Is fish sauce gluten free?

Is fish sauce gluten free?

Fish sauce is a salty, watery sauce made by fermenting fish. It’s used in many Southeast Asian recipes to add depth and umami. All high quality fish sauce is gluten free, because it contains only salt, water, and fish. However, some fish sauce companies add ingredients that might contain gluten.

The offending additive in some fish sauce is hydrolyzed vegetable protein. This often includes hydrolyzed wheat protein, which is an iffy ingredient in the gluten free space. Hydrolyzed wheat protein has been processed so much that it might be gluten free, but there’s not currently a good test to prove that it’s safe for people with celiac disease to consume.

As long as you stick to fish sauce that contains only salt, fish, and perhaps sugar, you’re safe. We’ll provide links to gluten free fish sauces below, plus some vegetarian options.

fish sauce

Image from The Culture Trip

Fish sauce is an ancient condiment, and was probably created because it was a good way to use up the leftover bits of fish. The practice of making fish sauce goes back at least 2300 years in China. In the west, a similar product called garum was made by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Fish sauce is fermented for 2 years before it’s ready. If it’s fermented for a shorter amount of time, it has a much stronger fishy flavor and lacks the depth and richness of properly fermented sauce.

The flavor of fish sauce is salty, umami, savory, and a little funky. The scent is intensely fishy, but when used in cooking or dipping sauces it actually tastes less fishy than you’d think. Fish sauce is often balanced with sugar, lime juice, and garlic or chiles. You can use it anywhere you’d use anchovies or want a hit of savory-saltiness. A little goes a long way, so start slow! It might take you a long time to go through a bottle of fish sauce, but luckily it lasts pretty much forever.

fish sauce

Image from NY Times

Something worth noting for vegetarian celiacs: many SE Asian restaurants sub fish sauce with soy sauce to make it fish-free. Most soy sauce contains gluten, so it’s worth making extra sure that you’re getting food that’s both gluten free and vegetarian. We’ve included some vegetarian “fish” sauce options below that are also gluten free, so you’re covered!

Buy Gluten Free Fish Sauce

If you have a local store where you can buy fish sauce, please go there! It will probably be much cheaper than buying online. If that’s not possible, these are some great options you can purchase from Amazon.

fish sauce

Image from Simply Suwanee

* Title image courtesy of Tuoi Tre News.

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