Salty, earthy, and a little bit sweet, soy sauce possesses a hard-to-describe flavor that perfectly complements everything from sticky white rice to barbecued chicken. That flavor has a name—umami, the so-called “fifth taste” that’s distinct from sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.
There’s just one problem: soy sauce isn’t exactly healthy. Most conventional brands contain wheat and genetically modified ingredients. Then there’s sodium—one ounce makes up more than half of the recommended daily serving.
It all goes back to the way it’s produced. When 7th-century Japanese cooks fermented soybeans to make miso, they noticed it produced a tasty liquid—they called it tamari, and it became the first version of what is now called soy sauce. As demand grew, however, manufacturers started using a mixture of half soybeans and half wheat to make a sauce called shoyu. This wheat-soy blend is still the most popular kind of soy sauce today.
Now, “soy sauce is notoriously one of the ‘dirtiest’ sauces out there,” according to health coach and Thrive Market editor Michelle Pellizzon, “because it’s made with wheat and sometimes contaminated with other allergens.” Not to mention, 94 percent of all soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified—not great for anyone looking to avoid GMOs.
There’s another scary issue with soy. Soybeans contain phytoestrogens, compounds that can act as hormone disruptors, interfering with the endocrine system. It has also been linked to the growth of breast cancer tumors in some animal studies.
Thankfully, there’s a healthier substitute with that same craveable umami flavor: coconut aminos. Because it has just two ingredients—organic coconut sap and sea salt—it’s completely gluten-free, vegan, and Paleo-friendly. Plus, it’s good for you—providing 17 naturally occurring amino acids.
Even better, each ounce has about 40 percent less sodium than soy sauce. That not only makes coconut aminos safe (in moderation) for anyone on a low-sodium diet, but also means you can cook with it without worrying about your salt intake going through the roof.
“Plus, the flavor isn't as overpowering as soy, so it feels a little more versatile,” Pellizzon says. A touch sweeter and a little lighter, coconut aminos tastes wonderful on anything you’d normally eat with soy sauce—and a dash adds meaty, umami flavor to veggie dishes. Try it on sushi, fried rice, and stir-fries, or whisk it into your favorite salad dressing or marinade. Need a little more inspiration? Look no further than these six recipes.
Let’s start with the basics: coconut aminos is a worthy substitute for soy sauce in any stir-fry dish. Here, paired with toasted sesame oil and sriracha, it gives chicken and kale that classic Chinese flavor.
A marinade of sriracha and coconut aminos gives salmon heat, but don’t let that intimidate you—fresh mango-avocado salsa helps keep tastebuds cool.
On its own, tofu doesn’t taste like much. When it’s baked until crispy and dipped in a sweet and savory sesame-ginger sauce, however, it’s downright addictive.
You won’t be able to detect coconut aminos in the finished dish—but the salty-sweet sauce accentuates the natural richness of the beef, which comes out braised to perfection in the slow cooker every time.
Walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, carrots, and celery may sound like an unlikely substitute for meat, but the combination is just right here thanks to coconut aminos, apple cider vinegar, and tons of spices.
Going vegan comes with a lot of upsides—clearer skin, more energy, even weight loss—but never eating bacon again isn’t one of them. Luckily, there’s a meat-free way to make vegan “bacon” bits at home with just four ingredients: coconut, coconut aminos, liquid smoke, and honey.
There’s no need to scour the shelves of health food stores and co-ops to find coconut aminos—get a certified organic version from Thrive Market for just $5.95!
Photo credit: Paul Delmont