One thing my family loves about travel is eating local foods. We often happen across dishes that we later learn to make so that we can have a little taste of our travels at home.
Since we can’t travel everywhere, we also just try recipes from around the world, but sometimes we can’t easily find all the ingredients.
As fans of Thai food, we come across recipes with shrimp paste. However, some of the family is vegetarian and some of us don’t like shrimp, so we needed a substitute.
If you are not a fan of shrimp paste or you can’t come by it easily, you can substitute other fish-based ingredients like dried shrimp, fish sauce, oyster sauce, anchovies, or bonito flakes. These ingredients add milder pungency and saltiness. For those who have shellfish allergies or prefer vegan or vegetarian diets, try substituting miso, soy sauce, tamari sauce, seaweed, shiitake mushrooms, Thai yellow bean sauce, or Chinese black bean sauce as alternatives to fish paste.
Keep reading for replacement ratios, flavor, and nutritional details about each of these ingredients, and a couple of interesting recipes to try as you add to your world map of dinners.
Shrimp Paste Substitute
1. Dried Shrimp
Dried shrimp comes in an assortment of preparations (with and without heads and shells), but you can use it all the same way.
Simply substituting dried shrimp will not add the same depth of flavor that shrimp paste brings to a dish because it lacks the fermentation process.
It does add the salty-umami flavor, however. You can find it in an Asian market or order it online.
When you open the bag of dried shrimp, you will find it is just that – tiny sun-dried shrimps.
How you use it in your recipe depends on your dining preference. First, you will need to use at least 2x the dried shrimp for the amount of shrimp paste.
For Added Texture – Double the amount of dried shrimp for shrimp paste. As you add ingredients into your wok or skillet, add the dried shrimp early so that it has time to soften up with the liquid as the other ingredients cook.
The dried shrimp will add a bit of a salty flavor and will add a pleasant crunchy, chewy texture.
For Salty Flavor – Use a 2:1 ratio of dried shrimp to shrimp paste. Soak the dried shrimp for a minimum of 30 minutes in water. Then drain it and add it to your stir fry or noodle dish.
Closest Mimic of Shrimp Paste – Measure twice the amount of dried shrimp as the recipe lists for shrimp paste. Soak the shrimp in water for 20-30 minutes.
Drain completely, then blend dried shrimp in a blender or food processor with fish sauce to make a paste. You will create a paste that is salty, umami, and pungent using this method.
Need a substitute for shrimp? Check out 13 Substitutes for Shrimp – Including Vegan and Non-Shellfish Options
Nutritional Information for 1 cup Dried Shrimp
- Calories 96
- 1.4 g fat
- 171 mg cholesterol
- 767 mg sodium
- 138 mg potassium
- 1.2 g carbohydrates
- 18g protein
- Traces of vitamins and minerals
2. Fish Sauce
You’ve probably had fish sauce if you enjoy Thai food. It adds a punch of salty, umami flavor to a variety of dishes like Pad Thai. But what is it exactly?
Fish sauce is made by fermenting small salted anchovy-like fish in large barrels for several years. The resulting briny liquid is fish sauce.
A good quality fish sauce will have a pungent fishiness, but it will also taste of salt, brine, and even a little sweetness Red Boat fish sauce contains only anchovies, salt, and water. It is aged in wooden barrels in a gluten-free facility, and was certified kosher in 2016.
When you are choosing fish sauce, the best ones will have the fewest ingredients: anchovies and salt.
You can use this unique ingredient in marinades, stir-fries, salad dressing, broths, roasted chicken, and sautéed greens.
Essentially, you can use it in any recipe in place of salt. It has a very strong flavor, so start with only a small amount and taste frequently until you reach the flavor you want.
Fish sauce is not as pungent as shrimp paste, so you will need to use more fish sauce to compensate. Start with 1 tablespoon of fish sauce for every teaspoon of shrimp paste.
Be sure to taste frequently as you add other ingredients so you can make adjustments.
Nutritional Information for 1 tablespoon of Fish Sauce
- 15 calories
- 1490 mg sodium (62% DV)
- 4 g protein
3. Oyster Sauce
Oyster sauce is a thick, syrupy, dark brown or black sauce. It is made from reduced oyster juices that have been caramelized with salt and sugar.
Some varieties of oyster sauce include soy sauce and cornstarch for thickening. You can use oyster sauce directly from the bottle, add it to other sauces, or use it as a base to stir-fry.
It has a strong flavor that is earthy, salty, and slightly sweet like a combination of soy sauce and barbecue sauce. It doesn’t taste of oysters.
