What is Tamari?

Following yesterday’s post, a few of you emailed asking what tamari is, and how it is different from regular soy sauce. Tamari is one of my favorite flavor enhancers, so I’m hoping I can convince some of you to buy a bottle if you haven’t yet given it a try.

Tamari is a type of soy sauce, specifically Japanese soy sauce. When compared side by side, you’ll immediately notice that tamari is deeper brown, and slightly thicker, than ordinary soy sauce. Now dip your finger in for a taste: the dark, thick appearance translates into a deeper, richer flavor compared to regular soy sauce.

So when should you use tamari in place of soy sauce, and why? A general rule of thumb is to use tamari for seasoning in cooking, and use regular soy sauce (shoyu in Japanese) on the table (much like table salt).

As for the “why”: in addition to adding a complexity of flavor to a range of everyday foods, tamari has several unexpected health benefits. Namely, it provides niacin (vitamin B3), manganese, and protein, as well as tryptophan.

You’ve probably heard of tryptophan before now (it’s the same compound in turkey touted for making everyone sleepy following the Thanksgiving feast). But tryptophan plays an important nutritional function, too. It is an essential amino acid necessary for normal growth in children and nitrogen balance in adults. It also contributes to the production of serotonin, which is thought to aid in healthy sleep patterns and a stable mood (WebMD, Nutrition & Dietetics)

You can use tamari in many more dishes beyond Asian-inspired ones. I love adding it to soups and stews instead of salt, or to create the salty component of salad dressings, like yesterday’s post. In general, try using small amounts in a range of dishes in place of the salt. It’s really hard to go wrong. Experiment and taste for yourself!

Brands I really like:
Eden Foods Organic Tamari
This is my very favorite—it has tremendous flavor and is relatively easy to find at well-stocked supermarkets and health food stores.

San-J Organic Wheat Free Tamari

South River (Organic) Miso Tamari

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