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Anchovy Substitute

Choose the anchovy substitute from this list that works for your recipe and taste buds. Whether you’re looking for an alternative to this salty fish because you’ve run out in your kitchen or are wanting similar flavor options, there are plenty of available choices.

open tin with small anchovy fish packed in oil

What Are anchovies?

Anchovies are canned small fish fillets that are salted for preservation and kept in oil. There is not one particular fish that companies use as an anchovy. Instead, it is a variety of many types of fish. The kind of fish used in each brand of anchovies depends on where the sourcing takes place. However, it is typically a fish related to herring in some way.

Most people use anchovies to add a bold taste to recipes. They are great as a pizza topping and mixed in with Caesar salad dressing. This unexpected ingredient is commonly used in sauces like Worcestershire and Asian fish sauce to provide the well-known umami flavor.

An early version of anchovies, called garum, was eaten until about 500 years ago. Garum was a food item of salted fish innards. It was quickly replaced by anchovies once the method for creating these canned fish was learned.

Types of Anchovies

While over 100 different fish species are used for what is known as anchovies, there are only two types of anchovies sold in stores: white anchovies and brown anchovies. In terms of fish, there is no difference between the two. What creates the color difference is how each variety of anchovy is processed.

White anchovies are quickly salted before being preserved in oil and vinegar. This process allows the fish to maintain its natural color. In comparison, brown anchovies are stored in salt for ten months or less. During this time, the fish change from their natural color to a brown hue. After this time frame, the anchovies are packed in oil and then sold in stores.

There is a difference between flavors as well. White anchovies offer a more subtle taste, while brown anchovies have a bold flavor. Allowing brown anchovies to sit in salt for longer brings out the flavor in them.

Best Anchovy Substitute

1. Anchovy Paste

Anchovy paste substitute can work well as a replacement since it is a form of anchovies. These fish are ground into a paste combined with oil, sugar, vinegar, and seasoning to create anchovy paste. Like anchovies themselves, you’ll find a salty, umami taste when incorporating this paste into recipes.

Use this paste as a flavoring agent for sauces, marinades, dressings, and other similar recipes. Keep in mind, anchovy paste’s additional seasoning may not bode well with all recipes.

This paste provides the main flavor notes of canned/jarred anchovies – umami and saltiness. It is easy to find it at most grocery stores in the Italian aisle or Italian markets.

The additional sweetness and seasoning limit the use of anchovy paste as a swap.

Cooking Tip:
Use ½ the amount requested by the recipe as the flavor is quite strong.

2. Worcestershire Sauce

As Worcestershire sauce incorporates anchovies into it, this also works as a good substitute for anchovies. This sauce is sweet, sour, and spicy, leaving your dishes with an excellent flavor. Use Worcestershire sauce when looking to add an umami taste to your recipes. It works well in soups, sauces, marinades, and dressings.

This flavorful sauce was created by two chemists, John Lea and William Perrins, hired by British royalty to recreate an Indian sauce. The initial version had too strong of a flavor, though after aging the sauce by accident, Worcestershire sauce came to fruition. It was brought to New York in 1839 after success in Britain as a steak sauce. From there, the popularity of the sauce continued to spread around the US.

As it’s in sauce form, it mixes well with any recipes that offer a liquid base like sauce or soup. This alternative provides a salty umami taste to recipes like anchovies usually do.

Since Worcestershire offers additional flavors, it does not work well in all anchovy recipes. It’s better to use it in smaller quantities and should not replace anchovies in recipes that require a large amount.

Cooking Tip:
Start with a few drops of Worcestershire and increase to a few tablespoons if needed.

3. Fish Sauce

Here is another excellent alternative to anchovies, as many fish sauces include anchovies as an ingredient. This sauce is much saltier than anchovies as many recipes only have two components – anchovies (an already salted fish) and salt. As anchovies are the main ingredient, the flavor offered is nearly identical to canned anchovies.

You can use fish sauce in nearly all recipes that call for anchovies, including fish dishes. However, this sauce does have a bold flavor, so you’ll want to use a smaller quantity. It’s also best to utilize this alternative when creating recipes without delicate flavors, as the taste can be overpowering.

The origin of fish sauce is debated, with some historians mentioning garum as an early version of this sauce. In Rome, garum was used for a wide variety of recipes – even desserts. Now, fish sauce is more commonly associated with certain parts of Asia like China, Japan, and Korea.

Fish sauce provides a strong anchovy taste to dishes. Use fish sauce for most recipes that call for anchovies, especially those with a sauce or liquid base.

This sauce has an intense flavor which may not work well with all recipes. If you’re looking for an alternative to use as a topping (like pizza), you will want to avoid this option as the flavor will be too strong.

Cooking Tip:
Start with ¼ teaspoon and adjust as needed. You may need to use less salt to avoid an overly salty dish.

4. Shrimp Paste

Shrimp paste is made similarly to anchovy paste. To make it, shrimps are ground into a paste and combined with salt. Then, the paste is fermented before being sold at the store. This paste is typical in Asian-inspired recipes.

Use shrimp paste as an alternative to providing a salty, umami flavor to recipes. You’ll find this paste to have a sweet, intense taste that is best in smaller quantities. Beyond offering an umami flavor, shrimp paste also offers a fish and shrimp taste and aroma.

