With a long-lasting history, ‘Nuoc Mam’ (Fish Sauce) is an indispensable part of Vietnamese people’s life and culture. No one can imagine a Vietnamese meal without fish sauce, similar to a Korean dinner lacking kimchi. Vietnam fish sauce is used not only to taste the dishes when cooking but also to prepare dipping sauces. The culture of using fish sauce in most meals of Vietnamese family has been available for hundreds of years.

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Nuoc Mam’ (Fish Sauce) is an indispensable part of Vietnamese people’s life and culture

Fish sauce is the soul of Vietnamese cuisine, which creates a distinction between ours and those from other countries.  Furthermore, some people suppose that fish sauce may turn food from everywhere in the world into Vietnamese style. In details, any course of China or France with the presence of fish sauce can become a Vietnamese dish. Therefore, the value of fish sauce is unique in the culinary arts in particular, and in the strong vitality of Vietnamese culture in general.

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Fish sauce is the soul of Vietnamese cuisine

Fish sauce is also a symbol of solidarity and sharing in Vietnamese meals. Typically, the fish sauce is placed in the middle of the tray when serving. Despite its small size and not a delicacy, everyone is aiming for this dish to bring more love to the family meal.

What is fish sauce?

According to the shared understandings, fish sauce is the water extracted from fish, shrimp and some other marine animals which were salted a long time for fermentation. It is widely used in the cuisine of Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand, for making dipping sauces or serving as spices for cooking.

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Fish sauce is extracted from fish which were salted a long time for fermentation

In scientific terms, fish sauce is a mixture of salt and amino acids that are converted from protein in fish meat through a process of hydrolysis. Such a process has the enzyme system available in the fish gut containing an anaerobic bacteria with salt tolerance.

Ingredients for making fish sauce

Depending on the cultural characteristics of each country and region in the world, the way of making the fish sauce, as well as the taste of users, are different.

In some countries like Vietnam, Thailand, China, and so on, fish sauce is usually made from salt, fresh anchovies and water to create salty and savory taste. But people in Cambodia prefer to use dead fishes to marinate.

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Fresh anchovies is the main ingredients for making fish sauce

In Greece, producers also add some additives to fish sauce to increase its “high-class” level and create the typical flavor for each type of flavoring. Exceptional additives may include wine, honey or vinegar.

Although there are variances among fish sauce came from a different country, the two main ingredients that make up the essence of fish sauce are irreplaceable, fish and salt. Thanks to the fermentation process when marinating fish with salt, it helps to reduce the fishy smell and create a vibrant and attractive flavor for fish sauce.

See more: How to make vietnamese fish sauce

Distinguish natural and industrial fish sauce


Fish sauce has two basic types: traditional and industrial fish sauce. Here are the characteristics to distinguish them.

Type 1: Traditional fish sauce

Traditional fish sauce is made from fresh anchovies and salt, then proceeded to incubate to get the core product. The delicious core fish sauce will have very high protein content and can be served with hot white rice. It may sound strange to you. However, for many experts in making the traditional type, the delicious fish sauce should be served without adding any spice. Also, you can feel its exquisite taste but when eating.

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Incubating fish sauce in large barrel

Vietnamese people used to produce fish sauce by traditional methods. Artisans who make this dish perennially stated that the secret of making delicious traditional fish sauce depends entirely on the quality of ingredients, weather conditions, natural temperature, experience of mixing salt along with the fish incubating time.

In Phan Thiet, artisans only believe in using scad fish “cá nục” to make fish sauce. Meanwhile, the primary materials in Phu Quoc can be anchovy, sometimes combined with scad fish. Differently, people in Nha Trang only select anchovy as the primary material. Because of the change in the quality of ingredients, fish sauce in each region also differs in protein level, color, and taste. Traditional fish sauce is produced from batches of anchovies. Provided that they were raised in different marine environments, the same quality of generated fish sauce may vary.

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Fish sauce extracted after incubating time

Natural fish sauce has an umami and salty taste deposited in the tip of the tongue and stalk when tasting. But the taste of the industrial fish sauce is brackish and bland.

However, the disadvantage of the traditional fish sauce is the long incubation time, high protein content and salinity, instability in uniting quality of products with large quantities. These shortcomings led to the birth of industrial fish sauce

Type 2: Industrial fish sauce

Industrial fish sauce was created by the rising consumer demand that traditional fish sauce cannot meet. Firstly, in terms of price, industrial fish sauce is much cheaper than the traditional one because they are made by production lines on a large scale. The second thing we should mention is about product quality. Although the quality of industrial fish sauce is not as rich and delicious as the traditional one, it gives consumers the harmony in every meal with the mild aroma.

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Fish sauce is manufactured by modern industrial chains

When it comes to industrial fish sauce, we should know about the generation of products manufactured on modern industrial chains but still retained the traditional incubation method.

When learning deeply about industrial fish sauce, the majority of consumers will wonder what its main ingredient is. Frankly, this is a factor that determines the quality and safety of the product.

By the production technology of many enterprises who manufacture fish sauce meeting the current industry standard, the primary ingredient of this product is the core fish sauce produced by a traditional method or purchased from traditional producers.

After that, the experts will adjust this source regarding the salinity and protein level to ensure safety for consumers.

The production process of standard industrial fish sauce should be closed according to international standards and must achieve the safety index set by each country.

Distinguish fake fish sauce

Here are some points used to identify fake fish sauce as well as critical factors for consumers to choose a safe fish sauce bottle.

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Distinguish fake fish sauce through color, protein level, taste


Choose bottles with the yellow or amber color. It is completely natural if the bottles become slightly dark in color after opening. Do not buy fish sauce bottles with the crust at its bottom.

Many people think that the amber color of fish sauce is the result of an industrial colorant. However, this is the color of traditional fish sauce that is naturally incubated according to the compression method in the wooden barrel. The fresher a fish is used, the darker such amber color becomes.

When the fish sauce is dark black or dark green, it might be fermented by using spoiled fishes and impurities combined with the stirring method and having fast incubation time.

Besides, light yellow fish sauce can be diluted fish sauce or synthetic industrial option.

2/Protein level

According to the concept of the ancients, the higher the protein in the fish sauce is, the better its quality is. This is not wrong, but it is not entirely accurate. However, according to nutrition experts’ recommendations, users should only use fish sauce products having the protein content within the permitted level.


Normally, a delicious and safe fish sauce product will have a very distinctive aromatic flavor. When tasting, it firstly has a mild salty taste and slightly numbness at the tip of the tongue. After that, it will gradually have a sweet felling in the throat as the fish source is delicious and fresh. The tasty fish sauce should be fleshy, harmonious between sweetness and saltiness, having a mild aroma.

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