If you're looking to add umami flavor to your dishes, shrimp paste is a common ingredient used in many Southeast Asian recipes. However, for vegans and those who don't eat seafood, finding a substitute for shrimp paste can be a bit of a challenge. And, you just might not have any in the cupboard as it's not a super popular ingredient!
In this article, we'll explore some of the best shrimp paste substitutes to use in your favorite recipes. Naturally, we'll focus on the vegan options, as well as some gluten free options too.
🤔 What is shrimp paste?
Shrimp paste, also known by different names such as belacan or tapi, is a traditional condiment from Southeast Asia made from fermented ground shrimp mixed with salt. Shrimp paste has a pungent aroma and a strong, savory flavor that's commonly used in Indonesian, Malaysian, and Thai cuisine. It's often used in dipping sauces like sambal, curry pastes and sometimes rice dishes like nasi goreng stir fry.
Shrimp paste is not suitable for vegans and vegetarians, as it is made from shrimp.
In the traditional method of making shrimp paste, fresh tiny shrimp are cleaned, mixed with salt, and left to ferment in the sun for several days or weeks. The mixture is then pounded into a paste and left to mature for several more weeks, during which time it develops its characteristic aroma and flavor. It's a thick paste that has a very fishy smell. It's then sold at Asian markets.
While shrimp paste is a common ingredient in many Southeast Asian and Thai recipes, finding a vegan or vegetarian substitute can be a bit of a challenge. But fear not, there are plenty of alternatives to shrimp paste that can be used to add umami flavor to many dishes. And even if you're not vegan but haven't got any of this paste in the kitchen, there are some simple swaps that use much more common ingredients!
🌟 Best substitutes for shrimp paste
1. Miso Paste
Miso paste is a popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine that can be used as a substitute for shrimp paste in many recipes. It is made from fermented soybeans, and has a rich flavor that adds depth and complexity to dishes. Either dark miso or white miso will work when replacing shrimp paste. Both are a good option.
We love miso paste and use it in many of our recipes, such as Miso Aubergine, Thai Green Curry, and Thai Red Curry. In fact, miso paste is used to make each curry paste for those curry dishes. It's a versatile ingredient that can be used in everything from soups to stir-fries to marinades. It will work with either white miso or dark miso paste. It's great for anyone on a plant-based diet!
Use in a 1:1 ratio when replacing shrimp paste.
2. Fermented Bean Paste
Soy bean paste, also known as doenjang, is a Korean ingredient that can be used as a substitute for shrimp paste in many recipes. There is also Thai yellow bean sauce, which is made from fermented soy beans, but it includes whole soybeans that have not been broken down into a paste. This can also be used as a shrimp paste substitute. It's made from fermented soybeans and has a rich, savory flavor that adds umami goodness to recipes. Thai yellow bean sauce (or doenjang) can be used in noodle dishes like Khao Soi and curries like Thai Yellow Curry (to name just a couple of recipes). It adds umami taste and a certain 'funk' to meals.
Use in a 1:1 ratio when replacing shrimp paste.
Seaweed is a great vegan substitute for shrimp paste as it has a natural fishy flavor and can add depth to your dishes. It is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of ways. To use seaweed (and we mean dried seaweed not fresh seaweed, however delicious the latter is) as a shrimp paste substitute, simply soak the seaweed in warm water for a few minutes until it becomes soft. It can be blended into pastes or chopped finely and added to soups. It can add a fishy taste without actually using fish!
Use twice the amount of seaweed to replace shrimp paste.
4. Vegan Fish Sauce
Vegan fish sauce is a great substitute for shrimp paste in many recipes, particularly in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. That's because it replicates a fish taste really well. It's made from (predominently) seaweed and soybean protein, and has a salty flavor. So it has a savory flavor that's similar to traditional fish sauce.
Vegan fish sauce can be used in marinades, stir-fries, and dipping sauce to add depth and complexity to your dishes. It's usually made from seaweed, so it offers a strong flavor, just like shrimp paste. Check out the best fish sauce alternatives.
