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Fish Sauce Taste Test, 13 Brands Compared

Fish Sauce Taste Test, 13 Brands Compared
February 17, 2014 Kyle Hildebrant
Fish Sauce Taste Testing; Red Boat, Tiparos, Three Crabs, Flying Lion, Squid and more brands compared

Fish Sauce, the amber-colored umami Uzzi of Southeast Asian cuisine. We know the magic it holds, but which brand is the best? Is the Vietnamese nuoc mam really superior to Thailand’s nam pla? We tasted 13 different brands of fish sauce, all commercially available in the States. The best was clear and the loser stank.

Fish Sauce, A Primer

Fish sauce is simple: Fish (usually anchovies) mixed with sea salt and fermented for a long period. The resulting liquid, fish sauce. It’s the backbone of Eastern Asian cuisine. The Thai call it nam pla, the Vietnamese, nuoc mam. In the Philippines it’s patis, Korea, aek jeot, and so on. According to Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking, fish fermentation “arose several thousand years ago in the freshwaters of Southwest China and the Mekong River region. It then spread to coastal deltas and was applied to ocean fish.”  McGee goes on to cite the origin of Asian fish sauces as garum, an ancient Roman sauce that “consists of the guts of fish and other parts that would otherwise be considered refuse, so the garum is really the liquor from putrefaction.”, according to the Roman historian, Pliny. It was said that the best garum was made only from mackerel and came from Roman outposts in Spain. As a liquid, it’s value was comparable to the finest perfumes. Fish sauce is believed to be the precursor to soy sauce. McGee states that first foods fermented by the Chinese, fish and meats, were eventually replaced by soy beans in the 2nd century BCE.

The Baseline for Best

The goal of this tasting was to find the brand which possessed the best flavor. Our basis for the “best” tasting fish sauce was as follows:

  • It should taste pure, with fish and sea salt being the only perceivable ingredients
  • Fish should be the dominate flavor, with salt to follow
  • It should taste of fish and the ocean, but not be “fishy” or off-putting
  • It should not taste sweetened; if there is perceivable sweetness it should taste natural and be on the finish

While we considered and documented aroma, it did not factor into our scoring of taste. Regardless, we found that in all cases those brands with an off-putting aroma shared the same taste.

A Collaboration with Three Thousand Acre Kitchen

To do so I recruited my good friend, and fellow food blogger, Jaime Vasquez (pronounced high-may) of Three Thousand Acre Kitchen. We  had a full day of taste testing followed by a night of grilled foods incorporating fish sauce. One of the highlights of that dinner was Jaime’s Vietnamese-style Grilled Pork Balls (follow the link for the recipe) sauced with the Vietnamese dipping sauce, Nước chấm.

The Brands Tasted

Fish Sauce Taste Test, 13 Brands Compared to see which is best

The Results:

Red Boat 40°N StarStarStarStarStar
Red Boat 50°N StarStarStarStar
New Town 60°N StarStarStarStarHalf Star
Tiparos StarStarStarHalf StarNo Star
Shrimp and Crab StarStarStarHalf StarNo Star
Viet Huong Flying Lion StarStarStarNo StarNo Star
Flying Horse StarStarStarNo StarNo Star
MegaChef 30°N StarStarStarNo StarNo Star
Huong Vi Viet StarStarNo StarNo StarNo Star
Golden Boy StarHalf StarNo StarNo StarNo Star
Three Crab StarNo StarNo StarNo StarNo Star
Squid StarNo StarNo StarNo StarNo Star
Blis (excluded) StarStarStarStarStar

The Methodology

  • All brands were tasted blind
  • 50mL of sauce was poured into identical 100 mL white ramekins, numbered 1 to 13
  • Flavor was scored on a 1 to 5 scale; 1 being worst and 5 being best
  • Perceived sodium level was recorded as Low, Medium or High
  • Color and aroma were observed and recorded
  • Rice crackers, water and coffee bean (aroma) were used between each sampling to cleanse the palate
  • Samples were tasted plain
  • Samples that scored above 3 stars were re-tasted plain, with warm rice and as a paste with hard-boiled eggs
  • The three highest scoring sauces were re-tasted plain for a final, closer comparison

The Winner

Red Boat 40°N

Red Boat 40°N

Red Boat 40°N — Phu Quoc, Vietnam — $6.95  (500 mL)

Red Boat 40°N just happened to be toward the end of all the different sauces we tasted (blind). We both immediately agreed that this was easily the best so far. The taste is fish and salt, with a slightly sweet finish. It was remarked “Now this is what fish sauce should taste like.” There’s currently a lot of buzz around Red Boat. I’ll admit, I was skeptical. In the end Red Boat was the clear winner.

Red Boat was one of the first brands I’ve known to declare Degrees N. (40°N, 50°N, etc.). This is a standard to measure the number of grams of nitrogen per liter of fish sauce, which directly relates to the protein level. According to Red Boat “The highest quality fish sauces are greater than 30°N, with the flavor becoming more rich and complex with larger N designation.”

Tasting Notes:
Agreed we both “love this”, “Simple, not complex. Just straight forward”, “an oolong tea aroma”, “fish, but not fishy”, “This smells pure”, “like seared fish”, “I’m on the beach”, “fish is the clear leader here”, “caramelized onions”, “salt is at the front, but fish quickly follows”, “a slightly sweet finish, but natural, not added”, “This is easily the best to far”, “I just want to keep tasting this”.

Salt Level: Medium-HighIngredients: Anchovy, Sea SaltProtein: 4g Protein per 1 Tbsp


Red Boat 50°N Fish Sauce

Red Boat 50°N

Red Boat 50°N — Phu Quoc, Vietnam — $8.00  (80 mL)

Red Boat 50°N is Red Boat’s premium brand, it’s what they refer to as their “Phamily Reserve.” It’s excellent, no doubt. But the flavor difference between 50°N and 40°N is minimal. When comparing the high-scoring finalists against each other, it was remarked that the most noticeable difference was that 50°N (identified later) was “a bit saltier”. It was easy to taste that these two were the same brand. While price seems to vary greatly, the 50°N is easily 10x the cost of 40°N. Is it worth that difference in price? We didn’t think so.

Tasting Notes:
“Tastes pure and rich”, “mineral flavors”, “this reminds me of excellent capers”, “clearly fish and salt”, “there’s a subtle sweet finish to this”, “love this”, “Smells really pure”, “fresh fish, but not fishy; briny”, “maybe a tiny bit of smoke?”

Salt Level: Medium-HighIngredients: Anchovy, Sea SaltProtein: 4g Protein per 1 Tbsp

New Town 60°N Fish Sauce

New Town 60°N

New Town 60°N — Vietnam — $5.95 (500 mL)
StarStarStarStarHalf Star

This brand is a mystery. We found it on the shelf of our local Vietnamese super market. It bears the 60°N designation, which is indicative of its nitrogen (protein) level. Is that legitimate? Hard to say. It seems almost all the fish sauce on the market bear claims like “From Phu Quoc” that’s nothing more than deceptive marketing intended to capitalize on the history of high-quality fish sauce from Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island. New Town’s origin is Vietnam; the best fish sauce is arguably from Vietnam. We could not find out anything about the manufacturer or importer. In fact, we couldn’t even find reference to the listed import company in California’s corporation commission. That said, this is really good. A very close second to Red Boat. We felt the umami was most pronounced in this sauce; it had the most round mouth feel. If you can find it, pick it up.

Tasting Notes:
“The most assertive so far”, “very good flavor”, “rich and true”, “a slight acidity to it”, “a round mouth feel”, “almost tastes like it has fish oil”, “tastes like caramel”, “umami for days”, “good, fish, salt, simple”

Salt Level: MediumIngredients: Fish, Salt, Water; Protein: 1g Protein per 1 Tbsp

Best Buy

Tiparos Brand Fish Sauce


Tiparos — Thailand — $1.49 (725 mL)
StarStarStarHalf StarNo Star

At $1.49, Tiparos is easily the best buy. And aside from the addition of sugar, this does not contain the fructose and hydrolysed B.S. that you’ll find in most of the brands we tasted. With water as the first ingredient, it confirms our “not a lot to this, but not bad” perception; it’s certainly no where near as pure as Red Boat. If using as a part of a recipe, such as in a soup where it’s not the feature, you could use more to make up for it’s “weakness.” It’s likely that you will find Tiparos, alongside the other major brands like Golden Boy and Three Crabs, at most any place fish sauce is sold. And if faced with that choice Tiparos is easily the best buy—and the better sauce.

Tasting Notes:
“Not a lot to this, but not bad”, “there’s fish here, but it’s a little flat”, “salt seems the primary flavor, with fish hard to find”, “the flavor is good, it’s just a bit weak”

Salt Level: HighIngredients: Water, Anchovy Extract, Salt, Sugar; Protein: 2g Protein per 1 Tbsp

Recommended with Reservations

Shrimp and Crab Brand Fish Sauce

Shrimp and Crab Brand

Shrimp & Crab Thailand — $2.99 (725 mL)
StarStarStarHalf StarNo Star

The world of fish sauce is filled with small-scale importers trying to capitalize on the success of other major brand names. It would seem that Crab and Shrimp Brand is trying to do just that. Most would mistake this as Viet Huong’s Three Crab brand—I did—due to the intentional similarity in labels. Surprisingly though this scored high in our tasting. Especially surprising as our all of the other brands that contained additive ingredients scored low in our test. It does contain hydrolysed wheat protein, so that should be considered by those avoiding gluten.

Tasting Notes:
“This smells a little flat; not bad, but not complex”, “salt is first, followed by fish”, “I really like this. It makes me want to taste it a few more times”, “salt is high, but flavor seems pure and even”, “certainly a sweet finish”, “most UMAMI of the bunch”, “I taste dried chinese plum”, “makes you pucker, but follows with a sweet finish”

Salt Level: HighIngredients: Anchovy Extract, Water, Salt, Fructose, Hydrolysed Wheat Protein; Protein: 2g Protein per 1 Tbsp

Viet Huong Flying Lion

Viet Huong Flying Lion

Viet Huong Flying Lion — Hong Kong —$3.89 (750mL)
StarStarStarNo StarNo Star

If we could give this a 3 ⅛ stars we would. It just barely creeps into the Recommended with Reservations category. Like the popular Three Crabs brand, Flying Lion is a brand manufactured by the Viet Huong company. They also manufacture 1 Crab, 2 Crab, and 5 Crab brands. But not 4 Crabs? While this is nowhere near as bad as Three Crabs or Squid, we could taste the additives. The flavor is acceptable, but not great. If our recommended brands were not available, Flying Lion would be adequate for dipping sauces, with Tiparos better suited for use as an ingredient.

Tasting Notes:
“Very light smell; a bit of musty cardboard”, “not great, but OK”, “tastes a bit like paper”, “if the price is good on this, it could be acceptable”, “I don’t think this tastes pure”

Salt Level: MediumIngredients: Anchovy Extract, Water, Salt, Fructose, Hydrolysed Vegetable ProteinProtein: 2g Protein per 1 Tbsp  

Not Recommended

Flying Horse Brand Fish Sauce

Flying Horse

Flying Horse Thailand — $1.29 (750 mL)
StarStarStarNo StarNo Star

Flying horses and lions, crabs and shrimp. It seems any animal is fair game for marketing fish sauce—except fish. Go figure. Despite the universal appeal of flying horses, this sauce lacks luster. That’s not to say it’s terrible. If forced to choose between Flying Horse and Flying Lion, I’d put my money on the horse. It’s nearly 1/3 the cost and is void of the additives in Flying Lion. The taste is a tossup, however.

Tasting Notes:
“Barnyard aroma; earthy and a little poopy”, “fish not at front”, “onion and soy aromas”, “tastes a little metallic”, “searching for the fish”, “multiple fish, maybe even shellfish flavor”, “possible other ingredients”, mutually agreed this is “not pure”

Salt Level: MediumIngredients: Water, Anchovy Extract, Salt, SugarProtein: 3g Protein per 1 Tbsp

MegaChef 30°N Brand Fish Sauce

MegaChef 30°N

MegaChef (30°N) Thailand — $2.95 (700 mL)
StarStarStarNo StarNo Star

MegaChef makes several different sauces with this being billed as their “Premium” offering for the US. While it is free of the hydrolysed proteins and “other” ingredients commonly found among the major brands, it does have added sugar and fructose. That makes for a cloying sweet sauce. It’s a shame, there seems to be the makings of a good fish sauce here, but the sugar just kills it.

Tasting Notes:
“A light aroma, subtle”, “smells of the sea”, “tastes a little flat”, “salt first and very quickly sweet”, “sweetest of bunch”, “tastes a little fake”, “hard to find fish flavor”

Salt Level: Medium-HighIngredients: Anchovy, Sea Salt, Sugar, FructoseProtein: 3g Protein per 1 Tbsp

Huong Vi Viet Brand Fish Sauce

Huong Vi Viet

Huong Vi Viet Brand — Vietnam — $2.95 (750 mL)
StarStarNo StarNo StarNo Star

The color of Huong Vi Viet brand was significantly different from the other brands. It’s “pinkish” and “looks fake” were some of the remarks. Later upon inspecting the label, “caramel color”confirmed our suspicions. The only reason this scored higher than Golden Boy, Three Crabs or Squid brands, was that the smell and flavor were not horribly offensive. 

Tasting Notes:
“This looks pink and cloudy”, “doesn’t look right”, “smells like paper”, “tastes fake”, “It’s not horrible, but it’s not fish sauce”, “more like vegetables than fish”, “tastes like it has ‘other’ ingredients”

Salt Level: LowIngredients: Anchovy Fish, Salt, Fructose, MSG, Caramel Color, Potassium SorbateProtein: 1g Protein per 1 Tbsp

Golden Boy Brand Fish Sauce

Golden Boy

Golden Boy — Thailand — $2.49 (725 mL)
StarHalf StarNo StarNo StarNo Star

There are four major brands that are pervasive in the world of fish sauce: Tiparos, Three Crabs, Squid, and Golden Boy. Because these brands were so easily obtainable, it was important that they were included in our tasting. There’s not a lot to say about this. It just tastes gross. Not as gross as Three Crabs and Squid brands, mind you, but that’s little consolation.

Tasting Notes:
“Smells like old musty paper”, this smell is off-putting”, “0ff tasting”, “flat, one-dimensional”, “taste bad, then just disappears”, “not good”

Salt Level: HighIngredients: Anchovy Fish, Salt, SugarProtein: 2g Protein per 1 Tbsp

Viet Huong Three Crabs Brand Fish Sauce

Viet Huong Three Crabs

Three Crabs — Hong Kong/Thailand — $2.59 (300 mL)
StarNo StarNo StarNo StarNo Star

When asked “What fish sauce would you recommend?” a majority of people will tell you Three Crabs—and a good lot of chefs will tell you Three Crabs, and for the life of me, I cannot tell you why. Maybe because it’s the least salty of the bunch? It’s certainly not as assertive as Golden Boy and Squid, but it simply tastes awful. We’ve also often heard it remarked that “I love fish sauce, but it just smells so terrible.” If a majority of people are basing their impression of fish sauce on Three Crabs, I can understand the sentiment. It smells terrible. One of us remarked “It smells like that stuff between your toes.” Fish sauce shouldn’t smell terrible, Red Boat and a few of the other brands tasted here proved that.

Tasting Notes:
“Smells like that stuff between your toes”, “smells off, not good”, “smells like musty old books that have molded in an attic”, “bad and fishy taste”, “tastes fake, mass-produced”, “very sweet”, “tastes like paper”, “terrible and flat, this is just bad”

Salt Level: LowIngredients: Anchovy Extract, Salt, Water, Fructose, Hydrolysed Vegetable ProteinProtein: 2g Protein per 1 Tbsp 

Squid Brand Fish Sauce

Squid Brand

Squid — Thailand — $1.49 (750 mL)
StarNo StarNo StarNo StarNo Star

It’s a tossup between which was worst: Three Crabs or Squid brand; we were divided on our interpretation. While Three Crabs easily smelled the worst, it’s possible that Squid tasted worst.

Tasting Notes:
“Terrible”, “that same musty old paper smell”, “pungent and off”, “this does not taste good at all”, “tastes like it smells”, “fake, musty old newspapers”, “Ick”, “easily the worst yet”

Salt Level: HighIngredients: Fish, Salt, WaterProtein: 2g Protein per 1 Tbsp

A Whole Different League

BLiS Barrel-Aged Fish Sauce

BLiS Barrel-Aged

Blis — Phu Quoc, Vietnam / United States — $17.95 (200 mL)

It was agreed that this should not be considered among our tasting as it’s a whole different animal. The flavor is something totally different.
Blis (I refuse to type “BLiS”) is a collaboration between Blis and Red Boat. They’ve simply taken Red Boat 40°N and aged it in charred barrels for 7 months. The result is pretty extraordinary. It’s rich, smoky and peaty—and when I say smoky, I mean smoke for days. Like drinking Laphroaig around a campfire while smoking a brisket. I’d use this like you would use Worcestershire sauce. I can see a barrel-aged fish sauce experiment of my own in the future.

Salt Level: MediumIngredients: Anchovy, Sea SaltProtein: 3g Protein per 1 Tbsp

What We Learned

Fish Sauce Taste Test Color Comparrison

Color comparison: New Town 60°N, Red Boat 40°N, Three Crabs

Good fish sauce should be fish and salt, nothing more. While it will smell like fish, it should not stink or smell foul. All of the brands we tasted that smelled off, tasted off. The color should be a dark amber. Our top 4 had nearly identical colors, while the lower scoring were often a pale tea color. It’s widely believed that the best fish sauce comes from Vietnam, and while our sampling is hardly enough to confirm conclusively, our top two do represent this sentiment. Quality fish sauce degrades with time. Much like wine, fish sauce is subject to oxidation. It’s best to refrigerate your fish sauce and use within a year of opening.

There are countless manufactures and importers of fish sauce. Many of the importers are small operations importing what they can get from different family and regional producers. It would be impossible to taste them all. We’ve tried to cover the major brands as well as some of smaller imports.

Next time you’re shopping I’d urge you to read the labels. Check the country of origin, it’s often not what’s represented in the design. But most importantly, check the ingredients. Ideally, you want: fish and salt.


Our Daily Brine is my personal journal of food exploration and experimentation; covering topics of fermentation, preservation, salumi and all things charcuterie. I appreciate your part in this journey. Please comment, ask questions, offer criticism, or simply say hello.


  1. Author
    Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

    If anyone has a favorite brand a fish sauce they use, I’d love to hear what that is. Let me know here in the comments.

    • Tham Vu 9 years ago

      Try Hai Yen 40N. This brand does have added sugar but goes down smooth ($4.79). Eagle brand 40N is an excellent fish sauce, no added sugar and similar taste to Red Boat @ $4.79, a bargain. I tries Tropics (Philippines), too salty.

    • Minnie 9 years ago

      This is a really misleading taste test and is down right stupid. There is a really good reason why three crabs is recommended and by many people and chefs alike. Your taste test is based on plain tested samples, then samples that scored above 3 stars were re-tasted plain, with warm rice and as a paste with hard-boiled eggs. Did you cook with any of your samples? It is true that the best fish sauces are considered to be aromatic and light not have an obtrusive smell. But you don’t use a $1000 bottle of wine to cook with do you? Three crabs is considered one of the best fishes sauces to cook with. It is not meant to be poured over rice and eaten with eggs. People use it to cook with. It is obvious that you don’t regularly cook with fish sauce or understand how they are used to make your food taste better.

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

        Minnie — There’s a lot of wrong assumptions here, and it sounds like you didn’t read the full post.

        I can appreciate your allegiance to the Three Crabs brand. It’s what I started cooking with about 15 years ago. I do have pretty extensive experience cooking with Three Crabs, Golden Boy and Flying Lion brands. Simply because those have been the most widely available brands at the different cities in which I have lived.

        I understand that you shouldn’t cook with a $1,000 bottle of wine. But on the other hand, you should not cook with bad wine either. Any professional chef will tell you this. A boeuf à la Bourguignonne made with cheap wine is going to taste bad, plain and simple. Your point also implies that I suggested you should cook with a more expensive fish sauce. That’s simply not the case. If you read the entire post, you should see that. The difference in price between Three Crabs and Red Boat brands is about a dollar; around $5.95 for Three Crabs and $6.95 for Red Boat. Moreover, we did specify a brand we thought provided the best value and best taste, which was noted to be the best to cook with. That was Tiparos, which is about 1/3 the cost of Three Crabs.

        There’s certainly no accounting for personal taste. It’s an exercise in subjectivity. There are many people, professional and non-professional alike, that will tell you “Three Crabs is the best!”. It’s hard for me to argue with subjective preference—especially when fueled by nostalgic bias. There are also a good amount of people claiming that “Red Boat is the superior brand!”. Our goal was to do our best to eliminate bias and preference by tasting blind. Could the test have been more thorough? Certainly. There’s always opportunity to do things better. However, It was unrealistic for use to cook dozens of different dishes to test 13 different brands. It would have taken an inordinate amount of time. In the end, we did our best to approach this scientifically, thoroughly and without personal bias.

