Anchovies are small, tender fish known for their briny, umami-rich taste. They’re used in a variety of dishes, from Caesar salad and pasta sauces to pizza toppings and meat marinades.
But not everyone is a fan of these salty little fish, and sometimes they’re simply not available. You also might want to avoid anchovies if you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
In this article, we’ll explore the top 9 anchovy substitutes (including vegan options) that you can use to replace anchovies and anchovy paste in recipes.
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1. Worcestershire sauce
Worcestershire sauce is a fermented condiment that originated in Worcester, England, crafted from ingredients like vinegar, molasses, anchovies, tamarind, onions, and salt.
It delivers a unique flavor that’s tangy, slightly sweet, salty, and packed with umami, along with a hint of spice. Worcestershire sauce melds smoothly into dishes despite its bold flavor, amplifying other flavors instead of overshadowing them.
Worcestershire sauce can be a great substitute for anchovies in Caesar salad dressing, as well as marinades and pasta sauces. The anchovies in the sauce provide a similar umami punch and briny depth to dishes without the need for whole fish.
For each anchovy filet in a recipe, replace it with a 1⁄2 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce to start. You can always add more if needed.
2. Shrimp paste
Shrimp paste is a fermented condiment made from ground shrimp mixed with salt. It is commonly used in Southeast Asian dips, curries, and stir-fried dishes.
With a depth that comes from the fermentation process, shrimp paste is intensely savory, salty, and umami-rich, and has a very strong, pungent aroma.
When used as a replacement for anchovies or anchovy paste, shrimp paste is a bit stronger and more pungent, but it can provide a similar umami kick and won’t alter the texture of your dish.
Due to its strong flavor, you’ll want to use shrimp paste sparingly. Substitute each anchovy filet in a recipe with ¼ teaspoon of shrimp paste.
3. Fish sauce
Fish sauce is a condiment made from fermented fish (usually anchovies) and salt. It is commonly used in soups, salads, noodle dishes, and curries in East Asian and Southeast Asian cuisine.
Despite its strong aroma, fish sauce imparts a subtle depth of flavor when used in cooking. It has a distinctive flavor profile that is salty, fishy, and umami-rich, with a slightly sweet undertone.
A few dashes of fish sauce can mimic the briny, savory flavor of anchovies, enhancing sauces, soups, stir-fries, and marinades without overpowering the dish.
To substitute fish sauce for anchovies, use about a 1⁄2 teaspoon for each anchovy filet. If replacing anchovy paste, use a 1:1 ratio.
Sardines are small, oily fish that are typically sold canned, although they can also be found fresh. They’re known for their rich flavor
Compared to anchovies, sardines are milder and less pungent, with a meatier, less delicate texture that doesn’t break up as well in sauces and dips.
They can effectively mimic the fishy flavor and salty kick of anchovies, particularly as a topping for crackers, toast, and sandwiches.
However, we don’t recommend using sardines in sauces and dressings because it might negatively affect the texture.
Capers are the small, pickled flower buds from the caper bush, renowned for their tart, tangy flavor that’s both lemony and olivey, with a salty kick from the brining process.
They’re a staple of Mediterranean cuisine, used to dress salads, pizzas, pastas, and fish dishes. You can find capers in the pickled foods section of the grocery store, usually in jars.
Capers are a great vegan replacement for anchovies — they can mimic the anchovies’ salty, briny taste. Just keep in mind that their flavor is more floral than fishy, and they don’t pack the same umami punch.
You can use about 1 tablespoon of capers to replace each anchovy filet in a recipe.
6. Soy sauce
It offers a deep, rich, salty flavor with a pronounced umami character, making it a favorite ingredient to enhance the taste of soups, stir-fries, and marinades.
When considering soy sauce as an alternative to anchovies, it’s important to note that while it can replicate the saltiness and umami depth of anchovies, it lacks the distinct fishy flavor.
However, for vegans and vegetarians, soy sauce can be an excellent choice to add that savory punch to dishes that traditionally call for anchovies. You can use about 1 teaspoon of soy sauce for each anchovy filet.
Miso is a paste made by fermenting soybeans with a mold called Aspergillus oryzae (also called koji). It is known best as a key flavoring in miso soup but is also used in sauces and marinades.
Miso comes in a variety of colors including white, yellow, red, and brown — the lighter colors tend to have a milder taste, while darker miso has a stronger, umami-packed flavor.
Although it lacks any fishiness, miso can provide a similar salty and savory punch in dishes that call for anchovies. You’ll want to use ½ teaspoon for each anchovy filet.
We recommend using miso as an anchovy substitute in marinades, salad dressings, and soups. It easily blends into liquids and can elevate dishes with its unique flavor.
8. Yeast extract
Most yeast extract spreads include other ingredients as well, like flavor-enhancing vegetable extracts and B vitamins for extra nutrition.
It has a salty, savory, and umami flavor that is similar to anchovies, but much milder and not as fishy-tasting.
Yeast extract is ideal for adding a subtle depth and savory flavor to soups, sauces, marinades, and dressings. Use ½ teaspoon of yeast extract for each anchovy filet.
9. Dried mushrooms
Dried mushrooms are simply fresh mushrooms that have been dehydrated to extend their shelf life and concentrate their flavors.
When rehydrated and cooked, these mushrooms release a rich, earthy flavor that, while different from the fishy, salty taste of anchovies, brings a similar depth and complexity to dishes.
They can be used in place of anchovies in recipes like pasta sauces and marinades by finely chopping or mixing with water and grinding them into a paste.
Other anchovy substitutes
If you don’t have any of the other anchovy substitutes we listed, there are a few more you can try. These aren’t ideal, but they can work in a pinch if you don’t mind adjusting the flavor of your dish.
- Kalamata olives are another common anchovy substitute. They can mimic the saltiness of anchovies, but they’re more bitter and don’t blend as smoothly into sauces. We recommend capers over kalamata olives when substituting anchovies.
- Umeboshi paste is a tangy, salty, and slightly sweet condiment made from pureed umeboshi, a type of pickled plum common in Japanese cuisine. It is sometimes used as an anchovy substitute, but it’s not an ideal flavor match and can be difficult to find.
- Maggi seasoning is a popular European flavor enhancer made from hydrolyzed wheat. It has a strong savory, umami flavor, but it’s more meaty than fishy. Worcestershire sauce is a better substitute for anchovies.
- Parmesan cheese has a salty, savory flavor with a hint of umami. It can be an okay anchovy substitute if you don’t like fishy flavors, but otherwise it’s not the best option.
Anchovies are a great way to add a salty, savory, umami flavor to dishes like salad dressings, marinades, pasta sauces, and pizza.
But if you’re not a fan of their fishy taste or have dietary restrictions, the good news is that there are plenty of substitutes you can use to add a similar depth of flavor.
From Worcestershire and fish sauces to vegan-friendly capers and yeast extract, there’s an option for everyone.
The next time you find yourself in need of an anchovy substitute, consider one of our suggestions and see how it works out!
Amy Richter is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Missouri. She is an experienced nutrition writer and medical advisor for Healthline and Medical News Today. Amy is passionate about all things food-related and enjoys translating complex science into easy-to-understand articles.