Due to the strong flavor, you should begin with a small amount and taste often as you cook until you reach the desired flavor. Start with 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce and add more if desired.
Nutritional Information for 1 tablespoon Oyster Sauce
- 20 calories
- 310 mg sodium
- 5 g carbohydrates
- 10 mg potassium
Anchovies are tiny fish that are easy to find in most grocery stores. They are fileted then packed in salt or oil in glass jars or tins.
For the best flavor look for anchovies in olive oil stored in glass jars. Tinned anchovies have a noticeable “canned” flavor.
Anchovies add a salty, umami, fishy flavor to your dishes. When you cook with the filets they tend to melt away and support the other flavors in the dish.
Even if you don’t like whole anchovies, a little bit of anchovy in your recipes adds a burst of flavor that makes them amazing.
Anchovies are less pungent than shrimp paste, but you can still use them in a 1:1 ratio. Make a paste from the anchovy filets by mashing them or blending them with a little bit of water.
You can refrigerate leftover anchovy filets in oil for a very long time. After a couple of weeks, however, they will begin to become more pungent and will make the refrigerator smell.
If you want pungency, leftover anchovies will achieve this. But it will also make your fridge smell funny.
Nutritional Information for 2 ounces of anchovies
- 60 calories
- 8 g protein
- 3.5 g fat
- 35 mg cholesterol
- 1720 mg sodium (79% of DV)
- 4% DV calcium
- 6% DV iron
- 2% DV potassium
- 6% DV Vitamin D
5. Bonito Flakes
Bonito Flakes are dried and fermented bonito fish (in the tuna family) or skipjack tuna. These flakes have a strong odor and a salty, intensely savory taste. They are not as pungent as shrimp paste and the texture is notably different.
Add the flakes to stocks, soups, or casserole dishes. You can also sprinkle them on top of noodle dishes as a savory topping.
Start with 2 tablespoons of flakes and taste your dish frequently. Add more as needed to reach your desired flavor.
Nutritional Information for ⅓ cup of Bonito Flakes
- 10 Calories
- 0g fat
- 5.3 mg cholesterol
- 246 mg sodium
- 51 mg potassium
- 2.2 g protein
- Trace vitamins and minerals
6. Korean Fermented Shrimp Saeu-jeot
Saeu-jeot is made from small thin-shelled shrimp that have been salted and fermented. The flavor and color of this condiment change depending on the time of year and the temperature of the water when the shrimp are caught.
Rather than being a thick paste, this ingredient is still recognizable shrimp. You can find it in a Korean grocer or online.
You may also be able to find a Korean fermented shrimp sauce to use in seasoning dishes like kimchi.
This Salted Shrimp sauce contains a shrimp fermentation stock solution of 83%, refined salt, anchovy fish sauce, and other ingredients for flavor and fermentation.
Vegetarian and Vegan Shrimp Paste Substitutes
Whether you adhere to a vegetarian or vegan diet out of preference, or you just don’t like the taste of shrimp or fish, there are plenty of substitutes you can use to add deep umami flavor to your dishes in place of shrimp paste.
If you keep Kosher, try one of these vegetarian options to substitute for shrimp paste.
We Thought You Would Like
Miso is a fermented soybean paste. You will find miso made with a variety of molds that are cultivated from different grains like rice, barley, or soybeans themselves.
Some kinds of miso are fermented for a few weeks and others for many years. Lighter-colored miso is sweeter while darker miso is salty, earthy, and powerfully pungent.
Dark miso is an excellent vegan substitution for shrimp paste. Use 1-2 tablespoons of dark miso for each ½ teaspoon of shrimp paste called for in your recipe.
Nutritional Information for Dark Miso
One tablespoon contains
- 25 calories
- 680mg sodium
- 3g carbohydrates
- 2 g protein
8. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is an affordable and easy-to-find alternative to shrimp paste. It has a salty, bitter flavor that is considerably milder than shrimp paste.
Because of its mildness, you will need to add quite a bit to match the strength of shrimp paste. On the other hand, if you prefer a milder flavor, this is an ideal substitution.
Be aware that soy sauce may discolor your food due to the amount you need to add. Start with 1 tablespoon and taste frequently so that you get the flavor you want.
If you aren’t vegan or vegetarian, you can use 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and a mashed anchovy filet as a substitute for a teaspoon of fishpaste.
Soy Sauce contains wheat, so look for specific gluten-free options if needed.
9. Tamari (Vegan Fish Sauce)
Tamari is a kind of soy sauce made from water, salt, and miso. Sometimes this is referred to as shoyu. It doesn’t contain wheat so this is a great option for a gluten-free diet.
