Soy sauce is a popular condiment and seasoning sauce, especially in Chinese and Japanese cuisine, but it may not be suitable for all diet plans.
If you’re adjusting your diet to reduce salt, avoid gluten or eliminate soy, coconut aminos may be a good alternative.
This article takes a look at what the science says about this increasingly popular soy sauce substitute and explains why it may be a healthier option.
Coconut aminos is a salty, savory seasoning sauce made from the fermented sap of coconut palm and sea salt.
The sugary liquid is used to produce a variety of food products.
Coconut aminos is similar in color and consistency to light soy sauce, making it an easy substitute in recipes.
It’s not as rich as traditional soy sauce and has a milder, sweeter flavor. Yet, surprisingly, it doesn’t taste like coconut.
Coconut aminos is not a significant source of nutrients, though it may be a good option for people with certain dietary restrictions.
It’s soy-, wheat- and gluten-free, making it a healthier alternative to soy sauce for those with certain allergies or food sensitivities.
People often avoid soy sauce due to its high sodium (salt) content. Coconut aminos has 90 mg of sodium per teaspoon (5 ml), while traditional soy sauce contains about 280 mg of sodium in the same serving size (1, 2).
If you’re trying to reduce sodium in your diet, coconut aminos may be a good lower-salt substitute for soy sauce. However, it’s not a low-sodium food and should still be used sparingly, as the salt adds up quickly if you eat more than 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 ml) at a time.
Summary Coconut aminos is a condiment frequently used in place of soy sauce. While not a rich source of nutrients, it’s lower in salt than soy sauce and free of common allergens, including gluten and soy.
Some popular media outlets claim that coconut aminos has a wide array of health benefits, including reducing your risk of heart disease, managing blood sugar and promoting weight loss. Research supporting these claims is sorely lacking.
Many of the health claims are based on the fact that raw coconut and coconut palm contain several nutrients known to have a positive impact on health (3).
However, coconut aminos is a fermented form of coconut palm sap and may not have the same nutritional profile as the fresh version.
In reality, scientific research on coconut aminos and its possible effects on human health is nonexistent.
Even if coconut aminos contained these nutrients, the amount you would need to consume for any measurable health benefits wouldn’t be worth it. You’re much better off getting them from whole foods.
Summary Most of the health claims attributed to coconut aminos are derived from the nutrient profile of the coconut palm from which it is made. Research supporting any measurable health benefits is unavailable.
Coconut aminos is just one option of a variety of possible soy sauce substitutes. Some may be a better choice than others, depending on the intended use.
Liquid aminos is made by treating soybeans with an acidic chemical solution that breaks down the soy protein into free amino acids. The acid is then neutralized with sodium bicarbonate. The end result is a dark, salty seasoning sauce, comparable to soy sauce.
Liquid aminos has 320 mg of sodium in one teaspoon (5 ml) — much higher than the 90 mg of sodium in the same amount of coconut aminos (4).
Tamari is a Japanese seasoning sauce made from fermented soybeans. It’s darker, richer and tastes slightly less salty than traditional soy sauce.
Though not appropriate for soy-free diets, one of the distinguishing characteristics of tamari is that it’s typically made without wheat. For this reason, it’s a popular choice for those following gluten- and wheat-free diets.
Tamari has over 300 mg of sodium per teaspoon (5 ml) and is thus less appropriate for reduced-sodium diets compared to coconut aminos (5).
Homemade Soy Sauce Substitutes
For the do-it-yourself (DIY) crowd, there’s a wide selection of possible recipes for homemade soy sauce substitutes.
Typically, homemade soy sauce substitutes eliminate sources of soy, wheat and gluten. Like coconut aminos, they may be a good choice for those avoiding these allergens.
Though recipes vary, homemade sauces usually add sugar from molasses or honey. This may be a problem for those looking to manage their blood sugar.
Even though coconut aminos is made from a sugary substance, it has a low sugar content due to its fermentation process. It contains just one gram of sugar per teaspoon (5 ml), which is unlikely to have any significant impact on your blood sugar.
Many homemade recipes use high-sodium ingredients, such as broth, bouillon or table salt. Depending on the amounts used, these may be less suitable than coconut aminos for those looking to reduce sodium in their diets.
Fish and Oyster Sauce
Fish and oyster sauces are often used to replace soy sauce in recipes, though for different reasons.
Oyster sauce is a thick, rich sauce made from boiled oysters. It’s more akin to dark soy sauce, though notably less sweet. It’s usually chosen as a dark soy sauce alternative due to its thick texture and culinary application, not for any particular health benefit.
Coconut aminos would not make a good substitute for dark soy sauce, as it’s too thin and light.
Fish sauce is a thinner, lighter and salty seasoning sauce made from dried fish. It’s typically used in Thai-style dishes and is both gluten- and soy-free.
Fish sauce is high in sodium, so it’s not a viable soy sauce replacement for those trying to reduce their salt intake (6).
Moreover, fish and oyster sauces would not be appropriate substitutions for vegetarian or vegan diets.
Summary Coconut aminos is lower in sodium than most other popular soy sauce alternatives while also being free from common allergens. It may not be as useful for some culinary dishes.
Some people argue that the flavor of coconut aminos is too sweet and muted compared to soy sauce, making it unsuitable for certain recipes. This, of course, is based on personal preference.
Regardless of its suitability from a culinary standpoint, coconut aminos does have some downsides in the way of cost and accessibility.
It’s somewhat of a niche market item and not widely available in all countries. Though it can be ordered online, shipping costs may be high.
If you’re lucky enough to live where you can buy it easily, coconut aminos is significantly more expensive than traditional soy sauce. On average, it costs 45–50% more per fluid ounce (30 ml) than soy sauce.
Summary Some find the flavor of coconut aminos to be less desirable for certain recipes, but the bigger drawbacks are its high cost and limited availability in some regions.
Coconut aminos is a popular soy sauce substitute made from fermented coconut palm sap.
It’s soy-, wheat- and gluten-free and much lower in sodium than soy sauce, making it a good alternative.
While it's often associated with the same health benefits as coconut, no studies have confirmed this.
It’s not rich in nutrients and should not be considered a health food. Moreover, it’s important to remember that coconut aminos is not entirely salt-free, so portion size should still be monitored for those on low-sodium diets.
In addition, it’s more expensive and less available than traditional soy sauce, which may be a significant barrier for some people.
Overall, coconut aminos ranks well as an alternative for soy sauce. Taste preferences vary, but you won’t know if you like it until you try it.