Is tamari gluten-free soy sauce?

What is tamari?

Tamari is a type of soy sauce that originated in Japan. It is made by fermenting soybeans and sometimes wheat. Tamari has a thicker consistency and darker color compared to regular soy sauce. It also has a richer, smoother taste.

The main difference between tamari and regular soy sauce is that tamari contains little to no wheat. Most tamari is made with just soybeans and salt, while regular soy sauce contains about 50% wheat.

Is tamari gluten-free?

Most tamari is gluten-free, but not all tamari is guaranteed to be gluten-free. Here is a breakdown:

Gluten-free tamari

– Made with just soybeans and salt, without any wheat. This is 100% gluten-free.

– Labeled “gluten-free” on the bottle. This ensures the tamari contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

– Certified gluten-free by organizations like the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO). This confirms the tamari was produced in a facility free from cross-contamination.

Potentially gluten-containing tamari

– Made with a small amount of wheat. Most contain little enough wheat to be permitted on a gluten-free diet. But the exact gluten content may not be disclosed.

– Not labeled “gluten-free.” Without this label, there’s no guarantee the tamari is below 20 ppm of gluten.

– Made in facilities that also process wheat. Even if the tamari itself is gluten-free, cross-contamination is possible.

The only way to know for sure if a tamari is gluten-free is to look for the “gluten-free” label or certification by a trusted gluten-free organization. Tamari made with just soybeans and salt is naturally gluten-free, but getting third-party verification is recommended for people who need to avoid gluten.

Why tamari often contains gluten

Although authentic tamari is made simply from soybeans and salt, most commercial tamari today contains some amount of wheat. Here’s why:

For flavor

Adding a small amount of wheat provides a richer, more complex flavor in tamari. The wheat helps balance and smooth out the strong flavors from the fermented soybeans. Most tamari with wheat contains about 5-10% wheat content.

For consistency

The wheat also gives tamari a thicker, syrupy texture. Pure soybean tamari can sometimes be quite thin. The wheat helps it coat foods better and stick to dishes instead of running off.

For faster production

Fermenting just soybeans takes much longer compared to adding some wheat to the mix. With wheat, the fermentation and production process is faster. This allows manufacturers to churn out more tamari efficiently.

For cost savings

Wheat is cheaper than soybeans. By cutting the soy with some wheat, manufacturers can produce tamari at a lower cost. This results in higher profit margins.

So in summary, adding wheat to tamari provides financial and production incentives for manufacturers. But it comes at the expense of purity and gluten-free status for sensitive consumers.

Reading tamari labels

When shopping for gluten-free tamari, reading labels carefully is key. Here are some things to look for:


Scan for wheat or barley malt in the ingredients list. The product is not gluten-free if it contains these.

“Gluten-free” label

Look for the words “gluten-free” clearly printed on the bottle. This is voluntary labeling by the manufacturer.

Allergen warnings

Check for the “Contains wheat” or “Contains gluten” warnings often found below the ingredients list.

Testing information

Some brands state the tamari is tested to below 5 or 10 ppm of gluten. Under 20 ppm can be labeled gluten-free.

Certification symbols

Watch for trusted gluten-free certifications like the GFCO symbol on the packaging.

Company information

Research the brand online to find out if they specialize in gluten-free foods and avoid cross-contamination risks.

Carefully reading all label information provides the best chance of finding authentic gluten-free tamari. When in doubt, contacting the manufacturer directly can also provide confirmation.

5 best tamari brands that are gluten-free

If you’re looking for reliably gluten-free tamari without wheat, here are 5 recommended brands:

1. San-J Tamari

– Brewed from soybeans and salt only

– Certified gluten-free by GFCO

– Available in regular and low-sodium

2. Kikkoman Gluten-Free Tamari

– Labeled gluten-free

– Uses corn starch instead of wheat

– Lighter color than regular soy sauce

3. Chosen Foods Gluten-Free Tamari

– Made from organic soybeans

– Tested to below 5 ppm of gluten

– Robust umami and salty flavor

4. Tamari Gold

– Made with soybeans and salt only

– Free of wheat, gluten and preservatives

– Rich taste and thick consistency

5. Planet Organic Gluten-Free Tamari

– Canadian brand focused on allergens

– Tested to have no detectable gluten

– Available in regular and coconut amino

These reputable brands make tamari specifically for gluten-free diets. They provide lab testing data or certification to confirm there is no gluten. Purchasing these removes the guesswork of deciphering tamari labels.