        • kristi 6 years ago

          The ones you listed under Honk Kong is not it. It’s a Vietnamese brand but they do have distributors in Hong Kong and Thailand as well. Please correct this. Example Phu Quoc name after the fish sauce factory I. The city of Phu Quoc, Vietnam.

          • Author
            Kyle Hildebrant 6 years ago

            No idea what you are saying.

          • Trung 5 years ago

            Kristi, if you’re referring to Viet Huong Flying Lion Phu Quoc brand, it’s not a Vietnamese produced fish sauce, but rather playing off the name Phu Quoc, to sell fish sauce. Kyle is indeed correct and labeling it as Hong Kong brand. Don’t be fooled by fish sauce manufacturing simply naming their fish sauce after the Phu Quoc island.

        • Helen 6 years ago

          Many online chefs these days have totally changed on the cheap wine thing. They used to say only use a wine you would serve to guests etc. Now they say any reasonable wine (translated pretty well any wine) is just as good. In the 90’s it was all about get the best you can afford, now it is why waste the good wine on cooking.

          • Eric Forat 5 years ago

            Sorry Helen, but you’re quite wrong. First by listening to american “Online chefs”.
            Any a-hole can put up a recipe and you cannot taste it. I think maybe 1 in ten have any idea what they are doing. If you make un boeuf bourguignon, ou un coq au vin, the difference between a decent cheap Cahors and a really reprehensible California or even an Italian plonk, , I guarantee you, quite noticeable. I remember an experiment in cooking school (1962) to test this newfangled idea, and everybody felt it, some more, some less, but everybody did. Unanimously. Now, lay off the straw man. Nobody ever said use a 1000$ bottle. Now if you serve to your guests an old wine like a 15 yrs old Bordeaux, it would be stupid to use it to marinate and cook your boeuf, as the old wine has lost most of its youthful vigor, and will not produce a robust sauce. But do go on repeating bullshit you have heard somewhere, and I’m sure a majority will think it’s fine tasting bullshit!

        • Juan 6 years ago

          Forget the $1,000 of wine comparison. What Minnie was saying is similar to the difference between a typical Chinese soy sauce versus a Japanese one. When cooking Chinese, Japanese soy sauces just don’t cut it. They are too mild and not salty enough, even though, yes, they may taste better plain.

        • Joey Nguyen 5 years ago

          Nostalgia and the love of food goes hand-in-hand. That’s why many asians relate only to those that had their mother cook them daily asian meals with their fish sauce. In other words, “you must be asian for your criticism of fish sauce to be respected” and “my fish sauce is better”. I respect your evaluation and it was a wonderful read. As a person and their kids with a more diverse pallet, I enjoyed your perspective and it has very practical application in my house.

          • Author
            Kyle Hildebrant 5 years ago

            Thank you, Joey. Certainly, there’s no accounting for the subjectivity of taste.

        • Khoi 2 years ago

          Yeah, he made a good point, noone cooks with a 40N fish sauce (unless it’s a bad 40N fish sauce), it’s for making dipping sauce. Any Vietnamese cook should know that you need at least 3 kinds of fish sauce at home, one for cooking (15N-30N), one for dipping sauce (30N-40N), and another for eating raw (40N and above, it’s ok to add red chilli though).

          Of course, how much N in the fish sauce shouldn’t determine the quality nor even the price of the fish sauce (but then obviously the higher degree of N should have the higher average price). There are 30N fish sauces that taste far greater than 40N or 50N fish sauces and so on. However, if we want to compare, In Vietnam, we only compare fish sauces if they contain same degree of N because they are simply used for different purposes. For Vietnamese, the primary criterion to decide how good a fish sauce are 1/ the balance of fish taste and salt taste, and 2/ there’s have to be a sweet after taste (that’s why so many modern fish sauce business sweeten their final products). It makes almost no sense to compare a 40N with the 50N, and I’m glad you didn’t get any 70N samples for this test. I kind of agree that this test is a bit misleading, esp. for a beginner, it’s horrifying how much 40N fish sauce would be wasted for cooking after people reading this post. But then again, you don’t really have many choices here in Western countries (I just moved to Finland from Saigon so I know) so maybe it’s ok to stick with a 40N Red Boat for every purposes even though it’s clearly a crime.

          • TrDinh 1 year ago

            I don’t know why you said this, but in Vietnam we use 40 degree fish sauce in cooking if we can since it tastes so much better. And it is not wine. A 900ml bottle of very very good fish sauce only cost 5-6 USD at most. Why can’t we use it for cooking? I am in Paris now, and I have to settle for a cheap fish sauce as it is very difficult to find good fish sauce here. So now I have to mix fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce in order to enhance the flavour. So the article is absolutely right.

        • Paul 9 months ago

          Whoever did this test obviously has a horrible sense of taste and smell. Three crabs is the best out of all the fish sauce I’ve tasted and I’ve used red boat 40° for over a year straight. Go to any Asian market and you’ll see which shelf is empty consistently, three crabs.

    • Nguoi Viet To The Viet Nam Me Se 9 years ago

      Flying lion is the best !! This survey is pure BS , and it must be sponsored by Red Boat ( a company owned by the communist government) , The most expensive price does not mean it is the best, it only means they’ve spent more money on marketing and propaganda like this dumb taste survey !!! I have taste Red Boat nuoc man, and seriously, it tastes like S…quid !! Ha ha ha !!!

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

        I can assure you that there was no sponsorship of any kind, from any brand.

      • Minh 9 years ago

        I just want to mention that Red Boat isn’t that much more expensive. Especially when you consider that it’s first press (nuoc nhi). It’s a higher concentrate liquid (even compare the protein amounts), and you wouldn’t need as much to season. Also, price isn’t a factor when doing a blind taste. It’s blind for a reason!

        Of course, everyone has their own taste and opinion.

      • John 8 years ago

        In agreement.

        Fish Sauce is not to be sipped like red wine….Red Boat is way too salty and will lead to high blood pressure and ultimately heart attacks

      • Phu Dong 7 years ago

        I totally agreed with you. This survey is totally BS.
        All big businesses have been state-owned by VN government/local authorities.
        Filipino fish sauce is cheaper and taste better.

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

          Phu, few of the fish sauce producers in VN are state owned. Most are located on Phu Quoc island, and most all are small family affairs. The big names like Three Crabs is actually a large-scale manufacturer in Hong Kong. I do like Patis (Filipino fish sauce), but to make a blanket statement like “Filipino fish sauce is cheaper and taste better” is just dumb. It tastes different. That’s like asserting that orange taste better than apples.

          • Chezko Makai'0 Gabriel 5 years ago

            I totally agree with Kyle: Patis does NOT taste better, but it sure is the cheapest among the cheap and inferior Asian fish sauce brands.
            Patis is generally not just saltier and stinkier but the saltiest and the stinkiest but works well as seasoning or as a condiment/dipping sauce for Pinoy dishes. I wouldn’t even put patis in the same category as the fish sauces from Thailand and Vietnam. Patis is not an intended product.
            The fermented waste became part of the Pinoy culinary because they would rather use the fish scum instead of discarding them. I certainly would not dare use it on Thai or Vietnamese dishes. I do, ironically, use both Thai and Vietnamese fish sauces on Pinoy dishes that call for patis (oh, my ! the hypocrisy :/ ) FYI: Patis with juice of the local calamansi (kalamansi) and siling labuyo (native chili pepper) is heavenly though.

            …but then again, these are simply my personal choice and opinion.

    • Bill Foonman 9 years ago

      Tra Chang is my favorite Thai brand for cooking and is not reviewed at all. It is an excellent, quality fish sauce.

      While I use Tra Chang in my recipes, my choice for Thai salads and dishes that do not require cooking is always Red Boat 40°N.

      • Rick Jones 7 years ago

        I also favor Tra Chang…..why was it NOT reviewed?

        Rick Jones

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

          Rick — It was not reviewed because I could not get ahold of it in time.

          • JRamsey 5 years ago

            hi Kyle, I for one found this article very informative and also the comments too. I just put in an order for the Tra Chang Gold and some other interesting
            flavors like Golden mountain sauce which is like Maggi and Knoors Tamarind soup base which my Vietnamese neighbor use to rave about.

    • I wonder if you had a bad bottle of Golden Boy because the ones I’ve used were very good, and not off at all. I agree completely about Squid and 3 Crabs. I do not understand why so many use those brands. Red Boat 40 degrees is the standard, but in the U.S. it is up to $10 a bottle (still worth it).

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

        We actually happen to have 3 bottles of Golden Boy (I used to buy it primarily before the test). One had been open for a week or so, the other unopened, and the last opened for about 6 months. There was certainly oxidation in the one opened for a long time, but no detectable difference in the other two, which were bought from different stores. I can’t rule that out, but it seems unlikely. Maybe try a blind taste test of your own to confirm? Prices for Red Boat seem to vary.

    • Michael Quisao 8 years ago

      Thanks for the taste test! I really appreciate the thorough explanation and rigor, but there are some issues (which you address to a certain extent).

      You’re right to set a baseline for “best,” because that helps to define the limitations of the testing. You acknowledge that different countries and cuisines make fish sauce differently, so it should follow that each cuisine uses fish sauce differently as well, despite their similarities. For example, patis (Filipino fish sauce) is a byproduct of making bagoong (fish paste). While it is also often used as a dipping sauce (with calamansi), substituting another fish sauce for pinakbet might not work out. A person making Filipino food is going to look for different things in a fish sauce than someone preparing Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, or etc. cuisine. Besides differences in salt content, there are differences in fermentation time and technique, which make huge differences in flavor. Fermentation, as you know, dramatically changes food.

      With those differences, it’s not so straightforward to pick something that’s the best. That would be like trying to pick the best whiskey/whisky, then picking one from bourbon, scotch, Canadian whisky, Japanese whisky, rye, etc. all under the same judging criteria. That’s also like picking a single “best” cheese. They’re all so different that it’s difficult to compare. Picking the “best” will vary with each cuisine.

      On a side note: it seems strange to me to exclude aroma from the criteria, because the sense of smell is so closely connected to flavor and aroma is tied up in the sensory experience of an ingredient.

      Your taste test is ultimately very useful because you include descriptions of each fish sauce and establish a basis of comparison among the many different offerings. I haven’t seen anything else like that on the internet yet, so again, thanks for the work you did! (and good luck trying to use all of that fish sauce!) –Would you consider creating a fish sauce database based on this round of testing?– In the end, trying to pick a single, best fish sauce is misguided and misleading. You’re better off trying to pick the best fish sauce for each cuisine.

      My favorite patis for Filipino food is the Rufina brand. I’ve been enjoying Squid for Thai curries and Flying Lion for Vietnamese food (particularly nuoc cham). I can’t wait to find some Red Boat 40°N! (they sell it on Amazon, but it’s so expensive). I’ve seen Blis sold in the Provisions Food52 store, so your assessment of it has gotten me very interested in trying it.

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

        Michael — Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Allow me to address in order:

        I believe the difference between different countries are varied. As you mention, patis is a whole different animal. But when you compare Thai and Vietnamese (both the focus of this test), the method for making is identical (or at least should be). Moreover, the Thai are making a lot of the fish sauce for the Vietnamese (for various reasons). Take for example all of the favorites referenced here and throughout the comments as those brands used/preferred by Vietnamese, in said cuisine, are actually produced in Thailand or Hong Kong (in Three Cabs case, both). For this reason, we felt a comparison across Thai and Vietnamese fish sauces was perfectly warranted. As for Korean and Japanese, you’ll find that a majority are actually using Thai/Vietnamese fish sauce in their recipes. Moreover, we’ve been asked to compare soy sauces, but have not, simply because of this reason. The differences between a Chinese and Japanese soy sauce are far too great to make any sort of meaningful comparison.

        As for aroma, it’s impossible to conduct a test of taste without factoring in aroma. As you know, it plays a huge role in taste. That said, we did make mention of various aromas in the notes of each. We simply didn’t rate this as a separate criteria. So, it’s there in our tasting and there in a few varied notes specifically detailing aroma.

        Back to patis: We consulted several Filipinos before doing this and finding patis was near impossible. Those two people we talked to had actually been using Thai brands of fish sauce because finding patis in our city (or even over the internet) seemed a momentous task. We found a few source on the internet but the shipping was more per bottle than the actual patis. Ultimately the desire was to focus on Thai and Vietnamese sauces as the comparison between the two seemed warranted.

        P.S. You can get RedBoat directly from their website at a decent price. We had it here in most all of the stores and it’s price was only about $1 or so more than other brands.

        • Carina Mifuel 3 years ago

          Hi Kyle, Commenting from San Francisco just down the West Coast. We have at least 3 Asian supermarkets with shelves of patis of every brand within a 5 mile drive of a FedEx… Just wanted to let you know for future articles…since it’s so hard to acquire in your area.

    • Linda 8 years ago

      I have been afraid to buy fish sauce because i don’t know what is good and what is gross (I’m not a fan of anchovies or squid.) But will use your recommendations when I go to the Asian supermarket and pick something up. I have a couple of recipes that call for fish sauce but have been stymied on that. I just couldnt bring myself to buy one since they had so many!

    • Niall 8 years ago

      Hey, cool post and site, man. I picked up a taste for fish sauce only in the last year or so, when I first tried colatura and experienced that fresh taste of the sea you allude to in the post. Red Boat’s standard offering gets me right there for considerably cheaper than $25/100ml or so for the Italian stuff; it’s a no-brainer. Having used fish sauce a lot year, I’ve had a lot of chances to compare brands, and I’ve found diminishing returns after the Red Boat stuff. Three Crabs and Squid taste pretty harsh and adulterated to me, which is too bad; Red Boat can be a pricy habit in quantity!

      Still, it’s worth buying a little bottle of garum/colatura from Amazon or the like at least once.

    • Paul 8 years ago

      I usually go with tra chang gold. I agree squid brand is awful, not so fond of the regular label tra chang too. First review I’ve read that says megachef brand isn’t good (never tried it).

      • Paul 8 years ago

        E: Forgot to add, I’m in Australia so we don’t get the rest. Never seen tiparos, redboat or ‘x’ crabs. Chefs here say buy $$$chef megachef. I’m still looking out for even flying horse or flying lion or any type of Viet fish sauce but haven’t found any yet.

        None of the asian grocery stores sell red boat, only USA importers for $10, I think megachef is about $12. Going to stick with my tra chang for $2 :D
        It’s helped in many ways, ie, not to bother looking further. Thanks.

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

          Happy to hear it.

        • Stuart Beatty 3 years ago

          I’m in Melbourne. Went to an Asian supermarket today and bought Red Boat because it was there. Knew nothing about fish sauce (always avoided it because I hate anchovies). Apparently I chose well. Will use it tonight for the first time.

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

        I need to try the Tra Chang Gold. I have heard good things.

    • Ti 8 years ago

      I have been using Three Crabs fish soy for years. However, the last one I purchased smelled and tasted awful! Upon checking the label, I found that the product is now made in Hong Kong. They have changed the product but kept the same brand! I will never buy Three Crabs ever again. Thanks for the review. I’ll try the brands recommended.

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

        Ti, if you look closely, almost all of the “major brands” are made in China. I’m pretty certain that Three Crabs has always been made in China or Taiwan.

        • Chantal 6 years ago

          I agree with you completely, your survey is pretty much accurate. I love fish sauce and have tried many brand. Red Boat still the best, the high quality fish sauce should only contain fish and sea salt, the sweet one isn’t always good as it has artificial sugar. My family used to be the fish sauce producer and the real and natural fish sauce always more salty than the cheap ones as the have been added with sugar.

          • Author
            Kyle Hildebrant 6 years ago

            Thanks for the vote of confidence, Chantal.

    • Fran O. Cruz 8 years ago

      I recently came back from Vietnam and tasted a variety of fish sauce.
      I really liked the ones that were not exported; just because it is a small scale production. Only available to locals. I bought a couple of bottles to bring home. It didn’t last long. I, on the other hand started to ferment my own fish and salt with a ratio of 3kgs of fish to 1 kg of salt. It’s been 3 months and it smells good already, not fishy at all. I planned on fermenting it for a year. So, I will let you know how it taste. Tried to add some secret ingredient – can’t wait how it will taste.

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

        That’s great. I’ve love to make it one day myself. I too have a fish sauce in progress. I’m about a year into it now and plan to harvest it in the next couple months. I’ve used 25% salt to fish. Let us know how yours turns out. I’ll have a post on the topic here in the next couple months.

    • Don Lowery 7 years ago

      As you said, this taste test is completely subjective. I respect that you did the taste test blind. I love Golden Boy, Flying Lion and 5 crabs brands – and I also like Red Boat. If you taste these different brands side by side, brands you have come to love can be very disappointing. I think a lot of these brands are acceptable to a lot of folks but putting one next to a superior brand can affect how we view that old brand in the future. I tasted Angostino Recca Colatura Di Alici next to some of the above brands and found it markedly superior to all the brands you tasted that I have had the privilege to taste (including red Boat). But the Italian fish sauce is prohibitively expensive at $10 for 100ml.

      I agree with most of your conclusions thoughI didn’t find any of them to be disgusting. I few up in Bangkok and we used Tiparos and Golden Boy (the former would oxidize too rapidly via osmosis because of the plastic bottle) and opening either for that first sniff of the liquamen brings back joyful childhood memories. Moving back to the states in 1972 we brought back one bottle of Golden Boy with us and I remember missing the taste of fish sauce so badly that I would roll up balonga and dip it into a small dipping cup of fish sauce. We ran out in under a year and it was almost 15 years before I got to taste fish sauce again.

      We had a gardener who used to dig wild coquinas up from beach sand in Pattaya beach, Thailand – and he would rinse them and put them alive in jars immersed in fish sauce. After 3 weeks in that, he would cut the solution with 30% added water and let it sit for one more week. then hand pick the now open shells out and snack on the meat inside. I used to love trying those things.

      I would love to know what your opinion of 5 crabs or 9999 brand is. I have come to really like both of those which have a more intense flavor than most. Artisan sauces (much like Red Boat).

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

        Don, Angostino Recca Colatura Di Alici is excellent. It is certainly expensive though, as you pointed out. Thanks for sharing the other stories. Those coquinas sound very interesting. As for 5 Crabs, it’s been a while since I’ve tasted that. I have had it a few times. I don’t really recall either way. And I have yet to try 9999.

        • Don Lowery 7 years ago

          There are coquinas in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I am going to try the coquinas thing next time I am up there on vacation. The high salt kills the shellfish and I am guessing he cuts the solution with water after they are dead and open to lower the salt. Not a filling snack but not so different than eating potato chips I suppose.

          Another thing I love doing with high end fish sauce is cooking a noodle pasta al dente and then tossing that in on love oil and garlic. Shake a few red pepper flakes on top and then add fish sauce to taste and toss the noodles well. I challenge you to eat just half a bowl and stop ;-)

          • Don Lowery 7 years ago

            *olive oil

      • Zora 6 years ago

        How would YOU feel if YOU were a coquinas? Stop Coquinas Cruelty! #stopthemadness

        (Okay, friendly trolling aside, I do eat mostly vegetarian and sometimes vegan, and I believe in the movement.)

        And hey, I found this awesome Vegan Fish Sauce recipe:

        Cheerio! :)

    • JtothaK 7 years ago

      My own taste test has pretty much confirmed this. Red Boat 40n is a clear winner (and available at my local Viet Hoa) with Tiparos being a best value and pretty decent. The rest I have tried (Squid, 3 Crab, etc.) were quickly trashed, especially after tasting Red Boat for the first time.

      Thank you for the objectivity of your test as well.

    • Wayne 7 years ago

      hey, Kyle. DO u know the website to order fish sauce ? THanks

    • Psalm1:41 7 years ago

      Kyle, thanks for the informative article on fish sauce. I’ve tried many brands of fish sauce before but I think the Red Boat fish sauce is the best. But with the recent dead fishes of the coast of Vietnam due to toxic chemical from a steal plant called “Formosa”, this make me worry about consume fish sauce made in Vietnam.

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 6 years ago

        I’m not sure that those politicians are affecting the Phu Quoc region, which is at the very southern most top of Vietnam.

    • walter 6 years ago

      Why did you leave out the Phillipine and Korean brands ?

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 6 years ago

        I addressed that back in the comments: long story short: because we could not get ahold of them at the time.

    • Jack 6 years ago

      I have several. My favorite to cook with is a 2 year old bottle of Tiparos! It’s pungent, but smells like fish sauce and tastes quite good in the Southeast Asian dishes I cook regularly. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by a brand on the shelf st Walmart of all places. A Taste of Thai fish sauce was surprisingly decent for cooking and dipping.

    • Leila Harns 6 years ago

      Sorry but squid brand is our family favorite. I think maybe the people you polled were not at all representative? The reason we LIKE squid brand is the full Flavor stinky fermented deliciousness. I wonder what your tasters would do on a blind durian test? Maybe it’s because we are Lao but all the thais we know only buy squid brand too.

