The Difference Between Tamari and Soy Sauce

Ingredient Spotlight

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Tamari first popped onto my radar a handful of years ago. I noticed many recipes that called for soy sauce often included a note to substitute tamari in its place to make the recipe gluten-free. So, I was quick to assume that tamari was simply gluten-free soy sauce, with a more interesting name.

Even though both sauces are similar in color and flavor, there are actually a number of differences between the two.

While both soy sauce and tamari are byproducts of fermented soybeans, the main difference between the two is the presence of wheat.

Gluten and Tamari and Soy Sauce

Tamari is a wider class of soy sauces, and is made with no (or very little) wheat, while traditional soy sauce does contain wheat.

  • Tamari: Little to no wheat (always double-check if avoiding gluten)
  • Soy Sauce: Includes wheat (not gluten-free)

Other Differences

Soy sauce and its many forms are found widely throughout Asia, but tamari is specifically a Japanese form of soy sauce, traditionally made as a byproduct of miso paste.

The differences in production give each sauce its own unique flavor. Tamari has a darker color and richer flavor than the common Chinese soy sauce you may be more familiar with. It also tastes more balanced and less salty than the sometimes harsh bite of soy sauce, which makes it great for dipping.

Instead of keeping one or the other in your cupboard, consider stocking up on both sauces and experimenting with them in dishes that call for soy.

Updated from a post originally published in July 2012.

(Image credits: Kelli Dunn)

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