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Are you a fan of southeast Asian cuisine? Then you’re no stranger to the unique and flavorful ingredient known as shrimp paste. But did you know that this versatile ingredient goes by different names in different regions?
In Indonesia, it’s called terasi, while in Thailand it’s known as Kapi, and in Malaysia, it goes by Belachan. Made with fermented, dried shrimp that’s further dried and sold in solid blocks or paste form, shrimp paste adds a strong umami flavor to any dish it’s added to.
It’s no wonder it’s an indispensable ingredient in southeast Asian cooking. But what if you run out of shrimp paste or have dietary restrictions that prevent you from consuming shrimp? Not to worry, there are plenty of substitutes for shrimp paste you can use instead, such as fish sauce, miso, soy sauce, anchovies, bonito flakes, and more.
In this article, we’ll explore the best shrimp paste substitutes and how to use them to add depth and flavor to your dishes.
So, let’s dive in and discover the world of umami!
Best Shrimp Paste Substitutes
Here are some of the best substitutes for shrimp paste that you should try today!
1. Fish Sauce
Fish sauce is an easily sourced ingredient you can find in most supermarkets with an Asian section. It has an intensely salty flavor, and, like shrimp paste, fish sauce is also made from fermented seafood. This makes fish sauce the closest substitute to shrimp paste.
The flavors of each ingredient are not perfectly similar because shrimp paste has a more pungent flavor profile, but their differences are barely noticeable in the final dish.
When using fish sauce as a substitute for shrimp paste, you’ll need to increase the quantity. In other words, if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste, you will need 1-2 tablespoons of fish sauce as a substitute.
Make the substitution gradually possible, giving it a taste until you achieve the right balance of flavors.
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Anchovies give dishes a similar fierce wave of salt and fishy flavor, just like shrimp paste. They are packed with lots of umami goodness which helps build mouth-watering flavor.
You may need to blend the fish into a paste with a little water to make it easy to incorporate into the dish.
Instead of real anchovies, you can make use of the paste, which has a consistency that is easy to add to sauces, soups, or sauteed vegetables. Anchovy paste is also less intense than the fillets.
If a recipe calls for 1 tsp of shrimp paste, use twice the amount of anchovy paste to achieve the right flavor. To make the anchovy paste more savory, you can add a splash of light soy sauce.
If you have certain dietary restrictions and cannot consume seafood for any reason, you can still achieve that unique flavor that shrimp paste gives to dishes. This is where miso comes in; it is the best option for those who can’t or won’t eat fish.
This fermented bean paste is packed with complex salty, umami flavors. But you do not want the light miso paste for this purpose. Opt for darker miso pastes as they have deeper and richer taste notes.
The longer duration of fermentation and aging, which gives dark miso paste its color, also helps to heighten its flavor. For each ½ tsp of shrimp paste a recipe needs, use 1-2 tbsp of dark miso paste. Taste the dish as you make the addition and adjust the amount as needed.
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4. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce can be used as a substitute for shrimp paste, and it adds a salty and bitter flavor to your cooking. You may, however, need to add a large amount of this sauce as it has a lot less flavor than shrimp paste.
If not careful, you could end up ruining the dish as it could become too dark and unappealing. But if you are seeking a substitute with a milder flavor compared to shrimp paste, then soy sauce is a good option
5. Bonito Flakes
Japanese bonito flakes are made of small pieces of fermented, dried bonito or skipjack tuna and salt; they are ultra-thin flakes that pack a lot of flavors. Bonito flakes have a milder fish taste compared to shrimp paste but also have an intense savory taste.
Bonito flakes also have a less pungent smell and can be added to stocks and casseroles or sprinkled over noodles.
They, however, have a different texture from shrimp paste, so you couldn’t use the flakes as a replacement in all dishes.
Vegan/Vegetarian Substitutes For Shrimp Paste
If you’re a vegetarian, below are some vegan alternatives to shrimp paste!
6. Tamari or Vegan Fish Sauce
Tamari, which is also commonly known as vegan fish sauce or shoyu, is a dark, thicker, and more umami-rich Japanese variant of soy sauce. It’s made of fermented soybeans, a type of fungus known as koji, and brine (moromi).
Tamari is gluten-free as it doesn’t contain any wheat, unlike regular soy sauce. It also has a low salt content. Most people prefer replacing shrimp paste tamari instead of soy sauce as the difference is very noticeable.
Tamari is packed with a lot of umami-goodness, without any fishy flavor. This is a great option for those who want to add the “umami-ness” of seafood to their dish without having to deal with the fishy smell.
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7. Dried Shiitake Mushroom
If you are unable to find tamari, it can be swapped for dried shiitake mushroom. They make a great veg substitute for seafood as they contain guanylate (an umami-boosting compound).
When dried, the savoriness of shiitake mushrooms is further amplified; you can also use oyster mushrooms in place of shiitake.
Finely chop a handful of the mushrooms and add them to your dish. If you could tolerate the addition of fish, you can add a teaspoon of fish sauce to chopped and sautéed mushrooms before adding it to the dish, you are bound to achieve an impressive result.
If you are completely into a plant-based diet, you can create a paste or sauce of seaweed that mimics the taste of shrimp paste to an extent.
Seaweed may be an umbrella term for plants and algae that grow in water, but it is also nutritious and high in the amino acid glutamate, which delivers a rich and umami flavor.
Seaweed is added to many Japanese and Korean broths and soups. There are different types of seaweed with high glutamate, including nori, and types of kombu, such as ma, rishiri, Hidaka, and naga.
Seaweeds like wakame and kombu have a lower glutamate content, so they are suitable for those who want to minimize the umami flavor added to their dish.
Seaweed can be used in both fresh and dried form and is a great veg alternative to shrimp paste. Fresh seaweed is best added to salads, broths, and sauces, unlike dried seaweed that can be added to a variety of dishes.
There is a handful of shrimp paste substitute you can use when you can get your hands on the real deal, most of which delivers similar umami flavors just like shrimp paste.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What are some good substitutes for shrimp paste in Asian cuisine?
Some good substitutes for shrimp paste in Asian cuisine include fish sauce, oyster sauce, anchovy paste, miso paste, and mushroom powder.
Can vegetarians and vegans use shrimp paste substitutes?
Yes, vegetarians and vegans can use shrimp paste substitutes such as mushroom powder, miso paste, and soy sauce to add umami flavor to their dishes.
How do I use anchovy paste as a substitute for shrimp paste?
To use anchovy paste as a substitute for shrimp paste, simply follow the recipe instructions and replace the shrimp paste with an equal amount of anchovy paste.
Can I use soy sauce as a substitute for shrimp paste?
Yes, soy sauce can be used as a substitute for shrimp paste, but it will not provide the same level of umami flavor. For every 1/2 tsp of shrimp paste, use 1 tablespoon of fish sauce instead.
Are there any substitutes for shrimp paste that are not as fishy?
Yes, some substitutes for shrimp paste that are not as fishy include miso paste and mushroom powder. These substitutes add umami flavor without the strong fishy taste and smell of shrimp paste.