    • Ann 3 years ago

      I might try Blis—I heard it’s a Grand Rapids, MI company and it’s quite good. Thanks for the review but I would have to politely say it’s a bit misleading. When people buy fish sauce, it is never to use alone but to accompany very specific dishes and to create types of sauce for a particular dish. The measurement by which you measure don’t not account for the versatility a sauce can bring. That’s why in my kitchen I have at least 5 brands of fish sauce and 10+ for soy sauce. You might have 15+ experience cooking with fish sauce but specific cuisine like vietbamese cooking has 100+ sauces for different dishes. The sauce for banh Xeo is different than banh beo and for com tam. That’s what missing from this. I will buy the bliss and see if it can replicate the same flavors I use to create dipping sauces.

      • Harper 3 years ago

        Red Boat is my favorite. I have gone through 2 bottles of the Blis as well. It is FANTASTIC, but pricey at about $25.00 per bottle. Red boat also has one called Chef’s Cuvee. It is strong and very complex. Very expensive also.

    • MICHAEL COLMAN LYNCH 1 year ago

      I come into “MAM VIET” Hai Yen. it says it`s nuoc mam nhi, it`s 40 o N, Cost is $4.99.It is the kind of sauce that makes you smack your lips,and umm…Verry good…

  2. jamie 9 years ago

    Mmmm…Thanks for the blind tasting! Glad I already have Red Boat in my cupboard!

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      At your service!

      • rl reeves jr 8 years ago

        Kyle, not to get off topic but what is your go-to brand of Worcestershire?

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

          There’s only one brand: Lee & Perrins. I’ve actually done quite a lot of research on the topic of Worcestershire sauce. I’ve got a post that I need to finish and I’ve attempted to recreate a similar—albeit shorter—recipe.

  3. Did you find any kosher fish sauces?

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Peter, Great question. We did not, but not out of lack of trying. The only brand we could find that was kosher was Imo, who produces various kosher Asian staples. They don’t, however, import to the US. If you know of any brands available in the US, I’d love to know.

      • Louis 8 years ago

        Tiparos is kosher.

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

          Do you have any information/links to back that up? I cannot find anything.

          • Louis 8 years ago

            I actually have a copy of their certificate.

    • Don Lowery 7 years ago

      Peter – Red Boat is coming out with a kosher fish sauce in December of this year (2015).

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

        Yes. I was just at the factory, met the Rabbi and watched them sorting and preparing next years batch. I also had a chance to taste this years batch, and it’s excellent. By far their best product to date. Thanks for adding that, Don.

        It’s an extremely laborious process to make a kosher sauce. If you think about it, they have to sort every single fish by hand and pick out the non-kosher fishes.

        • Don Lowery 7 years ago

          I imagine that first batch will go very quickly. I would LOVE to get my hands on a bottle of that kosher sauce even if I have to pay $30 a bottle for it. But I am guessing that all those bottled from the first vats will sell within a week or less.

          • Author
            Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

            There should be a good amount of it. I saw at least 10 vats full. Should be being bottled any time. It was done last week. Super high N level too. Like 50+

  4. Great and well-done exercise! I would like to see you compare Red Boat to homemade garum or its last living relative in the west: colatura di alici. In my experience, the use of mackerel (or other fish) in the garum makes for a much more powerful sauce than either of the two produced by anchovies (colatura or nuoc Mam).

    BTW: Garum was originally produced by the Carthaginians. The Romans took over the lucrative production and trade from Carthage after winning the 2nd Punic War.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Laura — Thank you for that info. Do you have any sources you could point to for historical confirmation? I’d love to read a bit more on the subject. Your story looks excellent. I’ll be digging into that this weekend. Regarding the comparison, the goal was to taste sauces that are commercially available in effort of help others to make more informed decisions. I’ve been experimenting with creating my own fish sauce as well. And I’ve been working on recreating a Worcestershire recipe (which is fish sauce/garum at it’s core). I’m planning to do something on the topic soon. I’ll likely be comparing that to Red Boat as well. Though I hardly expect to be able to replicate the same flavor your can find in Phu Quoc fish sauce; most of those well-know producers are using huge vats made from a specific type of wood found only on that island. It’s said that a majority of that flavor profile is imparted by the wood. I’m also planning to do a few experiments around barrel aging commercial and home-made fish sauces as well. So much to do, but so little time. Moreover, and as you well know, these are the type of experiments that can take a year to see results.

  5. Sure: Its included in the west-to-east flow of technology essay: The earliest mention of garum fish sauce is to be found in the agricultural writings of the Carthaginian Mago which was translated into Latin after the Third Punic War, but composed probably in the 6th or 5th Century BCE around the time of the rule of Magon (550-530 BCE). Cato the Elder mentions the trade of “Carthaginian fish sauce” in the 2nd Century BCE, and later descriptions can be found in The Deipnosophistae (The Philosopher’s Dining Table) by Athenaeus (3rd Century ACE). Athenaeus also mentions the remains of garum or liquamen production called allec which is not unlike the anchovy paste still used in Mediterranean cooking today.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Excellent! Thank you for taking the time to document and point this out. I’ll update the post to reflect it.

      • Thanks! Also cool that you are working on an early Worcestershire sauce. You probably know that it was part of a much larger trend in fish-based sauces that began in the late 18th C. Do you have the amounts of ingredients in the early Worcestershire? There may be less fish in it than you think. I came across a mention of Dr. Kitchener’s fish sauce (1828 mention) the other day and it had only 4 ounces of pounded anchovies to pints of claret and mushroom catsup along with LOTS of spices.

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

          I do. My focus will be on a the Lea and Perrins style sauce. The precursor for Lea and Perrins sauce was actually the Sauce for Lampreys. The first known publication of ‘Sauce for Lampreys’ (which I was able to find) was in ‘The Cooks & Confectioners Dictionary: Or, the Accomplish’d Housewife’s Companion.’ by John Nott (1723). At the time of Lea and Perrins there were a LOT of Worcestershire-style sauces.

          • Laura@Silkroadgourmet 9 years ago

            Which recipe in Nott are you referencing? I couldn’t find one that jumped out and bit me as some sort of eel might. Also how do you know this is the precursor of Worcestershire? Just curious. Thanks

          • Author
            Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

            If you have the Google digitized book, it’s page 256:
            “…Or you may serve it with this Sauce. Take Oil, Vinegar, Salt, Pepper, and a little Mustard, shred Parsley, an Anchovy, and a few Capers, and beat them all well together in an earthen Vessel or Porringer; then put it in to a Saucer, place it in the middle of the Dish, and lay the Lampreys round it.”
            The city of Worcester was known as a city of lampreys. This type of lamprey sauce would be known as Worcester sauce. But I’ll leave the rest for the post. ;)

  6. Theminh D. 9 years ago

    Nice work Kyle! Just so you know, blind testing is just the tip of the iceberg. Asians do great things with fish sauces and in so many ways. I have four different bottles to pair with my cooking, like wines pairing with special dishes. Some of them might finish bottom but works great in sauté, dippings or soup. Though I do agree with you on the Squid and Three Crabs, wouldn’t touch it. Mom told me to try the MegaChef (30°N) for the taste and the sanitized process in the making. I noticed that mom has aged and her taste buds are a bit off. I do have a favorite bottle, here in Montreal, but can’t seem to find a picture on the web to show you. In coming pic later. Next stop, test on soya sauce and oyster sauce for us? Keep up the good work,

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Theminh — Thank you. I certainly understand the reality of using as ingredients; some of the flavors change and/or dissipate. We tried to test for some of this with the egg mixture. I would have been just way to time consuming for us to test all of these brands in different cooking applications. We felt Tiparos would be best in these scenarios. It was the cheapest and only contained fish, salt and sugar. I have done some extensive cooking, outside of this particular test, with Golden Boy, Flying Lion Three Crabs and Squid. I always felt that Squid and Three crabs were very poor examples of what fish sauce should be. I think ingredients are an excellent indicator of quality, regardless of the application.

      On the topic of soya/shoyu, we’ve actually begun to plan for that. I fear it’s going to be very difficult to pick which brands to taste. There’s an insane amount of manufactures out there. if you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

      • Tom 8 years ago

        Good job and nice review. Complete and very informative. Afterall everything is about personnal taste but you setted up a serious basis for cookers.

        Regarding to soy sauces, there may be a wider range of variety. But I think it could be possible, at least for Chinese sauces, to start with the most common that are light soy sauce and dark soy sauce. It would come down to each one to get into flavoured one.
        Moreover, as the dark sauce is mainly used in marinades and would require a substantial additional work, focusing on the light one would be the logical following of your fish sauce test and first step into soy sauces.

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

          Thank you, Tom. I’ve come to the conclusion that a soy sauce taste testing would just be impossible. There are so many brands, styles and nationalities. Even if I focused on Japanese soy sauce there’s koikuchi, usukuchi and tamari. Plus regional sauces like saishikomi and shiro shoyu. Then there’s reduced sodium and gluten-free variations on each. And then there’s the different official (government sanctioned) grades of soy sauce: tokkyuu, ikkyuu and hyoujun. And let’s not forget the un-pasteurized nama-shoyu. But for the record, my personal preference is Yamasa brand usukuchi and marudaizu. Those are the two I keep stocked.

          • rl reeves jr 8 years ago

            Hey Kyle, The best soy sauce I’ve found (and I love the Yamasa) is that Bluegrass soy sauce from Kentucky of all places. Check it out sometime.

          • Author
            Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

            You’re not the first person I’ve heard about Bluegrass Soy Sauce from. I may need to pickup a bottle and check it out.

          • Tom 8 years ago

            Thank for the reply. Actually I knew there were different Japanese soy sauces, but I was far from thinking there exist so many kinds. That is why I firstly proposed to only focus on Chinese soy sauce, light, unflavoured. Would we find the same diversity there ?
            Similarly to your fish sauce test, you could pick the most common brands: Lee Kum Kee, Pearl River Bridge, Kikkoman and so … And then compare to higher quality products (to be proven) such as Bluegrass, Clearspring (from UK), Kimlan (no preservatives but contains seasoning agents and licorice extract ?), or Wuan Chuang (from Taïwan).
            But I agree, it is not easy to figure out in this mess.

  7. Author
    Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

    What brands did we miss?

    • nkhuong 9 years ago

      One recent bottle that I bought was the Double Golden Fish brand. The label says it’s from Vietnam and they actually has the address in the Phu Quoc island. I was looking really carefully to find fish sauce from Vietnam since I am Vietnamese. Sadly, most of the fish sauce I see in my local market (in Virgina) are from Thailand. Another type of sauce that I’d love for you to do research on is soy sauce, which I think can be a lot more diverse.

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

        NKHuong — We tried to our hands on Double Golden Fish brand. I had heard that is was also one of the few brands from Phu Quoc island. Sadly, it’s not available at any of the markets here, we couldn’t find any type of contact information from the supplier, and weren’t able to find it online. I would have loved to had it in our taste test. Any sources?

        Regarding soy sauce, we are indeed considering this for our next taste test. It’s going to be a more difficult thing to taste, as there are so many different styles employed by different countries. It’s going to take a little thought to consider what categories would be most meaningful. It may have to be a comparison by country (e.g. Japanese shoyu)

        • nkhuong 9 years ago

          I bought my Double Golden Fish Brand bottle from Grand Mart, my local Asian super market here in VA. I tried to search on Amazon but didn’t see it being sold there so getting this brand online is not very likely to be possible. Here is also a forum thread I found that has some more info and comparison with Red Boat: Glad to know that you’re planning to test soy sauce as well. Make sure to get some soy sauce from Vietnam if you can. I am very interested in reading the result of your taste testing.

          • Author
            Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

            Do you have a Vietnamese soy sauce brand we should consider?

          • nkhuong 9 years ago

            The Double Golden Fish also has a line of soy sauce as well. I found one or two brands of soy sauce made in Vietnam at my local grand mart and all of them has the name “Lá bồ đề” in front. The Double Golden Fish doesn’t have preservative listed in the ingredient so that’s what I use. Back when I was in Vietnam, I used to like the brand Chinsu a lot but they’re not available here in the US. Also, you’re probably already aware of it but there is soy sauce made by Bluegrass in Kentucky I am curious about how it would taste like but the price is quite expensive for me.

      • Nga 9 years ago

        Red Boat is available at Eden center now.

  8. Tracey lister 9 years ago

    Great article. Phu Quoc fish sauce rocks.

  9. Pedro Penduko 9 years ago

    Hmmmm. In the Philippines, we know our Patis (fish sauce)! Some of the best we’ve ever had was straight from the fermentation clay pot, no brand, no fuss. Patis factory right by the sea, up in Lingayen Gulf, Pangasinan province, NW Luzon, the Philippines. Mmmmmmmmmmm…

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      That sounds perfect, Pedro. It’s the small batch family producers that usually have the best. For the record, we tried to get ahold of Patis for the tasting. We weren’t able to purchase in our city and the brands didn’t respond to our requests.

      • Darius03 8 years ago

        The well-know Philippine brand of patis is Rufina Patis.Without being able to taste this Philppine product you have deprived yourself an experience worthy of a connoisseur like you.
        The golden amber drop comes out after several month.of fermentation.

    • Amy Oung 4 years ago

      I’ve tried most of these brands. Red Boat is clean, but way to salty for me. 3 Crabs isn’t as salty. Not a “nostalgia” thing … just find 3 crabs to be more suited to my Southeast asian cooking. Also, y’all keep dissing the “smelly, fish smell”. Ummm, it’s fermented lol! I actually like some kind of fish aroma. Perhaps you should do a post on mam ca (pickled fish) or mam rouc (pickled shrimp). Southeast Asians pride in that “fishy” aroma as westerners love blue cheese or more aged cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano. I think what makes this post biased may be the star rating. Maybe just give a description versus a rating. Or maybe a rating creates intense debate and conversation… whatever floats your “Red Boat” lol.

  10. LeAnn Do 9 years ago

    nước mắm Việt Hương three cua is the best .And I know what I am talking about because was born and raised to eat nước mắm

    • Be Anh 9 years ago

      yuck … you must be stinky all over. Poor you.

  11. Tixin 9 years ago

    There are very few Vietnamese dishes that require straight raw fish sauce for dipping. That being said, I have been using Squid brand for over 35 years for marinating, cooking, and making dipping sauce and see no reason to change to a more expensive brand. Just for kicks, I will try a bottle of Red Boat for raw dipping and will report back.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Tixin, you need not buy something more expensive. In fact Tiparos was significantly less expensive and scored a lot higher. And there’s certainly no accounting for personal preference. If you’re nostalgically tied to Squid, it’s going to be pretty difficult to convince you otherwise. ;)

  12. Ana Stacy 9 years ago

    Whoa whoa whoa, what is this? A tasting of Southeast Asian sauces by 2 non-Asian guys, who have been raised with completely different palates? Sorry but this effort has gone to waste. Not to mention the claim about our beloved fish sauces originating from Gamur … I’d like to know more about where this claim came from btw. Until then, love the methodology but that’s about it. Please do again, but with palates from expertise. :-)

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Ana — While I can certainly appreciate your skepticism, to ascertain my “expertise”, or how I was “raised”, based solely on my appearance is not only unfounded, it’s a bit unfair. While I may be a “round eye” I can assure you I am no stranger to Asian cooking or tastes. I’ve been deeply entrenched in Asian cuisine my whole life. My expertise lies more in Japanese and Korean cooking, specifically. Moreover, I have also fermented my own fish sauce on several occasions; which I’d venture to say is likely more than most “asian palates” can claim. :)

      As far as history is concerned, it’s a widely accepted fact that the ancient Roman fish sauces called Garum/Liquamen are the precursor to modern Asian fish sauces. As Laura pointed out in an early comment, it is also believed that the Romans took over production of Garum from the Corinthians in Corinth (Greece). There are written references to this in literature going back to the 3rd Century B.C.. The Italian archeologist Claudio Giardino was cited in a piece on the topic at NPR. The food historian Sally Grainger wrote in depth about its origin along with recreating the recipes in her book The Classical Cookbook. There are countless more literary studies I can point you to, if interested in the topic.

      • Ana Stacy 9 years ago

        I’m sure your love of Japanese and Korean cooking is legit, but unfortunately it does not replace the fact that your palate is not from the region these fish sauces are from. Judging your lack of expertise from an assumption of where you are from is absolutely not unfounded, and not unfair – it’s quite valid. By not being from the area, your tastes and senses can not be comparable to those that grew up eating its foods; people who from an embryo were exposed. Your “round eyes” response is trite and tasteless as there are many within the Asian race, especially southeast Asians, who have round eyes.

        Furthermore “Asian cooking” should not never, ever be lumped together – anyone would agree that techniques and flavors vary greatly from different regions & cultures. Perfect example of how vastly different they can be, are Japanese/Korean cooking and Southeast Asian cooking.

        Attempting to “make fish sauce”, your prized attribute for this test, absolutely does not qualify your palate to surpass any ethnic southeast Asian tastebuds. By this you’re saying anyone can judge Italian sauces after making spaghetti, especially a person of Asian descent who is an expert in “European cooking” – the Swedish and German kind.

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

          Oh, Ana. The “round eye” comment was a David Chang reference; one in which he discuss the “round eye’s” lack of appreciation for fish sauce. While undoubtedly topical, it is admittedly obscure. Forgive my oversight in the omission of that citation. I did, however, appreciate your “tasteless” pun, intentional or not.

          All of this aside, I have my eye toward the future. I’ll be eagerly awaiting your own taste test results. If your trolling schedule permits, I assume you’d do us the favor of posting those results here, for our collective edification?

          Until then, keep fighting the good fight. Your contribution to society is inspiring.

          • Walter 6 years ago

            Kyle,If you made your own Fish Sauce and visited some of these smelly labs then to this Filipino you qualify as an expert on this subject. I have used patis (mostly Rufina Brand) all my life. but in the last 10 years i have found Nuoc Mam to be a lot more tastier and the aroma is a bliss. in fact when i make Arroz Caldo i have to go with the Nuoc Mam not because of my personal preference but my Americanized children insist. I still love patis when cooking Filipino foods and don’t plant to substitute any more of my other Filipino dishes with Nuc Mam( unless i’m out of patis) but you have opened my semi round eyes and I plan to taste more fish sauces produced in other countries in the future

        • Drakh 8 years ago

          Ana Stacy, I know you’re just picking a fight and being an obnoxious troll, but your assumption that someone has to have grown up eating or tasting something to be a connoisseur is beyond ludicrous. By that ridiculous standard, how could anyone appreciate wine or whiskey, since no one is born drinking those substances. But go on remaining provincial and chauvinistic, you’re certainly not alone in this world.

      • Eric Forat 5 years ago

        hi Kyle! great to hear you say that! I personnally prefer Korean fish sauce to most others, especially one made not with Anchovies, but with Sand Lances, another small fish found on their coast, made with Salt and Fish and nothing else. What do you think about those? Found it in a Korean store in São Paulo, Brasil, together with lots of other goodies. Like Lemon vinegar, real gochu-gang, great Guk soy sauce,etc.
        BTW, how do you think our Orange Agent comported himself during his trip to our”little yellow friend’s countries in the Indo-Asian-Pacific”, euhh, place?

    • Some Body 8 years ago

      lol you’re racist as hell

  13. Minh 9 years ago

    I have to shamefully agree that I too use to tout 3 Crabs brand as the best. It was what my mom and grandma used forever. Looking at the current label, it has a ton of unnecessary ingredients (which didn’t use to be in the original formulation from what I’ve read). So it could have been the best then, but not now with all that added junk. I recently made the switch to Red Boat 40N last year and it’s been amazing! It’s delicious made as a dipping sauce as well as braising meat. And surprisingly, I’ve found it in my grandma’s cupboard too (I didn’t even say anything). Good taste runs in the family I guess lol. I love the fact that it’s just anchovies and salt. Really want to get my hands on that Blis bottle though!

    Great post! Thanks for conducting this blind taste test :)

  14. Halr75 9 years ago

    Fantastic post, picked up some Red boat on Saturday and did Pad Krapow Moo, a huge improvement over the last batch i did with Squid brand!

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Thanks for your feedback. I love Pad Krapow Moo. Pork and basil are such a perfect paring.

      • Halr75 9 years ago

        It is indeed, although it is somewhat of a painful treat for me as my love of the hot is not tempered by the inevitable pain the next day!

  15. Lakshmi 9 years ago

    Hi Kyle, I am new to Fish sauces. So when I bought the ‘squid’ brand to try out South east cuisine, salt was all I could taste in the final product. I assumed fish sauces are alike. Thanks to you, I will be looking for Red Boat 40 N next time… very informative post.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Lakshmi —— That makes me very happy to hear. It true that they are all going to be very salty, but Squid is probably toward to top of that salty list. Come back and let us know your thoughts.

  16. kim 9 years ago

    Great article, I am a Vietnamese and have been having fish sauce my whole life. Since i was a kid in Vietnam, I had fish sauce daily, traveled to different areas and tasted the best fish sauce of each city. I moved to US with my family i have to say Red Boat is the closest match to the pure fish sauce i had back in Vietnam. It tastes and smell right plain and great with cooking. If you want to try the real fish sauce, heat it up in a stove and the smell will tell, i cook every day with fish sauce and the good quality give a sweet finish to the dish, (especially with the slow cook soup, the smell totally disappear but the sweet round taste remain) while others branch i tried can mostly replace salt and smell. (Viet huong, 3 crabs, shrimp and crabs , squid, megachef).
    I am not saying this in favor of Red Boat, but in favor of the user, the good quality fish sauce is not only great for taste and cook, but also for health if you use fish sauce for cooking daily like me.

