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Fish Sauce Taste Test, 13 Brands Compared

Fish Sauce Taste Test, 13 Brands Compared

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 StarStarStarStarStar
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 palette
  • 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)
StarStarStarStarStar

Summary:
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


Recommended

Red Boat 50°N Fish Sauce

Red Boat 50°N

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

Summary:
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

Summary:
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

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

Summary:
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

Summary:
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

Summary:
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

Summary:
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

Summary:
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

Summary:
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

Summary:
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

Summary:
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

Summary:
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 Fish Sauce

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

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.

143 Comments

  1. Author
    Kyle Hildebrant 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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.

    • Nguoi Viet To The Viet Nam Me Se 1 year 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 1 year ago

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

      • Minh 1 year 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 9 months 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

    • Bill Foonman 12 months 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.

    • Kortez (@Korteztk) 9 months ago

      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 9 months 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 9 months 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 months 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.

    • Linda 8 months 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 7 months 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 5 months 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 5 months 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 5 months ago

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

    • Ti 5 months 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 5 months 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.

    • Fran O. Cruz 2 months 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 2 months 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.

  2. jamie 1 year ago

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

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 1 year ago

      At your service!

      • rl reeves jr 5 months ago

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

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 5 months 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 1 year 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 9 months ago

        Tiparos is kosher.

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 8 months ago

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

          • Louis 8 months ago

            I actually have a copy of their certificate.

  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). http://www.silkroadgourmet.com/garum-is-umami-in-a-bottle/

    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 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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.

          • 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 1 year 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. 1 year 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 1 year 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 months 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 months 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 months 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 months 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 months 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 1 year ago

    What brands did we miss?

    • nkhuong 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=34030. 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 1 year ago

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

          • nkhuong 1 year 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 http://bourbonbarrelfoods.com/shop/soy-sauce/bluegrass-soy-sauce-32-fl-oz. I am curious about how it would taste like but the price is quite expensive for me.

      • Nga 1 year ago

        Red Boat is available at Eden center now.

  8. Tracey lister 1 year ago

    Great article. Phu Quoc fish sauce rocks.

  9. Pedro Penduko 1 year 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 1 year 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 months 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.

  10. LeAnn Do 1 year 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 1 year ago

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

  11. Tixin 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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.

        • Drakh 7 months 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.

    • Some Body 5 months ago

      lol you’re racist as hell

  13. Minh 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year ago

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

      • Halr75 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year ago

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

  17. Sarah 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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 http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/index.cfm/2014/2/10/How-To-Make-Vietnamese-Soul-Food-Cabbage-With-Red-Boat-Anchovy-Salt

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year ago

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

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 1 year ago

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

  20. Mark 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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 1 year 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.

  22. Danoz 1 year 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.

    Thanks.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 12 months 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 12 months ago

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

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 12 months 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 12 months ago

        I meant in regards to bottling date.

        • Author
          Kyle Hildebrant 11 months 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 11 months ago

    And another use for that magical Red Boat Anchovy Salt: Recipe: Charred Vietnamese Zucchini With Red Boat Anchovy Salt http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/index.cfm/2014/5/12/Recipe-Charred-Vietnamese-Zucchini-With-Red-Boat-Anchovy-Salt

  25. Timothy Regan 11 months ago

    Greetings:

    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.

    Sincerely,

    Timothy Regan, Eureka, California, USA

  26. The Monk 11 months 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 10 months 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.
    Thanks.

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 10 months 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 10 months 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 10 months 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 10 months 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 9 months ago

    Hi!

    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 9 months ago

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

  31. tammy 9 months 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 months 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.

  32. Michelle 8 months 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 months 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 7 months 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 7 months 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 7 months ago

    Wow. Tour de force!

  36. Josie Chang 6 months ago

    Hi,

    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. :)

    sincerely,
    Josie

    • Author
      Kyle Hildebrant 6 months 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 6 months ago

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

  37. Ann Hupe 5 months 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 5 months 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.

    • Ann Hupe 5 months 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 5 months ago

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

  38. GodLikeSuperAmericanBeing 4 months 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 4 months 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 4 months 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 4 months 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 4 months 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 3 months 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 3 months 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 3 months 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 2 months 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.

  44. missy 2 months 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 2 months 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 2 months 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 2 months 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 2 months 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 2 days 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.

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