Substituting tamari in recipes

Tamari works beautifully in Asian-inspired dishes that call for regular soy sauce. The bolder, complex taste pairs well with noodle and rice dishes, stir fries, marinades, sauces and more.

Here are some tips for substituting tamari in recipes:

– Use the same amount of tamari as soy sauce called for. Tamari has a similar saltiness and viscosity.

– For dipping sauces, use a 1:1 ratio. Swap 1 TBSP soy sauce for 1 TBSP tamari.

– In marinades and sauces, replace soy sauce tablespoon for tablespoon.

– For seasoning stir fries or noodles, start with the same amounts first. Then adjust to taste.

– Add tamari at the end of cooking versus simmering, since the flavor will concentrate more.

– For lighter dishes, try reduced-sodium tamari which isn’t as salty.

– Mix tamari with rice vinegar, chili oil or sesame oil for quick noodle bowls.

Substituting tamari for soy sauce provides a nice flavor change-up in Asian recipes. Its gluten-free status makes it accessible to more people too. Play around with amounts to suit different dishes.

Potential side effects of tamari

Tamari is generally well-tolerated without side effects for most people. But here are some potential downsides to be aware of:

High sodium

Like soy sauce, tamari is high in sodium since that’s a main component. Consuming too much may increase blood pressure or risk of heart disease.

Allergic reactions

Some people have soy allergies or sensitivities. Tamari can trigger adverse reactions like rashes, nausea, diarrhea or anaphylaxis.

Tyramine content

The fermentation process produces tyramine, an amino acid that may interact with MAOI drugs. Those on MAOIs should exercise caution with foods containing tyramine.

MSG reactions

Tamari naturally contains high levels of glutamates. Some people complain of headaches, sweating or heart palpitations from MSG.


The acidity of tamari may aggravate conditions like GERD or ulcers when consumed in excess.

As with most foods, tamari is best enjoyed in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet. Those with soy allergies or on restricted diets should also take care when incorporating it.

Homemade tamari recipe

Want to try making tamari from scratch at home? It takes patience and foresight, but is doable. Here is an overview of the homemade tamari process:


– 4 cups soybeans
– 4 cups water
– Koji starter culture
– Sea salt


– 1 gallon glass jar or fermenting crock
– Cheesecloth
– Kitchen scale
– Canning supplies


1. Soak soybeans overnight then boil until very soft, about 3 hours. Drain, reserving cooking liquid.

2. Mash cooked beans, adding just enough cooking liquid to achieve a thick paste.

3. Spread mashed soybeans in a thin layer on a tray. Inoculate with koji starter and incubate 12-18 hours to grow koji mold.

4. Transfer soybean koji to a fermenting vessel. Add brine at 15% the weight of the koji. Ferment for 6-12 months.

5. Press tamari liquid from the solids. Filter through cheesecloth.

6. Add sea salt to taste. Salt concentration is key for flavor and preservation.

7. Pasteurize tamari to stop fermentation. Bottle and seal while hot.

Making tamari requires patience and some special ingredients like koji starter. But the result is a far superior, fresher tamari. Adjust saltiness and fermentation time to suit your preferences.

How to use tamari

Tamari is highly versatile in Asian cuisines. It also works well as a condiment and flavor-boosting ingredient. Here are some ways to use tamari:

Marinades and sauces

Mix tamari with garlic, ginger, vinegar, oil, honey or other liquids to make marinades for proteins. Brush on chicken, beef, tofu or veggies before baking, broiling or grilling.

