Culinary Arts

What’s the Difference Between Soy Sauce and Tamari?

Written by MasterClass

Apr 30, 2019 • 3 min read

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It’s been your constant companion all these sushi-eating years, but how well do you really know soy sauce? What about its grocery store doppelganger, wheat-free tamari? Read on for all the tips before you dip.

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What Is tamari?

Tamari is a Japanese form of soy sauce, formed as a byproduct during the production of miso paste. Unlike conventional soy sauce, it contains no added wheat and is made with a higher volume of soybeans, resulting in a rich, thick texture and nuanced salinity. Spores of Aspergillus tamarii (cultures known as koji) are added to the boiled soybean paste, or the paste is allowed to incorporate natural spores from the surrounding environment to promote fermentation. Instead of being pressed, the liquid is simply collected from the runoff of the miso.

Is Tamari Gluten Free?

Tamari is a gluten-free soy sauce alternative, which, along with its rich texture and deep umami flavor, is its most distinguishing feature. While most brands are fully gluten-free, if you’re adhering to a gluten-free diet, be sure to double check the bottle just in case.

What Is Soy Sauce?

Regular soy sauce is a sauce derived from a blend of cooked soybeans and roasted wheat grain. The paste is added to a salt brine and left to ferment before being pressed to produce the liquid condiment. It is typically fermented with Aspergillus oryzae or sojae molds.

What’s the Difference Between Soy Sauce and Tamari?

Both tamari and soy sauce are the result of fermenting soybeans, and serve as examples of the power of fermentation process to coax complex savory tastes from simple ingredients. They are relatively interchangeable (though not always in a 1:1 ratio, since soy sauce would be overpowering in some cooking methods), but because tamari contains twice the amount of soybeans instead of wheat grains, it results in a richer, deep soy flavor while soy sauce tends to be thinner, lighter, and more salt-forward. Same family, but: tamari is the dark soy sauce and favored in Japanese cuisine, and the kind usually found in China is considered the light soy sauce.

Is Soy Sauce or Tamari Healthy?

While no one would likely recommend either product as a healthy way to incorporate soy protein, of the two, tamari contains less sodium—around 233 mg per tablespoon to soy sauce’s 900 mg per tablespoon.

6 Dishes to Serve With Soy Sauce

Soy sauce can be used alongside most dishes in the Asian culinary canon:

Quick Soy Sauce Dressing

Soy sauce is also an easy way to pack flavor into salad dressings: simply whisk up 1 tsp soy sauce with 1 tbsp sesame oil and 1 tbsp rice vinegar for a nutty, puckering vinaigrette that brightens up greens like pea shoots or baby kale.

How to Serve Tamari

Because of its thickness and subdued saltiness, tamari sauce is often used as a dipping sauce or marinade, but it also steps in as a boost of umami in dishes like fried rice.

2 Substitutes for Soy Sauce and Tamari

  1. Liquid aminos are commonly used as a healthier alternative to both soy sauce and tamari, and as a gluten-free way to impart similar savory flavors. Liquid aminos are made from soybeans, although the beans in this case are not fermented, but treated with hydrochloric acids (to break the proteins into amino acids) and then a sodium bicarbonate like baking soda to neutralize any leftover acids and give the liquid a salty flavor.
  2. Dark and salty-sweet coconut aminos serve a similar purpose with a soy-free approach, relying on coconut nectar and sea salt to produce a seasoning sauce. Coconut aminos are naturally fermented, and so share a similar lactic acid profile with soy sauce and tamari.

Find more restaurant recipes to cook at home with Chef Gordon Ramsay here.