Tamari has a higher protein content than soy sauce. It is a bit thicker and less salty than soy sauce and has more umami flavor.
Substitute 1 tablespoon of tamari for 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste.
Tamari Nutrition Information
1 tablespoon contains
- 10 calories
- 710 mg sodium
- 2 g protein
- 1.5 mg iron
- 100 mg potassium
Seaweed is a broad word that refers to different kinds of algae that grow in water.
Both fresh and dried seaweed are good options to substitute for shrimp paste, but you may have difficulties finding fresh depending on where you live.
Seaweed is quite nutritious and the variety can help determine the flavor profile.
The kinds with the most umami flavor are high in glutamate: nori, kombu, ma, rishi, rausu, hidaka, and naga. Lower glutamate varieties like wakame have less umami flavor.
Add fresh seaweed to soups or salads. You can use dried varieties in almost any recipe. Try 2 tablespoons or more of dried seaweed to replace ½ teaspoon of shrimp paste.
Nutrition Facts for 2 Tablespoons of Dried Kombu
- 5 Calories
- 80 mg sodium
- 1 g carbohydrate
- 18 mg calcium
- 4% DV potassium
- 2% DV thiamine
- 6% DV riboflavin
- 4% DV vitamin B12
- 890% DV iodine
- Other trace minerals
11. Shiitake (Vegan)
Shiitake mushrooms are an excellent addition to the umami flavor in any dish. They are tan to dark brown mushrooms that grow on decaying hardwood trees. Most shiitake mushrooms are grown in Japan, though they are cultivated in other places in the world.
If you can find fresh shiitake, slice them into fine strips or chop them finely and add about a cup to your recipe in place of ½ teaspoon of shrimp paste.
If you are only able to find dried shiitake, that is no problem. You can grind dried shiitake mushroom into a powder in a coffee grinder and substitute it 1:1 for shrimp paste.
For non-vegans who love mushrooms, try adding 1 teaspoon of fish sauce to your fresh or powdered shiitake mushroom.
Nutritional Information for 15g of dried shiitake mushrooms
- 44 calories
- 11 carbs
- 2 g fiber
- 1 g protein
- 39% DV Copper
- 33% DV Vitamin B5
- 11% DV Riboflavin and Niacin
- 10% or less of other minerals and vitamins
12. Thai Yellow Bean Sauce
This sauce is made from fermented yellow soybeans. It has a strong salty, earthy flavor with a hint of sweetness. Use it in your vegetable stir-fries or as a sauce on chicken or fish for those who eat meat.
Some of the formulations have wheat, so if you are gluten-intolerant be careful to read the ingredient list. Use this sauce in a 1:1 ratio for shrimp paste.
Nutrition Facts for 1 Tablespoon of Healthy Boy Thai Soybean Paste
- 5 calories
- 390 mg sodium
- <1g carbs
- <1g protein
- 3 mg calcium
- 26 mg potassium
13. Chinese Black Bean Sauce
Chinese black bean sauce is made from fermented black soybeans (not regular black beans). Black bean sauce is commonly made with garlic and sometimes with chiles to add some heat.
It is a combination of sharp, pungent, salty, spicy, and just a bit of sweetness. Because this has a strong flavor, you don’t need much to flavor a whole dish.
Use it in a 1:1 ratio to replace shrimp paste. This product contains wheat, so it is not suitable for gluten-free diets.
Nutritional Information for 1 tablespoon of Chinese Black Bean Sauce
- Calories 23
- 1.9 g fat
- 78 mg sodium
- 17.5 mg potassium
- 1 g carbohydrate
- .3 g protein
- Traces of vitamins and minerals
Cooking with Shrimp Paste
Shrimp paste has a very strong odor. If you are new to using it, you may want to open the windows and give your home time to air out before having guests come over.
You may use it to start the base of any savory dish. Add a small amount (or what the recipe calls for) to a skillet or wok on medium-low heat. Flatten the paste and let it roast in the pan.
Turn the heat to low and let it roast for about 5 minutes then flip it over and let it continue cooking. When it is nicely browned it will be lighter than the uncooked paste.
When the odor becomes unbearably strong, you have cooked it enough and you can move on with the rest of your recipe.
Making Homemade Shrimp Paste
If you can’t find shrimp paste in your area, or you just have a DIY spirit, you can make shrimp paste at home.
We have a couple of options for you, depending on what is available in your area.
Option 1 – Fresh Tiny Shrimp, Traditional Method
- Start with very fresh tiny shrimp. Wash them in water that is as salty as ocean water (3.5% salinity) That is about 2 ⅞ cups of water plus 6 ⅛ teaspoons of salt.
- Drain out as much water as you can.
