I was teaching a Thai cooking class for a bridal shower recently. (Thank you, Diane for booking it! If anyone is interested in booking a fun and yummy cooking party, email me for more information.) We were discussing some of the typical Thai ingredients such as fish sauce, soy sauce, tamarind, etc. Someone asked what I thought of Coconut Aminos. This is an ingredient that although I knew about, I had never used. I decided it was time to learn a bit more about it and Voilà, this Cooking Tip!
Aminos are liquid amino acids. Recall from your high school chemistry/biology classes that amino acids are the building blocks for protein. In recent years, consuming liquid amino acids has become somewhat of a health trend. There are two types: one is soy-based and one is coconut-based. Both forms contain all or almost all of the essential amino acids. This Tip will concentrate on the coconut version.
Coconut aminos is derived from the nectar (or sap) of the coconut palm blossom. It has added salt and undergoes a natural fermentation.
Proponents of coconut aminos claim the following:
- If you have a soy or gluten intolerance, coconut aminos could be for you as it is both soy- and gluten-free. (Be aware that non coconut-based liquid aminos are not soy-free.)
- These products are lower in sodium than soy sauce. Regular soy sauce is very high in sodium. There is lower sodium soy sauce but that is still higher in sodium than coconut aminos. Be sure to check the label, though, as the different brands of coconut aminos in my local market varied from 200 to 600 mg of sodium per 1 tablespoon. In comparison, my favorite soy sauce has 920 mg/tablespoon and a lower sodium variety has 575 mg. Soy-based liquid aminos may have as much sodium as regular soy sauce. (I wrote another Cooking Tip on how to tell a good soy sauce from an inferior one. If you wish to read it, let me know and I will send it to you.)
- Coconut aminos are free of MSG (monosodium glutamate). Some people may have unpleasant reactions to MSG. ( Here is a link to another Tip I wrote about MSG. Be aware that liquid aminos made from soy may contain MSG. I do not want to get too far in the weeds but some scientists say that coconut aminos does contain glutamate, a byproduct of the natural fermentation process. These scientists say that the glutamate in fermented coconut aminos is better tolerated in sensitive individuals. An exception is Braggs, as it is not fermented. However, Braggs coconut aminos is a bit different than the typical coconut aminos in that not only is it non-fermented, it also has added apple cider vinegar.
- If you are concerned about GMO ingredients, coconut aminos are made from coconut tree sap, something which is not genetically modified. In contrast, many soybeans are. As always, check the label to ensure it is non-GMO.
- It is approved for the Paleo diet.
- May will tout other health benefits but be wary of these claims. There is really no true scientific evidence for anything other than the above.
How should you use it? While coconut aminos will add an umami punch to your dishes/sauces, it is not a perfect substitute for soy sauce. Although it is still savory, it will also add a touch of sweetness. If you do not like coconut, do not worry about coconut aminos. It really has no coconut taste. It will also be thinner in consistency.
Are there any downsides to using Coconut Aminos?
- Some say it is too sweet and is not as savory as soy sauce.
- Although it is lower in sodium than soy sauce, it is still not a low-sodium product. As always, read the label and follow your doctor’s advice for your sodium intake.
- It is also much more expensive than soy sauce. Whereas a good soy sauce may be as little as $.25 per ounce, coconut aminos are usually upwards of twice that.
One last comment – If you are just looking for a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce, consider Tamari. Although it is made without wheat, it is still soy-based and has a high sodium content.