The 5 Best Tamari Substitutes

If you’ve been searching for a Japanese condiment that adds a dose of salt and sweetness to your dishes like sashimi or noodles, tamari is one of the top choices available to you.

This sauce has become more popular as time goes on as it traditionally comes in a gluten-free version for people with celiac disease. It is also commonly used for those who have other reasons to be sensitive to gluten. However, if you need an alternative to tamari, several options may meet your needs and create delicious dishes.

Tamari is a sauce with similarities to soy sauce and is often used on dishes the latter sauce works well with. It is a traditional Japanese sauce that uses less wheat than soy sauce does.

While soy sauce is made by cooking soybeans with wheat and additional grains to offer a salty sauce, tamari is made differently. It is the byproduct of making miso paste and uses little or no grain in the process.

How healthy (or unhealthy) is it?

Compared to other sauces for Japanese dishes, there are some benefits to tamari. Tamari typically has much less salt than traditional sauces and aids in digesting both vegetables and fruits.

It has many minerals and include protein, manganese, vitamin B3, and tryptophan. As we mentioned earlier, it also contains little to no wheat and is ideal for a gluten-free diet.

Nutritional Breakdown

Tamari

Amount (per 100 ml)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

33 kcal

2%

Total fat

0 g

0%

Saturated fat

0 g

0%

Cholesterol

0 g

0%

Protein

0 g

0%

Salt

3067 mg

161%

Carbohydrates

7 g

3%

Calcium

0 mg

0%

Iron

0 mg

0%

Potassium

0 mg

0%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA.)

What recipes are tamari used in?

This sauce can be used in all sorts of recipes and different kinds of dishes. Tamari can be used as a substitute for salt to help lower your sodium intake without losing flavor.

It’s also used in dips and dressings for dipping spring rolls, noodles, and bread. It can also be made into a dressing for certain salads. As a cooking oil, tamari can also create an excellent aroma for bland items like tofu and mushrooms.

Why do we need tamari substitutes?

There are numerous reasons people choose to substitute tamari with a different ingredient. While tamari offers a number of healthy components, it also can be relatively high in sodium compared to other sauces.

This sauce also often includes MSG, which many people are sensitive to and would prefer to avoid. Keep in mind that you can find options that are MSG-free, but you will need to do some digging to be sure you make the right purchase.

Note:

🌱 = vegan


1. Soy sauce🌱

Best for: marinades, sauces, Chinese dishes, and barbeque.

Soy sauce

Since tamari has many similarities to soy sauce, it stands to reason that the latter sauce can be an excellent alternative to tamari. If you want the best match to tamari, you want to look for a dark soy sauce, which increases the caramel notes in your dish.

While the flavor isn’t going to be precisely the same, it comes very close and will be a reasonable substitution in any recipe that calls for tamari.

Advantages

One of the top benefits of using soy sauce is that it’s simple and straightforward to find. Every grocery store is going to have a selection of soy sauce so you can choose one that matches what you plan to cook.

Another advantage of soy sauce over tamari is that soy sauce is extremely inexpensive. Tamari, on the other hand, can often be expensive, which may be an issue for someone who is on a budget.

Disadvantages

Soy sauce has the best flavor and appearance when substituting it for tamari, but that doesn’t mean it has no drawbacks. For one thing, soy sauce is very salty and may cause problems for anyone who is on a low sodium diet.

It also differs from tamari in that it uses wheat grain in the production process. This means that those who cannot consume gluten will not find it to be the best alternative.

Nutritional breakdown

Soy sauce

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

53 kcal

3%

Total fat

0.6 g

0.7%

Saturated fat

0.1 g

0.7%

Cholesterol

0

0%

Protein

8 g

16%

Salt

5493 mg

289%

Carbohydrates

5 g

2%

Calcium

33 mg

3%

Iron

1 mg

5%

Potassium

435 mg

11%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA.)

2. Fish sauce 

Best for: dipping sauces, stir-fry, pho, curry, and ramen.

