Tamari (or tamari shoyu) is a Japanese sauce made from fermented soybeans. It has a thicker consistency and a more balanced flavor than Chinese soy sauce, making it a good choice for a dipping sauce. It's also vegan and gluten-free. Use tamari straight from the bottle to add salt, umami, and extra nutrients to food.
- Main components: soy
- Place of origin: Japan
- Common way to use it: dipping sauce
What Is Tamari?
You may think of soy sauce as a singular condiment, but there are dozens of different types of soy-based sauces from all over Asia, each with slightly different flavors, colors, and consistencies. Tamari is one of these sauces, and has its own distinct flavor, mainly because it is made differently from all other soy sauces. Tamari is pressed from the liquid that drains from miso paste (fermented soybean paste) as it ages. Soy sauce, on the other hand, is made of a fermented and brewed mixture of soybeans, wheat, and other grains. Tamari is often priced a little higher than soy sauce.
Tamari vs. Soy Sauce
Whereas the many varieties of soy sauce are found throughout Asia, tamari is specifically Japanese. But the biggest difference between tamari and other soy sauces is that tamari is most often made without wheat, while soy sauce typically contains wheat (up to 50 percent of its total content). Tamari also has fewer ingredients compared to soy sauce, containing only water, soybeans, and salt. The ingredient list on a typical bottle of soy sauce usually contains wheat and a preservative such as sodium benzoate. The difference in ingredients results in tamari having a richer flavor, thicker consistency, and darker hue than a typical Chinese soy sauce.
You can substitute tamari for soy sauce, and vice versa, though you may find that you have a preference for one flavor over the other, or prefer to use each for a specific culinary purpose.
How to Use Tamari
Because of tamari's consistency and balanced flavor, it is ideal to use as a dipping sauce. Tamari is actually a better dipping sauce for sushi than soy sauce as it won't overwhelm the fish with saltiness. You can also add tamari to soups, stews, marinades, stir-fries, and Asian sauces, or use it right out of the bottle as a condiment for noodles, dumplings, fish (especially raw, like sashimi), and tofu.
Tamari (along with a little sugar) is also a popular seasoning for roasted nuts, especially almonds.
What Does It Taste Like?
Tamari tastes like a mellow, less salty, more nuanced soy sauce, owing to its 100 percent soy content. The wheat in traditional soy sauce can impart a sharp, almost vinegar-like flavor that is absent in tamari. Instead, tamari is packed with umami—a rich, savory, "mouthwatering" flavor present in beef, cooked mushrooms, tomato paste, aged cheeses, and dried fish—and can be used to add a "meatiness" to vegetarian and vegan food.
Use tamari in place of soy sauce in dressings, stir-fries, sauces, and soups to bring a rich, less salty flavor to all kinds of savory recipes.
Where to Buy Tamari
As Asian food has become more mainstream over the past several years, it is easier to buy a variety of Asian ingredients, including tamari. You should be able to find tamari in glass bottles (or large plastic jugs in bulk) in the Asian/international section of a well-stocked supermarket next to the soy sauce. If your local grocery store doesn't have it, check out an Asian, international, or health food store or order online.
Nearly all varieties of tamari sold in the U.S. are gluten-free, though they may still contain trace amounts of wheat. The tamari you find will likely be labeled as gluten-free, safe for anyone on a gluten-free diet. Kikkoman brand regular tamari, however, is not gluten-free, though they do make one type of tamari that is gluten-free and clearly labeled as such.
Store tamari in its original container in a cool, dry, dark place like the pantry. It doesn't need to be refrigerated but won't lose any flavor if stored in the fridge. Opened containers of tamari can be kept indefinitely tightly capped.
Nutrition and Benefits
Tamari is full of vitamins and minerals, especially manganese. It also has the nutrients present in fermented foods, like peptides, polysaccharides, and oligosaccharides that contribute to immune, cardiovascular, and digestive health. In addition, tamari is high in antioxidant phenolic acids—higher in fact than red wine—and even contains plant-based protein.
Many brands of tamari have added salt, so be sure to read the label before purchasing. One tablespoon of traditional store-bought tamari contains 980 milligrams of sodium. This is slightly more than traditional store-bought soy sauce, which has 960 milligrams per tablespoon. Low-sodium tamari retains most of its beneficial nutrients.