Whether you‘re trying it for health reasons or just want to explore a new taste, tamari sauce is a great substitute for regular soy sauce. Tamari sauce is famous for its umami taste. Some even say that tamari sauce is a healthier choice for people who cannot eat gluten.

So, what exactly is tamari sauce?

What Is Tamari Sauce?

Tamari sauce or tamari soy sauce is a wheat-free Japanese variety of soy sauce. It is a fairly well known condiment so you can probably find it in the Asian condiment aisle in grocery stores near you.

In order to be massively produced, regular soy sauce is brewed with 50% wheat as an additional ingredient. As we know, wheat contains gluten, a protein that may trigger health problems to those who are intolerant.

Tamari sauce can be a great alternative to regular soy sauce since both have a slight similarity in terms of taste. In fact, due to its characteristic, tamari sauce has become a favorite soy condiment especially for those who want to eat gluten free. There are also certified gluten free tamari sauce in the market for people who cannot eat gluten at all.

Tamari Sauce And Soybeans

Because tamari sauce is usually 100% soy based, it has a richer flavor profile. Although some brands may use wheat for their tamari production, the amount of wheat used is extremely small compared to regular soy sauce. Wheat usage in tamari sauce production is also done very rarely.

Originally, Tamari sauce was a byproduct of miso production. Tamari sauce is the liquid that accumulates during the fermentation process of soy when turning it into miso. The word 溜り tamari means collection, pool of water, or liquid runoff. In the miso industry, tamari means the liquid runoff from miso preparation.

Tamari sauce is great as a dipping sauce for sashimi and sushi. It can also be used for seasoning many dishes like teriyaki or used as a salad vinaigrette. When heat is applied to tamari sauce, the sauce will have a reddish hue, making it look good glazed on Japanese rice crackers.


In Japan, some households in Kyushuu and Tokai region uses tamari sauce instead of regular soy sauce for everyday cooking.

Special Traits of Tamari Sauce

Mostly 100% Soy based

Smooth umami, less abrasive taste

Thicker texture and deeper color

Rich in protein

Reduced Sodium

The Differences Between Tamari Sauce And Regular Soy Sauce

Tamari sauce is considered to be a type of soy sauce. But due to the ingredients and making process, tamari sauce has different characteristics when compared to regular soy sauce. Here are the difference between tamari sauce and regular soy sauce.

Tamari Sauce Regular Soy Sauce
Less Sodium More Sodium
Usually made from 100% soybeans Usually made from 50% soybeans and 50% wheat
(Some brands replace wheat with rice or corn starch in order to make gluten free soy sauce)
Deep umami taste. Less salty Sharp and salty
Dark brown, almost black color Brown color
(Some other type of soy sauce have light brown or even almost clear color)
Aged for more than a year Mostly aged for a year or less than a year

Tamari Sauce And Gluten Free Diet

The fact that a lot of people choose to go gluten-free might be a good factor why tamari sauce has gained so much popularity these days. Whether you eat gluten-free because of health condition or because of your personal preference, tamari sauce is a good choice to spice up your cooking. For people who cannot consume gluten at all, it’s recommended to buy tamari sauce that has a gluten free certification. Tamari sauce is usually 100% soy based, but some brands use a small amount of wheat during their brewing process. It might be too risky to pick any tamari sauce when you have a severe gluten hypersensitivity. Lately, gluten free tamari sauce is getting more and more popular so it should be easier to find today.

So, Is Tamari Sauce a Healthier Choice?

It’s relative. If we’re comparing to regular soy sauce, tamari soy sauce does have less sodium and contains more protein and minerals.

Whether tamari sauce is significantly healthier or not, it is still fairly debatable. But it is a good choice for someone who prefer richer tasting soy sauce. Besides, it can also be used to substitute salt as food seasoning.

And since tamari sauce is 100% soy-based, it can be a great option for someone who cannot eat gluten. Thus, a healthier choice for them.

Tamari Sauce And Soybeans

Tamari Sauce Brewing Process

Soaking and Steaming

Soybeans are washed and soaked for 2 hours and then steamed until soft

Koji making

Koji is a fermentation product made from a mold called aspergillus oryzae. It is used in many traditional Japanese food.

After the soybeans are steamed, they are minced into paste with machines and shaped into balls called misodama. After that, the misodama is sprinkled with koji starter to propagate koji. This propagation process is done for 3 days. After propagation is done, koji will be seen on the surface of the misodama.


In Japanese, shikomi means preparation. During this step, misodama that already has propagated koji is moved into a big wooden vessel. This vessel is closed with stones. The stones have to be neatly arranged, almost like a puzzle, so the weight is equal on all sides and all surface is covered. This job needs to be done by an experienced worker.

After the stones are arranged, salted water is added to the mixture through the stones. The amount of salted water can vary from half the scale of the soy mixture, to one full scale.

Aging (Maturation)

The maturing process of the mixture can take 2 to 3 years. After that, an umami liquid runoff will accumulates. This liquid runoff which is the tamari sauce can be collected. Some factories also pressed their mixture paste (moromi) in order to extract the tamari sauce.


After extraction, tamari sauce is ready to be bottled and distributed.

Recipe Using Tamari Sauce

Chicken Teriyaki With Tamari Sauce

Tamari sauce is a great addition for your cooking. It can add a mellow umami flavor and give your chicken a glossy (teri 照り) look.
Cooking Time35Minutes


Boneless Chicken Thigh
Ginger, grated
1 Cut (2.5cm)
2 tbsp
¼ tsp
¼ tsp
1 tbsp
1 tbsp
½ tbsp
Tamari Sauce
2 tbsp


Cut chicken into small pieces, salt and pepper the chicken. Make sure not to over salt the chicken because tamari sauce already has a certain saltiness in them.
Turn on the stove to medium heat, put oil on frying pan, and cook the chicken. Don’t forget to sear both sides.
After the chicken in half cooked, add ginger, sake, mirin, sugar, tamari sauce, and water. Stir well until everything is incorporated.
Close the frying pan with a lid, turn the heat down, and simmer chicken for about 7-10 minutes.
Open the lid, turn the heat up, stir and simmer until the liquid is reduced.
Chicken teriyaki is ready to serve.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is all tamari sauce gluten free?
Not necessarily. Though they are mostly brewed without wheat, it’s still safer to bet on tamari sauce that has a certified gluten free label on them. Especially if you have celiac disease or gluten hypersensitivity. It is very unlikely that tamari sauce use ingredients that has gluten in it, but it’s better to be sure.
Is there a gluten free soy sauce? If yes, then what’s the difference between gluten free soy sauce and gluten free tamari sauce?
Yes there is a gluten free soy sauce. I know it may be confusing, but both variants come in gluten free option. The main difference is: gluten free tamari is 100% made from soybeans while gluten free soy sauce’s main ingredients are soybeans and rice (some brands uses corn starch) to replace wheat. Another distinctive feature is their taste difference.

That being said, sometimes brands also label their tamari sauce as ‘gluten free soy sauce’. So to differentiate, just remember that tamari sauce is usually 100% soy-based while regular soy sauce is not.

Recommended Products For Tamari Sauce

Some photos by Jcomp