Fish sauce

Fermented anchovies and salt are the ingredients used to create fish sauce. This seasoning is commonly used in Southern Asia and is known to offer a savory note to dishes, as well as a pungent scent.

This tamari substitute enhances umami in many Asian dishes and complements savory flavors in other recipes. Both of these things combined are why it makes an excellent alternative to tamari.

Advantages

One of the most essential benefits of fish sauce is that it can be found at most grocery stores and health food stores. It also happens to be relatively inexpensive when compared with tamari.

It is also made without the use of grains, so individuals who do not consume gluten will have no problem incorporating it into their savory dishes. When using fish sauce, use the same amount as you would of tamari and add more if the flavor is weak.

Disadvantages

Unfortunately, fish sauce can have a large amount of salt, just like tamari and soy sauce. This makes it an imperfect substitution for anyone following a low sodium diet.

This seasoning is also lacking in the caramel note that you will get with tamari. Individuals who adhere to a vegan diet should also give this substitution a pass since it contains fish and is far from a vegan option in any shape or form.

Nutritional breakdown

Fish sauce

Amount (per 100 ml)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

100 kcal

5%

Total fat

0 g

0%

Saturated fat

0 g

0%

Cholesterol

0 g

0%

Protein

0 g

0%

Salt

7600 mg

400%

Carbohydrates

0 g

0%

Fiber

0 g

0%

Vitamin A

0 ug

0%

Vitamin E

0 ug

0%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA.)


3. Salt

Best for: sauces, chips, dressings, poultry, and spice mixes.

When using tamari, the primary purpose is to add seasoning to a dish. Most sauces based in soy have plenty of salt along with other flavors.

However, salt is the most significant contribution to a meal. It’s also readily available and inexpensive. If you are like most people, you have a large container of it in your kitchen at all times for dishes of all sorts.

Advantages

When looking for a tamari substitute, salt is the easiest option to use. Some people even find that the clean flavor of salt is better than the combination of flavors in tamari or soy sauce.

When looking to season dishes like sashimi or sushi, using sea salt flakes can give you an excellent way to see how salt can stand in for tamari without losing anything to the substitution.

Disadvantages

The disadvantage that many individuals will experience when using salt instead of tamari is that it only has the pure flavor of the sodium. Some people are more than happy with that and enjoy the minimalist seasoning that lets the flavor of a dish stand out.

However, those who enjoy the added nuances of tamari or soy sauce may find that salt is too dull for their tastes. It also may not be the top choice for someone on a low sodium diet since it’s literally composed of only salt.

Nutritional breakdown

Salt

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

0 kcal

0%

Total fat

0 g

0%

Saturated fat

0 g

0%

Cholesterol

0 g

0%

Protein

0 g

0%

Salt

39333 mg

2070%

Carbohydrates

0 g

0%

Calcium

0 mg

0%

Iron

0 mg

0%

Potassium

0 mg

0%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA.)


4. Miso paste🌱

Best for: marinades, dressings, fried fish or meat, and stir-fries.

Miso paste

While salt has a very distinct flavor, miso paste is a tamari substitute that offers saltiness along with umami flavors that work well with Japanese dishes.

Tamari began as a byproduct of creating miso, so it has a lot of similarities with the paste. The taste profile is similar, but miso comes as a paste instead of a liquid. That can mean recipes take extra steps in order to ensure they are as moist as they would be when using tamari.

Advantages

The most substantial benefit of using miso paste is that it creates a deep umami flavor to both vegetarian and meat dishes. It also comes in several versions, so you can choose the one that works best for you.

Red miso is aged longer than white miso and has a deeper taste and more salt than the other options. White miso paste has a lighter feel and a mild flavor. There is also mixed miso, which incorporates both for something that lies in the middle of the two other pastes.

Disadvantages

Since miso paste is not a liquid, it can’t be used the same way as tamari. Instead, you are going to need to add additional liquid to the recipe you are using to ensure the substitution works correctly.

Most people choose to mix some water into the paste before adding it to a dish. The recommendation is to use a teaspoon of miso paste and two teaspoons of water for every tablespoon of tamari that your recipe calls for.

