Anchovies are small, oily fish that live around the world. They are popular delicacies from Scandinavia to Southeast Asia.
Usually, anchovies are salted and cured to preserve them. This gives the anchovies a potent, briny flavor that serves as the base for dishes such as Worcestershire sauce, Caesar salad dressing, and other sauces. Tinned anchovies in oil are sometimes used as a pizza topping or eaten as a snack. The ancient Romans believed anchovies were an aphrodisiac.
Anchovies are popular around the world but have a polarizing taste. Some people hate their salty, fishy flavors and slimy texture. If you are making food for people who don’t like anchovies, here are a few common substitutes.
Capers are salted and brined buds from the caper shrub. It resembles a small, green berry and is packed with salty, pickled flavor. Capers are common throughout the Mediterranean, in southern Italian, Greek, and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Capers seem like an unusual replacement for anchovies—the former is a berry while the latter is a fish. However, they have similar salty, briny flavors. You can use capers in place of anchovy paste or anchovies in cooked dishes such as pasta sauces, roasted fish, and more.
Fish sauce is a popular condiment in East and Southeast Asia. Fish sauce can be made from many different kinds of fish, not just anchovies. It has a similar salty flavor to anchovies, with the added kick of fermentation (many types of fish sauce are aged for up to two years).
If you want to get the flavor of anchovies without handling the sometimes-slimy texture of the fish, use fish sauce. Fish sauce is a great replacement in salad dressing, pasta sauces, and even soups. However, you cannot use it as a pizza topping or snack because it is too liquidy.
Shrimp paste is another staple of Southeast Asian cuisine that can work as a replacement for anchovies or anchovy paste. True to its name, shrimp paste is made from salted shrimp ground into a powder. It has a similar salty, fishy taste to anchovies.
Shrimp paste can act as a base for different sauces and dressings, just like anchovies. Although its fishy taste can be overpowering sometimes, it is easy to dilute with tomato sauce or puree. Use less shrimp paste than anchovies in a recipe to avoid the flavor overpowering other ingredients.
Worcestershire sauce is a popular fermented condiment that comes from England. One of the main ingredients in this sauce is the humble so it has the same salty, briny flavor you would expect from anchovies. The other ingredients include vinegar, molasses, salt, and other spices that help dilute the flavor of anchovies somewhat.
Worcestershire sauce is a good replacement for anchovies in salad dressings and sauces because you get the same flavors, but it is not as potent (and the anchovies are conveniently blended with other tastes). However, if you are looking for a vegetarian or vegan alternative for anchovies, Worcestershire sauce does not fit the bill.
Sardines are small, silvery fish common throughout the world. The name sardines actually describe several species of fish, and classifications vary depending on the region. Sardines can be smoked, grilled, fried, or sold in a pickled tin.
Like anchovies, sardines have a salty, briny flavor. However, their flavor is much less intense than anchovies, so they are a great alternative for dishes where you don’t want the fishy taste to overpower the other ingredients. You can use sardines in pasta dishes and as pizza toppings.
Miso is a popular Japanese condiment made from fermented soybeans. You can get it in a variety of forms—as a sauce, in a powder, or in a paste. You can also choose between white or red miso, which differ in their fermentation methods.
Like anchovies, miso has a salty, fermented taste. It can add complex flavors to a sauce, dressing, or stew without the overpowering fishy taste that anchovies have. Miso is also vegetarian and vegan-friendly, unlike anchovies, so you can serve it to accommodate dietary restrictions. Miso cannot replace anchovies on pizza and pasta.