Both incredibly popular sauces in Asian cuisine, tamari and soy sauce are similar condiments that have a few important differences. While both are made from fermented soybeans, each one adds a unique flavor to dishes and should be used in distinct situations, depending on the recipe that you are preparing and the food allergies of those who will be consuming it.
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What Is Soy Sauce?
Soy sauce is a crucial element in Asian, especially Chinese, cuisine, and just about everyone has probably tried it with some Gyoza dumplings or a California roll. This condiment, like tamari, is made from a fermented mixture of soybeans and wheat. Therefore, because it contains gluten, it is not suitable for celiacs or those with a gluten intolerance.
Soy sauce tends to have a bit thinner consistency and saltier flavor than tamari, while at the same time providing the burst of umami that so many people appreciate the condiment for.
What Is Tamari?
Though it is very similar to soy sauce in that it is also made from fermented soybeans (specifically the byproduct of miso paste), there is a crucial difference when it comes to tamari. Most tamari sauces contain little to no wheat, meaning that the condiment is suitable for celiacs or those with a gluten intolerance.
Tamari also tends to have a deeper, richer flavor than soy sauce, along with a slightly thicker consistency, thanks to the fact that it is made with twice the amount of soybeans as soy sauce. It is a specifically Japanese condiment that is most often used as a marinade or for dipping.
How Do You Use Tamari vs. Soy Sauce?
Both soy sauce and tamari have a wide range of possible uses. Soy sauce is most commonly used in hot dishes or stir fries, especially when preparing Chinese food. And of course, soy sauce is essential to serve alongside sushi or with Asian dumplings.
But thanks to the thicker consistency of tamari, it is more commonly used as a dressing for cold dishes, like salads, or as a dipping sauce, though it can also be incorporated into hot dishes like fried rice or noodle stir fries.
Can You Substitute Tamari for Soy Sauce and Vice Versa?
Though they are very similar, you have to keep a few things in mind when swapping tamari for soy sauce and vice versa. Most importantly, remember that tamari is celiac-friendly and soy sauce is not, if that is a relevant factor for you or whoever you are cooking for.
Tamari and soy sauce can usually be swapped in a 1:1 ratio, but it is key to highlight that tamari has a bit of a richer flavor than soy sauce, so if your dish contains a lot of ingredients and you are swapping in tamari for soy sauce, you may want to use a little less than the recipe calls for.
Alternatively, soy sauce tends to be a bit saltier than tamari, so perhaps hold off on adding any extra salt when using soy sauce instead of tamari in a dish. In fact, you may want to even add a little bit of sugar in this case, as the richness of tamari often comes off as slightly sweet, a flavor that soy sauce on its own does not provide.