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


  1. says

    Where do you shop in Nac? My wife and I both lived in that part of Texas at one time or another (through 1998), and we don’t remember a lot of options for groceries.

  2. says

    Hi Justin,

    I know, I didn;t know what I’d find when I moved here 3 years ago, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. From what I understand from those who have lived here awhile, a lot has changed in the past decade shopping-wise. But getting to your specifc question, I shop pretty much everywhere (some store have items that others don’t), but I mostly shop at the Kroger on University (they just remodeled it in part, and have a new expanded health food section, a lot more frozen seafood, some decent artisan-style breads, and they have a good assortmnt of Asian and Hispanic foods for a store its size. There is a also a great little natural foods store called Morning Glory that has a lot of organic foods and spices/herbs in bulk. When I can;t find what I need, I pick it up on occasional trips to Central Market or Whole Foods in Houston or Dallas (or friends who are heading those ways get things for me). For non-perishables I order a lot of things from the web (amazon, penzeys spices, you name it). Cheers!

  3. says

    I bought a bottle of tamari a few weeks ago when we discovered the Asian market near us. I haven’t opened it yet, but will when I try your dressing recipe. I had heard that it was a richer flavor than regular soy sauce.

  4. says

    I’ll be making your dressing soon. I’ve got everything I need already, plus I’ve already got an addiction to homemade sesame ginger dressing. But, it’s not low-fat, so I’m happy to swap it out for yours.

  5. Christinia says


    I try to grocery shop only about once a week. Like you, I like fresh produce foods. Do you have any tips how to store items such as raw broccoli, peppers, and lettuce fresh throughout the week. Mine always see to wilt after a few days. Thanks!

  6. says

    I plan on purchasing some of this the next time I pay a visit to Whole Foods. I like coming across new, flavorful ingredients I can cook with; sometimes I just get tired of the same old ingredients :). I’ll be sure to look for the ones you’ve recommended :D.

  7. Jonathan Lord says

    Tamari is also an excellent sauce for marinating. It’s a strong and salty flavor, but lends itself magnificently to rapid cooking. Think broiled salmon or seared lamb.

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