The Rise of Tamari: A Versatile Soy Sauce Substitute

Tamari: Healthier, Gluten-Free Soy Sauce Substitute or Just Another Sodium-Filled Condiment?

Tamari - Dr. Axe

If you’re a frequenter of food blogs, there’s a good chance you’ve probably already spotted this savory soy substitute in a few of your favorite gluten-free recipes. Tamari, a liquid condiment popular for its smooth flavor and versatility, may have only just begun making the rounds recently, but it’s actually been around for over a thousand years and is considered a staple ingredient in many types of cuisine worldwide.

Although it’s gaining popularity because it’s a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce, the lack of wheat isn’t the only thing that sets tamari apart from other condiments; it’s also less likely to contain additives, higher in protein and easier to cook with as well.

So what is tamari, and should you start swapping out the soy sauce for tamari sauce instead? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Tamari?

Tamari is a liquid condiment and popular soy sauce substitute produced through the fermentation of soybeans. Unlike regular soy sauce, little to no wheat is added during this process, resulting in a final product that is free of wheat and gluten.

Adding a dash of tamari to your dishes can add a salty, rich flavor to foods. It works especially well in stir-fries, dips, sauces and dressings. Plus, although soy sauce and tamari are often used interchangeably, other ingredients like coconut aminos can also be used as a tamari substitute as well to bring a savory deep flavor to foods.

In addition to being gluten-free, many people wonder: Is tamari vegan? Most brands use minimal ingredients and typically only include soybeans, water and salt, making this a suitable option for those on a vegan or vegetarian diet. Plus, it’s less likely to contain additives, higher in protein and contains a host of antioxidants, making it a worthy addition to your kitchen pantry.


  1. Free of Wheat and Gluten
  2. Less Likely to Contain Additives
  3. Versatile and Easy to Use
  4. Higher in Protein than Soy Sauce
  5. Contains Antioxidants
  6. Has a Smooth Taste

1. Free of Wheat and Gluten

One of the biggest benefits of tamari is that it’s produced from the fermented paste of soybeans and is free of wheat, making it a great substitute for soy sauce for those following a gluten-free diet.

For people with celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten, switching to grain-free alternatives may help ease gastrointestinal symptoms and prevent damage to the digestive system, resulting in improved nutrient absorption and a lower risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. (1, 2) Not only that, but animal and human studies also show that going gluten-free could decrease inflammation and help prevent weight gain as well. (3, 4)

2. Less Likely to Contain Additives

Turn over just about any bottle of regular soy sauce and you’re almost guaranteed to see a long list of soy sauce ingredients, many with names that sound like they should be in a science lab instead of on your plate. Tamari, on the other hand, is less likely to contain food additives, preservatives and extra ingredients that are no good for health. Instead, most tamari products contain only the bare minimum, including water, soybeans and salt. (5)

3. Versatile and Easy to Use

You can easily switch tamari in for soy sauce in just about any recipe, and it can be used in everything from stir-fries to dipping sauces and beyond. Plus, unlike soy sauce, it maintains its full-bodied flavor, even when undergoing high-heat cooking, making it ideal for use in nearly any dish.

4. Higher in Protein than Soy Sauce

Swapping out your regular soy sauce for tamari instead can help bump up your protein intake. In fact, tamari contains nearly double the amount of protein as regular soy sauce, clocking in at nearly two grams per one-tablespoon serving. While this may not seem like much, as this condiment is typically consumed in small amounts, it can really start to stack up over time. Besides building muscle and keeping your skin, joints and bones healthy, protein foods are also essential when it comes to tissue repair, enzyme and hormone production, and even weight control. (6, 7)

5. Contains Antioxidants

Tamari contains a good chunk of manganese, packing in about 4 percent of the daily recommended value in just one tablespoon. Manganese is an important mineral, especially because of its ability to act as an antioxidant within the body.

Antioxidants are compounds that fight free radicals and prevent oxidative stress to protect cells against damage. Research shows that antioxidants like manganese could play a central role in health and may be especially beneficial in reducing the risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and autoimmune conditions. (8)

6. Has a Smooth Taste

Tamari is often favored over soy sauce for its rich flavor and smooth taste, thanks to its increased concentration of soybeans. Its flavor is also sometimes described as less strong and more balanced than regular soy sauce, making it easier to use and incorporate into a range of dishes. Because of its richer taste, recipes often require less of it, which can also make it easier to keep your sodium intake in check.

Tamari - Dr. Axe

Potential Downsides

Although there are several benefits to using tamari sauce, there are some drawbacks as well, and one of the biggest considerations is the sodium content. While your body needs a small amount of sodium to function and thrive, filling up on too many high-sodium foods can negatively affect health.

Not only can sodium contribute to high blood pressure, which can damage the heart muscle and increase the risk of heart disease, but high amounts have also been linked to bone loss, kidney problems and even stomach cancer. 

There is also some concern over soy consumption, as the majority of soybeans grown today are genetically modified. In fact, it’s estimated that about 90 percent of soybeans in the United States are genetically modified and frequently sprayed with toxic herbicides like Roundup, which may come with negative effects on health

Tamari also contains amines, which are naturally occurring compounds like histamine and tyramine. While amines are unlikely to cause side effects in most people, eating high amounts can trigger symptoms like nausea, fatigue, headaches and hives in people who have an intolerance. 

