What’s the difference between these two salty sauces?

By Laura Fisher
Updated November 06, 2019

If you’ve dabbled in cooking with Asian flavors or ever eaten sushi or Chinese takeout, you’ve probably come across the delicious, savory, salty condiments known as soy sauce and tamari. People often use those two names interchangeably, but did you know that they are actually two distinct sauces? If this is news to you, or if you’ve ever been confused by the difference and when to use each, here's what you need to know.

What’s the difference between tamari and soy sauce?

Both tamari and soy sauce are derived from fermented soybeans to create a salty liquid used in cooking to create a rich, umami flavor. Tamari is the Japanese version and soy sauce is the more commonly known Chinese variety. Tamari is a little thicker and less salty, while soy sauce has a thinner consistency and leaves a burst of salt on the tongue.

Which is healthier: tamari or soy sauce?

Both tamari and soy sauce have similar nutritional profiles, and both are quite high in sodium—so you should be mindful of your consumption, no matter which one you choose.

During the process of making soy sauce, wheat is added, while the cooking process of tamari does not include the addition of any grains. So, If you have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, you’ll want to stick to tamari. (Always remember to double check labels, however, to ensure that the product is truly gluten-free).

Tamari is also slightly higher in protein than soy sauce, but this is a minimal difference that won’t have a huge affect on your daily nutritional goals since both tamari and soy sauce are typically consumed in small amounts.

One final difference between tamari and soy sauce is that tamari is usually less likely to include additives, which is why it is usually the choice found in health food stores and restaurants. So if you’re trying to live an all-natural lifestyle, tamari is the sauce for you.

When should you use tamari vs. soy sauce?

You can use tamari and soy sauce interchangeably, but there are certain circumstances that are better suited for one over the other:

Tamari: cold dishes, dressings, dipping (like for these incredible dumplings), Japanese cooking

Soy sauce: hot dishes and stir fries, Chinese cooking