When it comes to cooking a stir-fry or making teriyaki, it’s possible that you’ve run into recipes suggesting the use of tamari instead of the more omnipresent soy sauce. But if you’ve never used (or even heard of, for that matter) tamari, don’t fret. Soy sauce and tamari are pretty similar when it comes down to color, smell, and culinary usage, but there are a couple of places where the two condiments diverge.
To start, tamari is a Japanese equivalent of soy sauce. It’s basically the liquid byproduct that’s created during the production of miso; while miso ages into a thick paste, what’s leftover is a liquid: tamari. Tamari can actually be loosely translated as “puddle,” since it pools (or puddles) up during miso production.
What results is a thick, slightly sweet, darker product than soy sauce. It’s also much less salty than soy sauce, and one of the biggest draws of people using tamari nowadays is that during the miso fermentation process, little (or none) gluten is added, making it a great product for people who are gluten-free.
While many Asian countries produce their own form of soy sauce, the most ubiquitous one you’ll run into is the Chinese version—which is where soy sauce was originated. This kind of soy sauce is made by cooking down soybeans, roasted wheat, and other grains, which are then added to a very salty brine. This creates a paste which is fermented and then pressed to obtain the dark, salty liquid.
So although both are pretty similar overall and can generally be used interchangeably, the main distinction fundamentally between the two is that tamari does not contain gluten, while soy sauce does.
Looking for recipe inspiration? Check out these recipes which showcase both soy sauce and tamari.
Soy Sauce Recipes
Soy Sauce Pan Fried Noodles
Soy sauce makes a quick and tasty sauce for these egg noodles, which are pan fried with bean sprouts, chives, and green onion. Get the recipe.
Honey Soy Chicken
The sauce for these chicken thighs—a combination of vegetable oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, garlic, ginger, and pepper—is drizzled on the chicken after it’s been cooked, creating a mix of a savory and sweet finish. Get the recipe.
Asian Salmon in Foil
Make weeknights simple with this quick Asian salmon: Just whisk together honey, garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, Sriracha, and pepper together, coat the salmon with it, then bake in foil for 15-20 minutes. Get the recipe.
Supreme Soy Sauce Fried Rice
Quit ordering take-out and try out your own version of fried rice—especially if you have leftover rice from last night’s meal. Add in eggs and finely chopped scallions and you’ll never order in again. Get the recipe.
Ginger Lime Tamari Baked Cod
The inherently salty cod is spiced up with tamari, lime, ginger, and honey, then roasted in the oven for 15 minutes. Get the recipe.
Spicy Tamari Ramen Noodles
Thought restaurant-style ramen was too tricky to make at home? Think again. This recipe is ready in just 30 minutes. Just cook ramen noodles with butter, tamari, Sriracha, and lime juice, then add in whatever toppings you prefer. Get the recipe.
Sesame Tamari Almonds
Branch out with your snacks—whether you just need something to nosh on at home or you’re hosting a party—with these Asian-inspired nuts. Bake almonds in a maple syrup, toasted sesame oil, tamari, and salt glaze, then sprinkle on sesame seeds once they come out of the oven. Get the recipe.
Hibachi Style Teriyaki Vegetables
Sugar snap peas, red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, and carrots come together in this healthy stir-fry, which gets sweetened from teriyaki sauce and tamari. Get the recipe.
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