What is Patis and Why it’s the Secret Ingredient You Didn’t Know You Needed

When you think of popular Filipino dishes, what comes to mind? Adobo, sinigang, lechon, pancit? These are all delicious and iconic Filipino dishes, but what ties them all together is a secret ingredient that makes them even more flavorful and delicious- patis. Patis is a staple ingredient in Filipino cuisine, yet it’s not as well-known or widely used outside of the Philippines.

What is Patis?

Patis is a Filipino fish sauce made from fermented fish and salt. It is similar to the fish sauces used in other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam, but it has a distinct flavor that sets it apart from other fish sauces. The most common types of fish used to make patis are anchovy and sardines, but other types of fish like mackerel, tuna, and even shrimp can also be used.

How is Patis Made?

To make patis, fresh fish are mixed with salt and left to ferment for several months in large vats or barrels. During the fermentation process, enzymes and beneficial bacteria break down the protein and fat in the fish, creating a flavorful liquid that is rich in umami.

After the fermentation process is complete, the liquid is drained and usually bottled for sale. The resulting sauce ranges in color from amber to brown, depending on the type of fish used and the fermentation process. The longer the fermentation process, the darker and more flavorful the patis becomes.

Why Is Patis So Important in Filipino Cuisine?

Patis is a crucial ingredient in many Filipino dishes, and its absence can significantly impact the taste and authenticity of a dish. While it may seem like just another condiment, patis has a complex flavor profile that adds depth and complexity to dishes.

Patis is used in many Filipino dishes, from adobo to sinigang to kare kare. It’s often used as a seasoning agent or a marinade, but it can also be used as a dipping sauce or added to soups and stews for added flavor.

What Does Patis Taste Like?

Patis has a salty, savory, and slightly fishy flavor, with a pungent aroma that can be off-putting to some. Its umami flavor enhances the taste of other ingredients in a dish without overpowering them.

How is Patis Different from Other Fish Sauces?

While patis shares similarities with other fish sauces from Southeast Asia, like Thai fish sauce or Vietnamese nuoc mam, it has a distinct flavor profile that sets it apart. Patis tends to be saltier and less sweet than other fish sauces, with a stronger, more pungent flavor due to the longer fermentation process.

Health Benefits of Patis

Aside from its delicious taste, patis also offers several health benefits. Patis is high in protein and contains essential amino acids that are important for building and repairing muscle tissue. It’s also a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for heart health and brain function.

Patis also contains vitamins and minerals like Vitamin B12, calcium, and iron. These nutrients are essential for maintaining a healthy body and preventing nutrient deficiencies.

Is Patis Gluten-Free?

Yes, patis is gluten-free, as it is made only from fermented fish and salt. However, some brands of patis may contain additives or flavorings that are not gluten-free, so it’s essential to check the label if you have a gluten sensitivity or allergy.

Where Can I Buy Patis?

Patis is widely available in the Philippines, in supermarkets, grocery stores, and specialty food markets. In the United States, patis can be found in Asian supermarkets, Filipino grocery stores, and online retailers like Amazon.

What Are Some Recipes That Use Patis?

Patis is a versatile ingredient that can be used in many dishes. Here are some popular Filipino dishes that use patis as a seasoning or marinade:

  • Adobo Chicken
  • Sinigang Soup
  • Pork Binagoongan
  • Kare Kare
  • Filipino BBQ Skewers
  • Pancit Noodles

The Verdict: Do You Need Patis?

If you’re a fan of Filipino cuisine, then the answer is a resounding yes. Patis is a crucial ingredient in many Filipino dishes, and its unique flavor profile makes it a must-have in any Filipino kitchen.

Even if you’re not familiar with Filipino food, patis is worth trying. Its salty, savory flavor can add depth and complexity to dishes from other cuisines, and its health benefits make it a nutritious addition to any diet.

Frequently Asked Questions About Patis

  • What Does Patis Mean?
    Patis is the Filipino word for fish sauce.
  • Is Patis Vegan?
    No, patis is not vegan, as it is made from fermented fish.
  • Is Patis Halal?
    Some types of patis may be halal, but it’s important to check the label or contact the manufacturer to ensure that it is halal-certified.
  • What Can I Use as a Substitute for Patis?
    Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or oyster sauce can be used as substitutes for patis, although they will not have the same distinctive flavor.


  • “Philippine Fish Sauce – Patis.” ImportFood.com, ImportFood.com, www.importfood.com/saucesandpastes.html.
  • Bautista, Jonathan. “Understanding the Philippines’ Favorite Condiment: Patis.” Pepper.ph, 13 Mar. 2019, pepper.ph/understanding-the-philippines-favorite-condiment-patis/.
  • “What is Patis? The Secret Ingredient in Filipino Food.” The Coconut Mama, 30 June 2017, thecoconutmama.com/what-is-patis-the-secret-ingredient-in-filipino-food/.

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