What is Tamari in Japanese Cooking?

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Most of us think of soy sauce as a singular condiment, but venture into your local Asian grocer (or, better yet, take a trip to Japan), and you'll soon learn that there are dozens of different types of soy sauce, all with slightly different tastes and consistencies. Though it may be produced slightly differently, tamari is basically a type of soy sauce that is made without wheat. In other words, tamari is a type of soy sauce, but it is not exactly the same as regular soy sauce.


Is tamari gluten-free? Is it vegan?

Normally, yes. Nearly all varieties produced for consumption in the US are indeed gluten-free, though tamari can contain trace amounts of wheat. If you're shopping at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's or your regular grocer, chances are that all of the tamari you find will be labeled as gluten-free and will be safe for anyone on a gluten-free diet. Kikkoman-brand tamari is one example that is not gluten-free and contains wheat (though they do make one type of tamari that is gluten-free and clearly labeled as such). 

And, of course, tamari is also a vegetarian and vegan food. If you have a soy allergy, you'll need to avoid tamari, though soy-free versions do exist. Many tamari brands also have added salt. Read the label if this is a concern for you. 

Can I substitute tamari for soy sauce? Can I substitute soy sauce for tamari?

In general, yes, though you may find that you have a preference for one flavor over the other.

Tamari has a bolder flavor with a less salty taste -- more like a general seasoning sauce which combines well with a variety of other flavors, for example, in a noodle dish or vegetable stir-fry.

Tamari is also less likely to have additives. Check the ingredients label of any bottle of soy sauce and it's likely to have quite a few ingredients that really don't belong in there, but tamari ingredients are much likely to be simple and basic: water, soybeans and salt.

You can use tamari in place of soy sauce on any vegetarian recipe.

What are some other alternatives to soy sauce?

While soy sauce is a key ingredient in some Asian recipes, many vegetarian and vegan recipes also use it just to enhance flavor, but it can easily be omitted or substituted with other flavor enhancers such as spices, fresh herbs or even plain salt (sea salt or kosher salt are always best). If you have a recipe which calls for soy sauce, here are a few similar alternatives you can use: