When it comes to eating gluten-free, one of the most difficult things to control for is sauces as they are a big source of hidden gluten. While many sauces in Western cuisine contain flour as a thickener, in Asian cuisine, the culprit is soy sauce. Most soy sauces out there contain wheat, which is an issue for celiacs and can be an issue for gluten intolerant people, depending on how much soy sauce you consume. I personally eat 2 boiled egg whites with either soy sauce or organic ketchup every day for breakfast, so even though I’m not celiac, it has been important to me to find a good wheat-free soy sauce. I also love sushi but have yet to encounter a sushi restaurant that serves gluten-free soy sauce (so yes, I do bring my own soy sauce to sushi restaurants).
The good news is that gluten-free soy sauce has become very common, enough so that they stock it in Ralphs (a Southern CA mainstream grocery store). Also, there isn’t a lot of flavor variation between gluten-free and normal soy sauce, or even between different brands and types of gluten-free soy sauce, so it’s hard to go too wrong with any of the options out there. Nevertheless, I thought it would be helpful to put together a comparison of the primary types of gluten-free soy sauce alternatives out there, including a comparison of their nutritional value and flavor.
Tamari is a thicker, less salty, fermented soy sauce that contains less wheat (or no wheat depending on the brand). Tamari is traditionally known as being from Japan, whereas regular soy sauce is from China. In my experience, tamari tastes almost identical to regular soy sauce, but it is a key word to look our for when searching for gluten-free soy sauce alternatives. The San-J Tamari Soy Sauce is Certified Gluten-Free and comes in regular, organic, and reduced sodium varieties.
Below we move on to different types of soy-sauce alternatives outside of tamari-style soy sauces. But to find out more brands that carry tamari-style gluten-free soy sauce, click here.
Braggs advertises itself as a healthier alternative to soy sauce, given that it is made from non-GMO soybeans, is not fermented, and contains 16 amino acids. Braggs also advertises themselves to be MSG-free and chemical-free, however there is some controversy out there about whether the process they use to create their Liquid Aminos is a chemical process (vs using natural bacteria and fungal cultures) that produces a type of glutamate which is related to MSG.
This soy sauce is made from soy beans and I-Jen, also known as Job’s Tears or Chinese Pearl Barley. The name Job’s Tears refers to the tear-drop shape of the grain. Chinese Pearl Barley is a bit of a misnomer, as this grain comes from the grass family and is not related to barley at all. Rest assured, this product is gluten-free!
I-Jen has been used by various Asian cultures throughout history for teas, soups, distilled liquors, and in cuisine as a cooked grain. Some varieties are also used as beads in jewelry and ornaments. It is said to possess antioxidant and medicinal qualities, and has been used as a remedy for hay fever, high cholesterol, warts, arthritis, obesity and respiratory tract infections. Some also say that Job’s Tears contain chemicals that might interfere with cancer cell growth.
The flavor of the Kimlan I-Jen Soy Sauce is again similar to regular soy-sauce, with the exception of being slightly less salty and slightly more sweet. It also contains less sodium per our nutritional comparison below.
5) Black Bean Soy Sauce
Normal soy sauces are made from yellow soy beans, however soy sauces made from black soy beans are known as being higher quality (and therefore more expensive) and naturally do not contain wheat. These soy sauces have a deeper, less salty, sweeter flavor and are also slightly thicker. Up to now, I have only been able to get a hold of black bean soy sauce in Taiwan, however I recently discovered a Taiwanese brand called Maruso that sells their black bean soy sauce in the US. They kindly send me a sample to taste, and while the flavor is much stronger and the texture much thicker than the other brands I tried in Taiwan, it is still a good alternative to regular soy sauce. In general, black bean soy sauce is by far my favorite type due to the quality of the soy beans and the superior flavor. Not to mention their sodium content is about half that of typical soy sauces.
Nutritional comparison (serving sizes re-based to 1 tbsp)