    You should also try the fish sauce made from mackerel, for dipping because the taste is light and pure, the sauce is clear like water for the first press. I have tried as a kid but can’t find any it would be interesting to find one here.

    It’s hard to fully explain this with my limited English but simply said, after trying different kind of fish sauce, Red Boat is to me the real fish sauce among those brands and if there is any other brand that bring the pure fish sauce to the table, I am willing to try and welcome.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Kim — That really make me happy to hear. Thank you for sharing that experience.

  17. Sarah 9 years ago

    Thank you for this article. The first time I tried fish sauce it was Squid brand and it was so terrible I though I would never use fish sauce again, thinking there couldn’t be that much difference in other brands. Now that I see it is low on your list too, I have renewed hope that I can find a good fish sauce (hopefully your recommended ones).

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Sarah — You’re welcome. Some of my first experience were on the “whoah, that stinks!” side as well. But I really believe it doesn’t have to “stink” or taste bad. It’s always going to smell fishy, and that’s something Americans are much less accustomed to. If you can get over that hurdle, you will fall in love. :)

  18. rl reeves jr 9 years ago

    Brilliant article and yes, Red Boat is the king. If you haven’t tried it you should order some of their anchovy salt. It’s like granulated essence of fish sauce. Put it on cabbage. How To Make Vietnamese Soul Food Cabbage With Red Boat Anchovy Salt

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Thanks for the kind words. We did happen to get our hands on some of that salt as well. Red Boat was kind enough to send us a few bags a while back. I’ve been trying to figure out how best to use it. I was considering a sauerkraut or sorts. Your take sounds tasty.

  19. rl reeves jr 9 years ago

    We cooked 25lbs of Brussels sprouts Sat night for a pop up, tossed them with olive oil, coated them with the anchovy salt and roasted them in a 400 degree oven, turned the crowd into a pack of maniacs.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Sounds money. Those are flavors I know well. We do roasted brussels with tangerine segments (added after roasting), topped with chopped cilantro and popped rice (rice crispies) and smothered in nuoc cham. Give that a go sometime.

      • rl reeves jr 9 years ago

        You’re a fiend sir, a fiend. Yes, we will be heisting that recipe soon.

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

          The magic of that is in the lime juice of the nuoc cham. The acidity brings everything into balance.

          • Quynh Nguyen 7 years ago

            Rule of Yin-Yang.

  20. Mark 9 years ago

    Great article Kyle. I just recently started playing around with fish sauce and based on the article look forward to trying a few of the varieties mentioned. Keep you the good work.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Thanks, Mark. Next time you make a pasta sauce, try adding a couple tablespoons of fish sauce. The Romans use a version of fish sauce in this same manner. It brings a real roundness to the sauce, without a trace of “fish.”

      • Minh 9 years ago

        I add fish sauce to my pasta sauce as well! Contributes an amazing dimension of flavor. Really interesting that this is seen in cooking in other cultures.

      • Mark 9 years ago

        I agree. I’ve used crushed anchovies in the past but the fish sauce would be much easier “no bones about it”. :-)

  21. TeaseMeGirl 9 years ago

    Hi Kyle!

    Great article – I was just curious: do the ingredients in fish sauce differ in US vs. Canadian versions of the same brands??

    I grew up on Squid brand and just recently received a small sampler botle of RedBoat 40°N and I am actually quite surprised that the ingredients you listed for Squid brand in your test are NOT the same as what I have listed on my own bottle here at home.

    I just did my own mini taste test of the 3 brands I have at home and found that Red Boat 40°N is quite amazing, but I’m quite surprised that people consider 3 Crabs Brand “better”/more palatable than Squid. The flavours are completely different! Personal taste preferences being pretty important, obviously, but I can taste all sorts of weird chemicals in 3Crabs compared to the lovely fishiness of Squid Brand like in RedBoat.

    I had purchased a bottle of 3 Crabs Brand awhile back after reading all over the place that it is considered one of the best brands and was absolutely shocked at how horrible it tasted and then read the ingredients (after the fact) and was supremely disappointed.

    …now I just have to figure out where to actually BUY RedBoat 40°N in Canada since I am going to be so unhappy when this tiny 80ml sampler runs out :/

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Thanks! I do know that a lot of ingredients can differ from one product to the next in different markets. I’m curious what the ingredients of Squid brand are for you? If you click the image of the Squid bottle, you can see those ingredients plainly on the bottle as well. I’d certainly have to agree with your assessment of 3 Crabs. As far as purchasing Red Boat, you can do that directly on their site. I’m pretty sure they ship to CA. Looks like they have a big bottle available now too.

    • Quynh Nguyen 7 years ago

      Yes. It’s possibly different because Consumer Protection Laws and Food Safety Control in US and Canada are different.

  22. Danoz 9 years ago

    Thanks very much for this extremely informative and eye-opening review.
    Funnily enough I found my way here by searching for a comparison between Squid Brand and 3 Crabs (to settle a family dispute – we’re Vietnamese).
    Haha. Seems like you’ve barely resolved that one; which is least worse??

    In your estimation, should anything be read into the ingredients list listing “Anchovy” (or “Fish”) vs “Anchovy EXTRACT). Is this just due to the translation of ingredients, since surely fish sauce is just an extract of fish/anchovy, no? Or is it that “Anchovy Extract” as an ingredient could indicate a second or later pressing or some other further processing, whereas “Anchovy” would indicate a more pure first press.

    I’m interested in your educated guess.


    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Danoz, as much as I’d love to be the deciding factor in a family dispute, it was pretty much a toss-up between the two. If pressed to chose one over the over, I may take Squid. The reason being is that 3 Crabs smelled the worst to us. That’s something that didn’t go away with cooking; yet the flavor can blend in, somewhat.

      The other point you raise is a very interesting one. Its something we discussed as well. If I was to guess, I’d say it’s a matter of translation. Although those that don’t specify the type of fish are probably using multiple types of fish, because that’s cheaper. If it is first press it will often say “nuoc mam nhi”, where “nhi” indicates first press—thing you probably know.

  23. Frasier Linde 9 years ago

    Have you considered the freshness of each bottle may play a role in the results?

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

      Frasier — A very valid question. We did. In fact, we also compared a freshly-opened bottle of Golden Boy to a bottle that had been opened six months earlier. There’s a marked difference in taste, due to oxidation. Not unlike you would encounter with a bottle of wine, opened for some time—yet not as pronounced. This is one of the reasons we suggest storing the fish sauce in the refrigerator. I touched on this in the summary of the post above.

      • Frasier Linde 9 years ago

        I meant in regards to bottling date.

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 9 years ago

          There’s really no way to take something like that into consideration. There’s so many factors at play there. Most don’t even provide a bottling date. That aside, there shouldn’t be any perceptible degradation of quality when bottled and before opened, because there is not oxidation happening in the bottle.

  24. rl reeves jr 9 years ago

    And another use for that magical Red Boat Anchovy Salt: Recipe: Charred Vietnamese Zucchini With Red Boat Anchovy Salt

    • JRamsey 5 years ago

      Interesting recipe, I’ll have to try it.

  25. Timothy Regan 9 years ago


    8 June 2014

    Why is it the case (does it appear to be the case?) that there are no North American producers of fish sauce? I have been a student of the various realms of fermentation for a good, long time and, in fact, am in my ninth and tenth months of procession of last season’s tuna-trimmings fish sauce (I personally catch or obtain from local fisherman ALL of my starting product) and in my second and third month of procession of this year’s night smelt fish sauce. All of my fish sauces are targeted for full-year aging/maturation and I’d love to enter my wares into a challenge of sorts.

    Don’t worry about dangerous outcomes, as I’m a formally-trained and educated chemist. I use only fish product and sea salt and I keep the salt concentration at a level that is lethal to all non-beneficial (and/or dangerous) organisms.

    There are lots of aspects associated with my product that are standout. For example, my fish sauce is made in relatively small batches and is aged in the relatively cool climate of Eureka, California.


    Timothy Regan, Eureka, California, USA

  26. The Monk 8 years ago

    You just cost me $1.89. I just bought a bottle of Squid brand and opened it. Pretty potent stuff. I bought a bottle of Mam Viet Hai Yen today since I could not find the Red Boat here. A lot better..threw out the Squid. Thanks.

  27. Nhung 8 years ago

    Thanks for the info. I’m quite outraged as I’m going on one year of being gluten-free, only to find out the “vegetable” protein is wheat product in fish sauce. We recently switched to Red Boat, but had some Viet Huong 3 Crabs left. Then my husband brought home a bottle of Megachef, which boasted gluten-free. I thought, why would fish sauce have wheat product? (I thought the vegetable protein referred to soy bean products. I was WRONG!) Now I really have to reconsider eating at Asian restaurants…I know most will not use gluten-free fish sauce. Can’t wait for your experiment with soy sauce. I’m currently using 3 brands that are g-f.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      It’s true that vegetable protein can be a labeling for hydrolyzed wheat protein, it is also often a labeling for soy protein. The US government requires that one disclose the source, but many of the overseas producers not have those same guidelines. I too have a mild celiac, so I feel your pain. I’m not bothered by the small amounts of grains found in soy sauces and such, but I do have to avoid bread and beer and the like.

  28. Loren 8 years ago

    Great information brotha! I used Tiparos as a quick marinade for steak and it came out pretty awesome. I wanted to get your opinion and see if there is a better fish sauce to use as a marinade for beef and pork? Thanks

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      Thank you. I appreciate it. As far as marinating meat, I’d probably reach for Tiparos myself. If it was a special dinner, maybe Red Boat. In fact, I’ve got a couple pork chops in a sous vide bath with a bit of butter and Tiparos right now. :)

  29. lgs315 8 years ago

    Thank you for the excellent tasting review. I will be trying Red Boat as soon as possible and will be walking the isles of my Asian grocery store with more confidence!

  30. Padaek 8 years ago


    I just posted a similar review of fish sauce and light soy sauce on my blog but not as comprehensive/detailed as this. I found the Three Crabs fish sauce to be very delicious, although I can only really compare it to Squid brand and Tiparos brand. I’ve also been recommended that the Red boat is an excellent quality/tasting fish sauce. Your blog is awesome by the way. Will be following. :)

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate the feedback.

  31. tammy 8 years ago

    I am Vietnamese American and Squid/Three Crabs were used interchangeably in my house when I was growing up. I never thought there was anything wrong with these brands, but maybe this is because I never have eaten it plain. I think fish sauce is at its best when you mix it with an acid, specifically lime or some sort of tomato base, with some sugar. This is when fish sauce really shines and is super delicious. I would love for this test to be done mixed with lime juice, to see how each brand’s flavor is enhanced, and to taste the fish sauce in the way it is more likely to be consumed. I don’t know anybody who eats fish sauce straight with egg. You always add lime or lemon juice before eating it over rice. It is really delicious that way! I will try the more expensive brands mentioned here, but I am skeptical on the added benefits in cooking form. I have tried the Tiparos, and thought it was dreadfully watered down, and went through it very quickly.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      Tammy, thanks for your comment. As you mention, fish sauce is excellent when combined with an acid like lime juice or vinegar. We’ve tested all of these (separately) as part of my Nuoc Cham recipe.

      • Chris 5 years ago

        The way my mother always prepared it (as nước mắm chấm) is to add refined table sugar, lime juice, grated carrots, and minced raw garlic, then dilute to taste. I was always brought in to taste-test (I always wanted more lime juice) & Mom would adjust accordingly. There were no measurements.

        In my household, it was much less sweet and also less diluted than in a typical VN-American restaurant. It that respect, our dipping sauce probably did not reflect the usual nước mắm chấm. recipe.

        The reason there was no daikon in my mother’s version is that it was difficult to source (it was the 1960s) & then when it /did/ become available she wasn’t in the habit of using it.

        We always had Squid brand, probably because it was readily available and inexpensive, and not as a matter of taste. I later heard (on NPR’s The Splendid Table) that Flying Lion and 3 Crabs were the “best” brands and switched to them for my own pantry. I use only Red Boat now, but will probably pick up some Tiparos for marinating (e.g., for Thịt Kho).

        Thank you for this thorough test & write-up. I’m sure many folks who would have hesitated to use this wonderful condiment will gain entrée into SE Asian cuisine due to your efforts.

  32. Michelle 8 years ago

    My family uses 3 crab (I never seen it in the bottle you posted though, its usually in taller and slender bottle). I have grown up with it so I don’t think it smells bad. I have tried other brands when I moved out and I thought many of the fish sauces I tried the taste or aroma was too strong. Is it bad to say that some fish sauce is too fishy?! lol The ones I would never use again is Viet Huong Flying Lion and the Squid. I also think it also comes down what you are cooking. I have a friend that only uses redboat when making papaya saald.

    I agree that fish sauce meant to not be sipped but I have to applaud you for doing it..

  33. paintednightsky 8 years ago

    I went to compare an old and new 3 crabs sauce since seeing the comment about how fish sauce oxidizes and taste changes for the worse. The old one has been in the fridge maybe almost 2 years, possibly longer!?! A large bottle, so a little bit goes a long ways it seems and I figured since it was fermented, I couldn’t really get sick from it and I haven’t. I actually thought the taste was better than the new bottle. The new bottle that I opened, the first taste I got was extreme salt. That made me notice the 75% daily value of salt in a TB on the bottle… The old bottle, the unami flavor hit first and it seemed more flavorful and developed and smoother. I just tried a bit on my finger. In the past, I’ve always just used it in cooking. I do have an order of Red Boat 40 on the way from vitacost since I order there a lot anyway. I did buy a bottle of squid long ago, but never tried any straight and it seemed decent enough in food. Still need to try Tiparos but haven’t found it. I never really noticed much of a difference in brands with cooking. I don’t really think you can go wrong. A soy sauce comparison would be interesting. I have a bottle of Ohsawa Organic Nama Shoyu on the way from vita as well. I typically don’t buy sauces so expensive, but figured why not try it at least once to see if I notice a difference.

  34. aom 8 years ago

    This was a wonderful review and exactly what I was looking for to expand my appreciation for fish sauce. Being Asian, fish sauce was something we were introduced to at a very young age. Our family actually owned a small production facility that made it… and I recall almost slipping into one of the vats/wells when I was 3 or so, until someone grabbed my arm. But that’s a story for a different time! I can remember adding it to my food as young as 4 (I’d ask for it by name and I’d be allowed to portion my own serving)… my parents like to remind us (kids) that we were eating fish sauce since we were babies, but I can’t remember that far back, haha. And I always enjoy introducing it to my friends.

    That said, living in the US we had been using patis (since we’re primarily Filipino), but about 25 years ago, we switched to tiparos. We found that it had more of a fishy taste rather than just a light “saltwater” taste from Filipino patis. About 2 years or so ago, I finally took the plunge and bought a small jar of garum after reading about the genesis of fish sauce, I wanted to see what a traditionally made one tasted like.

    Keep in mind, at this point, I’d probably tried 30 brands of fish sauce (both locally and all over the world while traveling). One thing that stood out immediately, was how intense the layers of fish were (not how fishy it was, but rather how complicated the ocean/fish tastes were, it was like a party for my tastebuds), gently followed by a salty finish. Unlike tiparos, which mostly tastes like fishy saltwater in comparison now. It was an eye opening experience and now I reserve my little bottle of garum for the table and use tiparos (or other brands) for cooking.

    Sometimes I now just forego cooking with other brands and just add garum when the dish hits the table. I introduced it last December to my extended family and the reaction was surprising… folks eating fish sauce for 85+ years immediately noticed a difference (had a mini blind test, I guess you could say) and it was the topic of conversation!

    When I tried RedBoat after much hype, I didn’t particularly feel it imparted a distinct enough difference if cooking with it to make a difference. I also found that taken by itself, it wasn’t much better/complex than other fish sauces. Perhaps a small degree. Perhaps since I’d been using garum for a while, I just expected more of a difference compared to something like tiparos.

    I do agree that application (what you’re going to do with it and what kind of dish you’re going to cook with it), makes all the difference, but I feel on balance, every other fish sauce seems a bit pedestrian now. I will be ordering that Blis though… if only to try something unique. If it weren’t for the cost of garum, I’d probably only have that in my pantry, but I like to change it up a bit if I’m making some dishes that really need it while cooking.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      Excellent comment. Thank you. Wonderful to hear of your experience with fish sauce. As we’ve indicated in the tasting, we do like the flavor of Tiparos, but it’s likely that it’s watered down. When cooking, we simply use more of it. You may try to get your hands on a bottle of the Red Boat 50N, or as they call it, the “Phamily Reserve”. It’s not drastically different from the 40N, but it is richer, and probably more like the garum you have—it likely costs less too.

      As for garum, I’d love to know what brand you are using? Are you using the Cetara Colatura di Alici? That’s the only Roman brand I’m familiar with. I’ve yet to taste it though.

      I’m also working on a post for making your own. I’ve got a couple gallons of fish sauce, made in the traditional way of garum (also called Liquamen), that is brewing in my back yard right now. The weather is starting to turn, so I may be harvesting it soon. It’s been fermenting for about 9 months now.

  35. Niall 8 years ago

    Wow. Tour de force!

  36. Josie Chang 8 years ago


    Thanks for the sharing. Awesome!!!Awesome!!!Awesome!!!
    And I am really curious about your opinion of the brand of CHIN-SU (Nước Mắm Hương Ca Hồi Thượng Hạng) in Vietnam. Looking forward to seeing your reply. :)


    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      Josie — I’ll take three “awesomes”. As for Nước Mắm Hương Ca Hồi Thượng Hạng, that’s not something I’ve had a chance to try. Maybe you should send me a bottle? :)

      • Josie Chang 8 years ago

        Yes. I should send you a bottle. :) Could I have your mailing address? thanks

      • Anh 6 years ago

        NO, NO, NO.
        Big NO for that Chin-Su, it’s made with water and chemistry.

    • Quynh Nguyen 7 years ago

      Nuoc Mam “Huong” Ca Hoi means “Fish sauce with Salmon taste”. Salmon is expensive in Vietnam. If they can make fish sauce from salmon, this salmon fish sauce must be expensive.

  37. Ann Hupe 8 years ago

    You wondered why there isn’t a “Four Crab” brand fish sauce. Probably because the number “4” is extremely unlucky in Asian cultures. It would be like putting the picture of a very deceased crab on a label and calling it “Dead Crab” fish sauce. It just wouldn’t sell.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      Ann, thanks for the comment. That makes total sense. I was aware of the Asian aversion to the number 4, I just didn’t make that logical connection here. In fact, I just spent last month traveling across China. As the white guy, I was always put on the fourth floor because none of the Chinese wanted to stay there. Some hotels didn’t even have a 4th floor. I would ask at reception and say: “Let me guess, this room is on the 4th floor?”. Funny, that is. That’s for making that connection.

      • Daniel 5 years ago

        I remember having my first mobile phone number in China. They were selling them on the street, with available numbers on cardboards, and sold ones stricken through (all in hand-written marker, mind you). This was 15+ years ago. All good numbers were gone, except one, which ended in: Si-si-si-wu-yao-si (death-death-death-I-want-die). I thought it was a good deal :) I am alive, still.

        Going back to the fish sauce thing: love what you did, Kyle, it is helpful. The 3-crab stuff is advertised by everyone all over. I consider it to be sub-par. So do I consider Tiparos (of which I’ve just purchased a bottle). But this is on a tasting it alone basis. You never know what they yield in a dish.

        I have been to Phu Quoc. I have visited 3 fish sauce factories (much to my wife’s despair). Unattended, no tourist crap. We would hop on a cab and tell the driver to take us to a fish sauce factory (I believe there are 4 major ones on the island). They are largely unguarded, back in 2011 I could walk in as I pleased. I almost fell in one of them 3 meter-tall vats. But I smelled and tasted the stuff (they are not filled to the brim, hence why I almost fell, you need to bow real deep, I was climbing the stair to the top of the vat, with my much more petite wife holding my legs :) )

        The PhuQuoc stuff was superb. 42-43N, superbly balanced, mouthwatering even for my wife, who does not appreciate fish. She would keep on smacking her lips. At the airport, we had to discard all our bottles. No fish sauce on the plane. 100+ USD worth of fish sauce at the source – puff – gone.

        That said, during my many visits to Thailand, 8/10 of street vendors used Squid brand. And I tasted many a beautiful dish with that crappy fish sauce. I have even managed to cook many very nice meals with that awful sauce. Never managed to get any lip-smacking from anyone tasting it alone (actually, they ALL felt it was gross). Unlike some imported PhuQuoc stuff (can’t remember the name) I managed to get ahold of in Europe, which everyone thought was very nice (35N, fish and salt only).

        So, perhaps some of the fish sauces do not taste good on their own, but impart the right flavour to certain dishes. Not all, not always. I am not a proponent of Squid, as mentioned, my go-to brand right now is Tiparos. But all those street vendors in BKK cannot be stupid.

