Shrimp paste: your secret umami seafood ingredient
Check out our new cookbook
Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.
Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:Read for free
Have you ever craved something that’s a great medley of sweet, spicy, salty, and savory? And did you notice the four “s” taste in this dish?
Well, that’s because you’re about to meet something special that hails from Southeast Asian countries.
The distinct and powerful flavor that shrimp paste imparts to many dishes has made it a vital ingredient in the cuisine of Southeast Asia. Shrimp pastes are often used as an essential salty-savory topping, adding rich umami flavors without sacrificing aroma, or tanginess like other sauces can sometimes do.
But can it really be that good? Let’s dig deeper and find out how you can use shrimp paste in your own cooking to elevate dishes to a new level.
10 Tips to Save a Bundle on Asian Ingredients!
Introducing our brand new FREE PDF guide: "Saving Secrets: Unveiling the Art of Saving Money on Asian Ingredients" It's your first newsletter email, so start saving today! 📚🧧
We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is shrimp paste?
- 2 Where to buy shrimp paste
- 3 How to eat shrimp paste
- 4 What’s the origin of shrimp paste?
- 5 What’s the difference between shrimp paste and bagoong?
- 6 What’s the difference between shrimp paste and sauteed shrimp paste?
- 7 What’s the difference between shrimp paste and anchovy paste?
- 8 Types of shrimp paste
- 9 Popular pairings of shrimp paste
- 10 Shrimp paste ingredients
- 11 Where to eat shrimp paste?
- 12 Shrimp paste etiquette
- 13 Is shrimp paste healthy?
- 14 FAQs
- 15 The bottom line
What is shrimp paste?
Shrimp paste is a popular Southeast Asian condiment made from shrimp that has been fermented with salt. It is a vital ingredient in many Asian cuisines, imparting a distinct umami flavor.
Shrimp paste can come in many different forms, from liquid sauces to solid blocks. The colouring of shrimp paste also varies depending on the region it is produced in.
For example, shrimp paste made in Hong Kong and Vietnam usually has a light pinkish grey hue; whereas the type used for Burmese, Lao, Cambodian, Thai and Indonesian dishes is darker brown.
In the Philippines however, they are commonly bright red or pink due to angkak (red yeast rice) being used as a colouring agent.
The odor of high-grade shrimp paste is generally milder than that of other types.
What does shrimp paste taste like?
Shrimp paste tastes aren’t as simple as you may think. Shrimp paste can vary greatly in taste depending on how it is made and what ingredients are used.
Generally, shrimp paste has a pungent flavor with strong notes of seafood. Due to the salt content it is also quite salty and the fermentation gives it a umami flavor.
Some shrimp pastes can also be quite sweet, while others can be spicy. The level of spiciness will also vary depending on the type of shrimp paste you use.
Where to buy shrimp paste
The best locations to buy top quality shrimp paste are marketplaces near villages where it’s produced.
Shrimp paste has a diverse range of smells, textures, and saltiness depending on the region.
Shrimp paste is also sold in other countries, including the United Kingdom, where it may be found in specialty shops catering to Asians.
Indonesian shrimp paste of the kind used for Oedang Trassie from Conimex is available at supermarkets selling Asian cuisine in the Netherlands.
Thai shrimp paste such as Kung Thai and Tra Chang are available in stores in the United States.
Other countries’ shrimp pastes are also available in Asian shops and online.
It’s also readily accessible in Suriname since the high number of Javanese people reside there. Shrimp paste may be found in most Australian suburbs where Southeast Asians live.
Best shrimp paste to buy
When it comes to buying your shrimp paste, there are a few things you should look for to get the best possible product.
- First, you want to make sure that the fermented ground shrimp paste you’re buying is made with fresh shrimp or krill. This will ensure that the shrimp paste has a good flavor and aroma.
- Second, you want to look for shrimp paste that is nicely fermented. This will give the shrimp paste a deeper flavor and also help preserve it.
- Third, you want to make sure that the shrimp paste you’re buying is reasonably priced. Shrimp paste is not a cheap ingredient, so you don’t want to overpay for it.
With those factors in mind, I trust you to be sure to know what to look for in the market.
One of the most popular shrimp pastes is the Kung Thai brand that you can buy online:
How to eat shrimp paste
Shrimp paste is often found in the pairing of green mangoes by street vendors in the Philippines, where the sweet and sour taste is complimented by the salty and spicy flavor of the sauteed shrimp paste.
However, that’s not the only use for this famous Filipino condiment, as it goes well with soup, boiled saba bananas, and cassava.
If you want, you can also eat it as a viand together with a bowl of steamed rice. But you have to cook it first, of course.
You can also add shrimp paste to soups or use it as an ingredient in dips for fish or vegetables.
In Thailand, shrimp paste or shrimp sauce (kapi) is a key ingredient in many types of nam phrik, spicy dips or sauces, and in all Thai curry pastes.
Nam phrik kapi, a particularly popular dish made with fresh shrimp paste and most often eaten together with fried pla thu (short mackerel) and fried, steamed or raw vegetables.
