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Is shrimp sauce the same as shrimp paste?

Shrimp sauce and shrimp paste are two common ingredients used in Asian cooking that are sometimes thought to be the same thing. However, there are some important differences between the two.

What is Shrimp Sauce?

Shrimp sauce, also known as shrimp paste sauce or hae ko in Cantonese, is a condiment made from shrimp that has been fermented with salt. It has a very pungent, fishy taste that is an acquired flavor for some. Shrimp sauce has a pinkish-gray color and a thick, creamy texture.

Some of the main ingredients in shrimp sauce are:

  • Shrimp
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Garlic
  • Chilies

To make shrimp sauce, small shrimp or krill are mixed with salt and allowed to ferment for several months. This long fermentation period helps break down the proteins in the shrimp and develop its distinctive strong umami flavor. The fermented shrimp are then mashed into a thick paste and combined with additional ingredients like sugar, garlic, and chilies.

Shrimp sauce is commonly used in Cantonese dim sum dishes like shrimp dumplings and siu mai. It is also an ingredient in some noodle and seafood dishes. Just a small amount of shrimp sauce adds a savory kick of flavor.

What is Shrimp Paste?

Shrimp paste, also known as terasi in Indonesian and Malaysian cooking or kapi in Thai cuisine, is another pungent condiment made from fermented ground shrimp. It also has a very fishy, salty flavor.

Some of the main ingredients in shrimp paste include:

  • Shrimp
  • Salt
  • Sugar

To make shrimp paste, small shrimp or krill are mixed with high amounts of salt and allowed to ferment for several months. The fermented shrimp are then dried and ground into a thick, molasses-like paste. Less ingredients are used in shrimp paste compared to shrimp sauce.

Shrimp paste features prominently in Southeast Asian cuisines. It is used to flavor curries, soups, marinades for grilled meats, and dipping sauces. Shrimp paste can be quite pungent, so it is used sparingly.

Differences Between Shrimp Sauce and Shrimp Paste

Here is a quick summary of the main differences between shrimp sauce and shrimp paste:

Shrimp Sauce Shrimp Paste
Used more in Chinese cuisine Used more in Southeast Asian cuisine
Thicker, creamier texture Thick, molasses-like texture
More ingredients like sugar, garlic, chilies Usually just shrimp, salt, and sugar
Bright pinkish-gray color Dark brown color

So in summary, while both shrimp sauce and shrimp paste start with fermented ground shrimp, shrimp sauce has a creamier consistency and more flavor ingredients added. Shrimp paste is drier and contains fewer ingredients for a very concentrated, salty shrimp flavor.

Using Shrimp Sauce vs. Shrimp Paste

Because of their differing ingredients and textures, shrimp sauce and shrimp paste are not directly interchangeable in recipes. Here are some tips for using each one:

  • Shrimp sauce works well as a condiment or dipping sauce. It can also be added to noodle dishes, dumplings, stir-fries, etc.
  • Use just a small amount of shrimp sauce as it has a very strong flavor.
  • Shrimp paste is ideal for flavoring curry pastes, marinades, and sauces.
  • Add just a tiny bit of shrimp paste and cook it to mellow the flavor.
  • Sautee the shrimp paste in oil first to draw out its aroma and flavor.

Keep in mind that both shrimp sauce and paste have very distinctive, acquired tastes. Start with small amounts until you get accustomed to their flavor. With the proper techniques, they can add wonderful umami depth to Asian dishes without overpowering them.


If you don’t have shrimp sauce or paste, here are some possible substitutions:

  • For shrimp sauce: Oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, fish sauce, or miso paste
  • For shrimp paste: Anchovy paste, fish sauce, miso paste, soy sauce, or salt

While these substitutions will not replicate the exact flavor, they can provide a similar salty, umami, and fermented taste in a recipe.


In summary, shrimp sauce and shrimp paste do share some common origins in being made from fermented ground shrimp. However, shrimp sauce has a thicker texture and more added flavor ingredients, while shrimp paste is very concentrated and made with minimal ingredients.

Shrimp sauce is more prominent in Chinese dim sum and dishes, offering a creamy umami flavor. Shrimp paste is essential in Southeast Asian cuisines, providing a very pungent, salty seasoning. While they have some similarities, shrimp sauce and shrimp paste have their own distinct uses in Asian cooking.