Thursday, October 3, 2013

Fish Sauce Taste Test

Well, I am finally getting around to revisiting my infamous fish sauce taste test (so wrong, it's right) that led me to the definitive conclusion about which fish sauce rocks.  Here in all its glory is the taste test proceedings.

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MY HOT DATE NIGHT: Nước Mắm Tasting. Rrrrao! 

Me and T. originally conducted this taste test on Dec 30, 2011.  

These were all the nước mấm in our cupboard at the time.  Our baseline is no wheat/gluten or chemicals/preservatives which eliminates a lot of the brands one normally sees in the Asian markets.  We stopped eating the popular Ba Con Cua when they started adding hydrolyzed wheat protein (aka MSG and gluten) into the ingredients many years ago.

We tried to avoid using the word SALTY or FISHY to describe any of them since that is a no-duh description.

Mot trăm phần trăm!|Bottoms up!


Lani: I'm going to get diarrhea from this. 
T: You don't need to take a spoonful, babe.
(2 tastings later)
Lani: Aw man, I am so thirsty.
(4 tastings later)

Lani: You know, I really only need a drop. 

T: Hmm. . .
(some tastings later) 

T: Dammit, it all tastes the same now. 


Squid--Aggressively salty. Fruity overly sweet/sugary.  Added sugar did not balance it out. 
Red Boat--Fishy with a lingering flavor. Sweet.
Lobster/Nha Trang--Light MSG-like/chemically. like old crystallized fish sauce. 
Phú Quốc--Tastes like reconstituted crystallized fish sauce. 

Note: Some of the comparison is apples to oranges. Red Boat & Phú Quốc are both nước mắm nhĩ [extra virgin] while Squid and Lobster/Nha Trang are not so the latter could be the result of multiple pressings or pasteurized/homogenized.

Ingredient note: Squid and Phú Quốc add sugar while Lobster and Phú Quốc add water.  Red Boat is pure anchovy & salt.

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Although fishy would seem to be a given description of any fish sauce, surprisingly enough, this was the only one of all four where that word applied. It was distinctly fishy and oily, lingering on the palate in a good way.  It has that great umami flavor that makes Caesar dressing and pasta puttanesca my faves.  Though there was no sugar in the ingredients, it was still sweet, making it the most complex flavor.

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#1 Red Boat
#2 Lobster/Nha Trang (Old reconstituted crystallized fish sauce. Use for cooking when nuance is not important.)
#3 Two buck Phú Quốc (Nước mắm pha only, no need to add much sugar)
#4 Squid (only to be bought in the event of apocalypse)

Now our taste test is concluded and we have agreed that the clever artisanal language and the EVOO bottle packaging markup is indeed worth the $8-10, we are extremely dehydrated and need a listerine. Badly. 

More musings on Red Boat here.

Ăn Ngon Lành|Eat Delectably!


  1. How about adding nuoc mam ba cua to your next tasting?

  2. I eliminated Ba Cua and many other popular brands from our pantry several years ago, because it contains additives: hydrolyzed wheat protein (aka MSG derived from gluten) and fructose (refined sugar).


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