Regular soy sauce is sadly not gluten-free. However, the good news is that there are several alternatives and substitutes for soy sauce you can use instead. Do you want to see the list of suitable gluten-free products? Read on then.
What is soy sauce exactly?
Soy sauce is a Chinese condiment and a staple in Asian cuisine that became very popular all over the world due to its savory, bitterish, umami flavor. It is also called fermented bean oil, as the main ingredient is soybean. Hence the name soy sauce. In Japan, it is also known as Shoyu.
Therefore, if you have just started a gluten-free diet and never ever checked the ingredient list on the bottle before, you might remember it as pure fermented soy and nothing else.
However, to make authentic soy sauce, the soybeans are fermented together with barley or wheat in salt and water with the help of mold or yeast culture. And sadly, both barley and wheat are gluten-containing whole grains.
You can read more about its origin and production here.
Is soy sauce gluten-free?
Sadly, it is not gluten-free. The traditional soy sauce is made of fermented soybeans and gluten-containing whole grains like barley or wheat, it is not considered gluten-free at all. So a big no-no in the gluten-free diet.
You might come across articles where they claim that due to the fermentation of the grains, the gluten content falls to minimal. However, if you have gluten intolerance or coeliac like me, you know that there is no room for errors. If the sauce is not labeled gluten-free, you can be sure that there is more gluten in there than just traces.
Does it mean that after you start a gluten-free diet, you can never ever use soy sauce again? -> Fortunately, there are alternatives.
Substitutes for soy sauce
Okay, so don’t panic now, some brands have thought of coeliacs and came up with gluten-free soy sauce substitutes.
Tamari (the closest alternative)
Tamari sauce is actually a Japanese condiment that is very similar to soy sauce. Today, there are two leading brands that produce gluten-free tamari that you can find in most grocery stores. They both confirm on their websites (links below) that their products are USDA-certified gluten-free.
- San-J Tamari – It contains 100% soybeans (plus water, salt, and alcohol) and 0% wheat or other gluten-containing grains.
- San-J Organic Tamari – Its ingredients are the same as their classic tamari, but they verify the soybeans to be from organic sources.
- Kikkoman Tamari – It is made of 100% soybeans (plus water, salt, and sugar),
- Kikkoman GF Soy Sauce – Apart from soybeans, they use rice instead of wheat to get the taste as close to the original as possible.
We usually use Kikkoman Tamari. My husband – who is not gluten-intolerant like me – claims that there is really not much of a difference in taste.
Other smaller brands that sell gluten-free tamari (* means affiliate link to Amazon):
- Eden Tamari
- Wan Ja Shan Tamari* (via Amazon)
- Ohsawa Tamari* (exported from Japan, sold via Amazon)
- Lee Kum Kee Tamari* (exported from China, sold via Amazon)
- Marumata Tamari* – (exported from Japan, sold via Amazon)
I am very suspicious of exported products labeled “gluten-free” as I am not sure whether they label it due to the nature of the ingredients or whether they also take measures to avoid cross-contamination. Always always check the labels. You can never be too sure as sometimes I find products named “tamari soy sauce” which had wheat among its ingredients.
Coconut aminos (the soy-free alternative)
It is a milder, sweeter, and less salty version than soy sauce or even tamari. Coconut aminos were designed for people with soy-allergy or for people following the paleo diet. In both cases, they needed a substitute for soy sauce that is soy-free. It sounds like a paradox, soy-free soy sauce, but it is not. It seems that the extract of the coconut blossom nectar can replicate the taste of the original soy sauce. Apart from cross-contamination, this product should be naturally gluten-free as well.
Here are the most well-known brands that produce and sell it (* means affiliate link to Amazon):
Liquid aminos (the unfermented alternative)
I only ever came across Bragg’s Liquid Aminos*. They invented this product specifically to replace soy sauce. But what is the difference between the two and other substitutes?
- Compared to the original soy sauce, it only uses soybeans, so it is gluten-free / wheat-free.
- Both tamari and soy sauce are fermented, while liquid aminos are not.
- Compared to both, it doesn’t contain any sodium aka salt.
You can read more nutritional info on Bragg’s website.
Worcestershire sauce (the British alternative)
We have already mentioned in our “Is Worcestershire gluten-free?” post, that the taste of this sauce is pretty close to soy sauce. We use them interchangeably whenever we need a flavor booster to enhance or deepen the flavor of certain dishes. You can find the list of all gluten-free Worcestershire sauce brands here.
Red miso paste (the Japanese alternative)
Originally tamari is called miso-damari as it is actually the by-product of making miso paste. Therefore, it is probably not surprising that using miso paste might get you close enough. To be honest, it is the farthest from the original soy sauce, but still has a certain salty, savory, umami flavor that can trick you into using soy sauce. As it comes in a paste form, you need to thin it with water until you get a sauce consistency.
There are several types, but the two most well-known ones are white (“shiro”) and red (“aka”). Obviously, if you choose to use red miso, the color will also be closer to soy sauce.
- Hikari Organic Red Miso* – USDA-certified organic and gluten-free
- Miso Master Organic Red Miso* – USDA-certified organic and gluten-free
- Namikura Red Miso* – not labeled as gluten-free, but based on the ingredients it should be
- Tetsujin Red Miso* – not labeled as gluten-free, but based on the ingredients it should be
- Eden Foods White Miso – not labeled as gluten-free, but based on the ingredients it should be
Let us know in the comments, which soy sauce substitutes are you willing to try!
Our recipes using tamari
As mentioned above, because I am gluten-intolerant, we all eat gluten-free and use tamari in place of soy sauce. Apart from the (like dipping sauce for to name the most obvious one), we use as a BOOSTER in to enhance or deepen the of certain dishes.
- The sauce is a great addition to spicy marinade e.g. for our cauliflower steak.
- We also like to add them to recipes like stew, chili, shepherd’s pie, lentil loaf, or meatloaf.
- It is pretty great to spice up any tomato-based sauces like marinara sauce or bolognese sauce recipe.
Let us know in the comment what is your favorite soy sauce-based dish!