Home Knowledge Fish Sauce Vs. Fish Stock – Flavor Battles

Fish Sauce Vs. Fish Stock – Flavor Battles

Fish stock and fish sauce next to a bench covered with ingredients

Fish sauce and fish stock are both savory ingredients that add delicious umami flavor to a wide range of dishes. Although they are both made from fish, they also have different uses in the kitchen. Let’s compare the two so that you never mix them up in your cooking.

Comparing fish sauce and fish stock

Fish sauce is an intensely salty, fishy flavored condiment useful for adding depth of flavor to many Asian recipes. Fish stock has a much milder flavor, without the intense taste of salt and fish. Stock is used in a wide range of cuisines and should not be used interchangeably with fish sauce.

The flavors

Fish sauce is a condiment that has a strong salty, fishy flavor with a slightly sweet, “caramel-like” undertone. It is an ingredient commonly used in Chinese cooking and its umami flavor adds complexity to soup, roasted vegetables, and almost any savory Asian dish. The texture of fish sauce is thin and runny, and it is deep brown in color, similar to some brands of soy sauce.

The flavor of fish stock will vary depending on the recipe, but it will carry a mild taste of salty fish taste. Its texture has a fuller body than fish sauce, thanks to collagen than comes from the fish leftovers.

Popular uses

Fish sauce is commonly used in East Asian and Southeast Asian cooking. Thai chefs will tell you that cooking fish without fish sauce isn’t an authentic Thai meal. Cooks admire this ingredient for enhancing the flavor of the ingredients it combines with. You can add it sparingly to any of the following dishes; but keep in mind that it can easily over-salt the dish if used in excess.

  • Fish
  • Pad Thai
  • Stir-fries
  • Braised meats
  • Marinades
  • Dipping sauces
  • Fried rice
  • Soups and casseroles

Fish stock can be used as a base for a wide range of cuisines. It can be added in much larger quantities than sauce, and is a popular addition to:

  • Bouillabaisse
  • Paella and Risotto
  • Gumbo
  • Chowder
  • Rice
  • Casseroles
  • Tom Yum soup
Gumbo cooked with fish stock
Fish stock is the perfect base for gumbo.

How they’re made

Fish sauce

Common ingredients: Fish, salt, water, sugar.

Fish sauce is usually made from salt-coated krill or anchovies that have been fermented for up to two years. It is more common to buy this ingredient from the store rather than make it at home.

Fish stock

Common ingredients: Fish heads or bones, vegetables, garlic, white wine, water, seasoning.

Making fish stock commonly involves sautéing the vegetables, then adding fish heads and water, and simmering for 30 minutes. Although you can find fish stock or broth, at the store, it is easy to make at home and doesn’t require the long cook time involved in making beef stock.

Nutritional Value

Comparing the two ingredients on nutrition is difficult as they are used in different quantities when cooking. For many dishes, a tablespoon of fish sauce is sufficient, whereas 4 cups or more is often used when cooking with fish stock.

The nutrition is 1 Tbsp of sauce vs 1 cup of stock:

  • Fish sauce is high in sodium, providing 1413mg in one tablespoon; fish stock has 363mg in one cup of liquid.
  • Fish stock has higher protein, 5.3g versus 0.9g for the sauce.
  • Fish stock is higher in potassium with 336mg, while fish sauce has 52mg.

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Store fish sauce in a cool, dark place such as a cupboard or pantry. Avoid refrigerating this sauce as the salt crystallizes, creating an unpleasant texture.

Store-bought stock can be stored, unopened in the pantry for up to three years. Once opened it can be refrigerated for 4-5 days. The homemade liquid can then be strained into a container and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days or frozen for 2 months.


If you don’t have any fish sauce, your best option is to add a cup of anchovies and a ¼ cup of soy sauce to a small saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. Once cooked, use a fine sieve to strain the liquid into a suitable container. Discard the solids and you’ll have a flavorsome condiment that will work well in most recipes.

To replace fish stock in a recipe, combine one teaspoon of fish sauce with a cup of water or vegetable stock.

Infographic comparison

An infographic comparing fish sauce and fish stockSumming up

Fish sauce and stock both do an excellent job of adding flavor to meals. They are similar in that they both should be added early during cooking, to allow their flavors to combine with the other ingredients. However, the two ingredients should never be used interchangeably as they have very different flavor profiles. Avoid using stock to replace sauce as it will not add enough pungent, umami depth of flavor. You can get away with replacing fish stock if you’re in a pinch. Use a small quantity of fish sauce, combined with water and you’ll have a good fish stock replacement.

What is your favorite use for these ingredients? Let us know in the comments below.