Soy Good! Gluten-Free Soy Sauce Options

Just because you’re gluten-free doesn’t mean you have to go soy sauce-free. Even if you’re soy-free, there’s a sauce for you, too!

There is actually a whole world of soy sauce out there. Once I browsed an entire aisle of soy sauces at 99 Ranch Market. It must have taken me a half-hour or more to read the labels of all those bottles. A handful of them are made from gluten-free ingredients.

  1. Tamari, a Japanese soy sauce, is dark and smooth, never bitter like some soy sauces with wheat can be. Tamari is naturally brewed, so it is complex and richly-flavored. You can use it in stir-frying, marinating, and in recipes calling for soy sauce. Tamari is easily available in well-stocked grocery stores, health food stores, and Asian grocery stores.  It is available in both organic and non-organic varieties. Tamari is sometimes made with a little wheat so always read the label. San-J Tamari is certified gluten-free. All the tamari I have seen are also free of artificial preservatives.
  2. Ponzu is a Japanese dressing made from soy sauce or tamari, rice vinegar, citrus juice, and sugar. Ponzu containing tart yuzu juice is the most traditional. The combination of sweet, sour, and salty flavors blend well with a variety of foods. Use Ponzu as a marinade, dipping sauce, or even a low-sodium citrusy replacement for traditional soy sauce. You could also whisk ponzu together with your choice of oil for a fresh Asian-inspired salad dressing. Wan Ja Shan‘s Organic Ponzu is made with all-natural gluten-free ingredients, and contains no artificial preservatives. You’ll probably have to visit a large Asian supermarket to find ponzu made with gluten-free ingredients.
  3. Coconut Aminos is a raw, gluten-free, soy-free alternative to soy sauce. It is 100% organic, naturally fermented and made from coconut tree sap and sea salt. The coconut amino sauce is lower in sodium than traditional soy sauce and is slightly sweet. Tastes nothing like coconut. It is rich and complex, but not as assertive as Tamari. Due to the fermentation process coconut aminos sauce is a bit fizzy when you first open it and smells a little like booze, but don’t let that put you off, it’s wonderfully delicious. You can use coconut aminos in stir-frys, marinades, and dipping sauces, or to replace soy sauce in recipes. Find Coconut Secret‘s Raw Coconut Aminos at health food stores.
  4. Kecap Manis is a dark, sweet Indonesian soy sauce traditionally made from soy sauce and palm sugar. It is thick like molasses, has a rich caramel flavor and is only slightly salty. Kecap manis is essential for many Indonesian, Malaysian, and even some Thai dishes. It’s also a great ingredient for marinades, and pairs addictingly well with chili sauce. I found a ready-made version made without wheat, but with regular sugar instead of palm. This particular kecap manis lists the vague term “spices” which probably includes things like garlic, star anise, galangal, coriander, and bay leaves, but I always get nervous when ingredient labels are vague. It also has artificial preservatives, which I prefer to avoid. The most disappointing part though, was the lack of palm sugar, which adds a depth of flavor that even brown sugar cannot duplicate. I recommend making your own gluten-free kecap manis. Next time I need kecap manis I’m going to try this recipe from Food.com, substituting coconut or palm sugar for the plain sugar and diluted tamari for the soy (see Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce, #7 below). In a pinch you could probably use equal parts diluted tamari and coconut/palm sugar with a little minced garlic thrown in for good measure.
  5. Black Bean Soy Sauce is from Taiwan. It’s not made from the same black beans that the good folk at Chipotle pile into gluten-free burrito bowls, but rather from fermented black soy beans, plus salt and sugar. (Most soy sauce is made from yellow soy beans.) Black bean soy sauce is tangy, slightly sweet, and has a hint of the heat of chili, amazingly enough, since it contains no chili. You can use it in stir frying, marinating, and as an ingredient in dipping sauces. Black bean soy sauce pairs especially well with fresh green beans and tofu. Read the labels, some black bean soy sauces may contain wheat. O’Long makes a traditional Taiwanese black bean soy sauce without wheat or artificial preservatives. Find it at Asian supermarkets.
  6. Liquid Aminos are made from unfermented soy beans. Bragg Liquid Aminos are raw, unfermented, and gluten-free. I prefer the traditional brewed soy sauce flavor when cooking Asian-style food, so I don’t use it in my Asian dishes unless I have no other options. The taste of liquid aminos is flat and not very authentic. But its fine for non-Asian food such as spaghetti sauce, chili, or western-style soup to get the salty essence of soy sauce without an overpowering Asian flavor. Available in health food stores and some well-stocked grocery stores.
  7. Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce is available in gluten-free tamari. In my experience, reduced sodium soy sauce tastes like watered-down soy sauce. That being said, I haven’t tried reduced-sodium tamari, so I can’t comment on its quality. It seems more practical and cost-effective to buy the full-strength kind and dilute as necessary or simply use a smaller amount if less sodium is desired. To dilute your full-sodium gluten-free tamari or liquid aminos, mix 3 parts soy sauce with 1 part water. Or even better, create your own mushroom-flavored reduced-sodium soy sauce by mixing gluten-free soy sauce with strained soaking water saved from reconstituting dried Chinese black mushrooms. Yum!
  8. Fish Sauce is not a soy sauce, but it seems to fit in with this post. Fish sauce is available gluten-free, and that’s good news for lovers of Thai and Vietnamese food. I have to admit, although I love the taste of dishes made with fish sauce, I haven’t quite gotten over the smell to use it in my own kitchen. Check the labels, some brands, not all, are gluten-free. A Taste of Thai gluten-free fish sauce can even be found in regular grocery stores. Here’s an interesting recipe for vegan fish sauce from The Recipe Renovator blog.

What’s your favorite gluten-free sauce (soy, BBQ, marinade, or otherwise)? I’m always up for trying something new!

2 thoughts on “Soy Good! Gluten-Free Soy Sauce Options

    • You’re welcome! It is really nice to see the expanded selection these days. Even at my local supermarket I have to recheck the shelves regularly, cause you never know when something new is going to pop up!

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