Shrimp paste goes well with just about anything that can use a strong flavor kick, so feel free to experiment.
What’s the origin of shrimp paste?
Although it has been utilized as a vital component and culinary tradition in Southeast Asian cooking.
Among those countries include South India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and the Chinese province of Hainan, its origin is typically linked to island countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
It has been a practice to grind shrimp and let them dry on bamboo mats since the eighth century AD, when they were first used as a condiment.
Since shrimp paste has a long shelf life, it is a crucial staple in nations with hot, humid climates.
Since it has become widespread, each nation and region has inevitably produced its own unique variants and paired them with many dishes.
They differ in sweetness, salinity, and consistency (from liquid to firm) as well as in color (from pale pink to dark brown).
However, they all have a distinctive strong scent that is evocative of roasted shrimp.
Shrimp paste is now commonly supplied in tubes, jars, and other packaging and is accessible in international supermarkets all over the world.
Today, it is rarely consumed on its own due to its potent odor and flavor; instead, it is a component of several savory sauces and classic Asian foods such as curries, stir-fries, salads, fish stocks, rice dishes, and noodle dishes.
It is also important to note that this dish has many versions in different Asian countries, not just in the Philippines.
For instance, it could be Trasi in Indonesia, Belacan in Malaysia, Galmbo in India, Haam Ha in China, Kapi or Nam Phrik Kapi in Thailand, and many more.
What’s the difference between shrimp paste and bagoong?
Shrimp paste and bagoong are both fermented shrimp products that are popular in Southeast Asian cuisine.
They both have a strong shrimp flavor, but shrimp paste is usually saltier than bagoong. Bagoong is also typically made with smaller shrimp than shrimp paste.
Shrimp paste is typically used as a condiment or ingredient in dishes, while bagoong is typically eaten as a side dish.
To make shrimp paste in Filipino, use bagoong alamang.
It is made from shrimp and is frequently cooked with other seasonings, served sautéed with white rice, used as a garnish on green mangoes, and even your favorite dishes.
Just go and try them in small quantities to test.
What’s the difference between shrimp paste and sauteed shrimp paste?
Sauteed shrimp paste is shrimp paste that has been sauteed in oil. It is usually used as a condiment or ingredient in dishes.
Sauteed shrimp paste has a milder flavor and can be used as a dipping sauce or spread. It can also be used to add flavor to soups and stir-fries.
What’s the difference between shrimp paste and anchovy paste?
Anchovy paste is made from anchovies, while shrimp paste is made from shrimp. Anchovy paste is usually saltier than shrimp paste.
Shrimp paste is typically used as a condiment or ingredient in dishes, while anchovy paste is typically eaten as a side dish.
Types of shrimp paste
Dried shrimp paste
Dried shrimp paste is made from shrimp that have been cooked and then sun-dried. It has a strong shrimp flavor and is used as a condiment or ingredient in dishes.
Fermented shrimp paste
Fermented shrimp paste is made from shrimp that has been fermented with salt. It has a strong shrimp flavor in wet form and is used as a condiment or ingredient in dishes.
Sauteed shrimp paste
Sautéed shrimp paste is shrimp paste that has been sautéed in oil with other ingredients, such as pork fat, seasonings, and tomatoes, and is more like a viand than a condiment.
Popular pairings of shrimp paste
Shrimp paste is a flexible condiment, and it can be paired with many other dishes or fruits. Check out some of them below.
Sauteed shrimp paste with green mangoes
Green mangoes with sautéed shrimp paste are always sold out by vendors to passersby and students in the Philippines.
It is a delicacy served in a small cup or plastic container where you can eat it with your fingers.
The mango here can be a Carabao mango or an Indian mango, depending on their season or whether they’re available.
Shrimp paste and boiled saba banana
Apart from mangoes, boiled saba bananas will also do well when paired with shrimp sauce as an essential ingredient.
The bananas can be either almost ripe or ripe with light yellow skin.
However, most Filipinos say that the banana should be in a state of balance regarding its ripeness, meaning that its skin should be green with a slight trace of sweetness.
But as for myself, I prefer those with yellow skin already, but still crunchy. They’re sweet and really go well with the spiciness of shrimp paste.
The crunchiness and a little sweetness brought about by the banana are well-complimented by the shrimp sauce, producing a flavor you can never ignore.
Shrimp paste and cassava
Cassava can be a great pairing with shrimp paste too, as spicy dips. It tastes like boiled saba banana in that it is just made with cassava.
Sauteed shrimp paste and steamed rice
Sometimes, sauteed shrimp paste is served as a viand in addition to soup, dried fish, or noodles and eaten together with rice in a family meal.
Just like the yuzu kosho in Japan, Filipino shrimp paste is a flexible condiment that gives additional flavors to the dishes around it.
Shrimp paste in soups
Shrimp paste is perfect for soups too, as a cooking ingredient to add extra flavor to your already appetizing meaty soup with a few veggies like kare-kare, pinakbet talong, and binagoongan.
