If you're suddenly seeing a product labeled "liquid aminos" in the grocery store aisle or noticing more recipes that call for liquid aminos, you're not alone if you're wondering what they are. Although these products aren't new, recent diet trends have brought them back into culinary fashion.

Liquid aminos are a liquid protein concentrate that's made from soybeans. They're often used as a gluten-free substitute for soy sauce. They have the unami factor — that pleasant, savory taste that makes many foods delicious.

The brand most associated with liquid aminos is Bragg, a company that's been touting the benefits of healthy food for over 100 years. Their version of liquid aminos contains 16 naturally occurring essential and non-essential amino acids and is non-GMO verified. These acids are necessary in our body to help tissue absorb the nutrients it needs from foods. Since amino acids are found in protein, liquid aminos can be a way to get protein from a plant-based source.

Difference between liquid aminos and soy sauce

soybeans, edamame Soybeans are the base for both liquid aminos and soy sauce. (Photo: Boonchuay1970/Shutterstock)

The brown liquid looks similar to the brown liquid in a bottle of soy sauce. The two usually can be interchanged in recipes, but there's a difference.

Soy sauce is made from fermenting a grain, often wheat, with soybeans, water and salt. That means that soy sauce contains a small amount of alcohol. Depending upon the grain used when fermenting, soy sauce also can contain gluten. It's also high in sodium. Kikkoman soy sauce contains 308 grams of sodium per teaspoon.

Liquid aminos are not fermented so they contain no alcohol and they are gluten-free. However, even though they have no added salt like soy sauce, they do contain a significant amount of sodium. Bragg's contains 320 grams of sodium per teaspoon. The sodium is naturally occurring from the soybeans.

People who want to avoid alcohol or gluten can choose liquid aminos instead of soy sauce. Since the major brand of liquid aminos is GMO-free, and soybeans are a high GMO crop, liquid aminos can be used to avoid genetically modified soy.

Concerns over liquid aminos and MSG

Some people may be concerned about the presence of monosodium glutamate (MSG) in liquid aminos. MSG can be naturally occurring in foods or it can be added in an unnatural form.

The Bragg website says it does not add MSG to its liquid aminos, but since it's naturally occurring in soybeans, "there can be some very small amounts of naturally occurring MSG" in the product. The company also claims that many of its customers who are "very sensitive" to MSG report not having adverse reactions.

What are coconut aminos?

Some people are allergic to soy and need to avoid both soy sauce and liquid aminos. An alternative to both is coconut aminos. Coconut aminos is a liquid made from coconut sap and salt that contains several naturally occurring essential and non-essential amino acids just like liquid aminos made from soy. It's gluten free and suitable for vegans and anyone who follows a strict paleo diet that doesn't allow soy. It's also lower in sodium than liquid aminos but can be used any way the soy-based aminos can be

I used coconut aminos on fried cauliflower rice when I followed the Whole30 diet, which didn't allow soy. I found the smell of coconut strong but coconut didn't come through in the taste.

Using liquid aminos

creamy hummus in a bowl Add some savoriness to hummus with liquid aminos. (Photo: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock)

According to the Bragg website, you can use liquid aminos on salads, vegetables, rice, beans, tofu, poultry, fish, popcorn, meat and potatoes. They can be added to dressings, soups, stir fries, gravy, jerky and casseroles to give them additional depth of savoriness.

Liquid aminos can also be used in some unexpected ways.

Let's not forget coconut aminos. They can be used to add some savoriness to completely plant-based Chickpea Protein Burgers.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.