Use this plant fish sauce in a 1:1 ratio when replacing shrimp paste.
Tamari is similar to soy sauce. However, unlike regular soy sauce, it is made without wheat, making it a gluten-free option for those with dietary restrictions. It has a very similar flavor to regular soy sauce, and can be used as a shrimp paste substitute in many recipes, but it may have a milder flavor. Tamari can be used in marinades, sauces, and stir-fries to add depth of flavor to your dishes.
Use 1:1 ratio when replacing shrimp paste.
6. Soy Sauce
Light soy sauce is another great shrimp paste substitute as it has a salty umami flavor and is a common ingredient in Asian cooking. To use soy sauce as a shrimp paste substitute, simply mix soy sauce with an equal amount of water to dilute the flavor, as it can be quite strong. Use the diluted soy sauce in place of shrimp paste in recipes such as pad thai or curries.
However, unlike shrimp paste, soy sauce does not have a fishy flavor. So while it will add umami and saltiness, it won't add 'funk' or fishy flavor. It may be worth adding a little seaweed as well to really replace shrimp paste.
Use in a 1:1 ratio when a recipe calls for shrimp paste.
7. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
Dried shiitake mushroom is a popular ingredient in Asian cooking and can be used as a vegan shrimp paste substitute. It has a rich umami, earthy flavor and a meaty texture once rehydrated. You could even use the powdered version.
To use dried shiitake mushrooms as a shrimp paste substitute, soak the mushrooms in hot water for about 30 minutes until they become soft, then chop them finely or blend them into a paste. Use the mushroom paste in place of shrimp paste in recipes such as tom yum soup or in the salad dressing for green papaya salad until you get the desired flavor.
Sometimes people have recommended oyster mushrooms instead of dried shiitake mushrooms. This doesn't add up to me, and I would not recommend it as a shrimp paste substitute. It's has a completely different flavour to dried shiitake mushroom and shrimp paste too!
Use 1:1 ratio.
🤨 Other options
While there are many vegan substitutes for shrimp paste, there are also a number of non-vegan alternatives that are commonly used in Southeast Asian and Thai cuisine. These include bonito flakes, anchovies (or anchovy paste), oyster sauce, and dried shrimp. However, we do not recommend using these ingredients because they are not vegan.
No, shrimp paste is not fish sauce. Shrimp paste is made from fermented ground shrimp mixed with salt, while fish sauce is made from fermented fish and salt. They have different flavors and are used in different ways in cooking.
Shrimp paste is not necessarily bad for you, but it is high in sodium due to the salt used in the fermentation process. If you have high blood pressure or are watching your sodium intake, it's best to use it in moderation. Source. Shrimp paste is also not suitable for vegans and vegetarians as it is made from shrimp.
Yes, there are several vegan substitutes for shrimp paste that can be used in cooking. Miso paste, seaweed, tamari, plant-based fish sauce and fermented soybean paste are all great alternatives that can add umami flavor to your dishes.
These substitutes can be used in place of fermented shrimp paste in many Southeast Asian and Thai recipes. It's important to note that there are non-vegan alternatives to shrimp paste, such as bonito flakes (made with skipjack tuna), anchovies, oyster sauce, and dried shrimp, which we do not recommend using in vegan cooking.
In summary, shrimp paste is a traditional Southeast Asian condiment made from fermented shrimp mixed with salt. It has a pungent aroma and a strong flavor that's commonly used in Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai and many more Asian cuisines.
However, it's not suitable for vegans and vegetarians. But don't worry, there are plenty of shrimp paste substitutes available. We think the best shrimp paste substitute is miso paste, fermented soybean paste, seaweed and vegan fish sauce. So when you're veganizing a meal, and a recipe calls for shrimp paste, just refer back to this article!
When you're next cooking up your favorite Southeast Asian or Thai recipe, try one of these substitutes and enjoy the delicious umami flavor without the use of shrimp paste. If you have any favorite substitutes or recipes that you'd like to share, please leave a comment below.