What is Tamari Soy Sauce?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tamari is a type of shoyu, the Japanese word for “soy sauce.” The technique for making it is quite distinctive, yielding a complex, rich flavor that some people find very enjoyable. Many Asian markets stock this product, and it can also be found at general stores that stock Asian ingredients. True tamari has a very dark color and an almost smoky flavor, and it can be used as a dip, marinade, or baste; it is also used as a component in other sauces and dips.

A bottle of tamari soy sauce.
A bottle of tamari soy sauce.

To make tamari, the liquid that drains from miso as it ages is collected. Miso is a fermented soybean paste that is a major component in Japanese cooking, and it appears in soups, stocks, sauces, and a wide variety of other foods. It is also made with a range of grains, yielding an array of textures, flavors, and feels. In Japan, tamari soy sauce production is focused in the Chubu region, where it is also known as miso-damari.

Bacon-wrapped scallops with a tamari soy dipping sauce.
Bacon-wrapped scallops with a tamari soy dipping sauce.

In the West, there is a great deal of confusion surrounding tamari. This is because Japanese shoyus were originally introduced, marketed, and sold in the West as “tamari,” rather than being differentiated by type. As a result, a wide range of products were known by the name when the real product was introduced. This has been especially problematic for the gluten intolerant, as tamari is naturally gluten free, but shoyu is not, since shoyu is traditionally fermented with wheat.

Gluten-free tamari is a popular substitute for soy sauce in Asian dipping sauces.
Gluten-free tamari is a popular substitute for soy sauce in Asian dipping sauces.

In fact, tamari soy sauce is distinct from other types of shoyu and soy sauces from other regions, and it cannot be interchanged with sauces like usukuchi shoyu or Indonesian kecap. Tamari is rich, with a tangy flavor from the miso fermentation process, and it is one of the darkest forms of Japanese shoyu. Because there is a bit of confusion about soy sauce labeling in the United States, people with gluten intolerance should read labels on all products carefully to ensure that they are true tamari, fermented without any gluten.

People who are interested in food history may be intrigued to know that some food historians believe that tamari is the original soy sauce. The recipe for it most closely mimics the soy sauce production technique imported from China to Japan, and Chinese soy sauces continue to be made with similar recipes, incorporating minimal grains other than soybeans.

Tamari soy sauce is added to some Southeast Asian soups to impart a salty, tangy flavor.
Tamari soy sauce is added to some Southeast Asian soups to impart a salty, tangy flavor.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@ceilingcat - I don't blame you for being curious. I always like to know what I'm eating, so I'm a huge reader of the labels. My local sushi place has soy sauce that just says "soy sauce." It doesn't say anything about being tamari soy sauce gluten free, so I'm assuming it's not.


I had no idea there were so many different types of soy sauce. Most of the Asian restaurants near me seem to serve Kikkoman soy sauce. I'm not sure if it's tamari soy sauce or not, as I've never thought to look on the bottle. I just though that all soy sauce was the same.

I guess it's a good thing I'm not gluten intolerant though, or else I would have had more of an incentive to be checking the label. So to me it doesn't matter either way whether it is tamari or not. I'm just really curious.


@betterment - It would actually make more sense for your friend to avoid soy sauce that contains alcohol (although it sounds like it doesn't contain much) rather than avoiding vanilla extract. As far as I know, when you cook with vanilla extract, the alcohol gets cooked out in the heating process. So there's really nothing to worry about with vanilla extract.


@anon242902 - That's very interesting. I was wondering if dark soy sauce had any alcohol in it when I was reading the article. It seems like it should because of the way it is made. However, before reading the article, I never thought soy sauce would contain alcohol.

I wonder if people who are in recovery from addiction avoid soy sauce? I have a friend who is in recovery and won't even eat a pie or cookie made with vanilla extract, so I wonder if she avoids soy sauce too. I will have to ask her.


Does anyone know why I would be allergic to Tamari but not soya sauce?


The alcohol in tamari and shoyu is not added; it is a by-product of the fermentation process. All soy sauces have it, about 1.8-3.0 percent by volume.


I recommend the Wanjashan Organic Soy Sauces currently available at Whole Foods. They have an organic gluten-free tamari in addition to an organic gluten-free Ponzu and organic gluten-free Worcestershire products.


A person can buy Tamari in health food shops, and also in some supermarkets that have a health food section.


Why is it not stated that both tamari and shoyu contain alcohol? I have seen this listed on two good, well known brands - is this true of traditional products?


you could probably find it on-line, if not in some hoity-toity specialty/health food store. I always find if you request something at your regular grocery store, they might start to carry it, especially if you weren't the first to ask. That's how my husband and I got our favorite dance hall/bar to carry Coors beer! Just by always ordering it. They said they didn't have it six times, but then one night, they did!


Where can a person buy Tamari?

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