- Mix the shrimp with salt. Use a 75% shrimp to 25% salt ratio. It seems like a lot, but this amount of salt is needed to preserve the shrimp.
- Store the mixture overnight in a glass bowl covered with plastic wrap.
- Over the next 3-5 days, spread the shrimp and salt mixture out in the sun to dry. (The temperature needs to be above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.) Try laying the mixture on baking sheets or a clean tarp and cover it with mesh or cheesecloth to keep critters off of it.
- Bring it in at night and store it in the refrigerator. Return it to the sunshine each day.
- After the shrimps are semi-dry you can mash them into a paste with a mortar and pestle (traditional) or a high-powered blender (modern).
- Spread the paste back out on the baking sheets and repeat the sun drying process for 2-3 more days.
- Once it is dry, you can store it in glass jars in your pantry or refrigerator. The longer you let it ferment, the stronger the taste will become.
Option 2 – Large Shrimp, Modern Kitchen
If you don’t have access to tiny shrimp or room to spread out the shrimp to dry, you can follow the methods described in this video.
The presenter uses full-sized shrimp, and sun-dries in a bowl, and offers solutions for those who live in colder climates.
Recipes to Try with Shrimp Paste or a Substitute
Nasi Goreng is an Indonesian / Malaysian fried rice dish with a little bit of meat, green onion, and topped with a sunny side-up egg.
An important ingredient in this dish is day-old cold rice. So cook extra and save your leftovers for this delish dish.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of finely chopped red chili, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves, and cook for 10 seconds.
- Next, add 1 small diced onion and cook for one minute.
- Place 5 ounces of thinly sliced chicken (or other protein) and additional oil if needed in the pan and cook until the chicken is almost cooked through and starts to brown.
- Add 1 tablespoon of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and continue cooking for another minute.
- Add 3 cups of cold rice, 2 more tablespoons of kecap manis, and 2 teaspoons of shrimp paste (or the substitute of your choice).
- Cook, stirring constantly to coat the rice with the sauce. Cook until the sauce reduces.
- In another pan, fry an egg, sunny-side up.
- Serve with a sprinkle of green onion and top with the fried egg.
If you are adventurous when trying out new foods, you should go all the way with Bicol Express. This Philippino dish was created by Cely Kalaw, a restaurant owner in Manila.
She named the dish after the train, the Bicol Express. This dish has powerful flavors, so be prepared! This recipe serves 8.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute 6 finely chopped garlic cloves until fragrant, then add 2 chopped onion. Cook until onion is tender.
- Add ½ cup of shrimp paste (or a substitute) and cook for 5 minutes.
- Increase heat to high and add 1 kilo of thinly sliced pork belly. Cook for about 10 minutes.
- Add ¼ cup minced ginger, 6 cups coconut cream, 1 cup green finger chilis (seeded and cut into strips) ¼ cup red chilis, and 2 tablespoons of turmeric. Cook for 15-20 minutes until the sauce reduces and thickens.
- Serve with steamed rice.
What is Shrimp Paste?
Shrimp paste is a common ingredient in Southeast Asian recipes. It is made from fermented dried shrimp, salt, and water.
It has a pungent, fishy aroma and salty, umami flavor that add depth to any savory dish.
You will find that it has different names (belacan, kapi, terasi, and others) depending on the country of origin, though they are all essentially the same.
Nutritional Information for Shrimp Paste
1/2 a Tablespoon of Shrimp Paste Contains
- 10 calories
- < 1 gram of fat
- 17 mg cholesterol
- 754 mg sodium (31% DV)
- 1.8 g protein
- trace vitamins and minerals
Do Some Vegetarian Dishes Use Shrimp Paste?
Thai or Indian curries may have a scoop of this shrimp paste in the sauce base, yet still, be labeled as vegetarian. You should ask at restaurants if this is a concern for you.
Shrimp paste is a powerfully flavored, pungent, salty, umami-filled ingredient. Just a small amount adds depth of flavor to your dishes.
You may want a substitute for shrimp paste if you like a milder flavor, are allergic to shrimp, or if you need a vegan or vegetarian alternative.
You can substitute dried shrimp, fish sauce, oyster sauce, anchovies, or bonito flakes for shrimp paste if you can eat fish-based products.
For vegan options, try dark miso, soy sauce, tamari, seaweed, shiitake mushroom, Thai yellow bean sauce or Chinese black bean sauce.
Whichever option you go for, be sure to start with a smaller amount and taste the recipe often as you add other ingredients.
That way you can add additional amounts of your shrimp paste substitute without adding too much.
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nanny do it, no judgment here :)) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.