      • GhostHog 3 years ago

        Yeh man like some of you westerner’s buildings don’t have 13th floors.

    • Ann Hupe 8 years ago

      *nods* I had the same experience in Japan when I’ve traveled there.

      But try traveling Japan with a husband who’s 6-foot-7 and looks like a sumo wrestler. But he did get a lot of free okonomiyaki because of this.

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

        Well, being a 6’3″ 250lb guy with a big red beard made for a lot of photo opportunities myself. ;)

  38. GodLikeSuperAmericanBeing 8 years ago

    Question for you food experts. I was at a local farmer’s market and I saw a bunch of fish sauce brands but many that weren’t listed here. Like “Flying Horse On Earth” (yes, that’s the actual name. lol), a brand that just said “Nuoc Mam Phu Quoc” on it, and last but not least I saw Korean fish sauces that were being called “Anchovy Sauce”. Assi had one that said it was a “Premium” fish sauce on it and I was interested in trying it out but I was wondering what the difference was. Are the Korean fish sauces much different? The bottle said it was made from 100% anchovies and salt. The bottle wasn’t fancy schmancy glass, it was a plastic bottle. It cost about $4. Anyone?

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      I’d say the only way to know is to try. There are so many small producers and a few of them get imported occasionally.

  39. Ellen 8 years ago

    You’ve gotten me very interested in buying and trying fish sauce!! In the spirit of making some small contribution, I looked at the FDA website to see what they said about the ingredient labeling. Although the enlightenment was limited, I noted that producing an extract from anchovies is done with isopropyl alcohol, which is then removed with heat, producing a powder….so I’m not at all sure the difference between anchovy extract as an ingredient, and anchovy as an ingredient is just due to a translation issue. Note that all but one of the fish sauces that included water as an ingredient, also included “anchovy extract.” If you’ve ever tasted the difference between milk that comes in a carton, and powdered milk mixed with water, well, I know I don’t want “anchovy extract” in my fish sauce! ;-) Loved your article and the comments. Cheers!

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      Ellen, Since your comment, I’ve looked into this. It seems feasible that some of these producers may be using powdered anchovies to compose the sauce. Of course none of them will confirm or deny this. Thanks for this contribution.

  40. USC 8 years ago

    Thanks so much for your wonderful and highly informative review of fish sauces. Doing the vast majority of the cooking at home (all of it Asian-style dishes, a decent portion of it Burmese cuisine), I prefer to use Tiparos for both cooking and as a condiment; unfortunately the local Asian markets seem to currently be out of it. Really looking forward to finally trying the Red Boat.

  41. Christo 8 years ago

    Kyle. thanks for your work here. I find this test very interesting, I recently had the pleasure to assist cooking in a local Thai restaurant to learn a little of what goes on in the back, and I love the food this place produces. Well they use Squid brand, so my question is, why, price? Bulk purchasing perhaps? The flavor is fantastic from my seat at the table, but on my way home today I popped in to a local almost underground Korean surplus shop (in a house) and was sad to not see Squid brand, but 3 crabs was recommended, which is now in my home arsenal. I will be on the lookout for Red Boat, it appears Viet Huong has a wide range of quality. What I don’t know much about is Tamarind sauce, a clear liquid that I used in the Pad Thai any idea how to make that? Thanks a bunch!

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      That sounds great. I’d buy a couple bottles and do you own taste test. Squid and Three crabs are very popular brands, but I think it’s out of habit and availability, more than quality. Since I’ve published this taste test there seems to be an increased interest in quality fish sauce; its likely that Red Boat spurred this. Some new brands are coming on the market, like Son, which looks very promising. I’m suppose to be getting a few bottles to test in the coming weeks. As for tamarind sauce, I know nothing about it’s creation. I’ve used it in several things, and tamarind is a big component in Worcestershire sauce as well, but never tried to make it.

  42. Stephanie 8 years ago

    I’m new to fish sauce and found your review so I tried to find Red Boat, my Whole Foods didn’t carry it and all I seem to be able to find is either Thai Kitchen or some of the ones that were reviewed here. Does anyone have any thoughts on this one?

  43. Veritaste 8 years ago

    It’s great that a bunch of white chefs have opinions. But what about the people who are actually cooking authentic family dishes? Which do Thai and Vietnamese home cooks choose? I don’t care what the foodies think. It’s like the blind leading the blind.

    • spicy hard eye roll 11 months ago

      Are you on a search for “authenticity”? Oh no! White people tasted non- European food! And what, this white American has the authority to say, judge Russian sauces due to the colour of his skin? Chefs have devoted themselves and are experts in flavour, and largely remain curious about all the flavours that the world has to offer, despite the racial barriers your attempting to put up (due to some other sad aspect of you life that you should seek help with, one assumes).

      I sat down in an Italian restaurant the other day, and was about to dig into what looked to be a fantastic plate of pasta, but then I looked and saw that the chef was Vietnamese, so luckily I spat it out just before I almost tasted a bite of culturally appropriaton.

      You want to know what everyday families use in Vietnam? Whelp – I know you’ve never been there, but I’m sure they applaud you for defending them against this white usurper. I’ve spent a couple years there. Vietnam is not a wealthy country, so – the average family uses whatever is cheapest and easily available. It doesn’t mean it’s the best/”authentic” by virture of being the most used, regardless of whatever award for humbleness/authenticity you want to foist on them.

      If a Vietnamese travel host went to USA and found a nice, expensive cheese from Wisconsin, would you lambaste him and ask what cheese the average American family eats? Nobody wants to read a food blog about cheez whiz.

      Also, I would appreciate it if all of Asia could collectively apologize for appropriating Fish sauce/garam from Europeans of ancient Rome. Thanking you in advance, Asia.

      “blind leading the blind”…hilarious.

      Veritaste has a dream! S/he’s been to the mountain top! One day, we will all be segrated, and eat only the foods that correspond to our race and/or ethnicity!

      • Anna 11 months ago

        You completely missed the point dude. By about a mile.

  44. missy 8 years ago

    I think that you get different Squid fish sauce where you are than we get here in Australia. The bottle I currently have lists the ingredients as 77% anchovy extract, 20% salt and 3% sugar and not fish, salt and water as yours does.

    I originally bought it because our fish sauces list the actual percentage of anchovies/anchovy extract/fish used and Squid nearly always has the highest or one of the highest percentages of anchovy. Many of the others (including the fancy expensive ones) have much lower percentages of anchovies/anchovy extract/fish listed plus a lot of other strange/artificial ingredients in some. (NB. I also compare the amount of oysters used in oyster sauce too – you would be amazed at the percentage difference between brands)

    I have used Squid fish sauce for years as we have found it great to use in all our Thai dishes. I have never experienced a musty newspaper smell when using it. Maybe the turnover of product is higher here and therefore the product fresher? It has always had a pleasant fish/ocean smell – even my partner who gags when walking past most fish shops finds the smell OK and is happy to use it regularly.

    Additionally, since starting to use Squid fish sauce I have noticed that nearly all the Thai and Vietnamese restaurants here use it as did most of the places we saw in Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore on our travels and on food/cooking shows made there.

    With Squid coming in at less than $2 a litre and your top 3 coming in at $13.90, $100 (yes you read right one hundred dollars a litre) and $11.90 a litre respectively – between 6 and 50 times the price of Squid they better be a lot better and have a whole lot more anchovy in them.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      They very well could be different. Look at the label and compare it to those in the photos here. It’s very possible that the quality and production are different for different markets. I haven’t looked into this, and they’ve never responded to any of my inquiries. I’ve since learned that “Anchovy Extract” is not actually sauce extracted from anchovies, but rather anchovies powder extracted through an alcohol process and later mixed with water.

      • missy 8 years ago

        Kyle – I am sure that anchovy extract is made as you say somewhere but I don’t believe this method could be used for the Squid brand as it is Halal certified (as are many of the fish sauces) and they don’t usually give certification if alcohol has been used in production (even if all or most of it is lost during production). I have supplied three different anchovy extract methods below

        Anchovy Extract is a thick, oily sauce about the consistency of ketchup pressed from anchovies.

        The distilled or evaporated oils of foods or plants (including fish) that are dissolved in an alcohol base or allowed to dry to be used as a flavouring. Food extracts are available in solid (cubes, granules or powdered), liquid or jelled form. (NOTE: allowed to dry would need to be used rather than dissolved in an alcohol base)

        This amber liquid, similar to the Ancient Roman garum, is made by aging anchovies in salt. The fresh fish are layered with the salt in a wooden container, known as a “terzigno,” which is closed with a disk topped with weights. As the pressed anchovies age, they produce a liquid, which is naturally preserved by being exposed to the direct light of the summer sun. When the process of maturing the fish is finished, the liquid is again poured into the terzigno, where it absorbs the best of the anchovies’ sensory qualities before dripping out from a hole in the bottom of the container.

        So anchovy extract is the oily sauce that comes from pressing anchovies (& possibly salt) and it can be used either as a liquid or a powder. The powder comes from either drying the oil or if it isn’t certified Halal possibly from dissolving it in an alcohol base.

        So basically fish extract is the same as fish sauce only possibly thicker or dried as it is made much the same way using the same ingredients

        Further, Red Boat’s site states that their premium fish sauce is made using traditional chemical-free fermentation methods, using only the freshest black anchovy, salted minutes after leaving the sea, then aged for over a year in traditional wooden barrels. Red Boat is first press fish sauce.

        Squid’s website states that the ‘finest and freshest’ anchovies are weighed and mixed with salt in preparation for fermentation. The mixture is then left untouched for up to 18 months in cement tanks (yes, I know – not wooden barrels but it is a much bigger operation), then filtered up to 5 times before being bottled.

        Therefore, the process for both is basically the same using the exact same ingredients (anchovies and salt) with the difference being Red Boat says it only uses the first press while Squid seems to use the lot filtered up to five times and Red boat uses wooden barrels while Squid uses cement tanks. Squid also adds sugar (3%) at some point – maybe to satisfy local cooking/taste preferences being made in Thailand instead of Vietnam.

        So while the wooden barrels and first press might make the taste slightly different, for all intents and purposes they have used the same ingredients and similar methods if maybe on a different scale.


        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

          All valid points. My insight into the alcohol process was from the owner of Son Fish Sauce. He related that a lot of producers do the powdered alcohol extraction. But as you note, if it’s Halal, that certainly wouldn’t be the case here. Either way, I’d encourage you to do a little tasting of your own. There’s a lot of other good fish sauces out there too. Son, as I mentioned, has just come to the states. They have an excellent product as well.

  45. Dennis Morgan 8 years ago

    Kyle. I stumbled across this page when I googled “best fish sauce” and what a find! This is one of the most interesting food websites I’ve encountered and your participation in the comments section so long after the original fish sauce taste test is quite amazing. Your replies help form a thoughtful and informative interchange thats funny at times as well (… trolling schedule? )
    At our house we’ve been using 3 Crabs in for years, and I always hated the way it smells… I mean yuck.. but we’ve just kept using it… because it seems like everybody uses it?? Can’t wait to try some Red Boat!
    Anyway, there is a lot to explore at Our Daily Brine, thanks for the good work!

  46. Ted GM 8 years ago

    Forget about that taste test and it’s ranking opinions. Fish sause is cheap enough that you can buy them all and test all of them. The important thing is that you must learn how to cook the food that is made in the region where a fish sause brand is used and good luck with that. I’ve use a lot of different types and brands of fish sause and to me they are all good and they all have their places for cooking, marinating and dipping. With that being said, there are no fish sauce better than the other.

  47. Ted GM 8 years ago

    Hello BLiS,

    If the BLiS fish sauce is so good then why is it not sold in Asian
    markets/grocery stores? I would like to try it but I cannot find it
    anywhere in the Baltimore/DC area. Is BLiS just a fad and will Asians use
    it or is it just to wow non-Asians? Everyone says that it best but I have
    not heard of any Asians saying that it is good. I want to thank you in
    advance for your quick and timely response.

    Hi Ted,

    Thanks for the message. Our fish sauce is a collaboration with Red Boat from
    Vietnam. We take their 40N fish sauce, and age it in oak barrels after
    bourbon and after maple syrup. The aging process results in a sweet, smoky
    flavor profile. I don’t believe many Asians think of it as traditional, but
    many Asian restaurants are using it. The reason you aren’t seeing it on many
    shelves in your area is that we don’t have a distributor in the DC area. All
    of our products tend to sell well in small, specialty, gourmet markets. And
    our biggest market for all of our products is food service rather than
    retail. All of our products are available on our webpage, I recommend that you try it for yourself and make your
    own decision! I would love to hear your feedback.

    If the BLiS fish sauce is not popular with the Asians then you must question it’s taste and how well it matches up with the Asian cuisine. I am thinking that it is popular with non-Asians because of the changes that was added to please the non-Asian palate. I have not actually tried BLiS so I purchased two bottles from Food52. I hope that the $43.00 I spent was not wasted. I will return with my taste tests with Lumpia dipping sauce, Dinuguan, Adobo, Pinapaitan, Pho Soups and many other Asian dishes.

    • Quynh Nguyen 7 years ago

      Hi Ted,

      Blis is not popular in Vietnam because it’s pricey and Vietnamese people can easily find similar pure, aged fish sauces over there at a price around 10% of Blis.


      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

        Blis is really not a fish sauce though. See my notes in the taste test. It’s excellent, but it’s more than a fish sauce.

        • Quynh Nguyen 7 years ago

          I think I do not really understand what you mean by “Blis is not a fish sauce”. Going to try Blis and interested to know your opinion again about Blis after the trip to the nuoc-mam world. Hope you will find artisan nuoc-mam in Vietnam.

          • Author
            Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

            Read the description of Blis in the post. I explain it there.

          • Quynh Nguyen 7 years ago

            I have read it. Sorry but I do not find it different from the traditional way to make nuoc-mam in Vietnam.

            Of course it is different from the industrialized way to produce commercialized nuoc-mam.

  48. Dean 8 years ago

    Hi Kyle,

    I enjoyed your informative article! Would you please let me know where I can buy a bottle of New Town 60N Fish Sauce in Oakland or Berkeley, or at least in the Bay Area? (I can’t find it anywhere.)



    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      Thanks, Dean. Unfortunately I have no idea. Can’t find any info on that brand either. I may be an importers rebottling.

  49. Ted GM 8 years ago

    I received two bottles of BLiS Fish Sauce and it is quite different from any other Fish Sauce. It is smokey, dark amber color, very mild in fish flavor and a touch of sweetness. It’s primary role is a Dipping Sauce as is or blended with something acidic, I’ve tried both and preferred either or and I would not use it for cooking. I like BLiS fish sauce and I probably would buy it again. So the question is, is it worth the money? Try it for yourself and you decide. Keep in mind that you only die once and eat everyday for the rest of your life. Enjoy…

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 8 years ago

      Ted, I think you’ll find that we excluded Blis from the taste test because it’s really different from a fish sauce. That said, I love it in dipping sauces and marinades. I almost always have a bottle on hand now.

    • JRamsey 5 years ago

      Thanks for the info Ted, yes the BLis is certainly tempting to try, I liken it to a great Balsamic Vinegar but not nearly as expensive.

  50. Jim 7 years ago

    I think you either like Thai style fish sauce with added sugar or the Vietnamese style fish sauce without the added sugar. This taste test shows that Kyle and Jaime prefer nuoc mam over nam pla. I wonder who did the set up for the “blind taste test”. Who poured the fish sauce into the ramekins? Was it a person besides Kyle or Jaime?

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      That was done by a third party. Hence the “blind” aspect of the taste test. All samples were in identical 50ml beakers. Numbers were marked on the bottom of the beaker. Tastes were done, then the third party recorded results based on a number. Numbers were then matches with the brands after completion. As for a preference of nuoc mam over nam pla, I can’t say that’s not the case. It wasn’t intentional, but the results would certainly indicate as much. Maybe that’s because nuoc mam is simply a better fish sauce? Hard to say. Many (even Thai) would likely argue as much.

  51. Eric 7 years ago

    Hi Kyle! very interesting article. In the Korean shop I buy from here in Brasil, I buy anchovy sauce (ingredients: anchovies and salt), but I noticed the same Brand (sorry, cannot read Korean) I buy also makes another type with “Sand Lance” fish, and the only thing the owners could tell me is that it IS fish sauce, with a somewhat different taste.
    Do you have any experience with this? it comes in one kilo bottles for around 7/8 US$, and though not expensive, I wanted to know more about the taste if possible before buying…

    • Eric 7 years ago

      BTW, when you test soy sauces, could you include some Korean Brands, both Jin and also Guk? I find them so much more interesting than any Japanese or made-in-Brasil ones…
      Best regards and good luck!

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

        I think I’ve given up on this idea. It’s too hard to make a one-to-one comparison. There’s so many different styles and regions, etc. It would be like trying to say “Which brand of wine is the best?”.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      That sounds very interesting! I’ve never heard of anything like that. I’ll have to see if I can find something similar.

  52. Ted GM 7 years ago

    Jim, One can not put fish sauce in a spoon and do a taste comparison with other fish sauce. All fish sauce taste good when added and cooked in food. If you did didn’t grow up cooking and eating Southeast Asian foods then the many different types of fish sauces will not make sense to you, you can not just add fish sauce to your Mac&Cheese or spaghetti sauce and mare it taste good. It depends on where the fish sauce comes different sugar is added but the is in the pineapple that is added to help in the fermentation process and other manufacturers will add mangos or even sugar canes. Don’t get hung up on the sugar conent, it was added for a reason

    • Jim 7 years ago

      This taste test should have probably included Japanese and Korean fish sauces. I agree that tasting fish sauce alone is not indicative of the “best flavor”. It may be “best flavor” to the people doing the tasting, but not everyone has the same tastebuds.

      All this blind taste test tells me that Kyle and Jaime likes these certain fish sauces. As I do not know either of them, I probably have my own preferences for fish sauce.

      Personally I wouldn’t use a Vietnamese fish sauce in a Thai dish and a Thai fish sauce in a Vietnamese dish.

  53. Ted GM 7 years ago

    To fairly compare all 13 fish sauce you must make 13 of the same dish (pho for example) and add the different fish sauce into them and taste how it enhances the flavor. Red Boat 40 n is not better than Patis in Diniguan.

  54. steven rappolee 7 years ago

    I made homemade fermented fish sauce from Fish Offal from a native american group who sales fish at the Flint farmers market
    Just Blogged about it, you will see pictures of this year long experiment there

  55. Adam Kane 7 years ago

    Awesome write-up! Thanks Kyle for taking the time to test and all.. Really helped me decide on what to buy for some of my Asian food menu!

    Going to try some Asian dishes with the Red boat and then with Tiparos.

  56. sonia 7 years ago

    Thanks for posting this interesting review. I wonder if the brands you reviewed are more easily available on the east coast?

    I’ve been cooking for about 40 years on the west coast, and I grew up using the Filipino fish sauce (patis). Over the years I have used several different brands of fish sauce (Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, & Korean) as well as Filipino fish sauce, which is easily available here on the west coast … whereas you describe it as nearly impossible to find. I do tend to not interchange the different fish sauces with the different cuisines, as the flavor note is markedly different and gives an off taste.

    A commenter asked about tamarind sauce, and that’s easily available in Indian markets, at least here on the west coast.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Sonia — I’m actually on the West Coast as well. Northwest. I’m seeing Patis a lot more now. Uwajimaya now carries several different brands where they didn’t a year ago.

  57. Quyen 7 years ago

    Hi Kyle,

    I stumbled upon your article while looking for news on Tiparos. Thank you for a thoughtful and detailed write-up. I agree with most of your assessments and recommendations; My mom and I have agreed for years, even before the Cook’s Illustrated’s taste test in 2004, that Tiparos is the best all-around brand of fish sauce. It’s good for both cooking and making dipping sauces. It doesn’t make my braised dishes and pho broth overly sweet. And, it’s easy on the wallet!

    However, I have not been able to find Tiparos in my grocery stores in the last 8 months. And I live in Orange County, California! I have tried many different stores and I have asked the shop people but no one seemed to know why there has not been any shipment. I see that it is available on Amazon for a ridiculous price and would be “shipped freshly from Germany”. So, if you do know of a reason for this scarcity of Tiparos in SoCal, please pass it along.

    My search for Tiparos and possible substitutes have forced me to devise a criteria for buying instead of just trial-and-error. I look for two things in the label before spending money on the bottle: at least 2 grams of protein and very little sugar added. This guideline has served me well. While I have not been able to find anything that comes even close to Tiparos on both taste and price point, I have found a good brand that’s cheaper than Red Boat and similar 40*N varieties. The brand is IHA “Phu Quoc” Fish Sauce and it’s made in Vietnam. Ingredients: anchovy fish, salt, water; 3 grams protein, 2 grams sugar (?). I am not sure how accurate the label is regarding the sugar. The taste is salty fish but smooth, not sweet.

