The recipe you’re preparing this evening has two options, tamari sauce, and soy sauce. You can use either to add a ‘boost’ in flavor and a rich, umami profile to your dish, but how do you choose between the two? While both can be equally appealing, let’s break down the difference between our two contenders! Let the battle of Tamari vs Soy Sauce begin!

What is Soy Sauce?

The counterpart you may be more familiar with, soy sauce, has become a transcontinental pantry staple. A liquid condiment of Chinese origin, soy sauce is made with soybeans, wheat, and salt. The mixture is then brewed together and left to ferment.

The fermented byproduct can be up to 50% wheat in structure and is relatively high in sodium content. When the fermented mixture is pressed, the liquid released is what we have come to know and love, as soy sauce.

The easiest way to think of soy sauce is a salty sauce or flavor additive that packs a big punch of sodium and umami with a thin consistency!

What is Tamari Sauce?

When you’re thinking of Tamari, it can be considered a relative of the soy sauce family—similar but different. Tamari, a Japanese-derived condiment, is a liquid byproduct of making miso paste, aka fermented soybeans. Made with a higher volume of soybeans and little-to-no wheat, it has a slightly thicker consistency than the traditional soy sauce–and as Rihanna says, thick is beautiful.

Additionally, since tamari is traditionally made with no wheat, it’s a great gluten-free soy sauce option for those with gluten intolerance; however, make sure you diligently check the label and ingredient list to be sure!

If we break down tamari’s flavor profile, it is summed up in a few words: rich in umami, mellow, low in salt, and slightly thicker.

two bottles of tamari and bottle of soy sauce set on a table

How to Cook with Tamari and Soy Sauce

Both have a place in our stomachs and our hearts. Let’s start with tamari. Given that it’s higher in protein and contains fewer additives, yet produces a strong umami flavor, many vegetarian and vegan dishes use tamari to add a ‘meatiness’ profile to the plate.

Tamari, unlike soy sauce, does not typically overwhelm foods with its flavor. It’s a great contributor to soups and stews, adding a creamier texture and subtle boost in flavor. Additionally, because tamari does have a subdued saltiness and a thicker consistency, it’s often used as a dipping sauce or marinade for dumplings, raw fish, and noodles.

Flip the coin, and there’s soy sauce. Soy sauce can be used on its own as a dip as well. However, we must keep in mind that it has 900mg per tablespoon of sodium. The high sodium content of soy sauce can quickly overwhelm the ‘dip-ee’ if too much is used.

More commonly, soy sauce is an easy way to incorporate flavor into salad dressings and sauces – not used independently. Many meat marinades also use soy sauce as a salt substitute and flavor boost. An added bonus—soy sauce actually breaks down the proteins in meat, tenderizing the cut and making it easier to chew. Soy sauce can be considered a more nuanced addition to culinary staples and not the main attraction.

To come full circle, while tamari sauce and soy sauce can be used as substitutes for one another, it’s important to note the differences. Things like consistency, sodium levels, and flavor profile shape our desired meals into the meals of our dreams. But, let us never forget, both are equally delicious.

FAQs: Tamari vs Soy Sauce

Where to find soy sauce and tamari?

You can find soy sauce in the condiment aisle of most small markets or large grocery chains, as well as specialty Asian Markets. Its popularity in Western culture makes this pantry staple easily accessible in most parts of the country.

Similarly, tamari can be found in most local grocery aisles, large or small. While every grocer is different, the condiment aisle or ‘ethnic/Asian’ described sections are the first places you may want to look.

Where to store tamari and soy sauce?

When storing soy sauce, a constant temperature is best. Try to avoid locations near a stove or dishwasher, where temperatures fluctuate. The ideal place for soy sauce is a cool, dark cabinet stored in its original container. Soy sauce does not lose flavor or freshness when stored at room temperature.

Keeping an unopened bottle in a cool, dry, and dark place, such as a pantry, is vital when storing tamari sauce. Once opened, tamari can be stored in the refrigerator to preserve shelf life and flavor.

Recipes that use Tamari and/or Soy Sauce

pork bulgogi in a large white bowl with large pieces of green onion and serrano

1

Korean-Style Pork Bulgogi
A quick and easy korean-inspired pork dinner! Serve tender pieces of seared pork over rice with kimchi and cucumbers.
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blue bowls filled with ground beef over rice, carrots and cucumbers

2

Ground Beef Bulgogi Bowls
Savory, spicy and slightly sweet, these ground beef bulgogi rice bowls are the perfect weeknight meal. Adaptable, versatile, quick and easy—everything a great weeknight dinner should be!
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cubed tofu, ground meat and vegetables coated in a red sauce in a large pot

3

Saucy Korean Tofu with Pork and Vegetables
A one pan meal that will awaken the taste buds! This Korean mapo-style tofu is savory, spicy and saucy. Serve over rice for a full, satisfying meal. 
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small bites of scallions wrapped in thin slices of beef set on a white plate with a glaze drizzled over top

4

Beef Negimaki (Japanese Steak and Scallion Rolls)
These sweet and savory grilled beef and scallion rolls make a great appetizer or full meal served with rice and snap peas or asparagus.
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roasted glazed salmon fillet on a foil-lined baking sheet with sliced green onions and sesame seeds sprinkled over top

5

Sheet Pan Miso-Glazed Salmon
Sweet and savory glazed salmon featuring moist, flaky salmon and a sweet caramelized top. Ready in 25 minutes and made with just 7 ingredients, this recipe proves you can eat well any night of the week. 
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overhead image a black and white bowl filled with rice noodles and scallions

6

Ginger Scallion Sauce
Inspired by a similar recipe from Momofuku, this simple Asian sauce is delicious tossed with rice noodles, spooned over rice, or served with grilled fish or meat. This is one of those things you’ll want to keep in your fridge at all times. 
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About The Author

Kaitlan Foland has spent the better half of a decade traveling the states writing for food and beverage publications. An amateur chef in the kitchen, her love of all things culinary has motivated her desire to always know more and, in turn, be able to enlighten others. Recently having taken her travels overseas, she hopes to bring more experience and cultural exploration into future adventures, on paper and off.

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