a number of tasty substitutes that can be used in its place.

Some of the best substitutes for shrimp paste include fish sauce, soy sauce, and miso paste (vegan option!).

So next time you are out of shrimp paste, don’t despair and try some of these other Asian panty staples.

Read next: these are the most iconic ingredients in Japanese cooking that everyone needs to know

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.