Updated: Jan 27
Since the Whole30 originally came in the scene in 2009, its creators have made a few tweaks here and there to ensure the diet is the best that it can be.
One of those tweaks, effective in 2017, was a clarification on the use of coconut aminos, a popular ingredient in many Whole30 dishes.
As the popularity of the Whole30 diet grew and makers of coconut aminos increased, confusion abounded in the Whole30 community over whether the ingredients in coconut aminos were actually Whole30 compliant.
Coconut Secret, one of the original coconut-aminos manufacturers, used the words "coconut sap" on their label, while newer brands used the words "coconut nectar."
In accepted Whole30 terminology, "nectar" is code for added sugar, making those brands fall into off-limits territory. But were these brands really any different from the Coconut Secret aminos many a Whole30 recipe had been built upon?
As it turns out, all brands of coconut aminos start by extracting nectar from coconut flowers, the same origin as coconut sugar and coconut syrup. However, instead of selling it as-is or dehydrating and granulating it to concentrate the sweetness, the amino-making process involves brewing the nectar with water and sea salt to create a substance that can be used in place of soy sauce and other umami-rich ingredients.
This brewed product is highly unlikely to be used as a sugar substitute.
So while coconut aminos are indeed derived from a substance that is basically sugar, the good news is that they have officially been deemed an exception to the "no-sugar-added rule" and are still considered Whole30 compliant.
Coconut aminos are rich in earthy, umami flavor, making them a great substitute for secret ingredients like soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and more. However, in many cases they are favorable to those items because their glutamate content is lower and therefore potentially less likely to elicit a histamine response. [source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
People sometimes get confused between coconut aminos and similar-sounding ingredients such as Bragg's liquid aminos. The latter are derived from soy rather than coconut and would therefore not be Whole30 compliant, nor allowed on a typical paleo diet.
Here's a little breakdown of some of the differences between coconut aminos and similar items:
no additional added sugars
Bragg's Liquid Aminos:
no added sugars
Traditional soy sauce:
usually no added sugars
some brands contain added sugars
contains added sugar
may contain added colorings or potentially questionable ingredients, depending on brand
contains fish, so could be any issue for vegans or those with fish allergies
In the rare recipe, coconut aminos may even make an acceptable stand-in for balsamic vinegar. They both bring much depth and slight sweetness to a dish, but coconut aminos are much lower in acid, making them a better choice for those who are on the Acid Watchers Diet or trying to manage acid reflux.
Some of my family's favorite ways to use coconut aminos are on green beans or grass-fed beef cooked in a blazing hot cast-iron skillet.
We'll add frozen green beans to a hot skillet along with olive oil or coconut oil, salt, pepper, and garlic, and onion powder. Once the beans start to brown and blister in spots, we'll add several good shakes of coconut aminos to the mix, stir well, and cook till the beans are softened and coated with goodness.
We love to buy frozen grass-fed beef burger patties and let the desired amount thaw on a platter for an hour, marinating in coconut aminos, salt, and pepper; then sear to perfection in the cast iron. Best burgers ever--especially with roasted sliced sweet potatoes as buns!
Coconut aminos also add amazing flavor to ground beef and broccoli or any stir fry recipe. We like to make fried cauliflower rice with minced ginger, garlic, shallot, coconut aminos, bacon, scrambled eggs, and sesame oil. Lots of times I'll add a bag of shredded cabbage with carrots in it to boost the veggie content, too!
Frozen brussels sprouts tossed in plenty of olive oil, coconut aminos, salt and pepper and roasted on a rimmed baking sheet till blistery is a monster favorite.
For a lighter take, consider using coconut aminos and rice vinegar in a marinade for chicken breasts, which always benefit from marinating, especially before grilling.
For the ultimate in umami, simmer coconut aminos, ginger, star anise, and a little bit of Whole30-friendly Red Boat fish sauce in beef broth and serve with plenty of fresh basil, sliced jalapenos, shaved beef, and sweet potato noodles for a Whole30 take on pho.
Don't assume coconut aminos are only good in Asian-inspired dishes, however. One of my all-time favorite recipes on the blog is coconut-amino-containing Louisiana Remoulade.
For more information on the Whole30 and the 2017 rule updates, check out the Whole30 website.