Perhaps the real question should be, have you heard of tamari? It’s an Asian cooking sauce very similar in taste and appearance to the widely known and used soy sauce. Actually, both sauces have a great deal in common, but it’s the differences that make tamari of interest to people who may enjoy Asian cooking but have an issue with some of the properties of soy sauce.
Tamari is traditionally tied to the Japanese (vs. the more common Chinese soy sauce). It is a thicker, less salty, fermented soy sauce that contains less wheat. Actually, many tamari sauces are produced with no wheat at all, making them gluten-free. It can be used in Asian and non-Asian cooking to add a full, savory, umami flavor to your dishes.
So, what makes it different from Chinese soy sauce?
While regular soy sauce and tamari are both derived from fermented soybeans, the process in which it is made and the byproduct is much different. Regular soy sauce is essentially made by cooking soybeans with roasted wheat and other grains and adding it to a salty brine to brew. It is then allowed to sit for a period of time to ferment. This mixture is then pressed to extract the dark, brown liquid.
Tamari on the other hand, is made a bit differently. It is known to be the liquid byproduct that forms when making miso paste – like the liquid sweat that forms on cheese (unlike the pressed version in regular soy sauce). Tamari contains much less salt than traditional soy sauce because it’s not created in a salty brine. When the soybeans are cooked down to ferment, little or no wheat is added to the mixture, which makes it a great alternative for those that have a gluten intolerance.
Tamari’s rich flavor comes from an abundance of amino acids derived from soy protein. Aside from being low in salt content and containing little or no gluten, tamari also aids in the digestion of fruits and vegetables, is rich in several minerals, and is a good source of vitamin B3, protein, manganese, and tryptophan. Tamari’s excellent cooking qualities make it a seasoning appreciated by both ethnic and natural foods consumers. Here are a few tips to bring a little bit of flavor to your entrees using tamari:
- Salt substitute: Use tamari in place of salt whenever the recipe calls for it. Tamari’s low sodium count makes it possible to reduce your intake by around 30% without having to compromise flavor.
- Dressing & Dip: Tamari’s thickness makes it a great dipping sauce for croutons and spring rolls, and as a dressing for salads and soba noodles.
- Cooking Oil: Even when cooked or microwaved, tamari maintains its blissful aroma. Bland foods like shittake mushrooms and tofu are enhanced when simmered in a seasoned liquid, and tamari is the preferred seasoning for the long-simmering process.
- Use tamari to deepen flavors in sauces and soups, including those that are curry- and tomato-based.
- Mix it with cream cheese and toasted sesame seeds for a spread.