    Thank you again for your original article and your dedication to your readers.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Quyen — I’m happy to hear it. As for the scarcity, I have no idea. There are mountains of it at our local Korean market. I’ll keep my eyes out for that brand. There are have been a few others, from Phu Quoc, that have entered the market since this taste test. Son is one of the most notable, and is excellent. My preference still remains for Red Boat, however.

  58. Quynh Nguyen 7 years ago

    Red Boat is the only fish sauce in US which mentions on label that “free from added water, MSG and preservatives”. This fish sauce is also being sold in Europe where misleading ads can result in million-euro penalty. Hope Red Boat does not have two standards.

    Have you tried Fish Sauce 9999, another brand imported from Vietnam?

    • Quynh Nguyen 7 years ago

      By the way, Vietnamese fish sauce producers have a traditional way to test their products. They tastes the sauces with a slice of boiled pork.

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

        Quynh, I’d like to know more about that. I’m heading to Vietnam shortly. Going to be checking out the Red Boat factory and tasting a bunch of local sauces.

        • Quynh Nguyen 7 years ago

          To my limited knowledge, making fish sauce is similar to making wine. The quality of fish sauce depends on quality of salt, ratio salt/fish, sunshine, wood barrels are made from and ageing time. Therefore, the taste of true nuoc-mam are different from village to village, region to region but they all have delicious taste. Anchovy nuoc-mam is the most popular because of its easy taste. Traditionally, there are many more special nuoc-mam which have special tastes. These ones have not much of customers and been disappeared from market, just like the fromage Camembert Lait Cru disappears from French supermarket.

          The true nuoc-mam would be the pure liquid which comes out the aged salt/fish mix. Pure nuoc-mam will be mouldy in a few days if water is added. “Nước mắm nhỉ” is the first extraction from the barrel which should be viscous. The true nuoc-mam-nhi is pricey so people use it fresh and pure, never make mixing sauce with nuoc-mam-nhi.

          Nowadays, it will not be easy to find the true nuoc-mam. It becomes business. The true nuoc-mam production is not fast and profitable enough. It’s industrialized. The industrial nuoc-mam are all made from, or at least, added MSG, of course water and then preservatives. I wonder how Red Boat commercialized nuoc-mam can be free of water, MSG and preservatives. I am going to test it myself.

          If your trip is to discover the world of nuoc-mam, or the bigger world of “mắm”, it would be interesting to visit traditional, non-industrialized nuoc-mam, mam producers. Phu Quoc island, Chau Doc and Phan Thiet could be best locations to find them.

          • Author
            Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

            I will be traveling to Phu Quoc. Planning to visit Red Boat as well as go out with some fishing boats. I’m sure I’ll be tasting all the local sauces. My original question was more about tasting with pork? I’ve been making fish sauce myself as well. I’ve got an 18month batch I’m about to press.

          • Quynh Nguyen 7 years ago

            Boiling pork belly, then cut it into small slices, dip it a bit into nuoc-mam then taste. Try it.

            Normally when you visit Red Boat, they will offer a meal of boiled meats, fishes, seafood and pure nuoc-mam.

          • Author
            Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

            Thanks. We’ll consider that method next time.

  59. Rock 7 years ago

    Thought you might be interested in some knowledge to help deepen your experience.
    You cannot make fish sauce / nam plaa / nuoc mam / garum / etc in the modern world and export it the way it used to be made for a few very simple reasons;
    1)Histamine. Traditional manufacturing methods result in histamine contents that are not allowable wherever there is food safety. Histamine contents in raw fish start rising the minute they are caught and die, in the case of traditional methods for fermentation the histamine contents are through the roof. Now it should be that nam plaa, as it is used as a seasoning and thus is only a small ingredient of a final dish, should maybe be allowed to have its traditional levels of histamine, however this is not how the food safety agencies see it as they want a level that is suitable for a whole range of fish products so most of the manufacturers that are going to supply export markets are going to be very conservative in terms of the histamine content that they allow in the bottle. They don’t want to lose their export/import licences (like Tiparos – no longer allowed to export to US). Therefore there has been a widening gulf between the traditional product and the product you can buy in EU/US/etc. There has also been a likewise widening gulf between domestic production and export production. This accounts for many of the ingredients variances in some brands, where a local asian store might have imported domestic branded production which would not pass export branded controls. The effective fermentation density of nam plaa is within a fairly tight envelope, so the easiest way for histamine content to be controlled is to cut the anchovy extract (in this case fermentation extract) with brine, reducing the overall strength (read protein content, aka flavour) of the product. Thailand for instance no longer allows for the export of what would be super premium grade domestic production.
    2) Nam Plaa is a product made from dead animals, and again in the modern world there are a whole new swathe of regulations and regulators that get involved with anything to do with dead animals. You cannot export dead animal products to the US/EU/etc. without proving that you are a responsible operator, and this means that you have to love paperwork. Now it takes a certain type of business to deal with paperwork, inspections and licences. In general the businesses that are able to do these things are prioritising business, not flavour. For instance the EU regime for the importation of dead animal products is absolute – every production unit that wishes to do so undergoes inspections, audits, every shipment is accompanied by certification. When a production facility is asked to make changes to their process in order to receive certification they do so in order to maintain their sales, flavour of the final product can often be a casualty. Big inspection regimes like big business, and vise versa due to what is called the barrier to entry. The bigger you have to be to get a licence, the less of you doing it, so the competition decreases. Houses in Thailand used to make their own nam plaa (or the evil cousin, pla raa) in a big earthenware pot, not many of these production units are going to get health certs.
    3) Fermentation time is critical to the traditional process, it takes time for the right bacteria to flourish. This is a process that is going to take an oily, meaty fish and turn it into a amino acid packed liquid. Time allows the multiple reactions required to make the product to happen in sequence and to ‘complete’ each phase of the reaction. However it wasn’t that long ago that science got involved and, in the name of efficiency, started to discover that you could take shortcuts by adding in boosters – mainly concentrated proteases and enzymes. When you first taste accelerated fish sauce (try nearly any Filipino brand, but there is one in your review) you should be able to identify it by ‘depth’ – surface very fishy, nowhere near as much going on below. It is quite hard chemically to separate accelerated from natural (i.e.hard to test) but there are obviously huge benefits to a producer if they can put out a fish sauce in half the time and get paid the same money, so lots do. See if the bottle has a fermentation time on it, but don’t always believe the label :)
    So that’s basically why you are never going to be able to get ‘real’ fish sauce if you are buying in the US/EU. Due to the smell and the saltiness most of the businesses involved in fish sauce reckon that western consumers won’t notice the difference, and you only have to look at some of the protein contents on the shelves to see that they are right.
    and btw,
    There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the Romans/Cartaginians got there first. That is a real western expectation that belittles the reality. They might have been leaving a written record, or been able to industrialise production like can be seen at a number of Roman sites, however it is much more likely that the products were developed independently. The use of fermentation as a technique to maintain nutritional content is found nearly everywhere that the weather was too warm and sometimes wet for any other method of preservation. It is hardly difficult to believe that two cultures managed to discover independently that if you loaded up a pot with oily fish (mackarel / anchovies / herring / tuna heads) and filled it with brine and left it for a year or so the resultant liquor was delicious.
    Your tasting method was close to correct, but it lacked rigour. You do have to incorporate the way the product is used in your methodology. Fish sauce is by and large used as a seasoning, and in this lies the key, because we ‘add seasoning to taste’. In normal usage an asian cook will add a dash / a splash / a few shakes and will then taste the dish and add another dash / splash etc. In this way the dish is seasoned. Remember that fish sauce is not just used to add the stunning flavinoids and natural glutamates of fish sauce, it is the primary source of salt in asian cooking. So different fish sauces with different protein contents and different salt contents are going to have different impact on the dish. Our taste buds are not good at dealing with a product like fish sauce – a seasoning – especially one which is so heavily loaded with twin hitters like umami from the natural glutamate and salt from the brine. Also there is a major cultural divide between the west and the east when it comes to seasoning. In the west there is a belief that the chef knows best but in the east it is readily accepted that everybody has a different palate. Some people might like their food saltier / sweeter / hotter. I remember being stunned by the level of customisation instructions being given to a top award winning asian chef – with no resistance whatsoever. Palates differ. In many asian cultures this is easily dealt with by putting the primary flavours on the table, allowing the diner to customise such as at a noodle shop, where the condiments pots sit in the middle of the table, with fish sauce (salt), vinegar (sour), sugar (sweet) and chili (spice). So how do professional tasters compare fish sauces – standardise either the protein or the sodium for true sommelier style tasting. Pure fermentation liquor is actually useless to taste, as our taste buds just can’t handle it so we need to water it down to allow the complexity to be understood. The boiled pork example quoted above, or steamed rice allow for the fish sauce to be tasted as they will be used. You also have to remember that the two primary impacts of fish sauce in a dish are the glutamic content and the sodium content, but the first and most powerful thing you will experience when tasting fish sauce like you did is the smell. Tasting like you did your noses got involved in the activity, and noses are extremely powerful taste devices, heavily influencing the ‘taste’. This would be the main difference between tasting a wine and tasting a fish sauce – wine is supposed to be drunk by the glass, with your nose stuck in it while fish sauce will contribute (virtually) nothing to the aroma of a dish. So if you want to taste fish sauce, plug your nose (some people probably think this is a great idea anyway).
    And finally I have to disagree with the concept of putting fish sauce in the fridge. Yes, it is certainly true that oxidation over time will break down some of the glutamic acid that contributes to flavour, but it is much better to leave the bottle beside the cooker where it will be remembered to be used in everything and then the oxidation problem doesn’t have time to occur. Leave it in the fridge and it will stay in the fridge, in which case it will end up oxidising anyway. Fish sauce can be used to improve the flavour of most western cooking, just cut back the salt. Even the Romans discovered that.

    • Quyen 7 years ago

      Thank you, Rock, for your informative and thorough explanation of the traditional and the modern manufacturing processes of making fish sauce. Now I know why I liked Tiparos so much and why I can no longer find it in the U.S.

    • Ben Lewis 7 years ago

      Thanks Rock, for detailing another example of “risk” triumphing over flavour in fermented foods, an all too common story.
      I have appreciated fish sauce for 15 years and sadly witnessed the decline of quality. In Australia it has beenobvious with the introduction of additives, sugar is now almost universal, but even more suss additives like MSG are becoming common.
      I think an important message from Rock’s fish sauce essay is the enormous variation WITHIN apparently identical product lines. This fact would explain the avid defence of products ranked low in Kyle’s evaluation. Only yesterday i spied two bottles of Squid brand side by side at my corner store ( a large and a small) the small was much darker, lower protein, extra sugar and sodium compared to the large! I purchased the big bottle.
      In my experience as a consumer in Australia, if you want the good gear, trawl the obscure corner Asian stores and read the labels, if you cannot read the label, you might be on to something! otherwise one must go on holiday to Thailand and bring some back duty free.
      While i do have access to good quality products like Red Boat on the internet, i also like variety.. we don’t ask people who appreciate wine to drink only Penfolds Grange 2011.

      I think i will raise awareness in my own circles by hosting a blind tasting of accessible products using a method similar to that of Kyle’s.
      Good Fish sauce is important. Rise up consumers and fight against the erosion of our basic human rights to consume fermented fish!

  60. Ruby 7 years ago

    I am fish sauce producer from Phu Quoc – Vietnam. Your test is quite true, in my opinion. I have not tried Bliss but all the reason why Red boat is ranked the best – not because of its price but also the quality. Red boat fish sauce is made following the way of a real Phu Quoc fish sauce : it is the process of many things combined: the best anchovy fish sauce (that can be catch only at Phu Quoc – Vietnam) + pure sea salt + wooden barrels + technique + time of fermentation period (at least 14 months) => the colour is beautiful, the smell is very good and the taste is excellent.
    Usually Thai fish sauce is made using mixed many kind of fishes (the smell is not good) + cement tank + short time of fermentation
    Any thing you want to know about fish sauce, you can ask me then. I am willing to share.


    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Ruby, I’m going to be visiting Phu Quoc in a couple weeks. Red Boat is going to be showing me around the island and how they make fish sauce. I’m not sure how much free time we have, but you should email me:

  61. Quynh 7 years ago

    We were happy when we found Red Boat in a Chinese grocery in the area but not long. Still have more than a half of the bottle in kitchen. Taste is good but we are pretty sure it contains MSG even thought it is written that there is no MSG. We all have allergy to it.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      It does not have added msg. Moreover, there no such thing as an msg allergy. Countless studies have been undertaking that have proved people aren’t “sensitive” to msg. Those people that thought they were had the same reactions to a placebo. For instance? If you were indeed allergic to msg, you would be allergic to mushrooms, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, steaks, etc. these all have high levels–like fish sauce–of glutamic acid. Aka, “msg”.

      • Quynh Nguyen 7 years ago

        Maybe you are right. “Allergy” is not a correct term. About number of studies which have proved people are not “sensitive” to MSG, you can find not less studies which have proved that MSG is not good for health if you live in Europe. Many Asian restaurants in France have “No MSG” notice on their door. I know US people is OK with MSG.

        We have these symptoms: cold sweat, head ache, thirsty, rigid neck, weary back, a strange taste lasts on tongue for many hours every time having food cooked with MSG. Same symptoms with Red Boat. None of these problems if food has only natural flavors (also home-made fish sauce with salt only).

        There is a test you may want to try. Put a little fish sauce of some brands on little dishes and check what you see after a few hours. You could also ask for opinion from a chemist what a liquid from salted fish and fermented for more than 1 year should become in this test.

  62. rl reeves jr 7 years ago

    You have lost your damn mind. MSG is not the cause of your ills. There have been hundreds of reports done on that fake malady.

    • eyeo 7 years ago

      I disagree that there is no such thing as a msg sensitivity. If something has added msg I can feel sweats, a headache, etc. I think this more has to do with msg being chemically produced is different than naturally occurring msg. Maybe the concentration? I don’t know, but I feel it physically. Things like seaweed, fish sauce, etc. don’t bother me. I’ve tried to use Mexican “seasoning” such as maagii and each time I’ve felt sick using it. I kept trying to use it to rule out it being something else making regular rice & beans and each time it produced the same symptoms till I stopped using it. I don’t have any mindset about things and eat just about everything, but if something has added msg I just feel sick. I’ve cut out a lot of processed foods which contain MSG because of this. I don’t think it is just my imagination :/

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

        All those that were tested with placebos said the exact same thing. Hard to argue, but study after study have proved its all psychological. MSG is also not necessarily “chemically” produced. It’s made by a process of fermentation of corn; so it’s derived from natural products/process, and not synthesized.

        • TGM 7 years ago

          MSG is found in tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, potatoes, mushrooms, and many other vegetables and fruits so unless these people who claim to be MSG free must be eating grass, hay and wood pupls . Also, Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of the common amino acid glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is naturally present in our bodies.

        • Jason 7 years ago

          Could it be a question of concentration levels as eyeo suggested. For me, it’s either msg or preservatives, I’m happy to say it’s either, no heart beating or headaches, I just flat out fall alseep. And before you suggest, it’s not a quantity issue, a small bowl of pho shouldn’t induce a ‘sugar coma’. Something is affecting people, and to say it is just psychological is frankly rubbish. I can eat a plain bag of potato crips. If I eat salt and vinegar flavoured or cheese falvoured, I need to go find a place to lie down. It’s not a coincidence….

  63. rl reeves jr 7 years ago

    Read it when it published. msg may very well be good for you.

  64. Quynh Nguyen 7 years ago

    MSG is still using in food industry. As Kyle said, there are countless articles to support MSG usage published on media, both in popular and scientific channels. Besides, there are also researches about the bad sides of MSG which are being published around, mostly in Europe and Asia.

    Question: do researches, which support MSG, have conducted on both, people who are using MSG and people who have not used MSG for a long time? Never seen clearly this part of research methodologies.
    Web: Health Information, article “MSG – a silent poison”.
    Web: Canada Health
    ” Le MSG est-il sans danger?
    Cependant, chez certaines personnes, la consommation de MSG peut provoquer des réactions de type allergique ou une réaction d’hypersensibilité. Des exemples d’effets que peut provoquer la consommation de MSG chez ces personnes sont: une sensation de brûlure, une sensation de pression faciale, des maux de tête, des nausées et des douleurs thoraciques qui se manifestent environ 20 minutes après la consommation pour disparaître deux heures plus tard environ.”

    (…However, MSG consumption can cause allergic reactions to sensitive people such as feeling burn, pressure on face, nausea, chest pain …)

    There are numerous articles like these in English, French and Vietnamese.


    * Larger doses of MSG have been found to cause symptoms. But those portions are unlikely to be found in restaurant or in grocery store food. After reviewing the evidence in 1995, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put MSG in the same “generally recognized as safe” category as salt and pepper.

    * In Asia and Europe, people are avoiding to have MSG in their food. Many Asian restaurants in France have “NO MSG” notice on door.

    So, people still have choices: use or not use. Food industry really do not like it. In VN, they are paying journalists to write good things about MSG.

    I have stopped using it for at least 25 years, after a Chem class in which MSG was mentioned.

  65. Preston 7 years ago

    Hi there, I wish for to subscribe for this web site to take latest updates, thus where
    can i do it please help.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Very bottom and f every page there is a newsletter subscription. Input your email there, and you’re good to go! Thanks.

  66. Ted GM 7 years ago

    I totally agree with your assessment of the survey. I also agree that drinking a spoon full of fish sauce does not determine how it will inhance the food when the fish sauce is added during cooking.

  67. DT 7 years ago

    Personally, I think you should cook with the fish sauce that you or your family can handle. Also, I cannot see putting up one country’s fish sauce over another. I would think that the fish sauce reflects the palates of the people that produce them. In general, I find Korean food salty and bold and that’s fine for Korean people. I find Vietnamese food light and fresh, and a bit sweet. So, I cannot see a super-salty fish sauce as complementary to Vietnamese cuisine. It’s the same with super-sweet, chemical-tasting American snacks not being palatable for people in England. I disagree with the approach of comparing fish sauce like they are some sort of fine wine. You know there are grades of quality, but unless you’re a nation that produces them, why bother trying to rate them? Westerners, namely Americans, have an obsession with sugar and the top 3 on this list all had a sweet or caramel finish. You have a sweet tooth. When it got down to Tiparos, it was knocked down in rating for the saltiness. Westerners are fighting high-blood pressure and high-salt anything is deemed bad. In my opinion, this list reflects American food obsessions, and the ratings are meaningless. Now, if you could say, ‘this fish sauce is better for scrambled eggs’ and this fish sauce is better for soup and why, I would probably listen. Otherwise, a commonly used fish sauce that your tastebuds like – salty, sweet, bitter, or balanced – for your own everyday or occasional cooking is probably just fine. Truly, they all taste like salt and have an odor. Since none of these brands are more than $10 USD, then not one of these is any more special than the other. I hate this divide and conquer crap! What are you so arrogantly trying to prove?

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      If you have something to say, do so with your name–not hiding behind initials. Otherwise you’re just another nameless troll. I’d be happy to address your comments then. You make a lot of wrong assumption here.

    • JtothaK 7 years ago

      Lol, DT. That is some classic Euro-trash trolling! Love it! As if objectively tasting fish sauce to find the best is offensive. Apply that logic to food and we should all be eating at McDonalds.

  68. mike conigliaro 7 years ago

    2 months ago you mentioned you’d be in VN. wondering about your visit to Red Boat. or is it posted somewhere else?

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Mike, Indeed. The trip was great. We were there for most of October. I will be posting a lot more about the trip, as well as a tour of the production process for Red Boat and making fish sauce in general. Look for that sometime in January. If you click the Snapshot link in main navigation, you can see a bunch of the photos I posted from the trip. Stay tuned.

  69. lucie 7 years ago

    well, well, well.
    white boy knew soon much about fish sauce huh? that’s sounds funny to me that’s all I can say

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Funny enough, it’s likely that I know more than most. I’ve made several batches myself, and I have spent weeks in Vietnam on phu quoc island with Red Boat; doing everything from fishing for the anchovies to tasting and bottling sauce in the barrel house. I have had the opportunity to learn a lot about how it is made commercially and classically. The color of my skin shouldn’t be a factor in my capacity for knowledge, right?

  70. Lada 7 years ago

    Squid brand usually used when fried something.This is the reason why Thai restaurant use it.

    Squid(smell strong)-fired rice or pad kra pao(Thai Basil Chicken/Thai Basil pork).

    Tiparos-Stir fried vegetable,stir fried cabbage,papaya salad and all thai dishes.

  71. Joe 7 years ago

    I live in Bangkok and In my travels through Thailand and Vietnam, my favorite fish sauce has been Vietnam’s Hanh Phuc.

    I’ve never seen Red Boat for sale in Vietnam. Export only perhaps?

    It’s clear that Vietnam takes fish sauce more seriously, as indicated in this article.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Joe, Red Boat is the brand name for non-asian markets. In Vietnam, it’s sold as Hang Nuoc Mam Phu Quoc. It’s a brown craft paper label with a sort of fish swimming in a circle design, if I recall correctly. I was just in Vietnam in October and spent a week with Red Boat.

