Making food taste better is a fundamental part of cooking. An experienced cook can draw in turn on sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavors to complement or accent the natural tastes in a dish, bringing them to more vivid life. Some of the most versatile seasonings draw less on those four classic flavors and instead focus on the less-specific form of savoriness called "umami." It's supplied by a range of well-known ingredients, from mushrooms to soy sauce. A newer condiment called coconut aminos fits this category as well, adding depth of flavor while meeting a surprising range of special dietary requirements.
Proteins in food are made up from a range of smaller molecules. These building blocks are called amino acids, and they're a source of rich, high-impact flavors. They're freed up when whole proteins break down through heat, salt-curing, fermentation and other causes. In the case of coconut aminos, fermentation and salt are both used. The product is made by tapping coconut sap, then salting and fermenting the uncooked liquid. The finished product is dark and savory, and somewhat resembles soy sauce.
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Often sold in 8- and 17-ounce bottles around the same size as those for soy sauce, coconut aminos are unusually useful for anyone with special dietary requirements. Unlike most soy sauces and many other condiments, they contain no gluten. They're also soybean free, an important point for those with soy allergies or an aversion to genetically modified foods. Unlike Worcestershire sauce and Asian fish sauces, coconut aminos are vegan friendly. It's uncooked and therefore suitable for raw-food diets. Because it contains no grains or soy, it's even appropriate for Paleo Diet enthusiasts. This cross-diet versatility makes coconut aminos a boon to health-conscious cooks, diners and especially restaurateurs.
As with similar sauces from other sources, coconut aminos have an intense flavor with a significant degree of saltiness. Tasted in isolation, it's slightly sweeter than soy sauce, less salty and fishy than fish sauce, and lacks the sharp tang of Worcestershire sauce. In practice, it can be used in place of any of those with good -- if not identical -- results. The aminos' own flavor is less important than their ability to enhance the flavors of other foods.
Due to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's labeling laws, Canadian cooks won't find coconut aminos under that name on store shelves. Instead, the product is labeled as "Soy-Free Seasoning Sauce" in Canada.