This is the name of a condiment that’s being promoted as a GMO- and gluten-free soy sauce substitute. It’s said to have all sorts of health benefits, but none of the controversies associated with soy. The problem is that it promises much and delivers little, with marketers cherry picking kernels of truth about the health benefits of coconuts and the health concerns of soy, and mixing these kernels together to showcase the product in a better light.
Coconut Aminos is manufactured in the Philippines and brought to the U.S. by a company called Coconut Secret. As its name implies, it’s derived from coconuts and is said to contain an array of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. It’s produced by tapping the sap from the unopened blossoms of the coconut tree, and then aging (naturally fermenting) it, with the addition of salt. (In Southeast Asia, coconut sap is commonly used to make a variety of products, including syrup, sugar, vinegar, and other sauces.)
Coconut Aminos has a similar consistency and color as soy sauce, and, because it contains the amino acid glutamate (as in monosodium glutamate or MSG), as does soy sauce, it has a savory taste referred to as “umami.” Unlike soy sauce, it also has a touch of sweetness, but it doesn’t taste like coconuts. It has 5 calories per teaspoon.
Consuming Coconut Aminos is said to have a variety of health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer. It’s touted as aiding in weight loss, strengthening immunity, and even promoting mental health. Proponents say it has a low glycemic index and a rich supply of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals—and they praise it for being free of MSG, GMOs, and those “bad” compounds in soybeans: phytoestrogen (which mimic estrogen), phytic acid (which can bind some minerals), and anti-thyroid compounds.
But let’s look at the facts:
- There are no studies to back claims of any health benefits of Coconut Aminos. If any effects have been suggested in studies, they relate to consuming coconuts or coconut oil, not Coconut Aminos.
- According to the product’s label, one teaspoon of Coconut Aminos has 90 milligrams of sodium. Granted, that’s less than what’s in regular soy sauce (290 milligrams) and in reduced-sodium soy sauce (140 milligrams)—but it’s still a fair amount, especially since you may easily use more than a teaspoon or two at a time (a standard serving of soy sauce is 1 tablespoon).
- Despite its supposed rich supply of amino acids (the building blocks of protein), Coconut Aminos provides 0 grams of protein per serving. Nor is it a significant source of vitamin C, iron, or calcium, the label notes.
- As for those soy-related compounds, the processing of soybeans to make soy sauce results in negligible levels of phytoestrogens, phytic acid, and anti-thyroid compounds, making the issue moot. (Even at higher amounts, these soy compounds are not a general cause for concern for most people.)
- Some researchers report that coconut sap contains a range of vitamins and minerals, along with antioxidants (such as polyphenols and anthocyanidins), fiber, and inulin (a prebiotic that acts as a fiber and may help intestinal health). But these data all refer to fresh, not fermented or aged, sap (numerous websites state that Coconut Aminos is fresh sap, though it’s not). How much, if any, you get in a small amount of this sauce is unknown but likely to be inconsequential.
- While Coconut Aminos is touted to have a low glycemic index (and thus be good for people with diabetes), this is meaningless given that the product contains just 1 gram of sugar per teaspoon. That’s not enough to have a significant effect on blood sugar.
Bottom line: If you like the flavor, you can use Coconut Aminos in dressings, marinades, and stir-fries. Or use a few drops on popcorn. You’ll get less sodium than if you use soy sauce—but don’t expect any other health benefits. And be aware that an 8-ounce bottle costs about $5 to $7 (compared to about $2.50 for a 10-ounce bottle of soy sauce). Note also that though Coconut Aminos contains glutamate—the substance in MSG that many people think they are sensitive or allergic to—studies have failed to show reactions in most people. That means that, aside from the sodium issue, just about everyone can safely consume this condiment.
Also see Soy: Health Food Gone Mainstream.