  72. STEVE S. 7 years ago

    No one will drink pure fish sauce. Most people use fish sauce as a flavoring agent and in low and miniscule quantities. When one adds one or two tablespoons, even three tablespoons, of ANY brand of fish sauce to a pot, one cannot tell the difference between the various brands.

    The author favors a particular brand of fish sauce over others. That’s fine and he is entitled for his opinion. But at the end of the day, I challenge anybody to blindly pinpoint the brand used in their cooking. Simply stating, you cannot tell the difference. So, just use the brand you like and suits you the best.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      One could say the same about wine… but any good cooks know that you cook with good wine, not bad wine. The flavor comes through. Moreover, there are lots of different applications, like nuoc cham, which is on the table of every Vietnamese meal. It’s only fish sauce, water and lime/vinegar. As that is one of the primary uses of fish sauce, you can damn well bet that the quality of the sauce matters.

    • JtothaK 7 years ago

      “No one will drink pure fish sauce” Actually I do like to drink fish sauce by the tablespoon as I like to taste my food, ingredients, etc. while I cook. You should try that sometime in general and especially with fish sauce as there is a HUGE difference between Red Boat and say, Squid brand…HUGE. Like the difference between a PBR and Pliny the Elder.

      At any rate, I use fish sauce predominately for noodle dishes that has a LOT of fish sauce added (lot less dilution than a pot of sauce). And I can definitely tell a difference between Red Boat and Squid. Your point may be somewhat valid when talking about a large pot of sauce but what’s the harm in having a clearly better ingredient? I found the large (23oz) bottle of Red Boat 40n in my local Viet Hoa for $6. Could I have paid $2 for a bottle of Squid? Sure but again, why pay less for a clearly inferior product that will last at least a year? Running a food truck? Maybe stick to Tiparos to reduce operational costs but otherwise, BS excuse. Reminds me of restaurants skimping on quality ingredients because their customer’s “won’t notice”. Those restaurants don’t last long because folks DO notice. Especially when your customer’s palate’s have progressed beyond spaghettios and most other restaurants DON’T skimp.

      In the end, all of our palates are different and some folks would prefer a PBR to a Pliny the Elder. No harm in that just takes acceptance of preference for an inferior product.

    • Chris 5 years ago

      Steve, I’m half-Vietnamese & as noted in my earlier comment, was always brought in to taste test my mother’s Nước chấm. This meant tasting it straight, usually from a teaspoon, to check the balance of sweet, salt, acid, and dilution. You can learn a lot about tasting ingredients that are meant to be used in small amounts in dishes.

      Having said that, you’re a fool if you pay good money for fancy fleur de sel (salt) — it’s impossible to distinguish one salt from the other once they are incorporated into a dish. I suppose on something /very/ simple (a potato chip or crisp) it might make a difference, but not on anything more complicated than that.

  73. RS 7 years ago

    Thanks for posting this taste test, it was really fun to read. I’m an Italian guy who loves SE-Asian food but has never put too much thought into the various qualities of fish sauce. I’ve only ever used one fish sauce in all of my years cooking Viet, Filipino, and Thai food because it’s usually the cheapest: Squid brand! Agh! Who knew!?! I’m going to the Asian market tomorrow to look for something a bit better. Looking forward to a small taste test of my own. Thanks for the info :) ~RS

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Glad to hear it. I’d encourage you to taste a couple side-by-side, and have someone else pour the tastes so you don’t know which is which.

  74. tim hoang 7 years ago

    It’s a bit confusing. In the group photo, you show Viet Huong 3 Crabs brand. But in individual test result, that brand is not assessed. Instead, you evaluated Red Boat brand 2 times (one with 50 N and one with 40 N). And these test samples are very limited compared to all brands available in the market.
    In Canadian market, Viet Huong 3 Crabs brand is the most expensive and considered the most nose-friendly fish sauce.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Uh, look again. It’s in the summary at top (stars) as well as a full review toward bottom of post. I think you skimmed too quickly.

  75. Dungvtq 7 years ago

    Why there’s no Chinsu or Nam Ngu fish sauce- The best sales in Vietnam?

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      These were only brands available in the US. We did not test brands outside US.

  76. Don Lowery 7 years ago

    Hey Kyle. I realize this post is old but I thought I would put this here. I tried 3 brands you don’t have listed above and consider them worth a look. Son fish sauce, 9999 and 5 crabs. They are all good but I list them in that order for a reason. Son has two grades – a 40 degrees N and a 33 degrees N. The 40 N has 4 grams of protein per serving (1 TBS) – like red boat. 9999 touts their brand as being 40 degrees N and theirs is 3 grams of protein per TBS. 5 Crabs is an oddity to me because it has only 2 grams of protein per TBS but it tastes amazing – very mellow and flavorful and yet better than 90% of the other brands. 2 grams of protein is about average for every brand you tasted above EXCEPT for Red Boat and BLis.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Don, Old but still very active. I’ve tried 9999. I was not entirely impressed. Same with 5 crabs. But Son is quite good. On par with Red Boat. A high-quality fish sauce for sure.

  77. Skip Tamm 7 years ago

    I want to make panchetta, but want it leaner than regular. Can I use thinly butterflied pork roas, wrapped into the pork belly tommakeit leaner? I will brine both the pork belly and the pork roast thinly filetted) then rolled and tied normally. Do you think this can be done safetly?
    Skip Tamm

    BTW, i make my own sausage, pastrami and pigstrami (using boston butt)

  78. Stephen Lewis 7 years ago

    Kyle, very interesting article! Have you tried Shrimp Brand, made in Thailand? I can e-mail you an image of the label if you’re interested. I purchase it from a small Thai grocery store in Hollywood. This is the brand preferred by my favorite Thai restaurant in Thai Town (Los Angeles). Reading the label, I see it does contain sugar and MSG. I really like it but I’ll have to do some tasting comparisons of my own. Red Boat was recommended by a friend of mine as well so I’m anxious to give it a try.

  79. Tina FranK 7 years ago

    I appreciated your value time to issue the test of 13 types of branch name fish sauce.
    I wander if you can take time to answer my question about the:
    Fake fish sauce; I heard about “someone” who made fake fish sauce by just using
    the “so called real logo fish sauce of any branch name” then fill up with just water and “a magic-poison-may be-chemical liquid drop or solid crystal” that will have the task of the desired “branch name”. How to distinguish between the real and the fake one.
    I have always concerned about that but do not know if the FDA aware of it. How do we get the FDA involve.
    Thanks you in advance.

  80. Sandy Van 7 years ago

    Do you know if these sauces are ethically sourced? I know a lot of the anchovies are fished by slaves from the countryside – specifically Cambodia and Burma. Before I choose a fish sauce, I want to know where the fish is coming from. I don’t want to eat something at the cost of slavery. I’m Asian and I’ve just started making my own fish sauce since I can’t figure out where my sauces come from. BTW, I grew up eating Three Crab Sauce and Tiparos – personally I enjoy those. Thanks!

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Sandy, I know for sure that Red Boat is. Since this article, I have been to Vietnam, visited Red Boat, spent a week with the owners and event went out on the fishing boats with the workers. Moreover, speaking to all of the workers, they are all extremely happy to be able to work for “Mr. Cuong”. All in all, a lot of great people in the operation. As for the other brands, I have no direct experience, so I cannot say with authority.

  81. Aaron M 7 years ago

    Im sitting here in my supermarket office in Darwin, Australia doing price updates on all our asian grocery lines and was wondering about all the different fish sauces. My favorite is the Five Crabs brand (66% better than Three Crabs, no doubt!) but we stock most of the ones you tried.

    I make Pho quite often for family and friends and went through a stage of trying different brands, but have settled on the Five Crabs brand over the years. Tiparos is common here and I like it too especially for nuoc cham when the relatives are begging for the pork and prawn spring rolls.

    This article has given me a bit of insight and I will try a few others and see how I go. Thank you for this article.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Happy to hear it. Buy a couple brands and taste them side by side. You may be surprised how different they are.

  82. Gina 7 years ago

    It depends on what type of food I’m cooking. If it’s Thai or Vietnamese, its either Red Boat or Golden Boy. If it’s a Filipino dish I use Rufina patis from the Philippines. Though Filipino fish sauce needs to be tempered in terms of how much Tbsp to use compared to other brands. How come you didn’t test Korean and Filipino fish sauce?

  83. Tan 7 years ago

    Thanks, Kyle, for the review. For the brands I have used (Squid, Viet Huong Flying Lion, Shrimp & Crab, Three Crabs) I agree with you on the tasting notes. I used them mostly in cooking instead of using salt. For dipping sauce, either diluted or straight, I use Phú Quốc Khải Hoàn 40N”. It has the same tasting notes as the Red Boat in your review.

  84. Tom 7 years ago

    Thank you so much for this report. I don’t know how you have the strength to communicate with some of those commentators; if they are not happy with your test why don’t they get their asses off the sofa and make one of their own instead of making stupid remarks, huh huh.

  85. Daniels 7 years ago

    Thanks Kyle. I have learnt a lot from your review. I am in Singapore. You have been professional in all ways. And so have been your responses and test methodology. Yo were clearly aware of the test perimeters. Well done.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 6 years ago

      Thank you, sir. Did our best, all considered. I appreciate the kind words.

  86. Chieko 7 years ago

    I have Son 33° (organic, aged 1 year, virgin press) and Squid. For some things, Squid is fine. Others, Son 33. Depends on what I’m making.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 7 years ago

      Son is an excellent product too. Comes from Son Rae island a bit north of Phu Quoc. They are a family with a great history of making good sauce.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 6 years ago

      Son makes a very high quality sauce. And the family that owns the operation are good people. I still prefer Red Boat, but Son is excellent.

  87. Hugh Nguyen 7 years ago

    As a Vietnamese who lives in America, I do think that red boat is easily the best tasting fish sauce/nuoc mam that people can find in an Asian market. And I have tried them all Squid, three crabs, etc. However, the quality control in Vietnam is terrible, and now ,with all the fish die-offs happening in Vietnam, I would never use it. Even phu quoc does not have any fish die off, it would not be wise to assume that none of those fish ending up in your fish sauce. That being said, I use thai fish sauce now. The taste may be not the best, but I can trust their quality control more.

    • QNg 7 years ago

      Don’t worry. All fish sauces on market today are artificial which made from water, suger, MSG, super MSG and preservatives.

      This is an investigation by Vietnam National Television.

      A true nuoc-mam’s ingredients are only fish, salt and sunshine. We have started to make fish sauce at home.

      • Author
        Kyle Hildebrant 6 years ago

        It’s true that many are. But not all. I spent a lot of time at the Red Boat facility last year. We went fishing and I’ve witnessed every step of the process. They catch black anchovies, salt then as soon as they are caught, then put them in barrels. I’ve drank he sauce right from the barrel. It’s really quite remarkable.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 6 years ago

      I can tell you with certainty that Red Boat fishes right off the island. In fact, a year or so after this was published I visited them in Phu Quoc. We went out fishing and I saw every aspect of production, from fishing, to salting, to sorting to bottling. We spent about a week together. I can’t speak to other brands, but I’m now intimately aware of how Red Boat operates.

  88. Jerry Ball 6 years ago

    I think you have been a bit too hard on Squid. I have been recovering from a Vegamite dependency and I find a squirt of Squid with a touch of lime helps me avoid regressing.

  89. luckystriker 6 years ago

    Very interesting article. Though, from the perspective of a Thai, the thought of taste-testing Nam Pla is very strange and makes me want to throw-up a little. Most of us just use the brand that we grew up with, and judging from the answers I received from my work colleagues sitting nearby, some of us don’t even know what brand that would be! Also, in Thailand, there isn’t really such a thing as “premium” Nam Pla. The only one that I can think of is a brand called Megachef, which is part of the Squid Brand umbrella. They market as a “premium” Nam Pla without a strong Nam Pla aroma. I’ve used it, but seriously, once you use Nam Pla in cooking it’s all the same isn’t it?

  90. Alain Vo 6 years ago

    Thank you for your deep test. I would like to know if you made laboratory chemical test to see what exactly inside the brown liquid, not only the test of the colour, the taste, ingredients listed and original country.
    I am very surprise to see you gave good note to Viet Huong 3 crabs, Phu Quoc Viet Huong flying lion and Shrimp & Crab. Do you know these brands were owned by Chinese from China with office in Hong Kong and imported fish sauce from Vietnam, Thailand, Philippine by container at the cheapest price and bottle in Hong Kong? They mixed and add on kind of saver, colour, chemical product to enhance the taste, the color? also they bought the brand name Phu Quoc so no one can use the name Phu Quoc anymore? A national Vietnamese brand name owned by a group of oversea Chinese, do you think it’s correct? We need to boycott all Chinese product around the world, specially dirty foods.
    As an importer of Nuoc Mam since 1975 in Montreal, I tried all kind of Nuoc Mam for our daily use and for taste I like Huong Vi Viet brand. Hai Yen is the one I like.
    I hope one day, any one can make a chemical test to see what inside the sauce, then I will trust more than only the taste, the colour. Same like Vietnamese coffee, they mixed all kind of grains other than coffee, adding all kind of chemical product including quinine to enhance the flavour, the taste and the color. Is it safe to drink Vietnamese coffee? I say NO!

  91. Myla Manitas 6 years ago

    Hi Kyle! Have you tried Cat Hai? I am intrigued to that since Andrew Zimmern refered it as the best. I have red boat and crab and shrimp but just wondering if you like it just as much with the other ones… Thank you! Appreciate your review and bought my first ever red boat

  92. Nam 6 years ago

    Phu Quoc fish sauce is also most expensive among them. In order to have this fish sauce, the workers have to work harder. It needs to be fermented for long time ( year) , then worker keep open ,and close the roof of fermented containers to let the undesirable smell gets away, finally, only the unique smell of Nuoc mam retains. In the process, a high amount of water also evaporates, which leads to high concentrations of Nitrogen total( around 30%) in Phu Quoc Nuoc Mam, where as the squid brand or 3 crabs contains only 20% Nitrogen total !

  93. D Money 6 years ago

    I agree. Red Boat 40N is simply the best fish sauce you can buy state side. I’ve heard you can get some amazingly better fish sauce over there from the source in Phu Quoc, and I’ve even heard of people stocking up like mad and bringing these back here. That’s a bit too much for me.

    Anyways, thanks for doing this.

  94. heidi 6 years ago

    Thanks for this review! i’m a little disappointed, i just bought Megachef hoping it would be awesome… I have had redboat before, 40 and 50 N, but i don’t recall it being that much different from the others that we used, however, i was new to fish sauce when i originally used it for cooking.

    I think it might be worth another try. I typically use squid.. hahaha wonk wonk.. maybe time to upgrade.


  95. Lora 6 years ago

    Hi. I’m going to go with the fish sauce that only uses SEA SALT as an additive and not IODIZED SALT. I just read this. Informative and interesting. Thank you.

  96. nowmon 6 years ago

    I am a viet nam vet. And ,there in 1969 I ate a lot of VN food in tay ninh. So when I got home I had a taste habit[umami] for fish sauce,The mama san said ,phu quoc fish sauce was the good one. I tried most all of them and your blind test showed to be like my personal likes. I`ve been using “double gold fish”-phu quoc for all my cooking and Red boat for table use.After 48 yrs. using nuoc mam, I`m a happy camper…….

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 6 years ago

      Awesome. Thank you for sharing. And thank you for your service.

      • IAC. 2 months ago

        Having run out of “Red Boat 40N” recently, I picked up a bottle of “Three Elephants” from Thailand.
        The Ingredients listed are-Anchovies, Salt, & Sugar (<1 gram @ 2%); with a Protein level of 2 grams.
        Purchased at a local Asian Supermarket, the only references I can find are Sales on Ebay/Amazon.
        Besides Affordability, my other Criteria was "fewest Ingredients possible". I don't recall the Price, but it tastes Red Boatish-ish, so I think I hit the Mark on this one !
        As another Article stated, a pinch of Sugar to balance Flavor is okay, but IMO, once you see Fructose etc, MSGs & Caramel Color; put the Bottle back on the shelf !
        Thanks for a great Article, and BTW, unlike other Commenters above; I agree with your Test Methods !

  97. Brian 6 years ago

    I recently started dating a Thai lady. She is a great cook, but I struggle to warm up to fish sauce. She has confessed she has not been using the best. She is not a fan of Three Crabs, and she winced at the idea of Squid Brand. I’ll try and find Red Boat here on the east coast. I’m determined to give fish sauce a fair shake. My spice heat tolerance has improved markedly.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 6 years ago

      Give it a go.

    • Sam 5 years ago

      Brian, if you don’t like the smell of fishsauce then you should try Tiparos. Once cooked or used in dressing, you just notice the umami flavor and not the pungent smell. My husband hates the smell of fish sauce but loves my Thai salads. He has a very sensitive nose but does not mind it at all. Good Luck

  98. Dear Kyle,

    Thanks for the great work.
    May I just understand that the panelists are Asian people and taste not localized yet?

  99. Doug 6 years ago

    Squid brand is awesome and it’s my default fish sauce. It tastes food when mix in with the correct ratio among other ingredients in Asian dish (not suppose to drink it straight or use as dipping sauce as Vietnamese style fish sauce!!) In general when you use Thai fish sauce in Thai style cooking it’ll be fine. I use the squid fish sauce in Thai curry/ fried rice/ fried noodle/ stir fry and it’s good. A lot of the Vietnamese style fish sauce is designed as dipping sauce / mix in after the food is cooked or douse on grilled dish during last minute of cooking. For Squid fish sauce you really have to cook it.

  100. Hubi 5 years ago

    I tried to find more info on fish Sauce in General and stumbled over this amazing review and test. After reading through all comments I am too a little puzzled that Squid made last. From what I have seen all around the world, it is a pretty well-known and liked brand. When cooking I only use very little and results have been great so far. Red Boat is available here in Germany too (with a hefty price tag), so I’ll give it a shot soon.
    Great Website by the way. Has immediately been bookmarked since I also am a big fan of Sous Vide cooking and other kichten/cooking related stuff that seems to be well covered here. Keep up the great work!

  101. colman nowmon colman nowmon crawdaddyrev 5 years ago

    Here is a new one for me,it top line not expensive too.GOLDEN SHELL,nouc mam nhi. and it says 1st press on bottle.made in PHAN THIET. This is on par with red boat but it has its own flavor that gets you umm -ummin…..

  102. Mike Truong 5 years ago


    Since March of this year I started to make mackerel based fish sauce from the fresh mackerel I caught at our local piers. I used a ratio of 4:1 (fish : salt) and it seemed to be the perfect saltiness for myself and most of my friends. However making fish sauce can be an expensive endeavor if you do not have access to freely available fish as it take roughly 10 pounds of freshly caught, un-bled, mackerel to make 2.5 liters of fish sauce. At a normal market price of $2.99 a pound that is $30+ to make fish sauce. However the satisfaction of having your own fish sauce made the way you want with only the ingredients added are fish and salt is hard to put into words. Plus my friends are all happy to receive the 1 liter bottles. The only problem now is that I have about 30 liters of fish sauce and I have no idea what to do with..:-)

  103. Janny 5 years ago

    Dear Kyle ,

    Hi ….. have you heard about Chinsu Nam Ngu fish sauce from Masan Group in Vietnam ? The factory is located in Phu Quoc island ? Have you had a try on it ?

  104. Thanaporn Promyamyai 5 years ago

    I am Thai, born in Thailand, before I moved to US. In Thailand we use Tiparos fish sauce for many years. When I come to US I continue use Tiparos. We don’t use fish sauce too much, only one or two teaspoons in cooking. We like Tiparos very much and we buy in Thai market plastic bottle. I also try Golden Boy brand fish sauce. I like very much.

  105. ROC 5 years ago

    I wasn’t too familiar with fish sauce when I started cooking with it a few years ago, so I simply started by perusing the ingredients. I ended up with Tiparos, because it was the least expensive fish sauce that had no chemical additives. I haven’t regretted my purchases over the years.

    I might try out Red Boat when my current bottle of Tiparos runs out.

    Thanks for the great post.

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  107. Jonas 5 years ago

    Hey Kyle.

    A new Danish brand hit the market this year, and is by far my favorite.
    check it out

    my wife from Thailand almost only use this brand aswell now.

  108. Mike 5 years ago

    I’ve been using Mega Chef fish sauce on all my recipes now for 4 years now, and I must it is the best fish sauce of them all, hands down. I’ve tried other fish sauces, but they don’t compare.

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  111. David McGregor 5 years ago

    Hi, Kyle

    What about Thai Kitchen’s Premium Fish sauce? I’ve compared it against Squid and 5 Crab and I think it’s easily better to drink after a hard day.

    Thanks for the great post

  112. Phil A. Rivara 5 years ago

    There is no 4 Crabs brand because Four is bad luck in Asia. The Chinese pronunciation play on the number means “die”

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 5 years ago

      Yes, and excellent point! Every time traveling to Asia us white folk get rooms on the fourth floor. :)

  113. K D 5 years ago

    I bought a bottle of Red Boat a couple weeks ago because everyone says how good it is. It smells like 2 week old roadkill, and does not taste of fish or the ocean in any way. No umami. Waste of money

  114. Eric Forat 5 years ago

    Your particular bottle might have been badly treated (ex: left in the sun) or even opened by a customer someplace, because Red Boat is, in fact, one of the best brands of Nuoc-mam in Viet-nam!
    BTW, Nuoc-mam never tasted “of the Ocean”, but of very pungent fermented anchovies!

