Both tamari and soy sauce are found on the same shelf at the grocery store, come in almost identical bottles, are both traditionally used in Asian cuisines, and many Asian restaurants offer both options. So what the heck is the difference between tamari vs soy sauce?

Tamari has blown up in recent years and is noted in many recipes as a soy sauce alternative. Why would anyone need to replace soy sauce? The major difference between these two sauces is the ingredients. Tamari is often a gluten-free substitution for soy sauce, as soy sauce (shockingly) contains wheat. While this difference is common knowledge in the cooking world, there are several other features that set these little guys apart from one another, including what you should be using them for.


Most people automatically associate both soy sauce and tamari with Asian cuisine. While they both originated in the Asian continent, their countries of origin are quite different. Tamari is a product from Japan, while soy sauce originated in China and has since spread throughout Asia.

How They're Made

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Beka Barski

Both sauces are products of soybean fermentation. However, there's one major difference that sets tamari apart from soy sauce. Soy sauce is the liquid that is pressed out of a brewed and fermented mixture of soybeans, wheat, and other grains. Tamari on the other hand, is the liquid extracted from fermented miso paste. This fermentation process often uses a much smaller ratio of wheat and other grains, if any at all. While this difference may seem meaningless, the lack of wheat means that tamari is often gluten-free, providing an alternative for people with Celiac disease, sensitivities, or an intolerance. 

#SpoonTip: Always check the label on tamari bottles to make sure it's gluten-free. While most brands are, there's the rare chance that a small amount of wheat was utilized during the fermentation process. Better safe than sorry.

Nutrition and Ingredients

In terms of ingredients, the major difference is the wheat found in soy sauce. Several chemically produced soy sauces will also contain hydrochloric acid, caramel color, and corn syrup, so it's important to select naturally brewed soy sauce, which sticks to water, wheat, salt, and sugar.

The nutritional facts is where tamari and soy sauce begin to look identical. When comparing nutrition labels, both options are low in calories, are low carb, have zero fat, and are high in sodium. 

#SpoonTip: Always go for traditional soy sauce such as Kikkoman, and beware of corn syrup and caramel color lurking in cheaper alternatives.


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Benjamin Martin

Tamari has been noted as having a bolder, less salty flavor to it, as well as a thicker consistency than it's counterpart. The brine used to ferment the soybeans for soy sauce is often saltier than that from the tamari process; this results in a much saltier and pungent taste in soy sauce.


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Anna Arteaga

A traditional bottle of soy sauce will only cost you about $2 at most major grocery stores. Of course, organic, gluten-free and low-sodium may tack on a few extra cents, but for the most part soy sauce is the cheaper of the two options. While you can find store brand tamari for about $2.70 at some retailers, more well-known brands will run between $3-5 a bottle.

When to Use Soy Sauce

Because of its saltier flavor and thinner consistency, soy sauce is best used in dishes where you're looking to increase the saltiness of the dish. Fried rice is a common meal where soy sauce is added, as it gives the rice the salty flavor without adding any texture or "sauce-like" consistency to the rice. Soy sauce can also be used as a component of a stir-fry sauce, usually combined with some combination of sesame oil, broth or orange juice, ginger, chili paste, and garlic.

When to Use Tamari

The thicker consistency of tamari makes it perfect for dipping. Surprisingly, tamari is actually a better choice for sushi, as it follows the idea of "less is more" a little better than soy sauce. Dipping the fish side into tamari allows you to get the savory umami flavor from the tamari, rather than having to worry about the sushi becoming drenched and over salted from soy sauce. Tamari's consistency, caramel undertone, and savory flavor makes it the perfect choice as a sauce base, especially when creating noodle bowls.

While you can probably still get away with dipping your sushi in soy sauce, I hope this lesson showed you that tamari isn't just "fancy soy sauce." Each sauce has its own benefits, and I will leave it up to you to decide which you want to stock your pantry with. I recommend showing both some love, because now you know they're not one in the same.