Is Fish Sauce Gluten Free?

Are you considering dining out, maybe to an Asian place, but aren’t sure if the fish sauce they use in their dishes is gluten-free? Or maybe you’re considering buying fish sauce as an ingredient to cook at home but are not sure if it’s gluten-free? 

Some fish sauces are gluten free, but not all. Many do not contain gluten, but some have wheat extracts, so they may contain gluten depending on the brand and the restaurant’s dishes. It’s important to check the labels and ingredients before purchasing it or ask the restaurant you’re dining at, if you’re looking for gluten-free options.

This article covers everything you need to know about the kind of gluten some fish sauces may have, and why some fish sauces contain the ingredient, as well as more information about fish sauce you may not have known before. 

Does fish sauce contain any gluten?

If you’ve ever dined out at Vietnamese or Thai places, there’s a high chance that you’ve tasted fish sauce, but is fish sauce gluten-free? The answer to that is; not all of them are gluten free. 

Fish sauce is an essential ingredient for many Asian dishes, and is a staple for any of the continental dishes you try making at home. If you have certain preferences, for example; without gluten, you may have to be mindful of the dish you’re eating as it may contain fish sauce which does contain gluten, throwing you off your dietary preferences. 

While some brands of fish sauces do not contain any gluten, there are some that do, it all depends on the manufacturers and the brand of fish sauce being used. So you should be mindful when purchasing fish sauce or when eating dishes in restaurants which may possibly contain fish sauce, albeit in scarce amounts.

Fish sauce is like soy sauce; it can be made gluten free, but there are brands or types of it that aren’t. Almost 50% of the brands that make fish sauce use extracts such as wheat in their manufacture, leading to it not being gluten free. However, you can find gluten free options in the Asian section of various grocery stores out there. 

Why do some types of fish sauces contain gluten?

To understand why fish sauce contains gluten, first you must understand what fish sauce really is. According to Everyday Gluten Free Gourmet, fish sauce has different names in both Vietnamese and Thai, since those two Asian cuisines use fish sauce the most. 

Fish sauce can be called the soy sauce of Pan-Asian cuisine, in the sense that it is essential for getting an authentic flavor in your Asian dishes. The flavor of this salty, pungent, dark sauce is very complex, and it is made by fermenting tiny anchovies, thus it also has the smell of fish. 

Normally, fish sauce should be gluten-free, as is manufactured in Asia, but some manufacturers, mostly North American, prefer adding gluten in the ingredients of their own fish sauce to differentiate their taste form other products of similar kind. What this does is differentiate your product from other competition in the market, and gives producers an edge.

Fermented fish sauce does not contain gluten, but the manufacturers can add wheat or any other extracts to enhance the flavor, in which case it has gluten, which answers our question. 

Are there any fish sauce substitutes to use while home cooking?

Yes, there are a lot of suitable alternatives to fish sauce, if you can’t find the gluten-free option in stores or online. Some of the more popular substitutes to use, according to Healthline are:

  • Soy sauce – mostly used in Chinese cuisine, soy sauce is a staple for any home cook with an affinity for strong Asian flavors. Soy sauce gives your dish that rich umami flavor, almost similar to that of fish sauce, and has an almost sweet taste. 

  • Tamari – being a type of soy sauce, it’s no wonder this sauce is here on our list since it can act as an almost perfect substitute to fish sauce as well. While some brands of soy sauce may contain a little bit of wheat which gluten-sensitive people would be mindful of, this sauce contains little to none, being completely gluten-free. 

  • Oyster sauce – with a similar savory flavor, oyster sauce has a thicker consistency than that of fish sauce but is perfect for cooking gravy based dishes. You can also add a little bit of water in it to make it the perfect consistency.

  • Worcestershire sauce – this sauce is the more westernized version of oyster sauce, but still delicious to boot. It also has that strong umami flavor, being very savory in taste, so it acts as a good alternative. 

  • Seaweed – being a very unconventional alternative, you’d be surprised to know that seaweed can act as a very good substitute to fish sauce. Fresh seaweed works best with salads and soups, while the dried kind can be added to most dishes as is. 

How to avoid accidentally eating fish sauce that has gluten?

If you’re highly gluten-sensitive, or have an allergic reaction to it of sorts, or are just trying to not incorporate it in your diet, you must be cautious of eating out. Pan Asian restaurants now a day use fish sauce that contains gluten in a variety of dishes, including curry, Pad Thai, pho, ramen, and many other. 

In these cases, you’d have to inform the restaurant prior or ask them while ordering if they use gluten-free fish sauce, and in what dishes, so that you can order something fitting. You can also make a request for the chef to not include gluten fish sauce within the dish you’re ordering if you really want to eat that specific cuisine. 

While purchasing fish sauce from stores, read the labels carefully and check the ingredient list first before putting something into your cart. Some fish sauces which don’t contain gluten already come with a label ‘gluten-free’ so look for that while grocery shopping for your home. You can also seek the help of the staff standing in the store if you can’t find gluten-free options.

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