Nutritional breakdown

Miso

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

43 g

2%

Total fat

6 g

7%

Saturated fat

1 g

7%

Cholesterol

0

0%

Protein

13 g

25%

Salt

3728 mg

196%

Carbohydrates

25 g

9%

Calcium

57 mg

6%

Iron

2 mg

11%

Potassium

210 mg

5%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA.)

5. Anchovies 

Best for: lamb, salad dressings, tempura, eggs, and pizza.

Anchovies

When looking for a tamari substitute, one of the things you want is saltiness, as well as a deep flavor. While it might sound like a strange alternative, finely chopped sardines can be used instead of tamari in dishes like stir fry and curry to offer those features.

It won’t have the same deep flavor as fish sauce, but it has some of the same characteristics and can work in a pinch, especially if you already have anchovies you can prepare at home quickly to add to a delicious recipe that asks for tamari.

Advantages

Anchovies offer a savory taste to foods and can ramp up the umami flavor desired in many dishes that traditionally incorporate tamari. In addition, anchovies can often be found in typical supermarkets and online stores, so getting access to them is simple.

You’ll also find that this fish alternative is inexpensive, so even those on a budget can choose to use it to replace the more expensive tamari on the market.

Disadvantages

Just like with fish sauce, anchovies are not going to offer the caramel flavor profile associated with tamari. In addition, the scent of anchovies can be off-putting to some people, so it might not always be the top alternative.

Since anchovies are nothing more than fish, this is also not a vegan substitute for tamari and should be passed up for those who follow that diet.

Nutritional breakdown

Anchovies

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

167 kcal

8%

Total fat

10 g

0.5%

Saturated fat

0 g

0%

Cholesterol

80 mg

27%

Protein

20 g

39%

Salt

5867 mg

309%

Fiber

0 g

0%

Calcium

267 mg

27%

Iron

2 mg

11%

Vitamin C

0 mg

0%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA.)


The Bottom Line

There are many alternatives out in the world when you want something that resembles tamari for your savory Asian dishes. You have options between ingredients that offer the same flavor and texture, those that are vegan and diary-free along with those that are not, and substitutions that have altered tastes but some of the same aspects of tamari.

None of them are going to be precisely the same as tamari, but each of them can offer something different. Some of them come very close to the real thing if that’s what you are looking for.

Top vegan picks

If you are adhering to a vegan diet or prefer to use vegan ingredients, you have several options that are similar to tamari.

In fact, all of the above substitutions come in vegan versions except for fish sauce and anchovies, both of which incorporate fish into the product. Soy sauce and miso paste are the recommended vegan options as they keep the flavor and feel of the tamari while including only ethical ingredients.

Top healthy picks

The healthiest choice is going to be different for everyone depending on any current health issues you have and what your priorities are concerning nutrition. Many of the tamari alternatives have a large amount of salt, but this may not be concerning since you often use only a small amount of things like miso paste, salt, and soy sauce. 

For those who prefer clean dishes, substituting only salt may be the best option. If you’re looking for the healthiest substitution with a similar tamari flavor, the fish sauce may be the healthiest purchase you can make.

Top convenient picks

Choosing the most convenient substitution for tamari is simple. Salt. You probably already have it in your home, and if not, you can get it at any store you walk into that sells groceries.

Many of the other substitutions are equally convenient, such as soy sauce and fish sauce, which are also often found in supermarkets around the world. Anchovies are also an excellent choice, as they are inexpensive and widespread. It’s a matter of taste if you don’t decide to go with the staple salt option.

Top convincing picks

Those who are concerned about a tamari substitute that has the same feel and taste of the original are going to want to choose specific options over others.

The most convincing choice for a replacement is soy sauce, as it includes the saltiness and caramel flavor profile that you are used to. If the notes of caramel aren’t crucial to you, fish sauce can also offer a convincing alternative to tamari.

Sources

https://wakethewolves.com/what-is-tamari-vs-soy-sauce/

https://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/tamari-health-benefits-tips-and-recipes/

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