Whether you’re preparing a stir-fry, marinade, soup, or sauce, tamari will add a rich and unique flavor to your recipes and make them taste much more delicious.
Tamari is a Japanese sauce made of fermented soybeans and has a thicker consistency than Chinese soy sauce. It’s also less salty and richer, so you can use it as a flavor enhancer for tofu, noodles, rice, and dumplings.
If you can’t find tamari, there are lots of other options that you can try when you need a delicious tamari substitute. Keep on reading to find more about them.
The best substitutes for tamari
Tamari is darker and with a richer taste than Chinese soy sauce. In addition, it adds a unique umami flavor that makes it a great addition to several dishes.
Also known as tamari shoyu, this sauce is made without wheat or any other grains, unlike different types of soy sauces that are widely used in Asian recipes. Instead, it’s only made of water, salt, and the juice that drains from miso paste as it ferments, so it’s suitable if you need a gluten-free soy-based sauce.
Thanks to its more balanced flavor, tamari is a perfect dipping sauce because it doesn’t overwhelm your other ingredients with extra saltiness. This is why most people prefer tamari over Chinese soy sauce as a dipping for sushi.
It can also be used as a popular seasoning when mixed with some sugar and spices, so you can use it to marinate different types of meat and poultry. You can even use it to add rich meatiness to your vegan and vegetarian dishes.
When tamari is challenging to find, there are several alternatives that you can consider. Each substitute will add a unique flavor to your recipe, so you can easily find the right one for you.
1. Soy Sauce
As you might have guessed, soy sauce is the most popular tamari sauce substitute. It tastes almost the same and can be incorporated into several recipes, just like you do with tamari. It offers a rich balance of saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, and slight acidity.
Soy sauce can be used to marinate meat, chicken, and fish, or you can use it as a dip for your sushi. You can also use soy sauce in stews and stir-fries, or mix it with ketchup, sugar, and spices, to prepare a BBQ mix.
If you find light soy sauce too salty, we recommend that you choose dark soy sauce instead. It looks a lot more like tamari and has the same unique umami flavor.
2. Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin sauce is another popular tamari substitute because the main ingredient in both sauces is fermented soybeans. It’s a thick reddish-brown sauce and tastes a lot like American-style BBQ sauce, although it’s a lot richer and saltier.
There are several versions of Hoisin sauces on the market, and some of them include other ingredients like starch extract from sweet potatoes or rice. You might also find a version that contains different spices or flavor enhancers like garlic and red chili peppers.
Compared to tamari, Hoisin sauce has a more pungent taste. It has a rich salty and slightly sweet flavor and adds a lot of umami taste to your dishes.
Because of its thick consistency, Hoisin sauce is usually used as a condiment or to season meat, poultry, and shellfish dishes.
3. Fish Sauce
Fish sauce is made of fermented fish and adds a rich earthy flavor to several savory dishes. You can use fish sauce in stir-fries, salads, and stews, or use it to marinate meat and chicken.
There’s a pungent taste to fish sauce, so it will offer a stronger taste than tamari in your recipes. However, it will be a great addition to your dish if you feel like you need to add more tamari to reach the right level of richness.
At the same time, adding too much fish sauce can be a little overpowering. If you’re using it as a tamari replacement, we recommend that you add a small amount, then increase it only when needed.
4. Oyster Sauce
Despite its name, the oyster sauce doesn’t taste like oysters at all. Instead, it has a rich syrup-like consistency like tamari sauce and has an earthy, slightly sweet, and salty taste.
Oyster sauce is made of caramelized oyster juices with some salt and sugar. Thanks to its thick consistency, it can be used as a dip or drizzled over salads or vegetables. It’s a great addition to stir-fries and can be used as a marinade or glaze.
5. Coconut Aminos
If you’re allergic to soybeans, using Coconut Aminos will work for you in different recipes as it can be an excellent substitute for tamari sauce. Coconut Aminos is a dark sauce made of the sap of the coconut tree, and it doesn’t contain any grains, so it will work if you need a gluten-free tamari substitute.
Coconut Aminos has a rich umami flavor with some subtle sweetness. However, it’s not as salty as tamari sauce and also lacks the thick consistency, so it might not be the best substitution for tamari if you need a dip for your sushi.
This is why we recommend that you use Coconut Aminos in soups, stews, and salad dressings, as it combines well with citrus and tangy flavors. It doesn’t taste like coconuts at all, so you can also use Coconut Aminos to flavor noodles, rice, and vegetarian dishes.
6. Liquid Aminos
Liquid Aminos is also made from fermented coconut sap when mixed with salt and water or fermented soybeans after breaking them with an acidic solution.
If you need a substitute for tamari that tastes a little more subtle, Liquid Aminos will work for you. Adding Liquid Aminos to your dishes will make them more palatable and filling as they have a mild, slightly sweet, and salty flavor and will taste amazing in dressings and marinades.
7. Miso Paste
Miso paste is salty, tangy, and richly savory, although some types can be slightly sweet. You can use miso paste instead of tamari in broths or stews as it adds the needed richness. You can also use it as a glaze or in dressings.
Miso paste is made of fermented soybeans and a special mold that gives it its unique taste and flavor. It and might contain other ingredients like barley or rice, so each version will taste unique based on the ingredients in the paste.
