Is Sushi Gluten Free?
Sushi is a Japanese food that is typically associated with raw fish. However, in Japanese, the word sushi actually means “sour rice” which refers to the traditional style of Japanese rice that is moistened with rice vinegar. This rice is used in the familiar sushi rolls that contain raw fish and are wrapped in seaweed. Note that another Japanese favorite, sashimi, refers to thinly sliced raw fish.
So whether or not you knew the actual meaning of sushi, you might still be wondering, is sushi gluten free? What about sashimi?
The answer is not a simple yes or no. When dining out, purchasing, or ordering sushi, there are some key ingredients to be wary of. Here is what to know about eating sushi on a gluten free diet.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the protein in grains that lends elasticity to bread and other baked goods. Gluten is often associated with wheat, rye, and barley. However, we know that gluten protein can be found in ALL grains. Common foods containing gluten include pasta, bread, baked goods, and beer, as well as many sauces, condiments, and marinades.
For those with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, gluten can be incredibly harmful. Gluten can trigger an immune reaction causing inflammation in the intestines, which can result in a host of other health issues.
If you are unsure if you are gluten intolerant, take our sensitivity test!
Gluten and Sushi Rice
One area of concern for those with a gluten intolerance is the sushi rice itself. Rice is questionable for those with celiac disease. Rice does contain a form of gluten called orzenin. Rice is also highly susceptible to cross contamination by grains like wheat, barley, and rye.
In addition, some sushi rice uses non-distilled white vinegar, which is typically made from corn or wheat. This can cause a reaction in those with celiac disease.
Ingredients to be Cautious Of
In addition to gluten in sushi rice, there are some other ingredients to be wary of, including the following:
- Soy sauce: Soy sauce traditionally contains wheat, which is clearly not safe for those with celiac disease. Check out this article for more about how soy sauce is made and what alternatives you can safely enjoy.
- Tempura cooked vegetables and fish: Tempura batter is traditionally made using wheat flour or another gluten-containing flour. The tempura batter is used to coat and then deep fry meat and vegetables, so not exactly a great choice even despite the gluten.
- Other sauces, coatings, and marinades: Things like mayonnaise in a spicy tuna sauce and marinated meat or vegetables may also contain hidden gluten from vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, or wheat to thicken sauces.
- Ingredients that may be cross contaminated: While sushi chefs are typically very cautious when it comes to cross contamination due to the need to be very clean when handling raw fish, it is always wise to be on the lookout for cross contamination when eating food that you didn’t prepare yourself.
What Sushi is Safe?
So with all of these questionable ingredients, what sushi can you eat? Your best bet is to stick with sashimi. Sashimi is traditionally made with only fresh raw fish that is not marinated and not served with other questionable ingredients like rice. However, it is often served with soy sauce on the side for dipping, so be sure to skip the soy sauce. You might consider bringing your own coconut aminos instead!
As with many things, sushi can be incorporated safely into your gluten free diet, but you must be prepared to ask the right questions and order the safest options. With sushi, that means to do the following:
- Avoid marinated fish and rice
- Play it safe and just order sashimi
- Bring your own gluten free soy sauce alternative like coconut aminos
- Ask questions to confirm that cross contamination is not a concern
We hope you feel empowered to enjoy some Japanese cuisine!