  115. Sam 5 years ago

    Hello, I tried but didn’t read all the comments, since there was so much. Not sure if someone has already pointed this out. I am Thai and my go to fishsauce is Tiparos for all around multi purpose use, for cooking and dressing Thai salads. As I look at your comparison of saltiness, I am shocked at Tiparos being rated as high salt and other fish sauces such as 3 crabs being rated as low salt. One of the reason I love Tiparos is its lower salt content. I can get the umami flavor with about half the sodium as other leading fish sauces without having to use more of the Tiparos. Tiparos has 680 mg of sodium per 1TBS, where as other leading fish sauce start at around 1400 mg per 1TBs and as high as 1800 mg (3 Crabs brand). For people who need to keep their sodium intake under control this is a great way to be able to enjoy Thai food on a regular basis. However, I agree with many of the commenters that different kinds of fishsauce are needed for different cuisines. I can not use Tiparos for Vietnamese cuisines, because they tend to dilute their fish sauces with water, so you need a Vietnamese style fishsauce such as 3 Crabs that has a higher sodium content, but I would never use it for Thai food.

    • JRamsey 5 years ago

      Excellent points Sam

  116. Chris 5 years ago

    You gave Red Boat 50ºN a 4-star rating in the table, but 5 stars in the expanded review. May want to correct that.

  117. LA 5 years ago

    Ridiculous article. Trusting Farang tastebuds to tell Thai, or Lao people what is good. Squid is all I know of any Thai people ever using. Guess we should have asked this guy! LOL

  118. lion 5 years ago

    Got Squid brand because it was the only thing within 10 miles, at a reasonable price. It smells bad but is indistinguishable from the childhood memories when mixed with food. Grew up with Lucky brand.

  119. Joseluis Recca 4 years ago

    I don’t understand why anybody would like or even defend cheap, blatantly over-processed, fake, full of MSG and colors, and overall disgusting things like the Three Crabs and Golden boy etc. The people who’ve been defending these brands either work for these, or have something called Acute Stupidity. We’re supposed to learn, not regress. Move on. These brands don’t even desserve to be in this article since they can barely be called real food.

  120. Murray Pearce 4 years ago

    My observations as an Australian chef and I have lived in Vietnam for many years.

    Phu Quoc is heavily into marketing its own brands. Fish sauce usually anchovies, salt and maybe sugar. But of course can be made from any seafood protein. Squid brand is ok – ages well. Depends on how fish sauce used – do you really need an expensive bottle? Do you need some aroma or background flavour(umami) or salt? If at the start of cooking – like caramalised fish recipe. Or at the end, or as a dipping sauce.

    Fish sauce from Phan Thiet – Mui Ne in Vietnam is famous and well worth trying. Many micro fish sauce factories.

    Vietnam is really trying to get good QA – I have talked to students and company people – as you can see here from the comments it has had bad press. hihi

  121. Pimsurang 4 years ago

    I am actually Chinese, but was born and bred in Thailand. However, my both parents were from HK and we moved here to the U.S.A. when I was already a young adult. With that said, as Asian we do eat Thai/Chinese food every meal and I have mastered my Thai/Chinese cooking from my mom and her BFF; who is a pure Thai. Indeed, as for Thai food fish sauce is a main ingredient and Chinese is a thin soy sauce in which it is totally different than the Japanese soy sauce. I was googling for Pantai Norasingh/fish sauce shrimp brand this morning and I came across your article. I did read the entire article and all reviews, and I am not bias here but you did not include this brand to the blind tasting test though. Anyhow, I know a lot about fish sauce because I have tried many brands you mentioned and I have to say I do agree with you that those earned three stars or less are not and will not have a spot in my pantry. As I mentioned above I love Pantai brand and have been using it for years because it is not stinky at all whether I’m adding it in my curry or just eating straight with hard boiled eggs and steamed rice. Now as for Chinese; Cantonese food I don’t use fish sauce (FS) to cook it with but the thin soy sauce (SS) except when I was experimenting certain dishes. I don’t even care if that FS is $10 or $1000 per bottle I just don’t use it. For example Cantonese porridge or wonton with egg noodle (especially w/o soup) pure Chinese will never add FS to them because it will ruin the original taste of these dishes. Furthermore, It goes the same with Thai papaya salad we don’t use thin SS and FS is a must in this dish and it has to be a good FS too. If you added let says Squid Brand then might as well throw that salad directly to garbage disposal. My point is, your article is a very good one, however, it just won’t work with folks who have been using their brands for years or even generations. Of course they are going to defend for their brands even though they may not relate to those brands period. I used to live in L.A. and i have access to may brand of the FS now I am living in DMV area i can’t find my Pantai brand and i have been searching in tons of Asian markets and no one carries this one. So, I am going to step out side of my comfort zone and to try the best two brands you mentioned. Although, I have never seen these two in any markets around the DMV but I will order via Amazon.

    Thank you for the article though and I do appreciate it.

    • Ben 4 years ago

      Hi Pimsurang, I absolutely 100 percent agree with you that the Pantai Norasingh Fish Sauce is definitely one of, if not the best I have ever tasted. And I have tasted nearly all fish sauces made in Asia. I am Filipino and it is available here in the Philippines although a lot of groceries or supermarkets somehow don’t carry it. Their mushroom soy sauce is also outstanding in its flavor and in cooking too. If you find this brand wherever you happen to be, I highly recommend trying it out. It is one of the most incredibly flavorful and aromatic fish sauces I have ever tasted in both direct taste test and for cooking in all my 58 years of eating Asian dishes that lists fish sauce as a primary ingredient. You will not be disappointed.

  122. Pimsurang 4 years ago

    I apologize in advance for any typos and grammars.

  123. Leanivy 4 years ago

    Totally agree with your comments about the “nuoc mam”. Nowadays, people use it often but a lot don’t know what is really good and true “nuoc mam”.

  124. Felix 4 years ago

    I think you are misrepresenting what Harold McGee said about the origins of fish sauce. You are saying that modern Asian fish sauces are descended from garum, a Roman product, indirectly implying that fish sauce was invented to Romans. However, there is no evidence of this. Please quote your sources accurately.

  125. Heather 4 years ago

    Thanks for this article, and for doing all of these taste tests! I’m here as part of my forensic analysis of the god-awful Pad Thai my husband made last week. Bless his heart, he left out the dried shrimp, he used tamarind concentrate instead of tamarind paste, the wrong thickness of rice noodles, and most relevant, he used Megachef fish sauce. I’ll be making a proper Pad Thai using one of your highly recommended fish sauces. Heading out to peruse some local Asian grocery stores, and again, many thanks. I look forward to reading more of your excellent blog!

  126. Peter 4 years ago

    The difficulty with this taste test lies in the unrealistic method. Fish sauce isn’t a drink. Nobody ever consumes fish sauce on its own. It is always mixed with other ingredients and/or used in a cooked product. So I am distinctly sceptical of the notion that testing brands in plain form is going to produce a reliable barometer of their quality in a real cooking situation.

    Testing fish sauce by consuming it “neat” is naturally going to favour brands that are not as strong (thereby making them more palatable when consumed straight up) and have flavours that are perceived to be more delicate (regardless of whether those delicate notes actually make a difference to a cooked product). Unsurprisingly, the most disdainful comments in your review are reserved for those with a particularly “pungent” or “offensive” aroma and taste. I note that you did not go on to test the low-rated sauces in real-world cooking situations, which further diminishes the reliability of your method.

    For these reasons, I am not prepared to assume that people in the comments defending brands like Squid or Three Crabs are blinded by nostalgia. The more likely hypothesis is that they appreciate those brands through experience of how those brands can be incorporated in their cooking, as opposed to testing methods do not replicate real-world uses.

    • Missy 4 years ago

      I agree with you Peter. I am still using Squid on a regular basis and find it does a great job – although I think it is a little more watery than it used to be. I usually use it for cooked dishes like Chilli Basil Pork/Beef/Chicken, Larb, etc but I also use it in dressings for Thai and Vietnamese Salads and have found it performs well in all of them.

  127. Dave 4 years ago

    I was wondering in the years since this article was written have you happened to compare Tirapos to Lucky Brand? My restaurant supplier has changed up their stock a little and now my options are only 3 Crabs, Lucky Brand, or Red Boat 40n. Since I am using this as an ingredient in recipes I would prefer to avoid high end brands like Red Boat where a case of 6/8.45oz bottles costs me $40, whereas I can buy a case of Lucky Brand (Ive never used it so I am unfamiliar with the taste) has a case of 12/23oz bottles is only $15. Just from labeling I am gather the Lucky brand will be drastically weaker to Red Boat, but I am used to using Tirapos in my recipes which leads me to wonder about the comparison of those 2 directly.

    • Quyen 4 years ago

      I have used Tiparos for decades. It is a great tasting, economical, all-purpose fish sauce. I’m in the US and have tried most of the brands in the market. Also, a great mid-range one is Hai Ngu 40*N–rich in flavor but not as pricey as RB.

  128. Isaac Horton 4 years ago

    I must say this is a great review of fish sauces and after years of trial and error on my own, I have strived for the best tasting and authentic flavor of true thai food. In the early years of my tests, I would go to the local oriental market and the only brand they had was Three Crabs. In all my early tests, I was dissatisfied with the flavor. I thought it was metallic and and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong until I finally started ordering fish sauce from other stores. For me Tiparos was the clear winner and I was surprised by how many people continue to say that Three Crabs is good. Ive broken up with girls just because they like Three Crabs, haha. Let’s get real, fish sauce choice is more important to me than political affiliation or what kind of music my girlfriend likes. I’ve yet to try Red Boat, so I’m excited to get some and give it a whirl based on the similar sentiments I have to what you wrote Kyle. Thanks so much for giving an authentic review of the major brands.

  129. pandi 4 years ago

    Where did you get the Red Boat 40 N for $6.95 for 500 ml??? On Amazon, it costs $16.95

    • Wade Patton 3 years ago

      I found a bottle down in big city for nine bucks.

  130. Mandy 4 years ago

    Do you store your fish sauce in the fridge after opening, I was recommended to do so by a Vietnamese Chef? Your thoughts

    • Quyen 4 years ago

      No, I do not. As long as the bottle is sealed so there’s no evaporation, fish sauce will keep for a long time at room temperature. However, refrigeration will not be bad for it, either. Not sure if I need to tout my work experience and formal education here just to recommend storage of fish sauce, but I do have the relevant credentials. LOL.

  131. AshleyC 3 years ago

    Wow, this is the first blog post I think I’ve ever seen that the discussion at the end out paces the size of of actual post probably 10 to 1. Who’d have know that fish sauce would be so polarizing?!?

    What a fun read and i can certainly appreciate your extensive taste tests. About a year ago I came across a new-to-me fish sauce and it quickly became my favorite. Outpacing even Red Boat 40*N in taste and value. If you ever see a bottle of 3 Mien Premium Fish Sauce 40*N, get it!! I can no longer find it at my local Asians marts and looking for it online produces almost no results. The single correct pic I find is a person holding a bottle of it in front of a big sale sign for $3.99. I believe I paid $4.99, but it was fantastic and if I ever find it again, I will be stocking up. It is also a first-press/extraction fish sauce, a la Red Boat, from Vietnam with only anchovies and salt listed. It has a superb round flavor of salt, umami fish, with the right amount of natural sweetness. Pure heaven when it comes to fish sauces.

  132. Wade Patton 3 years ago

    I’m not done with the comments yet, but done for the day. Thank You Kyle for your research, work and writing skills in the taste-test as well as keep up with these comments. I happened to have three sauces here and re-tasted them all. Yup, Tiparos is the best I have on hand. I’ll be finding some Tra Chang for my next bottle. Also thanks to the many fine comments and continued conversation. I’ll have to look around and see what else goes on here.

  133. Volker 3 years ago

    Interesting piece and comments. I’m using Squid for more than a decade simply at a recommendation from a ex co-worker who’s married to a thai woman, for some years the city I live now has sadly no asian grocery what so ever, I have order everything online, my supplier was running out of Squid and the brands that are widely available here in Germany are besides Squid are Megachef Tiparos Oyster + Healthy Boy [all thai brands]. I’m glad I found this comparison, I chose Tiparos and it’s way better than Squid and has an equal price. I stay away from the Red Boat 40°N simply because it’s at least 6x more expensive and harder to source and the other vietnamese brands are nowhere to find.

  134. Andy Tran 2 years ago

    Fish sauce tasting ? Only for people who eat foods with fish sauce since their childhood such as Vietnamese, Thailander, Cambodian, Laotian, Filipino, Burmese.
    Soy sauce tasting ? Only for Chinese, Japanese, Korean.
    There are many testings from Vietnamese/Thailander chefs but they are NOT consistently since they have different tastes and choices.
    The majority of fish sauces are from Vietnam and Thailand. The producers buy wholesale fish sauces and then make their own products (with additives such as sulfur dioxide, monosodium glutamate, caramel, saccharin, natural flavorings).
    There are 2 kinds of fish sauces: salty and light salty. Salty for cooking and light for direct eating.

  135. Anna 2 years ago

    The idea of an “objectively best” sauce seems to sort of miss the concept that cooks often tailor the taste of their dishes with the traits of particular ingredients in mind. If you’re using a certain person’s recipe, I recommend using the brands that person uses. Even though in taste testings of many products people complain about musks etc, many dishes are actually made with that particular flavor in mind/as an essential component.

    So—for example—if you make Maangchi’s kimchi recipe with red boat vs 3 crab (which I’ve done), the former comes out with a sort of flat taste (She uses 3 crab for her recipes.) Its missing that 3 crab musk. There are a lot of Hawaiian recipes made with Aloha shoyu in mind/taste best with Aloha shoyu, but Aloha shoyu isn’t considered “good” shoyu by many “objective” standards since it contains gluten etc. You can’t really say that a dish a person normally makes with 3 crab will always be improved by using red boat instead. It’s just not how cooking works. “Objective” taste metrics like the ones you listed don’t really account for the imagination of the chef.

    I’m actually not sure on what authority the assertion “Good fish sauce should be fish and salt, nothing more. While it will smell like fish, it should not stink or smell foul.” is being made. It appears to be un-cited. Perhaps this is the case in your opinion, but you state it as if it is a fact—which it is not.

  136. Fish Sauce Expert 2 years ago

    This article isnt recent at all, but I know you don’t have people being bougie about fish sauce. I’m southeast asian and moved to the US as a young girl in the 90s. Most SE Asians will be divided between Three Crabs and Squid. Mega chef has also become popular because it’s not as fishy and is sweet (as you mentioned) which cuts down on how much sugar you add in the recipe….since most recipes require sweetness to balance. Red Boat tastes like homemade fish sauce that some people in my home country would make. Personally, Squid is the best for cooking or adding to personal bowls of soup because you need very little to get a super strong fish flavor. Mega chef is my favorite for eating plain, like with a fried egg and rice. 3 crabs is saltier and works best in dipping sauces. Many homes will have more than one bottle because different recipes will need a different brand according to what it offers. Sorry colonizers, but you got it wrong with this article lol

  137. John 2 years ago

    I agree with everyone who said the author doesn’t have enough experience cooking with fish sauce or that is palate is subjective. My wife and children are Kadazan from Sabah, Malaysia, I lived in Singapore and Malaysia for 20 years, cook all kinds of asian food extensively, and our favorite is Squid Brand. We used this in Sabah frequently for Phad Thai and making Kim Chi. In Malaysia there are many brands from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Philippines, and all seem relatively good for cooking. We returned to US and recently tried Red Boat and found it tasteless. It wasn’t salty or fishy enough for Phad Thai. I would guess part of the differences are due to culture of origin and would guess also that suppliers supply and sell overseas what is popular for the western palate.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 2 years ago

      At what point does one cross the threshold of “enough experience”? 5 years, 10. 40? Asking for a friend.

  138. I am truly grateful to the owner of this site who has shared
    this wonderful article at here.

  139. kitcheniest 2 years ago

    I have used the regular Red Boat fish sauce for years and love it. I was intrigued by this product and ordered it when I ran out of fish sauce. I know you are not supposed to smell fish sauce (the regular one does not bother me at all) but this one smelled like old socks. I added it to a stir fry and it had a very distinct taste, not umami AT ALL. Maybe my bottle went bad but it seemed sufficiently sealed with wax. Save your money and stick to the regular stuff, it’s so good!

  140. Precious Belga 2 years ago

    I agree with tiparos being the best buy! I like that it is not too salty and can be perfect with matching with any dish that I like!!! It suits any filipino dish, thai and viet dish too!!

  141. Bob 2 years ago

    Thanks for the great article; and the comments are helpful, too.

    I have used and enjoyed Red Boat 40N for several years, having moved up from brands that I now see are rated lower in your article.

    Nam pla and nuoc mam are often suggested as substitutes for garum (ancient Roman fish sauce) in ancient Roman recipes. I recently tried Red Boat in making a nam pla-based sauce for fried shrimp from one of these old recipes and found the taste and aroma to be good, but the salt taste from the Red Boat was much too strong (I even used less nam pla than the recipe called for and still felt smacked by the salt.)

    Do you have any suggestions for in effect reducing the salt level in Red Boat? I added extra olive oil to the recipe for the nam pla sauce for fried shrimp but all that did was elevate the olive oil taste without reducing the salt taste.

    Thanks for any information or suggestions you can provide.

  142. josh 1 year ago

    I can totally understand why people don’t like fish sauce – it can be pungent, and is literally made with ‘spoiled’ fish. I am amused by the tasters’ comments on the Squid brand stuff – “pungent and off”, “this does not taste good at all”, “tastes like it smells”, “fake, musty old newspapers”, “Ick”, “easily the worst yet”. While I’ve seen the author argue that some people like it for nostalgic purposes, I’d argue that your American palate has probably led to such a strong reaction to that stinky fish deliciousness. The ingredients are literally anchovies, sugar and water, and any ‘off’ flavour is clearly from the ‘off’ fish in the sauce. Bear in mind that this is stuff that’s used on most street food stalls in Thailand, and you’re liable to come across many an incredible meal hopping between stands.

    I’m by no means arguing that Squid is the best brand – I have a bottle of Red Boat that I use when I’m stir frying cabbage or making nam chim thale, but I (and most of the Thai population, it seems) happily use Squid daily. On top of that, millions of foreigners visit Thailand every year and fall in love with som tam without getting those ‘fake, musty old newspaper’ notes you’re getting. Can you see why the taster comments are amusing yet?

  143. Phuc 1 year ago

    This reminds me why I never trust white folks when cooking Asian dishes.

    • Jp 11 months ago

      Good point Phuc! I make it a point to never eat at an Italian, French, Russian, etc restaurant that employs Viets in the kitchen. Inauthentic! I don’t want Vietnamese people trying to culturally appropriating those cuisines. Well now that I think about it, not just Viets – maybe just “no non-White’s need not apply for job”, they should put up in the window at European restaurants. But then wait…should a French person be able to work at a Russian restaurant…? No! Appropriation! Let us all retreat to our respective enclaves. Progress! Now tha’s sarcasm, my sad little friend!

  144. Beck and Bulow 10 months ago

    Love this article and it’s very insightful for us as we are serving the nation with meat delivery services.. am thankful to you

  145. Bechef 5 months ago

    I cant even stop my self to have it.

  146. Jain Sauces 2 months ago

    This is a great comparison, thank you! Super informative.

  147. IAC. 2 months ago

    I recently ran out of Red Boat 40N, and so bought a bottle of Thai Three Elephants Brand at a local Asian Super Market.
    Aged 12 months, it’s listed Ingredients are- Anchovies, Salt, & Sugar (> 1 gram @ 2%); with a Protein Level of 2 grams / 20 %.
    The only mention of the Brand is its Sale on Ebay/Amazon.
    I agree with another Article I’ve read that said a little Sugar to balance Flavor is okay, but if you see High Fructose C.S., Hydrolized blah blah, or Caramel Color; put the Bottle back.
    I don’t recall the Price, but it was not the most expensive Brand on the shelf. And having only 3 Ingredients, and tasting Red Boat-ish; that’s okay with me !

  148. chad 2 months ago

    sorry no Korean reviewed.
    Uses a different fish, not anchovy.
    I like’n use exclusively just due to this f. profile.
    – -Chad

  149. Robert 3 days ago

    I agree with this review even 9 years later! My wife uses Red Boat exclusively at the table and prefers to cook with Tiparos for cooking. I found that I like the taste of New Town just as much as Red Boat at the table and I buy it whenever I can find it ( not very often ) for as low as $1.50 and up to $4.00 per bottle. My wife won’t even try New Town, claiming Red Boat is the best at the table (our kid thinks they taste the same, loves them both). My wife tends to use my New Town for cooking instead of Tiparos which frustrates me because I can’t find New Town very often in stores. One note is New Town changed their ingredients a little a few years ago but still has the same taste!

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