You can either choose smooth or chunky miso paste, and both will taste amazing if you’re looking for a tamari alternative that adds more body and texture to your recipe. If you need the same texture as tamari, you need to add more liquid to your dish.
If you’re preparing a dish that contains nuts or leafy greens, miso paste will be a great addition as it goes very well with earthy flavors. It can also be used to marinate fish or to enhance the flavor of panko.
8. Worcestershire Sauce
Worcestershire sauce has a strong umami flavor with some slight sweetness. It’s usually made of several ingredients that include molasses, anchovies, garlic, tamarind, sugar, salt, and several seasonings.
You can use Worcestershire in several meat and vegetable dishes because it adds the needed richness. It’s usually used as a marinade when you’re grilling, baking, or frying meat, fish, or poultry. It can also be mixed with vegetables or drizzled on salads.
When it comes to consistency, Worcestershire sauce isn’t as thick as tamari. As a result, it will work when used in a soup or stew, but it won’t be a good dip.
9. Balsamic Vinegar
If your recipe calls for tamari, but you’re not that fond of the taste, you can add balsamic vinegar instead. Balsamic vinegar has a sharp, salty flavor, but it tones down a bit when used in cooking.
You can use balsamic vinegar if you want to find a tamari replacement that offers a different taste and flavor. It has a tangy, slightly fruity flavor, so you can use it instead of tamari if you’re preparing a salad dressing or a marinade. It will also work for you if you’re allergic to soybeans.
Balsamic vinegar can be incorporated into several meat, chicken, fish, and vegetable dishes. The taste is sourer than tamari, so you can mix it with a bit of honey or sugar to add more balance. However, it doesn’t offer the same thick consistency, so it won’t work as a dip.
10. Umeboshi Vinegar
Umeboshi vinegar or Ume plum vinegar is another less known alternative to consider if you’re looking for substitutes for tamari, but it will add a unique salty flavor with a bit of fruity aroma. It’s a good tamari substitute if you’re allergic to soybeans.
It’s made using pickled or salted plums after mixing them with sea salt and other spices. It’s a lot saltier than tamari, so you need to add just a little amount if you want to flavor your dishes.
You can use umeboshi vinegar as a salad dressing, sprinkled over vegetables, or added to stir-fries to bring out their flavors. It’s usually used in fish dishes to enhance the flavor or as a vegetarian substitute if you want to add a slightly fish-like taste to your recipe.
Anchovies have an extremely salty and tangy flavor, but they can be used to substitute tamari in several dips and dressings when appropriately used. They will work for you if you’re allergic to soybeans.
The key is to cut anchovies and mix them well with all the other ingredients. When combined with different vegetables in a salad, anchovies add the needed saltiness without being too overpowering. You can also use anchovies to season several vegetable dishes.
You should start by adding a small number of anchovies and see if you need to add more. You can also chop some pieces of anchovies and add them to your salad or casserole. However, anchovies don’t offer the slight sweetness of tamari, so they will work for you if you need a new flavor.
12. Sea Salt
If you are using tamari to season food or enhance the flavors of other ingredients, you can use sea salt instead. It works as a clean tamari replacement because it doesn’t hide the other flavors in your recipe as it has a bright and simple flavor.
Unlike table salt, sea salt lacks any bitterness. It can be sprinkled on top of dishes or incorporated into any recipe because it doesn’t mask the other unique flavors. It might work for you if you need to season sushi, meat, or stir-fries, as it will help bring out the other ingredients in your dish.
How to choose a tamari substitute
Luckily, there are lots of substitutes for tamari sauce that you can use in dishes, based on the nature of the recipe.
- Closest flavor: the closest tamari substitute is soy sauce, as they’re both made of soybeans. Dark soy sauce has the same umami flavor, while light soy sauce can be used if you need your recipe to taste saltier. You can also use miso paste to replace tamari, but it has a richer consistency, so it will work better when used for cooking after mixing it with more liquid.
- Stronger flavor: if you need a replacement for tamari that tastes a little stronger, we recommend that you try Hoisin sauce. Its thick consistency makes it work as a dip or as a flavor enhancer in various recipes. Fish sauce is another substitute that offers a stronger and more pungent flavor than tamari.
- Sweeter flavor: however, if you need something that tastes a little sweeter, you can try oyster sauce because the caramelized oyster juices tone down its saltiness a little. The same goes for Coconut Aminos which taste sweeter than most tamari substitutes, and Liquid Aminos that taste even milder.
- Umami flavor: Worcester sauce has a strong umami flavor, so you can use it in marinades instead of tamari. You can also use balsamic or Umeboshi vinegar to flavor dishes or in dressings, but they will add a slightly tangy and fruity aroma.
- Clean flavor: a few anchovies can be used to flavor and season several dishes instead as they offer a lot of saltiness without the sweetness of tamari. Another option that would work if you need a clean taste is to use sea salt. It can be used to season your dishes without masking any of the flavors.
If you’re allergic to soybeans, we recommend that you use Coconut Aminos, balsamic vinegar, Umeboshi vinegar, or anchovies. You can also use Worcester sauce or Liquid Aminos if you’re sure that they don’t contain any soybean extract.