Worcestershire Sauce vs Fish Sauce | Best in Different Dishes

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There are two competing condiments used in Asian and Western cuisine: Worcestershire sauce and fish sauce.

Worcestershire sauce is a condiment that originated in England, while fish sauce is a traditional Southeast Asian ingredient.

Both have distinct flavors that can be used to add complexity and flavor to dishes.

Although both Worcestershire sauce and fish sauce are fermented condiments with pungent flavors, they are quite different.

Worcestershire Sauce vs Fish Sauce | Best in Different Dishes

Worcestershire sauce is made from a base of vinegar and typically includes fermented anchovies, garlic, molasses, onions, tamarind, soy sauce or other seasonings. It has a salty and tangy flavor with a hint of sweetness. Fish sauce, on the other hand, is made from fermented anchovies and salt. It has a strong, salty flavor that is often described as “fishy” or “umami”.

In this post, we’re explaining the difference between Worcestershire sauce and fish sauce and how they’re used to flavor dishes.

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Differences between Worcestershire sauce and fish sauce

Both of these sauces have a flavor that is reminiscent of umami because they are prepared with anchovies (and other fish) and allowed to ferment for up to 18 months.

Thus, both these sauces contain the same base ingredient: fish (anchovies for Worcestershire sauce whereas fish sauce can be made of various fish) but their thickness, sweetness, and intensity of flavor vary greatly.

Worcestershire sauce has a thinner consistency than fish sauce and is sweeter with a slight tanginess to it.

Fish sauce, on the other hand, is much thicker in texture and has an intense salty-fishy flavor which can overwhelm dishes if used in excess.

Let’s compare the differences and features of each of these tasty sauces:

Ingredients & manufacturing

The only two ingredients in fish sauce are fish (usually anchovies) and salt.

Only one type of fish is used in higher-quality fish sauces, while most grocery store varieties employ several to cut costs.

But fish sauce isn’t only made from anchovies; oil-rich and fatty fish and shellfish species, such as mackerel, shrimp, and perhaps most frequently, anchovies, are packed into a container with salt to create the dark liquid.

So, fish sauce is made by combining fish with salt and fermenting the mixture for up to 2 years. Some brands only ferment the fish for about 6 to 12 months.

Every day, the two components are stirred. They decompose during that time to create a slurry, which is then filtered and bottled as fish sauce.

Worcestershire sauce is created differently from fish sauce and uses different components.

The ingredients in Worcestershire sauce are distilled white vinegar, molasses, sugar, anchovies, onions, garlic, tamarind extract, and other spices.

The sauce is then fermented and aged for up to two years before being bottled.

Flavors & texture

If you’re wondering does fish sauce taste like Worcestershire?

Not really. Although both taste umami, their flavor profiles are very different.

Fish sauce has a strong, salty fishy taste that can be overwhelming when used in excess or overpowering other flavors in the dish.

Worcestershire sauce is much sweeter and milder, with a slight tanginess to it.

Fish sauce has a distinct, strong fish flavor, but it is balanced off by a salty, briny, caramel-like sweetness.

It’s an ingredient that, when added to marinades, stir-fries, and salad dressings, offers you a little taste of everything. It also works well in non-Asian cuisine too, especially pasta dishes.

Fish sauce is a very salty, reddish-brown sauce that is mostly used as a condiment, just like Worcestershire sauce.

It tastes strongly “fishy” and is watery and thin in consistency.

Worcestershire is almost identical in appearance and texture to fish sauce but it is slightly thicker whereas fish sauce is runnier.

The flavor of Worcestershire is more complex and subtle than that of fish sauce. It has more depth and a slight sweetness to it, while still having the salty anchovy flavor.

The best way to describe the taste of Worcestershire sauce is that of a mild, sweet-tasting vinegar.

It’s slightly sour and tangy but also has a certain depth to it—a unique flavor that makes it stand out in many dishes.

Although there’s a slight funky pungent flavor to it, you won’t feel like it overpowers other ingredients.

Uses

When it comes to uses in cooking, Worcestershire sauce can be used in a variety of dishes, including steak sauce, Bloody Marys, and marinades or dipping sauces.

It can also be used as an ingredient in some sauces or dressings. Worcestershire sauce is commonly paired with meat, especially beef and pork, as it complements their flavor.

It is frequently brushed onto meat as a glaze or used on fish and poultry before grilling, frying, or baking.

When steaming, grilling, or stir-frying veggies, it can be used to give a savory taste so that veggies don’t taste bland.

Worcestershire sauce can also be used as a spice for salads as well as a condiment on sandwiches and shellfish.

