While soy sauce has been on a roll for years, the popular sushi condiment is getting some stiff competition with the growing popularity of coconut aminos, which is being added into modern diets more than ever. With less harmful ingredients and a dose of potent nutritional benefits, it’s nothing to shake your chopsticks at, either.
Coconut aminos has a very similar taste, texture, and color to soy sauce (and its wheatless relative tamari) and works well in the same cooking applications, from seasonings to dressings, marinades, and as a prime component of stir fry. But the main difference is that it is soy-free, and therefore gluten-free, non-GMO, and naturally low on the sodium. Here’s how the two stack up in other ways.
This delicious, dark sauce is made from fermented sap from coconut blossoms. When organic coconut trees are tapped, the sweet nectar is collected in small batches to preserve the enzymatic content and then aged with mineral-rich sea salt to produce the familiar umami flavor. That’s right, although the word “coconut” is in this product, it doesn’t taste anything like the grupe since none of the actual coconut meat is used in making it.
But the tangy taste and thin consistency is where the similarities between coconut aminos and soy sauce end. Unlike soy sauce, organic coconut aminos come without the gluten, GMOs, MSG, and high amounts of sodium, which has made it the condiment of choice for people following the Paleo diet.
The best part about coconut aminos is that it offers 17 of the 20 key amino acids we need to thrive. The human body can only naturally produce 10 of them; the rest we have to absorb through food. Getting the full amount ensures proper body functions, including:
- Muscle repair
- Brain and nervous system coordination
- High energy levels
Coconut aminos also has other health-boosting vitamins to take into consideration, including:
- B vitamins: In every serving you’ll get a heart dose of the entire vitamin B family, each of which helps the body process food (carbohydrates in particular) and convert it into energy. This group of vitamins also plays a key role in red blood cell formation and supporting the immune system.
- Vitamin C: This potent vitamin is important for immune system defense, helping to fight off everything from the common cold to protecting the body against cardiovascular disease, prenatal problems, eye disease, and skin wrinkling.
It’s also low glycemic, which means consuming it won’t cause blood sugar spikes that could lead to type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and even cardiovascular disease and strokes over time.
Best uses for coconut aminos
While coconut aminos doesn’t taste as salty as soy sauce or tamari, it still works beautifully as a healthy substitute and can even be used for a wider variety of applications.
Here are just a few ideas:
Salad dressings: To make a delicious Japanese-style dressing, mix together olive oil, apple cider vinegar, coconut aminos, carrots, yellow onion, garlic, and ginger in a food processor and puree for a tart and tasty topper.
Gluten-free hoisin sauce: Hoisin sauce goes perfect over chicken, fish, or beef and is safe for Paleo and gluten-free diets. Use this recipe, subbing in coconut aminos for soy sauce.
Marinades: If a lighter marinade is more your style, coat short ribs or chicken in coconut aminos for an Asian-inspired meal. Add in flavors like lemongrass, chili, or garlic for a more complex taste.
Dipping sauce: While it can be a tasty addition to a variety of dishes, coconut aminos is also delicious all by itself. Use a dish of coconut aminos to dip sushi or tempura-fried vegetables.
Soy sauce has been produced for thousands of years. Made from boiled, fermented soybean paste that is mixed with water, salt, and occasionally a combination of toasted grains such as wheat, soy sauce is a dark, salty liquid that is used to flavor dozens of foods. While the texture, color, and taste of soy sauce varies widely depending upon where and how it is produced, these are some of the most recognizable versions:
- Light soy sauce. Light soy sauce is one of the most readily available types on the market. As a general rule, it contains higher levels of roasted grains (such as wheat) that are used to fill in for soybeans. Because of this, it can be a poor choice for those trying to avoid or limit the level of gluten in their daily diets. Light soy sauce is generally the least expensive and lightest-tasting soy sauce commercially available.
- Low sodium soy sauce. This type was designed to cater to customers who wanted the delicious taste of soy sauce without loads of sodium. In order to cut the amount of salt while still attempting to preserve the taste, low sodium soy sauce varieties are made with vegetable protein extracts and do not go through the same bacterial or fungal fermentation processes as more traditional types.
- Dark soy sauce. As its name might imply, dark soy sauce has a richer color than other varieties of soy sauce because it is fermented for longer periods of time. Additionally, dark soy sauce often has caramel or molasses added in during the brewing process. This sweetens the sauce and makes it thicker, which is a desirable trait for many consumers around the world, but also increases the amount of sugar. While dark soy sauce often contains more soybean extract than lighter varieties, it’s not uncommon for it to also contain up to 50% wheat extract, which makes it yet another poor choice for people trying to limit or avoid gluten
- Tamari. There is one kind of soy sauce that is good for gluten-free diets. Tamari is made predominantly with soybeans and no wheat. This gives it a slightly different flavor, although one that many consumers consider to be smoother and less salty. It also has high vitamin B3 content and slightly lower sodium than soy sauce (about 700 mg per serving), but it does contain naturally-occurring MSG like most soy sauces.
Thanks to the fermentation process soy sauce goes through during production, it’s a fantastic source of antioxidants, protein, and beneficial isoflavones.
Isoflavones are commonly believed to help a number of health ailments, such as:
- Discouraging the buildup of plaque in the arteries of the heart
- Relieving symptoms of menopause
- Warding off osteoporosis and helping to increase bone mass
- Inhibiting the formation of breast cancer
- Fighting various diseases by helping to support the immune system
Like many other fermented foods, soy sauce also offers a kick of probiotics that can help keep inflammation in check and support healthy digestive function.
Soy sauce also offers a large hit of vitamin B6 within every serving, which helps support the body’s transformation of food into energy and encourages healthy brain and cell function.
The converse is that soy sauce, of course, is that it’s made from soy (one of the biggest GMO crops around) and wheat, which carries gluten. Soy sauce also has 1,000 mg of sodium in every serving, which can be dangerous for those with high blood pressure.
Best uses for soy sauce
Soy sauce is a unique ingredient that can enhance cooking and create unique dishes. Here are some ideas:
Barbeque marinade: The saltiness of soy sauce perfectly balances out the sweetness of a traditional barbeque sauce. Mix the two together to taste and then slather on red meat or chicken.
Dipping sauces: One of the most obvious uses of soy sauce is as a dipping sauce, ideal for sushi and various Chinese dishes.
Salad dressings: Soy sauce is the perfect addition to traditional salad dressings and can be used as the base in any vinaigrette recipe. Add some grated ginger or minced garlic for a deeper and more savory flavor.
Soups: Soy sauce can enhance many different soup recipes, particularly broth-based varieties. Start with just a few drops and add as you go to ensure that your soups don’t become too salty or smoky.
Which is better: Coconut aminos or soy sauce?
For people on a low-sodium, low-glycemic, vegan, or gluten-free diet, coconut aminos is generally considered the way to go. In addition to the fact that each serving boasts roughly 65% less sodium than a single serving of soy sauce, the condiment works for virtually all of the same dishes and may actually enhance and improve the taste of some sauces, dips, and marinades.
If there was a truly miracle food, coconut aminos might be it. Ideal for uses in all sorts of dishes and treats, coconut aminos help support good health while also making food taste delicious.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho