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How long is too long on the shelf for fish sauce?

While there is so much salt in fish sauce that it probably never really expires, fermentation continues in the bottle and as a result, the flavor can degrade over a long period of time. Yes, high grade fish sauce is made by aging it for 2 years, so it should get better with age right? Not exactly as those were in controlled conditions. Im looking to order several bottles of Megachef fish sauce, but not so much that some are no longer of quality by the time I use them. Unfortunately, I have to have them imported from Australia as the prices for Megachef here are wayyyy too expensive. I can get them for $8 for the big bottle (700 mL) in Australia vs. $45 here.

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  1. Where do you live, and why that specific brand? Here is a thread on relative sodium content: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/749330
    and two others on recommended brands:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/379200
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/324252

    I have often had a partially used bottle of Tiparos in my refrigerator for several years before using it up and it's tasted fine, although over time the color can change, and crystals form and sink to the bottom of the bottle.

    2 Replies
    1. re: greygarious

      I live in nyc. I grew interested in this brand after noticing David Thompson using it while cooking Mussaman Curry of Chicken. I make an effort to use high quality ingredients in my cooking so I tried to find out what brand it was, hoping that using the same ingredients as him would help me replicate food from a Micehlin star Thai restaurant. This brand isn't widely available but those who've tasted it seem to agree that it is superior. Fun Fact: Its sometimes referred to as Son of Squid as the owner of Megachef is the son of the the person who founded the Squid brand of fish sauce. He created Megachef's fish sauce in an effort to make a fish sauce that was as odorless as possible.

      I also want to compare Megachef to Tra Chang's Gold label fish sauce.

    2. sealed and not oxidizing it should be fine for years.

      too long on the shelf? when it's beyond empty and just taking up space.

      1. I'm still using a bottle which is 7 years old.

        3 Replies
        1. re: klyeoh

          what's taking so long? ya slowpoke (smirk).

            1. re: klyeoh

              oh dang I slather roasts or stuff for the grill with it (but then I grill a lot) smells like death but tastes great.

        2. The typical rule of thumb is that they have about 6 months to 1 year of shelf life. Not very long the moment after you open the seal.

          If you wan to buy several bottles, then I would only open one bottle at one time and recommend storing the other bottles in a refrigerator.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            If it's kept in the fridge, does that extend the life?

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              I have to disagree. It's very seldom that I use up a condiment in less than a couple of years, as I have a habit of splurchasing interesting-looking sauces. Unless they become science experiments, I keep them until they are finished. I've cooked with a lot of zombie condiments and am none the worse for it.

              1. re: greygarious

                < It's very seldom that I use up a condiment in less than a couple of years, as I have a habit of splurchasing interesting-looking sauces. >

                Sure thing.

                <I keep them until they are finished.>

                I think a lot of sauces can be kept for a long period of time. But not all sauces are the same, and fish sauce is particular sensitive. There is nothing toxic about keeping the fish sauce for longer period of time, but its favor changes dramatically.

                In fact, even good soy sauce does not last long. la2tokyo (a sushi chef) has this to say recently:

                "Soy sauce oxidizes very quickly. Most people continue to use soy sauce that doesn't taste anything like it's supposed to. I went to a soy sauce lecture in Japan one time and the manufacturer poured us soy sauce into a white dish out of a fresh bottle and told us to examine it. At the end of the lecture he told us to taste it and look at the color change....it was totally different. He said the fresh flavor is what the manufacturer and the chef should try to preserve. Most high end sushi bars do not use soy sauce that has sat out for more than a couple days. If you make a sauce out of it the flavor will stabilize, but generally speaking you shouldn't keep raw soy sauce around very long. Buy smaller bottles, especially if you are not using it for cooking (i.e. sushi or sashimi)."

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/913703

                I think it all depends where one is coming from. Can a person drink red wine which has been opened for a week? Sure, one can. You don't die from it. Does it taste anywhere the same as when it was first opened? No, it does not. Some people don't mind to drink one-day old wine, while others refuse to. It is a personal choice.

                It is still a good idea to store the unopened fish sauce bottles in a cool dark place, maybe not freezer or refrigerator cold.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Yes, *definitely* refrigerate condiments once the seals are broken.

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Due to a recent thread about condiments, I've moved some out of the fridge but fish sauce is one that remains.

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      Thank you. Of course, this depends how fast the person can finish using it. For a person who uses fish sauce often can easily go through a small bottle (I have a small bottle) in a month. In which case, it may not be as important to keep it in a refrigerator. On the other hand, if a person rarely uses fish sauce, then he/she has a choice to make. The fish sauce can be used for several years with no toxic effect, but the taste would have been altered by then.

                      Is that really important? It is up to the person to decide, I suppose.

              2. I've had my bottle for four years. I suppose that's because I use it sparingly when I'm out of soysauce.

                1. I stay in Thailand more than half of the time.
                  Fish sauce begins to deteriorate immediately the moment it is opened. When new it is a caramel color and you can see through it. It will oxidize and become dark and black. It becomes more smelly with time.

                  I don't know that it ever becomes spoiled to the point where it is harmful, due to the high salt content. It is always usable... but simply tastes much better when fresh.

                  My girlfriend and I both do a good amount of Thai cooking, but I now always buy the tiny bottles of it from the local 7-11 store... in an effort to always have fresh fish sauce. I simply can not go through a big bottle fast enough.

                  If it is unopened, it will last for a while. The important thing is keep it out of the LIGHT. Also if it can be somewhere cool rather than hot, it will help. Again, you need to prevent the oxidative process. That being said, I took a bottle of fish sauce to Canada and after a couple years in the cupboard it became dark. It was usable, but just not as fresh tasting.

                  As for brands, Squid brand is darker and more smelly. To my taste, I prefer the gold label one. I assume it is something like the benefits of again a balsamic vinegar in barrels... not that there is any further improvement aging it in the bottle.

                  I don't know anybody in Thailand that refrigerates their fish sauce. But this could help in it's preservation if you don;t have sch easy access to it.

                  As for aging, it does not improve with age in the bottle and certainly not once opened.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: chrisdds

                    <I don't know that it ever becomes spoiled to the point where it is harmful, due to the high salt content. It is always usable... but simply tastes much better when fresh.>

                    Thank you for pointing this out.

                    1. re: chrisdds

                      great info. I was after large bottles when I should be after small bottles. I guess with the frequency I use fish sauce, it probably wont be worth scouting this brand out. I guess its Gold label Tra Chang for me.

                    2. Poor baby! Where in the world do you live that fish sauce is $45 a bottle??? As for whether bottled sauces and condiments get better with age after opening and stored on a shelf, the answer is flat out NO!

                      Regardless of what your mother did, READ LABELS! Even Kikkoman Soy Sauce tells you to refrigerate after opening! (I suspect only 3 Americans in the whole wide world are aware of this!)

                      I keep ALL bottled condiments and sauces, from Worcestershire Sauce and A-1 to Pommery and French's mustards in the refrigerator. The difference in the umami of Kikkoman that has been opened and shelf stored for a month and an equal bottle that has been refrigerated is remarkable to me. Just not the same animal, so to speak.

                      I truly am curious where fish sauce can cost 45 bucks? That makes price gouging an art form!

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: Caroline1

                        OP is in NYC, as in the second post on this thread. The issue is the cost of importing the particular brand from Australia. If the OP is willing to consider other good brands, they are probably available withing shouting distance of anywhere in NYC.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          I was able to get that brand in an Asian market in Reno, NV, for goodness sake :) And I certainly didn't pay ever $20 cause I wouldn't have bought it at that price. Hard to believe that nowhere in the NYC area wouldn't have it.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            Good grief! Are you telling me that Plano, Texas, has more Asian markets than China Town, NYC, USA? I cannot believe that! The brand of fish sauce (Megachef) is made in Thailand, and whether one lives in the U.S.A. or Australia, Megachef fish sauce is imported from Thailand. They carry it in my local Asian markets a LOT cheaper than this bottle on amazon.com, but it's still a lot cheaper than it's gonna cost to ship from Australia, and this ships free:
                            http://tinyurl.com/lkjw9sn
                            Still in all, if I lived in NYC, I would go to Chinatown! Or Thai Town. Or a big Asian market. I cannot believe I have more shopping options in Plano than someone in NYC. Just sayin'.

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              maybe the OP is really really busy or agoraphobic. it happens.

