Learn about the best substitutes for anchovies. Regardless of what you’re making, we’re going to show you which ones to use for best results!
Most people have a love-hate relationship with anchovies. They either absolutely love or despise them. There’s hardly an in-between. Nonetheless, it’s hard to deny that they bring a unique flavor profile to anything you add them to. However, it’s very common to open a small can of them and only ever use two… Neglecting the others in the fridge for as long as time allows. For those cases (or just if you’ve run out of them), substitutes might be a better idea!
So what are we working with then? It depends on what you’re making. Sometimes the best substitute will be Worcestershire sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, olives, fish sauce, and more.
If you’re in need of an anchovy substitute, it’s likely because you already know what you want to make and it calls for some of these tiny fish. However, don’t be surprised to also see pizzas, pasta sauces, savory French tarts, and dips calling for them! They’re pretty versatile as long as you are ready to experiment a little bit but before you start going crazy in the kitchen, let’s take a look at the best substitutes and the dishes they’re best for.
1. Worcestershire Sauce
Surprisingly, anchovies are one of the main ingredients in Worcestershire sauce. That’s why it’s the perfect substitute! If it’s your first time using it though, go easy on the sauce and build the flavor up slowly; otherwise you might find yourself with a dish that’s overpowered with the sauce’s flavor.
What is it good for? Anything saucy like soups, creams, marinades, dips, pasta sauces, stews, etc. Don’t let it change how you feel about Worcestershire sauce. Continue using it as you always have and just be willing to try it out in other recipes as well!
As far as brands go, we recommend Lea & Perrins. They’re one of the original creators of the sauce, meaning that the flavor of their sauce is simply unparalleled.
2. Fish Sauce
If you’re looking to replicate the funky flavor that anchovies give dishes, fish sauce is another great option for saucy food, just like those Worcestershire sauces is good for. Pasta sauce, stews, salad dressings, and casseroles will all benefit from a splash or two of fish sauce. It’s pretty potent, so once again, go easy on it and build up the flavor gradually. If your dish has a delicate flavor, be particularly careful when adding it in because it’s easy to overpower the dish with this sauce.
Thai Kitchen is our favorite high-quality brand, with anchovies being only one of four ingredients on its list.
3. Shrimp Paste
Thai shrimp paste is another great substitute for anchovies. Quite similar in taste, shrimp paste can be used in equal quantities as anchovy paste. If you can’t find any shrimp paste and would like a little DIY project, make your own! Grind some raw shrimp and ferment it with salt.
Shrimp paste is pretty strong in flavor, just like anchovy paste, so keep this in mind when making your dish, otherwise you might end up with a much stronger flavor than you’re comfortable with.
Sardines are an equally fishy substitute for anchovies. However, their flavor profile couldn’t be more different. While anchovies are salty and funky, sardines are mellow and silky in flavor. Thus, you won’t get that same flavor punch as if you used actual anchovies. But when it comes to substitutes, you’ve got to use what you’ve got on hand, right? Nonetheless, if you’re not into strong, invasive flavors, then sardines just might be a better fit for you!
When adding sardines into your preparation, keep in mind that they don’t break up and dissolve into your dish like anchovies would, so make sure you break them up finely unless you want chunks of sardine throughout your dish. If once you add them to your recipe you feel like the flavor is too light, add a splash of Worcestershire or fish sauce to boost the anchovy-flavor. We like Chicken of the Sea.
5. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is another Asian ingredient perfect for substituting anchovies. Although this one has no anchovies in its ingredients, the flavor can come close to it because of its fermentation process. Add it to soups, sauces, salad dressings, etc. It’ll easily dissolve into your food because of how liquid it is, so don’t worry. It’s also super easy to find or you might even have some at home!
Kikkoman is our favorite brand because it’s high-quality and very traditional. If you’re watching your salt intake, they even have a low-sodium version!
6. Miso (Vegan Alternative)
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, miso is the best alternative to substituting anchovies. Due to its fermentation process, it’s quite funky and fishy… Just like anchovies! There are different types of miso and feel free to use whichever you prefer, but our favorite kinds are yellow and red. The extra saltiness and bold flavor they have is perfect when trying to replicate the taste of anchovies!
Let’s not forget that aside from being super flavorful, miso also happens to be quite healthy. Packed with protein, vitamins, and folate, it’s hard to imagine why you’d leave it out of your preparation if you’ve got some on hand! Since it is a paste, we recommend dissolving it in some water so it is evenly distributed in your dish. Otherwise, it’s perfect for soups, marinades, and stews because you can dissolve it directly into the food.
We must reiterate substituting for miso means your dishes won’t really taste the same but you’ll get the same rich flavor that anchovies give off, so it’ll be okay. If you’re not sure what brand to buy, PuroRaw has high-quality miso pastes that we love.
These little things are the perfect substitute, especially on pizzas! If you can’t stand the thought of biting into one, why not mash them and incorporate them into the sauce or whatever you’re making? They have a strong brine-y taste without any of the fish, so these are also a perfect vegan or vegetarian substitute!
However you wish to incorporate these into your recipes, just know that they’ll add a punch of flavor to your dishes! Some people can’t stand having more than a few teaspoons of them, so beware when adding them freely into your recipe because you can easily go from enhancing the flavors to overpowering everything with a caper-like taste.
Mina Non-Pareil is our favorite brand of Moroccan capers but feel free to use whichever ones you can find. If they’re too heavily seasoned, make sure to give them a good rinse before adding them into the dish.
8. Kalamata Olives
Mash them or cut them up into little pieces and add them into your dish for a similar flavor punch. Again, it won’t taste anything like fish, but it’s one of the best vegan/vegetarian substitutes we can recommend because of their saltiness and sweetness. Feel free to add them in equal parts as anchovy paste, but keep in mind that Kalamata olives have a very strong and particular taste, so we always recommend starting with a little bit. Especially if you’re not a huge fan of olives, pay attention to how much of them you add.
Of course, if you want to add a little texture, add them in chunks! Bonus points if you incorporate a little bit of their brine into your preparation as well. Roland Foods has some of the finest Greek Kalamata olives and we just love them!
Frequently Asked Questions
Hopefully you’ve found the substitutes on this list helpful for solving the recipe crisis you were in earlier. While we know it’s not possible to keep every single one of these ingredients on hand all the time, we’re sure you’ve got at least one of these in your kitchen. If you don’t, no worries. We’ve made sure to add a mix of easy-to-find and specialty products so that you can choose whichever one is best for you.
Kalamata olives, capers, and miso are all excellent vegetarian substitutes for anchovies! Seaweed is another option too. We know we didn’t mention it but we didn’t think it packed enough flavor to be worthy of this list. If you’re in a pinch and that’s all you’ve got on hand though, throw it in!
Anchovies are cured in salt and vinegar for a period of time and that’s where the saltiness and their signature taste comes from. As they cure, they absorb some of this salt. That’s why even if you rinse them, they’ll still taste quite salty.
Dijon mustard, minced garlic, ground black pepper, vinegar, and other spices usually go into anchovy paste, so that’s our recommendation if you’re making your own. Make sure to research different recipes and find the one that works best for you!
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