Growing up I associated soy sauce with stir fries and sushi. My parents didn’t use it often because it was too salty. But as an adult, soy sauce has become associated with umami, or the fifth flavor along with sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. It’s a flavor profile that I love, and as a result, it often appears in my diet. Soy sauce, or another version of it like tamari and nama shoyu, make regular appearances in recipes at our house. But what’s the difference between them and is one healthier than another? Let’s take a closer look at which product is the healthiest.
Both soy sauce and tamari are byproducts of fermented soy, but tamari has little to no wheat. If you’re on a gluten-free diet, you’ll need to make sure that the product is completely gluten-free, but there are a number of products on the market that are. Tamari is a bit more balanced and less salty than soy sauce. Its flavor is more complex, deeper, and richer. Tamari is actually the Japanese form of soy sauce.
And then there is what’s been called the "champagne of soy sauces", nama shoyu. I first heard about it in a vegan cookbook that I bought in a used bookstore in Hawaii. It appeared in nearly every recipe from salad dressings to curries. Nama shoyu is a higher-end version of soy sauce. It’s normally organic and made with higher quality ingredients like organic and non-gmo soybeans, wheat, sea salt, and spring water. It’s raw and unpasturized, and though it's heated above 114 degrees, many raw foodists will still eat it because it contains live enzymes like lactobacillus. It’s also less acidic and less salty than regular soy sauce. But it also comes with a hefty price tag, often 2-3 times the cost of tamari or soy sauce. But it does taste really good.
Which one is the best? Well, in all cases, you should buy organic because the main ingredient is soy, which is often genetically modified. And for the gluten-free, I’m a big fan of organic tamari because of the complexity of its flavor. You can find it quite inexpensively at most health food store. If you’re not gluten-free and you want a product that's truly second to none in terms of flavor, try nama shoyu. It comes in a tiny bottle, it’s pricey, but it’s also delish!
If you want to exclude soy from your diet, you can also try coconut aminos. It's made with raw, coconut tree sap, and sun-dried sea salt. It’s also gluten-free and contains 17 amino acids. But it’s a little more difficult to find in the grocery store. So there you have it. So many good options to try with all your favorite recipes.
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Image of a bowl of soy sauce from Shuttershock