What Is Tamari and Why Is It Everywhere All of a Sudden?

what is tamari

If you spend time in the kitchen, you’ve probably come across a recipe that calls for soy sauce but lists tamari as a gluten-free substitute. But if you thought tamari was just a gluten-free version of soy sauce, there’s actually a bit more to it. What is tamari, and why is it so popular all of a sudden? Friend, we’re glad you asked.

What is tamari vs. soy sauce? 

Tamari and soy sauce look the same in the bottle and taste pretty similar, but they’re actually more like cousins than siblings. They’re both by-products of fermented soybeans, but there are a few key differences between the two.

What is soy sauce? 

Soy sauce, which is Chinese in origin, is made from a fermented paste of soybeans, roasted grains, brine and a mold called kōji. Soybeans are soaked and cooked, and wheat is roasted and crushed. The mixture is inoculated with kōji, mixed with brine and left to brew. The liquid is pressed from the solids, then it’s pasteurized and bottled. The final product is thinner and saltier than tamari, and it contains wheat.

What is tamari?

Tamari, on the other hand, is a Japanese ingredient, and it’s actually a by-product of making miso (a type of fermented soybean paste). When the fermented soybeans are pressed, the leftover liquid becomes tamari. And since grain isn’t usually added, tamari is often gluten-free by nature (but double-check the label to be absolutely sure). It’s also thicker and less salty than soy sauce, but with a similar umami flavor profile.

Is tamari healthier than soy sauce?

Because tamari is usually gluten-free, people often assume that makes it healthier than soy sauce. That’s not necessarily true. In fact, their nutrition information is almost identical!

One tablespoon of both tamari and soy sauce contains about ten calories, two grams of protein, one gram of carbs and no fat. And unless you’re using low-sodium tamari, its sodium content (980 grams) is comparable to that of soy sauce (879 grams).

What Does Tamari Taste Like?

Tamari tastes a lot like soy sauce, but it tastes slightly less salty and more balanced in flavor (read: not as intense). It’s also ever so slightly thicker in texture, which makes it great for dipping. (Dumplings, anyone?)

What Is A Good Substitute For Tamari?

If you’re not using tamari as a gluten-free soy sauce swap, soy sauce is far and away the closest substitute for tamari—they taste almost identical. Other umami-rich ingredients you can use in a pinch:

  • Miso
  • Fish sauce (used sparingly)
  • Liquid aminos or coconut aminos
  • Anchovies

The substitute you choose will depend on what you’re making, but any of these suggestions will add a boost of salty umami flavor to your recipe, similar to tamari.

What Recipes Can You Make With Tamari? 


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...