Anchovies are beloved by chefs the world over for their incredible versatility. Even though they sometimes get a bad rap for being overly funky or fishy, they’re nothing to be afraid of.
You can find these tiny fish adorning pizza and sandwiches or lending an umami flavor bomb to dressings, sauces, marinades, dips, and so much more.
However, if you don’t have any or need a vegan alternative, I’ve got 8 anchovy substitutes that deliver the same mouth-watering umami flavor.
Fresh Out of Anchovies? 4 Fishy Alternatives
Anchovy paste is an excellent substitute for minced anchovies in dishes where the anchovy is not the primary meaty flavor.
The paste consists of anchovies combined with olives, oil, and salt.
You can swap out minced anchovy filets for the paste teaspoon for teaspoon in dishes like beef stew or pasta puttanesca. Dishes where the anchovies play a subtle support role.
However, when making things that require more than a teaspoon of anchovies, like Cesar dressing, anchovy paste can be too salty and fishy.
Opt for a different alternative for more delicate dishes or recipes that call for more than 2 teaspoons of anchovies. Or, try using ½ teaspoon for every teaspoon of minced filets.
Shrimp paste is a fermented condiment that consists of ground-up shrimp and salt. With shrimp paste, you’ll obtain a similarly bold and funky taste to anchovies.
For each anchovy filet, substitute 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste.
Use this alternative for applications where you would thoroughly incorporate the anchovies with other strong flavors. It seamlessly melts into stir-frys, soups, stews, tomato-based pastas, and marinades.
Shrimp paste is not the best option for lighter-flavored dishes like atop fresh salads or pasta with butter sauce.
Did you know that Worcestershire Sauce contains anchovies? It’s a fermented liquid condiment made from anchovies, molasses, tamarind, garlic, and other flavors.
Aside from the anchovies, tamarind and vinegar give a tangy flavor that makes this swap extremely convincing.
Substitute any anchovies in a recipe with 1 to 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire Sauce.
And if you’re making a large batch, there’s no need to scale up this ingredient. 2 teaspoons will add enough anchovy flavor for a couple of servings of dressing or an entire pot of stew.
Asian Fish Sauce
Asian Fish Sauce is made from anchovies or other fish that are salted and fermented for up to two years. The inclusion of anchovies makes this substitute a no-brainer.
This is an intensely flavored sauce, so you’ll only need a ½ teaspoon per 1 teaspoon of anchovies called for in the recipe.
I don’t recommend using more than ½ teaspoon because of how intense the flavor is. So if your recipe calls for more than 1 teaspoon of anchovies, opt for another alternative like Worcestershire or soy sauce.
Fish sauce is perfect for dishes where the anchovy flavor plays a supporting role. Try adding it to meatballs, steak marinades, or tomato sauces to create a rounded umami flavor that enhances the meatiness of the dish.
No Fish For You? Here Are 4 Vegan Alternatives
If you’re vegan, vegetarian, or have never tried an anchovy before, I think kalamata olives provide the closest taste.
They have the same ultra briny, tangy, and salty flavor profile as anchovies, minus the slightly fishy undertone. They may add the slightest fruity flavor, but it’s welcome and won’t negatively impact your dish.
You can mash the olives into a paste, mince them, or blend them into any dish that needs anchovies.
Swap out anchovies for kalamata olives teaspoon for teaspoon. If you’re making a recipe that calls for more than 2 teaspoons of anchovies, this is a great alternative that’s hard to overdo.
Similar to kalamata olives, capers replicate the funky and bold taste of anchovies and have the versatility to be used whole or mashed into a paste.
Capers are pickled flower buds from the caper bush and are salty and vinegary.
Use capers to top your pizza, mix them into red sauce, cook them with chicken, or make them into a paste to serve with bruschetta.
You can substitute anchovies and capers at a 1:1 ratio. So, for every 1 teaspoon of anchovies, replace it with 1 teaspoon of capers.
Soy sauce is a great vegan alternative for anchovies that works similarly to Worcestershire sauce.
Instead of the anchovies in Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce is made with fermented soybeans.
Substitute 1 teaspoon of anchovies in a recipe for 1 teaspoon of soy sauce.
Soy sauce is an alternative that you can use when scaling up recipes. So consider the difference in texture between thick anchovies and liquid soy sauce.
You may need to add a bit of a thickening agent like cornstarch to your recipe to make up for the added liquid if you are using more than about 2 tablespoons.
Umeboshi paste may be the most niche ingredient on this list. But if you’re vegan and need a close alternative to anchovies, this substitute is worth making a special trip for.
Umeboshi paste is used in Japanese cuisine, so keep an eye out for it in the international foods aisle in your grocery store, or stop at a specialty Asian market.
It’s made from pureed and fermented ume fruit, a kind of Japanese plum. The taste is not fruity, but rather salty and tangy, exactly what we want from an anchovy alternative.
As a bonus, the ratio for swapping umeboshi paste of anchovies is 1:1, so it is as simple as can be to substitute. Plus, the paste is thick and will not change the consistency of your dish.
Tips For Working With Anchovy Substitutes
There isn’t a perfect replacement for anchovy filets that would be served whole in a dish. Sardines don’t have the same flavor and are much too meaty.
You can modify a recipe that calls for whole anchovies by making a sauce to incorporate into the dish.
Combine any of the substitutes with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and whatever herbs you’d like.
Then, use this simple sauce in place of whole anchovies to dress veggies or citrus salads. Serve it as a spread with charcuterie, spread it on toast, or even mix it into deviled eggs.
The possibilities to up your umami game with these anchovy substitutions are endless.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I substitute sardines for anchovies?
Sardines and anchovies are not interchangeable in recipes because of their difference in texture. Anchovies melt into whatever sauce, spread, or dressing you are making, while sardines are meatier and hold their fishy chunks and texture.
How do anchovies taste?
Anchovies are slightly fishy, but the most significant flavor is umami, salty, tangy, and briny. Kalamata olives are probably the closest thing you’ve tried.
What is a vegetarian alternative to anchovies?
Kalamata olives, capers, soy sauce, and umeboshi paste are all excellent vegetarian and vegan alternatives to anchovies.