If the smell and taste are too strong to use as-is, include this paste in cooked recipes. Cooking shrimp paste mellows the flavor, so it is not quite as bold.

This substitute works well in cooked recipes, mainly as it will produce a more subtle flavor. Shrimp paste offers many similar flavors as anchovies in recipes, and you can sub it in most anchovy recipes.

It may be challenging to find this paste in grocery stores unless you find an extensive Asian section or live near an Asian supermarket.

Cooking Tip:
Start with ¼ teaspoon of shrimp paste in recipes and adjust to your taste preference.

5. Kalamata Olives

Kalamata olives work as an excellent replacement for anchovies for those who don’t eat fish, whether for dietary reasons or personal preference. These olives can appear similar in color to anchovy paste when chopped finely or pulverized, though with a purple cast. While they do not have a fishy taste, kalamata olives do provide a salty flavor. Most stores sell these olives in olive oil or brine.

You can expect a slightly fruity, tangy, and sharp taste when including this type of olives in recipes. This variety is sweeter than other varieties of olives like black olives and green olives. Use kalamata olives in Greek recipes, as a pizza topping, and in salads.
Besides the olive itself, you can use the juice from these olives to add taste in recipes where you don’t want pieces of the olives present.

These olives derive their name from their origin – Kalamata, Greece. Like most other olives, they need to be brined in a saltwater solution to make these olives edible. Otherwise, the flavor is too bitter and off-putting. This type of olive is not typically turned into oil. Instead, it is kept tableside for eating at many restaurants in Greece.

These olives are vegan and vegetarian-friendly. Using kalamata olives in recipes provides a similar salty flavor to anchovies. This swap is ideal for those who want to avoid a fishy taste or don’t enjoy an umami flavor.

Many of the main flavor notes that are present in anchovies are not present in kalamata olives. There will be a noticeable difference in flavor when using this substitution.

Cooking Tip:
Start with about ½ the amount requested in the recipe using chopped kalamata olives, and adjust to the desired flavor.

6. Umeboshi Paste

Umeboshi paste is made from ume (Japanese plums) that are pickled. The pickled plums are pulverized into a pinkish paste. This paste works well as an anchovy substitute as it adds a similar salty, umami flavor. This plum paste is another excellent option for vegans or vegetarians since it is a fruit-based swap.

Other flavor notes present in umeboshi paste are tanginess and a slight fruitiness. Use umeboshi paste for recipes that are sauce-based or liquid-based. You can also include this paste in salad dressings and marinades.

Ume plums have been in existence for about 2000 years, with origins in China. About 1500 years ago, these plums were brought from China to Japan for medicinal purposes. Each part of the plum is used for a purpose from its seed, juice, and the fruit itself.

This paste is an excellent choice for those avoiding fish or those who do not enjoy a fishy flavor. You can use umeboshi paste in most recipes, though not as a topping.

There is no fishy taste present when using umeboshi paste as a substitution. It also adds a tanginess not present in anchovies altering the flavor of the dish.

Cooking Tip:
Start with ½ the required amount and add more if necessary.

7. Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is another excellent alternative to anchovies. Like anchovies, soy sauce offers an umami flavor and saltiness. Though, there is a lack of fish taste when using this sauce. This sauce’s ingredients are fermented soybeans, wheat, and salt.

It is easily accessible, with most having a bottle already in their kitchen. If you don’t have soy sauce, you can easily find it in the Asian section of your grocery store.

This sauce alternative works well for most dishes. Though, you may find it an odd combination with specific recipes like pizza. You can even use soy sauce for some umami flavor in salad dressings.

Soy sauce is readily available and provides a similar meaty, salty flavor to recipes. You can use this sauce as a replacement for most anchovy dishes.

This swap lacks a fishy flavor making it disagree with specific recipes.

Cooking Tip:
Use ¾ of the requested amount and adjust as needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Use Worcestershire Sauce Instead of Anchovies?

Yes, you can use Worcestershire sauce instead of anchovies in some cases. If you seek an alternative that provides an umami flavor and saltiness, Worcestershire sauce works well. However, you can not use it as a topping for items like pizza.

What Is a Vegetarian Substitute for Anchovies?

Instead of using anchovies in recipes, you can use miso paste as a vegetarian substitute. Miso paste is made from fermented soybeans, making this an excellent vegan swap as well. Another swap you can use is kalamata olives.

What Fish is Similar to Anchovies?

Sardines are the most similar fish you can find at the store. They are often kept in metal tins similar to anchovies. However, the taste and appearance of the two varieties of fish are quite different.

What Do Anchovies Taste Like?

Anchovies offer a salty, slightly fishy, meaty taste that is unlike any other food item. They have a distinct flavor that people either love or hate.

Can You Use Sardines Instead of Anchovies in Caesar Dressing?

Unfortunately, no, you can not use sardines instead of anchovies in Caesar dressing. The texture and flavors are too different. Anchovies have a much more delicate texture which allows them to blend in with the dressing. Sardines do not break down as easily, resulting in a dressing with larger pieces of fish.


There are many excellent alternatives to anchovies for your next cooking session ranging from sauces to vegan-friendly options. Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce are the two top options as they are pretty versatile and provide a salty, umami flavor to recipes. Give each option a try to find your preferred anchovy substitute. Each offers a unique taste to your recipes.

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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