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Does your Fish Sauce have sugar?

A blogger wrote about her "Thai style brussels sprouts" she had at a restaurant and then made at home. She said that she omitted the restaurant's suggested palm sugar in the recipe, because fish sauce itself featured sugar.

"""The [restaurant's] sprouts were roasted in a bath of fish sauce, peanuts and palm sugar. So simple. There were seared to a crisp, both salty and sweet, and utterly satisfying. Someone declared the ultimate compliment, "I'm never making Brussels sprouts any other way." I totally agreed and went home to recreate them.
With sugar already featured in fish sauce, I omitted the restaurant's suggestion of palm sugar and in favor of achieving perfectly al dente sprouts, I skipped roasting them in the oven and simply sautéed them stove-top in a hot cast iron skillet.""""


So, I emailed her and asked her how fish sauce "featured" sugar.

She politely replied that "most fish sauce has sugar."

What say you? I've never tasted sugar in the fish sauce I've used, but I'm no expert. Maybe it is in minute quantities?

I certainly add palm sugar to my "Thai-style dish" if the recipe calls for it.

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  1. Hey, 'pal! My Squid brand fish sauce lists: water, anchovy paste, salt, sugar.

    So I guess there's a little bit of it in the Squid brand! Will be interesting to see other responses!

    2 Replies
    1. There are a lot of brands that contain sugar (usually very small amounts) and they say so on the ingredients list.

      I would not rely on the sugar in fish sauce to be a substitute for sugar in a recipe. If I had to guess the sugar is no more than a couple of percent of the fish sauce volume, so if the recipe calls for a teaspoonful of sugar you'd need 40-50 teaspoons of fish sauce to make up for it.

      1. alkapal,

        I don't know about most, but many fish sauces do have sugar in them. My current "three crabs" fish sauce has fructose in it -- which is one kind of sugar. Yes, I like to live danger and consume fructose. Ferret is correct that the sugar amount is small in fish sauce, so you will still have to add sugar. Nonetheless, the blogger is technically correct about sugar being in the ingredients.

        1. It's like saying the Super Bowl "features" concession stands.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Bada Bing

            oh thanks for the laugh, bada bing, bada boom!

            1. re: Bada Bing

              Indeed. A sauce featuring sugar would have sugar as the predominant, major ingredient or taste.

            2. The sugar component is very minimal. Mixed fish sauce based dips and dressings always have additional sugar put into them. Fish sauce adds a salty and umami element, not sweetness or tartness, which are the other two flavors needed when making fish sauce based marinades, dressings, and dipping sauce. The flavors would be well balanced without it. I think the roasted brussel sprouts with palm sugar for good caramelization sounds great but the burnt pan roasted ones in the picture don't look so appealing.

              1. Both types of fish sauce I usually use have a bit of sugar in it. (Three Crabs & Flying Lion)(Flying Lion is a superior sauce)

                Many sauce/marinade preparations with nuoc mam/fish sauce that I've come across do indeed have additional sugar put in, sometimes *quite* a lot. That pan-fried-minus-palm-sugar dish pictured on the blog looks more pan-blackened than caramelized, which is what the roasting *with* palm sugar would have achieved, it seems to me.

                1. Traditionally fish sauce is made from fish and salt.

                  Commercial fish sauce is made similarly to olive oil, there is a first press, second...The first press is just fish sauce and salt. The later presses are fermented again along with additives to make the fish sauce more appealing. Before bottling many companies, blend the different presses to get the desired flavor. Often sugar is added here. You won't taste the sugar in the fish sauce. It's added to keep the fish sauce from tasting too salty.

                  I'm in the process of making my own fish sauce using my mother's recipe. Her fish sauce has only 3 ingredients, fish, salt and pineapple. It takes a year before the fish sauce is ready. She only uses the first press. Whatever is left from the fish and the pineapple is discarded. The flavor and aroma are nothing like you get in the stores.

                  1. looks like they struck the "red boat" mention…..
                    i think i know why.

                    4 Replies
                      1. re: alkapal

                        Yes – Why?

                        I was going to post that you can get it from the largest national & international online store but found the subthread 'gone'.

                        1. re: alkapal

                          because it had to be the "red boat" purveyor who initially brought it up in a first-time post, and c-hound no likey that.

                          1. re: alkapal

                            Speaking of Red Boat - my fish sauce of choice - I used the Momofuku roasted brussels sprouts recipe for Thanksgiving. It includes fish sauce, sugar (and various other delights) without regard to the brand of fish sauce used.

                        2. where do you get palm sugar? just askin cause not sure other than maybe an Asian market.

                          ok, my Polar brand fish sauce ingredients are: "water/anchovy extract/salt/sugar/wild caught"

                          would love that recipe. is it handy?
                          we adore Brussels sprouts in this family

                          12 Replies
                          1. re: iL Divo

                            Pretty sure any Whole Foods will have palm sugar - or Amazon:


                            1. re: iL Divo

                              don't bother with palm sugar; use light brown sugar. unless you are totally into the exact authentic taste, you are just going to encounter some extremely hard-to-deal-with-because-it-is-so-freaking-hard sugar.

                              and by the way, if you have read the original post, you have read the "recipe."

                              1. re: alkapal

                                Heard of the hammer-and-cloth technique? :-D

                                1. re: huiray

                                  hahaha….no, but i can see where it'd come in handy!

                                  1. re: huiray

                                    Microwave will do, too. Less sweat! ;)

                                    1. re: nattythecook

                                      But then it would just resolidify into one big block - unless you immediately divided it into lots of small bits/cubes/whatever with lots of little containers or ice trays, maybe!

                                      1. re: nattythecook

                                        Yes, microwave it.

                                        Just scrape out the amount you need with a spoon or knife, then plop it into the microwave right before adding it to the dish -- or you can add it directly to the pot/wok sans microwave if the recipe calls for adding the sugar to a cooked dish.

                                    2. re: alkapal

                                      I've found palm sugar to be not so hard to work with when bought in separate little round disks, about two inches in diameter. They come in a bag.

                                      Scraping it out of little plastic tubs, on the other hand, is quite tedious.

                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        Just warm it in the micro to soften it up. The taste of palm sugar is so much better than regular brown sugar.

                                        1. re: scubadoo97

                                          yes i did micro it…but for too long. a sugar lava lamp. sooooo fun to clean up!

                                        2. re: alkapal

                                          thanks alkapal, but I'll be buying palm sugar.
                                          appreciate the suggestion but my husband is 6'3-250.
                                          it's time for him to get in the kitchen and use that giant body of his to disassemble the palm sugar. I like hammers and chisels, love the idea of putting it in nuker for a few seconds, and think I'm on a mission now. wonder what else you use it for, may be a good thing to have on hand. I can probably freeze it and I usually do have to soften brown sugar in the microwave for a few seconds anyway, it really hardens up.