Tamari vs. Soy Sauce: What's the Difference?

Learn the differences and when to use each one.

January 31, 2023
Organic Dark Soy Tamari Sauce in a Bowl

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Organic Dark Soy Tamari Sauce in a Bowl

Photo by: bhofack2/Getty Images

bhofack2/Getty Images

By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.

You may have spied bottles of tamari and soy sauce in the international aisle of your grocery store or encountered it at your favorite sushi joint or Chinese takeout spot. And although tamari and soy sauce are both made from soy and they can look the same, the similarities stop there. Here, we break down the differences between soy sauce and tamari and when to use each.

soy sauce in square bowl.

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soy sauce in square bowl.

Photo by: ALEAIMAGE/Getty Images

ALEAIMAGE/Getty Images

What Is Tamari?

Tamari is a gluten-free Japanese sauce made by pressing the liquid from miso, a fermented soybean paste of soybeans, water, salt and koji (fermented rice). Tamari has a thick viscosity, is dark brown in color and has a rich, savory flavor rounded out with a subtle sweetness. Because it does not contain any wheat, tamari is gluten-free. For more information on its history and how it’s used in Japanese cuisine, check out our What is Tamari? primer.

A bowl of soy sauce. White bowl on slate plate. High point of view. Light effect.

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A bowl of soy sauce. White bowl on slate plate. High point of view. Light effect.

Photo by: annick vanderschelden photography/Getty Images

annick vanderschelden photography/Getty Images

What Is Soy Sauce?

Soy sauce is a condiment made from a mix of fermented soybeans, water, salt and a grain, such as wheat or rice. There are different types of soy sauce, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Indonesian. Its color and flavor profile—sweet, salty, a little funky—varies depending on where it’s made and how long it’s aged. For more on the different types of soy sauce, what they taste like and how to use them, check out our Guide to Different Types of Soy Sauce.

Steamed Asian Pork Dumplings with Soy Sauce and Green Onions

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Steamed Asian Pork Dumplings with Soy Sauce and Green Onions

Photo by: LauriPatterson/Getty Images

LauriPatterson/Getty Images

Tamari vs Soy Sauce: What Are the Differences?

Soy sauce and tamari are both fermented sauces made from soybeans, but that’s where the similarities end. These are the main differences between tamari and soy sauce.

  • Origin: Soy sauce originated in China and is a common ingredient in Chinese cooking (though soy sauce is also made and used in Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan). Tamari hails from Japan and is a staple in Japanese cuisine.
  • Ingredients: Soy sauce is typically made from soy and wheat, whereas tamari is made from soy and rice. This makes tamari gluten-free (though be sure to double check labels since some manufacturers add wheat).
  • Fermentation time: Tamari takes longer to make than most varieties of soy sauce, requiring a year or longer to ferment.
  • Color: Because tamari ferments for longer than soy, it is also generally darker in color.
  • Flavor: Tamari has a richer flavor and tends to taste less salty than soy. Tamari’s longer fermentation process enables the soy and salt to become well incorporated, resulting in a smoother taste and deeper umami flavor. Soy sauce tends to have a sharper flavor and more pronounced bite.
  • Viscosity: Tamari is thicker than soy sauce.

Which Is Healthier?

Tamari and soy sauce have similar nutritional make-up, including a high sodium content, so be sure to moderate your consumption. If you have celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten, opt for tamari since it’s not made with wheat (though be sure to double check labels).

Food Network Kitchen Step by Steps

Food Network Kitchen Step by Steps

Photo by: Lucy Schaeffer

Lucy Schaeffer

When to Use Tamari vs Soy Sauce

You can use tamari and soy sauce interchangeably, although tamari tends to impart a richer, fuller flavor. Experiment with subbing in one for the other in stir-fries, braises, stews or in teriyaki dishes, like these Chicken Teriyaki Meatballs (pictured above). Both tamari and soy sauce can be used in marinades, dressings or as a dipping sauce for dumplings or sushi, though you’ll want to consider what flavor profile you’re after.

Soy sauce is commonly used in Chinese cooking and imparts a sharper flavor than tamari. Tamari is a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine, but you can try using it in dishes that typically call for soy if you’re looking for deeper umami with less perceived saltiness. Tamari is thicker than soy sauce, so it can add more body as well as flavor to stews, stir-fries and glazes; try swapping in tamari for soy sauce in this recipe for Korean Fried Chicken with Soy-Garlic Glaze. And since tamari is made without wheat, it’s a great gluten-free alternative to soy sauce.

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