Whisk tamari into stir fry sauces, dipping sauces, salad dressings and more. A little goes a long way to add salty umami depth.


Drizzle or sprinkle tamari as a finishing touch on grains like rice, quinoa or farro.

Use it to season roasted vegetables like Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli or cauliflower.

Brush or sprinkle it on proteins when pan-searing or roasting meat, poultry, fish or tofu.

Dipping sauce

Mix it with rice vinegar, sesame oil, chili oil and garlic to make a quick dipping sauce for dumplings, spring rolls or tempura.

Noodle bowls

Stir it into hot broth with udon, soba, ramen or rice noodles. Add cooked proteins, veggies and herbs.

Stir fries

Toss it into veggie, tofu, chicken, beef and shrimp stir fries. Add toward the end of cooking.

Salad dressing base

Whisk it with oils, vinegar, garlic and spices to make a rich Asian salad dressing base.

Sushi and poke

Brush a thin layer on salmon, tuna or other fish for homemade sashimi, nigiri or poke bowls.

The umami flavor of tamari enhances virtually any savory recipe. Keep a bottle handy in the pantry to add instant flavor to weeknight meals or elaborate Asian dishes.

Tamari nutritional info

Tamari is low in calories but high in sodium. Here is the nutrition breakdown for 1 tablespoon (15ml) of regular tamari:

– Calories: 10
– Fat: 0g
– Carbs: 1g
– Protein: 2g
– Sodium: 486mg (21% DV)

It also provides small amounts of:

– Manganese: 2% DV
– Iron: 2% DV
– Vitamin B3: 2% DV

Tamari is sodium-rich like regular soy sauce. Those on a low-sodium diet should use reduced sodium options sparingly. Tamari has negligible protein and is not a significant source of nutrients.

The difference between tamari and soy sauce

While tamari is classified as a type of soy sauce, it differs from regular soy sauce (known as shoyu) in a few key ways:

Tamari Soy Sauce
  • Made primarily from soybeans
  • Little to no wheat
  • Thicker consistency
  • Darker color
  • Made from equal parts soybeans and wheat
  • Thinner consistency
  • Lighter color

The soybean and wheat ratio gives tamari its unique flavor profile. It originally contained no wheat, making it suitable for gluten-free diets. Regular soy sauce derives richer flavor from fermented wheat.

The difference between tamari and coconut aminos

Coconut aminos have emerged as an alternative to soy-based tamari or soy sauce for certain diets. Here’s how they compare:

Tamari Coconut Aminos
  • Made from fermented soybeans
  • Contains gluten (unless labeled gluten-free)
  • Higher in sodium
  • Stronger umami flavor
  • Made from coconut tree sap
  • Gluten-free and soy-free
  • Lower in sodium
  • Sweeter, less intense flavor

Coconut aminos are a nod for those avoiding soy, gluten or sodium. Tamari has more potent savory flavor. Either can add flavor to dishes, depending on dietary needs.

Should you refrigerate tamari?

An opened bottle of tamari does not need to be refrigerated. The fermentation process preserves tamari at room temperature for several years.

Refrigeration will help extend the shelf life even further and produce a thicker, richer product as it chills. But it is not required.

Tamari can be stored in the pantry after opening if preferred. Just make sure to cap it tightly. Keep away from light to prevent flavor deterioration.

If you do refrigerate tamari, allow it to come closer to room temp before using. Cold tamari straight from the fridge may cause sauces and dressings to thicken and clump. Bringing it to room temp prevents this.

Avoid storing tamari anywhere hot, humid or exposed to sunlight. Heat and moisture speed up spoilage. Sunlight causes oxidation. Keep tamari in a cool, dark place for maximum longevity.


Tamari offers a rich, savory flavor profile in cooking and recipes. While wheat-free versions of tamari provide gluten-free options, always check the label and buy certified brands for safety. Made properly from just soybeans and salt, tamari can add delicious umami depth without gluten. With so many uses in Asian cuisine, authentic tamari deserves a spot in any cook’s pantry.

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