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                Price gauging for this brand is probably a result of it still being hard to find in many areas of the country. I may be in NYC but we dont have EVERYTHING. And im afraid the opportunity cost in looking around the city or even Chinatown for this brand is too high as well which is why i've resorted to importing it. Not to mention that i've come across language barriers a lot in chinatown. From all my trips to Chinatown, I have never seen this brand. We really dont have everything here. I may have access to a wider variety of ingredients but it isn't a guarantee and there will be things you cannot source here. I even have trouble looking for 2.5 lb. chickens (my preferred size for frying). oh and my constant treasure hunt: Chervil. This is a PAIN to obtain. and a brand you should be familiar with living in the south. White Lily flour which creates superior biscuits. yeah....i have to have those shipped as well. Living here doesn't mean you wont have your share of treasure hunts.

                                1. re: VongolaDecimo

                                  "From all my trips to Chinatown, I have never seen this brand."

                                  I haven't either, not in Manhattan or in Flushing. On the other hand I wasn't looking for it. Is it that much better than Red Boat?

                                  1. re: ratgirlagogo

                                    probably not. I doubt fermented fish is so complex that there would be a wide range in flavor. My guess is that it would only be marginally better but that difference would probably disappear the moment one cooks with it.

                            2. re: Caroline1

                              Im going to be honest that I agree with you that im a bit crazy for spending so much on fish sauce. Not something I would normally do, as its probably not significantly better than Tra Chang Gold Label fish sauce which I can get easily easily for less than $4 and has also been aged for 2 years under controlled conditions. I am very aware of other brands that are good quality but more easily obtained so I need no recommendations. This is more of a curiosity. Why do people rave about it? It seems I may have underestimated the cost of shipping from Australia. I saw the price on Amazon but that is for a tiny 200 mL bottle as opposed to a 700 mL one. My hopes were that purchasing it in bulk would help justify the cost of shipping and it turn make it cheaper than purchasing an equivalent amount form amazon.

                              1. re: VongolaDecimo

                                Hey, I'm a pretty good cook, and I can and do empathize a million percent when you can't get a product that you really like! So I can tell you that it IS available in the U.S., and for cheap... I just called one of my local Asian markets here in Plano, TX, and asked if they have Megachef on the shelf. Yes, they do. They have one bottle on the shelf right now and their next shipment will be in in about two weeks. Price? $3.79 plus tax.

                                Asia World Market
                                240 Legacy Drive
                                Plano, TX 75023
                                Phone:(972) 517-8858

                                But....!!! It sounds a little "fishy" (pun intended) for them to only have one bottle left on the shelf because they are a huge market and the DFW metroplex has a HUGE Asian community! I can drive about ten or fifteen minutes and be in a section of Garland, Texas, where the stores, signeage, and local population look a lot more like Bangcock than they do like USA! So for ANY Asian market in the area to be down to one bottle left on the shelf seems a little strange.

                                So the point here is that I went to the Megachef website and they are now showing TWO versions of Megachef fish sauce: the standard version AND a "USA version" in a BLUE bottle! See it here:
                                http://www.megachefsauce.com/ENGLISH/...

                                It occurs to me that there is some possibility that there is something in theire "rest of the world" fish sauce that may not pass USDA food regulations, so they've reformulated the product to meet U.S. code. That's a really expensive thing for a company to do, but the Thai population in America is high enough that they apparently are doing it *IF* my suspicion is right... The guy I talked to at Asian World Market said they expect a new shipment in 2 weeks... We'll see if it's in blue bottles! '-

                                )

                                My experience with discussions of Fish sauce on this board is that people do develop emotional bonds to a favorite brand. At 3.79 a bottle here in Plano, I would tend to think there are other fish saices as emotionally binding. '-)

                                Oh, and now you know why there are some things I would NEVER order through amazon.com, even though I am a Prime member...

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  The blue version is supposedly more tame and lighter as its targeted towards Vietnamese consumers. Not what im after and i've seen it on ebay. This isn't an urgent need and the more I think about it, this is sounding more and more ridiculous. I think i'll just let the bottle find me lol, probably during my grocery shopping trips. If im meant to try it, i'll try it. But at the prices im seeing them at, I think it more wise to skip on it. I'll leave the outrageous condiment spending to buying a good quality balsamic. Unlike balsamic, I highly doubt there is a fish sauce that was so good that it was given in barrels with a dowry when daughters were married off. Thanks for the information. Though next time I cook out of Thai Food, i'll make sure to keep an eye for it when I go to some Thai stores for ingredients. Pok Pok's cookbook is coming out soon so i'll probably be in Thai stores more often.