Fish sauce is popularly used in Southeast Asian cooking and often added to soups, curries, and stir-fries. It also adds flavor to rice dishes, sauces, and other dishes.

Fish sauce is most frequently used as the base seasoning in more elaborate dressings and dips, much like other umami-rich sauces.

To prepare a more flavorful seasoned fish sauce, for instance, you could include sugar, garlic, chile garlic paste, and lime juice.

Or, you may make this amazing ginger fish sauce by combining ginger with a few other common ingredients.

Fish sauce may even be added to tomato soup or marinara sauce. The possibilities are practically limitless because fish sauce is so potent; a little goes a long way.

Pad thai, a popular Thai noodle dish, is usually made with fish sauce.

Fish sauce can be used to marinate meats and seafood or as the main seasoning for fish dishes. It’s also often added to dressings and sauces.

It is also commonly used as a dipping sauce for grilled or fried meat and seafood, to bring out the natural flavors of the food.

Nutrition

When comparing nutrition facts, fish sauce is lower in calories and fat than Worcestershire sauce.

A serving of Worcestershire sauce (15ml) contains 8 calories and 0 grams of fat. A serving of fish sauce (20ml) contains just 5 calories and 0g of fat.

Overall, both sauces are relatively low in calories and cholesterol.

While Worcestershire sauce is higher in iron, copper, potassium, and vitamin c, fish sauce is higher in magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin b12, selenium, and folate.

Compared to Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce provides 299% more of your daily needs for sodium. Thus, Worcestershire sauce is less salty and contains a lot less sodium compared to fish sauce.

Worcestershire sauce provides 0 mg of Vitamin B6, while fish sauce has 0.396 mg.

Origin

Worcestershire sauce was originally developed in England in 1837 by chemists John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins.

The sauce was a combination of vinegar, molasses, anchovies, garlic, tamarind, onion, and spices.

The sauce became popular throughout the United Kingdom and eventually made its way to the United States in the late 19th century.

It was created to season beef dishes because it added a pleasant savory kick.

Fish sauce originates sometimes in antiquity in Ancient Greece and Rome.

However the fish sauce we use today is usually Asian. Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia are the primary producers of it.

Can you substitute Worcestershire for fish sauce?

Technically yes, you can substitute one for the other, because both Worcestershire sauce and fish sauce contain fermented fish and thus have a strong savory and salty flavor.

But Worcestershire sauce also contains a variety of other ingredients, including anchovies, garlic, onion, tamarind, and vinegar.

Therefore the flavor profiles of the two sauces differ quite a bit and substituting one for the other may not yield desired results in some dishes.

Worcestershire sauce has a more complex flavor, with notes of vinegar, molasses, and spices while fish sauce is a pungent condiment made from fermented fish that imparts an umami flavor.

If you need a substitute for fish sauce, soy sauce is the best choice as it has a similar saltiness and savoriness to fish sauce.

In general, if you want to substitute Worcestershire sauce, you should use more than when using fish sauce because Worcestershire is less salty and more acidic.

When to use Worcestershire sauce or fish sauce?

If you have both sauces in the pantry and are in the middle of making a recipe, you might be wondering which to use.

It depends on the dish and what you are looking for in terms of flavor.

Worcestershire sauce is best used in dishes like beef stews, marinades and sauces to add layers of flavor. It has a savory and smoky flavor that can enhance the flavors of other ingredients.

Use Worcestershire sauce when cooking Western dishes, such as American barbecue sauce and marinades for English beef and pork roasts.

When preparing grilled foods and stir-fries from Southeast Asia, use fish sauce.

Fish sauce is best used in Asian dishes like soups, curries, and stir-fries to add depth of flavor. It can also be used as a dipping sauce or added to marinades when grilling.

Fish sauce has a strong umami flavor that will enhance the flavors of any dish. It is especially popular in Thai and Vietnamese recipes.

Does Worchester sauce taste like fish sauce?

No, Worcestershire sauce does not taste like fish sauce.

The main ingredient in Worcestershire sauce is a fermented fish called anchovies but since the sauce also contains a variety of other ingredients like vinegar, molasses, garlic and spices, it does not taste fishy.

Fish sauce has a much stronger fishy flavor and is used to add a salty and umami flavor to dishes.

Conclusion

So, as you can see, both Worcestershire sauce and fish sauce are great flavor-enhancers that can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen.

They may have similar textures and colors, but their flavors are quite different.

In terms of flavors, Worcestershire sauce is more complex, with notes of vinegar, molasses, and spices while fish sauce is a pungent condiment which tastes saltier.

Both sauces are used in similar ways, however you should use a bit more of Worcestershire sauce if you are substituting for fish sauce.

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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.