Shrimp paste with vegetables
If you’ve got some extra veggies in our fridge, fresh shrimp paste is an excellent pairing to make a healthy stir fry sauce, like this easy Pinakbet recipe.
Shrimp paste ingredients
Does shrimp paste get you excited and want to learn how to make it quickly and easily in the comfort of your kitchen?
Continue reading to find out!
- 1 pound of freshly peeled and deveined shrimp
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter
- 1 ⁄4 cup of cooking wine
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 ⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 ⁄2 tsp salt
- 1 ⁄4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- In a big skillet, melt one-third cup of the butter. Stirring frequently over high heat, add the shrimp, mixed with salt and black pepper, and cook until the shrimp are fully cooked. It will take 5 to 6 minutes to complete.
- Transfer the cooked shrimp to the steel-bladed food processor’s bowl. Place aside.
- Cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and cooking wine should all be added to the same skillet. Cook the liquid at a high heat setting until it is reduced to 3 tablespoons or less and becomes quite syrupy.
- The mixture should be added to the shrimp in the food processor right away, and the shrimp should be processed until puréed. Add the remaining butter, a little at a time, while the machine is running, and process until everything is well combined. In order to check the seasoning of the shrimp paste, turn off the food processor. Whenever necessary, add more salt or black pepper.
- Before using, let the shrimp paste cool fully. For up to a week, keep it covered in the refrigerator.
To make a sauteed shrimp paste, or ginisang bagoong, simply heat the pan on medium heat, add a little oil, and put the shrimp paste in.
Add a few cuts of pork fat, seasonings, brown sugar, chili peppers, chopped onions, minced garlic, and tomatoes.
Mix them well and wait for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.
Helpful cooking tips for sauteing shrimp paste
Here are some helpful cooking tips for preparing your delicious shrimp paste that will surely fill the gaps in your taste buds.
Cook palm sugar until it dissolves and turns brown. Then add the shrimp paste and mix them well.
Add chili peppers, specifically siling labuyo or bird’s eye peppers.
For a better texture, add the cornstarch slurry to the shrimp paste to thicken it.
Don’t forget to add a little lime juice for the excellent taste of your prawn sauce.
Where to eat shrimp paste?
You can get shrimp paste in supermarkets in the Philippines or at any Southeast Asian store. Shrimp paste is pretty well-known, so there will be no trouble finding this condiment.
However, if you want to make your life easier by purchasing online, I really like this Barrio Fiesta Ginisang Bagoong Sauteed Shrimp Paste, Kamayan Sauteed Shrimp Paste, or Kung Thai Shrimp Paste that’s perfect for getting a taste of Thai cuisine.
Shrimp paste etiquette
In the Philippines, there is no shrimp paste etiquette per se, but it is generally considered polite to eat shrimp paste with your hands.
Using a spoon is perfectly fine too.
If you are eating shrimp paste as a side dish, it is also polite to use your own spoon or fork to scoop out the shrimp paste onto your rice rather than eating it directly from the shrimp paste jar.
In general, shrimp paste is a pretty casual dish, so don’t worry too much about etiquette. Just enjoy the deliciousness!
Is shrimp paste healthy?
Shrimp paste is a source of protein and essential nutrients, making it a healthy addition to your diet.
However, shrimp paste is also high in sodium and fat, so it should be consumed in moderation.
Too much shrimp paste can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and other health problems.
Enjoy shrimp paste as part of a balanced diet to reap the most health benefits.
Before you head to your kitchen to make shrimp paste, let me clear up some things first.
What can I substitute for shrimp paste?
Shrimp paste is frequently a component in curry paste, whether you buy it or make it yourself.
Miso or soy sauce (fish sauce or patis) are two alternatives that can take the place of the salty and umami flavor that shrimp paste adds.
Can you eat shrimp paste raw?
The shrimp paste must be cooked before eating. Depending on your preferred methods of cooking, it can vary. One popular method is by sauteeing it.
Does shrimp paste expire?
Usually, the present shelf life of spicy shrimp paste is only a few months, or more specifically, 6 months.
While storing it, keep it in a closed jar at room temperature or put it inside your refrigerator.
What is Thai shrimp paste?
The name kapi is used for shrimp paste in Thailand (or gkapi). It is a fermented purple-brown sauce created from krill, which are small crustaceans that resemble shrimp.
The combined combination is then dried and mashed into a thick, gooey paste that resembles Thai recipes and makes up for Thailand shrimp paste.
What does shrimp paste smell like?
Shrimp paste can have a variety of flavors. It has a strong odor and pungent aroma, ranging from overbearing and practically rotten to nutty and roasted seafood goodness.
Shrimp paste is a versatile and delicious ingredient that you should definitely try in your kitchen.
Whether you use it as a dipping sauce, marinade, or curry paste, shrimp paste will take your dishes to the next level.
So what are you waiting for? Give shrimp paste a shot today—the best in Southeast Asia!
Talking about flavorful pastes, let’s compare miso with marmite now and find out when to use which
Check out our new cookbook
Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.
Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:Read for free
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.