Fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce both have their origins in Asia, and they do have some flavors in common. That said, you will want to learn more about these two sauces before you choose one over the other. This SPICEography Showdown has a closer look at both of them.
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How does fish sauce differ from Worcestershire sauce?
Fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce are made differently and with different ingredients. Fish sauce is simple, it has two ingredients: fish and salt. For better quality fish sauces, only one kind of fish is used, but most kinds will include multiple kinds to lower the cost.
To make it, the fish and salt are combined and fermented for about six months. The two ingredients are stirred every day. Over that time, they break down to make a slurry that is strained and bottled as fish sauce.
Worcestershire sauce is a combination of various spices along with anchovies. The exact mix of spices is kept secret but is believed to include garlic, shallots, and tamarind. How long the fermentation lasts is another trade secret.
The different ingredients mean that fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce have different flavor profiles. Fish sauce can be complex but is also overwhelmingly fishy and salty if you were to consume it on its own. Its effect in dishes is that it provides a powerful umami note. Worcestershire sauce is tangy with complex savory seasonings and a little umami in the background.
Fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce differ in their appearances. The color of fish sauce varies from deep amber to medium amber similar to apple juice or honey. Some versions can be cloudy, but most of the bottled ones found on grocery store shelves in the West are translucent. Worcestershire sauce has molasses as one of its ingredients, which is largely responsible for its dark brown color.
Fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce differ in popularity. Fish sauce can be found affordably in some well-stocked Western-style grocery stores, but the greatest variety of fish sauce will still only be found in Asian markets that cater to a South Asian demographic. Worcestershire sauce is widely available and can be found in most grocery stores in the West. It is also usually quite affordable.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Fish sauce on its own won’t make a good Worcestershire sauce substitute in most cases. It has a complex umami flavor, but it lacks the distinctive mix of tanginess and spices that you would get from Worcestershire sauce.
If all you wanted from the Worcestershire sauce is its umami, then you could use fish sauce in a marinade or sauce to get some of that flavor. You can mix it with lime or lemon juice to make the condiment known as nam prik pla and which has some of the same flavor notes as Worcestershire sauce.
Worcestershire sauce can provide some of the umami properties of fish sauce in a pinch but aside from that, it doesn’t taste much like it. Its flavor is too tangy and seasonings are too noticeable for it to blend into the background like fish sauce. In addition, it lacks a strong salty profile.
When should you use fish sauce, and when should you use Worcestershire sauce?
Use fish sauce when cooking Southeast Asian stir-fries and grilled dishes. It is also a great addition to marinades and as a part of nam prik pla.
Use Worcestershire sauce for Western preparations including in marinades for English roasts and American barbecue sauce.