Nutrition Facts

Tamari is low in calories but high in sodium. Although used in small amounts, it can also supply a good amount of manganese and niacin — along with a range of other important vitamins and minerals.

One tablespoon (about 18 grams) of tamari contains approximately: 

  • 10.8 calories
  • 1 gram carbohydrates
  • 1.9 grams protein
  • 0.1 gram dietary fiber
  • 1,006 milligrams sodium (42 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligram manganese (4 percent DV)
  • 0.7 milligram niacin (4 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligram iron (2 percent DV)
  • 7.2 milligrams magnesium (2 percent DV)
  • 23.4 milligrams phosphorus (2 percent DV)

In addition to the nutrients listed above, tamari also contains a small amount of vitamin B6, riboflavin, zinc, copper and potassium.

Tamari vs. Soy Sauce

So what is soy sauce? Soy sauce, also sometimes called soya sauce, is a popular condiment that is especially prevalent in Asian cuisine. Traditionally, the process for how to make soy sauce typically involves combining soaked soybeans and roasted, crushed wheat with a culturing mold. Water and salt are then added, and the mixture is left to ferment for a period of several months.

Tamari sauce, on the other hand, is made solely from fermented soybeans and contains little to no wheat, making it a good gluten-free alternative to regular soy sauce. Because it contains a higher concentration of soybeans, tamari sauce is also higher in protein and has a smooth, rich flavor that sets it apart from soy sauce.

That being said, both contain a similar set of nutrients and are high in sodium, making it important to keep your intake in moderation. Additionally, although there are minute differences in flavor, both sauces can be used interchangeably in your favorite recipes, such as dressings, stir-fries and salads.

Uses in Ayurveda and TCM

In moderation, tamari can be enjoyed on a well-rounded diet and even has some health-promoting properties that work well in holistic medicine.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the soybeans from which tamari is derived are thought to have cooling properties and are believed to enhance detoxification, promote regularity and ease urination. However, it is also recommended to limit intake of high-sodium foods like this condiment to optimize kidney function.

According to Ayurveda, on the other hand, tamari is considered easy to digest thanks to the absence of wheat as well as the fermentation process that it undergoes. It is noted, however, that intake should be kept in moderation due to the sodium content, which can have negative effects on circulation on an Ayurvedic diet.


Looking for where to buy tamari? You can easily find this ingredient at most grocery stores in the Asian food section, typically near the soy sauce and other condiments. Some of the most popular brands include San-J Tamari and Kikkoman Tamari, which are widely available at most retailers. If you’re having trouble, you can also purchase it online and have it delivered direct to your door.

Tamari is an incredibly versatile ingredient and can be easily subbstituted in place of salt or soy sauce in just about any recipe. It works well in sauces, dressings, stir-fries and salads. You can also use it to add a punch of flavor to roasted veggies, spice up meat dishes, or bring a tasty twist to teriyaki.

Here are a few tasty tamari sauce recipe ideas to get you started:

  • Brown Rice Salad Bowl with Roasted Veggies & Tamari Dressing
  • Cashew Chicken Lettuce Wrap
  • Tamari Seaweed Flax Crackers
  • Butternut Squash Noodles


Although soy sauce is enjoyed around the world these days, it actually originated in China about 2,200 years ago. From there, it began spreading throughout other parts of Asia and soon became a staple condiment in many types of cooking. In Japan, for example, it’s thought that Chinese Buddhist monks introduced soy sauce around the 7th century. Meanwhile, in Korea, soy sauce brewing is documented as far back as the 3rd century in ancient texts.

In Europe, the earliest records of soy sauce can be traced back to 1737, when it was listed as a trade commodity by the Dutch East India Co. Variations in production methods were soon introduced, and Europeans began making soy sauce using ingredients like Portobello mushrooms and allspice.

Tamari itself originates from central Japan and is considered the original Japanese soy sauce. In Japan, it’s also known as “miso-damari” because it’s the liquid that is produced during miso fermentation. The name is derived from the Japanese word “damaru,” which means “to accumulate.” Today, Japan is still considered the leading producer of tamari around the world.

Risks and Side Effects

Tamari can be a good alternative to regular soy sauce, especially for those with a sensitivity to wheat products or gluten. However, it’s still very high in sodium, and intake should be kept in moderation, especially for those with heart problems or high blood pressure.

Additionally, because most soybeans are genetically modified, it’s best to opt for organic tamari whenever possible. Be sure to also check the ingredients label and select a brand with minimal ingredients and free of additives. Also, if you do have a food allergy or sensitivity, be sure to look for certified gluten-free products to ensure that your condiment is completely free of gluten.

Finally, soy allergies are common and can cause side effects like hives, itching, rashes or swelling. If you experience these or any other food allergy symptoms, discontinue use immediately and consult with your doctor.

Final Thoughts

  • What is tamari sauce? Made from fermented soybeans, tamari is often used as a substitute for soy sauce in stir-fries, dressings and sauces.
  • It is often free of wheat and easy to use. Compared to soy sauce, it also is higher in protein, contains antioxidants, has a smoother taste, and is less likely to have additives and preservatives.
  • You can find this condiment at most grocery stores and can easily add it to a wide array of recipes.
  • However, because it’s high in sodium, it’s best to keep intake in moderation and always opt for organic to minimize potential side effects.

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