Anyone who is a celiac, or has a non-celiac gluten sensitivity knows: trying to avoid gluten is hard work. You have to read every label of every food item you purchase in the supermarket. And you usually have to ask every chef or restaurant owner about the exact ingredients in the food. The trouble is, not all chefs are familiar with which ingredients contain gluten, such as spices, so you’re left with educating and training others, just to help you eat the right dishes.
That is what makes sushi such an attractive option. Sushi is fresh, and made with raw ingredients, so it should be the perfect meal, right? Not so. Sushi also contains foods with hidden gluten, so you have to be careful to select the correct items on the menu.
What sushi then contains gluten? This article will discuss the various items that might contain gluten, and what exact ingredients make them avoidable for celiacs.
Sushi Ingredients and Gluten—All You Need to Know
What rice could possibly contain gluten? Rice should never contain gluten. It turns out that in sushi, some of the rice is prepared using non-distilled white vinegar or rice wine. During the process, corn or wheat may be used. The latter contains gluten.
If the vinegar used is wheat-based then the sushi rice will contain some gluten.
What’s more, if the sushi rice is prepared with chicken broth, the latter often contains gluten. It’s best to make sure before you eat.
Crab Meat (Surimi)
The crab meat on offer in these Japanese dishes is often not crab at all, but a substitute. It’s pulverised white fish, which is dyed orange, and combined with food starch and flavourings. Although it makes the fish mimic the texture of crabs, the binder contains gluten. What’s more, not all restaurants will indicate which is imitation crab. You may ask the chef, but it might be a better idea to avoid this section of the sushi menu altogether.
Sesame seeds that coat some sushi may be mixed with a wheat product. Avoid all products, therefore, with sesame on.
You are already aware that you need to be aware of all sauces, and soy sauce is included in the list. Soy sauce is made with gluten. Most restaurants don’t use gluten-free soy sauce, so it’s best to ask. Watch out for other sauces that contain soy sauce, like Ponchu sauce.
However, there are some restaurants that keep gluten free soy sauce, so ask your waiter and request it up front.
Any fish or vegetable that is battered and deep-fried tends to contain wheat flour instead of corn starch. It’s probably best to avoid this altogether rather than request an alternative, because the pan may be contaminated with wheat flour from someone else’s dish.
Traditional eel sauce is made from sugar, rice wine and soy. Furthermore, each restaurant will add its own ingredients to the base. So, it’s highly unlikely that there is an eel sauce that doesn’t contain gluten, although you can ask the manager. Simply omit it from your personal choices.
Teriyaki contains wheat, and should be avoided.
Marinade and Sushi Rolls
Marinades contain spices and starches that very often contain gluten. This means sushi rolls, often made from marinated fish such as tuna and salmon or unagi (freshwater eels), are often out of bounds for those with celiac disease.
Spices are mixed with wheat flour to reduce the potency of the flavor. It’s very difficult to find ‘pure’ spices, so always be on the lookout for any condiments in food.
Many American restaurants don’t use real wasabi. The ‘wasabi’ served there is made of horseradish, mustard, and other ingredients like green food coloring. One of the other ingredients may be wheat flour, although it’s actually not common. But rather ask.
If in doubt, bring your own. You can obtain real wasabi from any Asian market, and bring it to your favorite restaurant.
Read More: Why is Sushi Safe to Eat?
How Do you Ensure Your Order is Gluten Free?
In most sushi bars, you can discuss your options with the chef personally. If the chef knows what he or she is talking about, you’ll soon pick it up. You only need to check whether they know spices contain gluten, and that should be a good indicator of their knowledge about all things gluten.
What’s more, you can sit and watch the chef prepare your meal so you can check they’re not adding strange, unwanted ingredients. If you let them know you’re highly allergic to soy sauce, they can find other ways to prepare the sushi.
You can also ask them to make your sushi with ordinary rice, rather than that which is prepared using distilled vinegar or rice wine. Most will be obliging, even though it’s more difficult to roll.
Another option is to try getting sashimi instead of sushi. Perhaps it would be a good idea to check if there has been a marinade on the platter first. However, it ought to be one of those menu items that is gluten free. You can bring your own gluten free wasabi and soy sauce, although many Japanese restaurants now stock their own gluten free soy sauce.
What to Do if You Have Eaten Sushi Containing Gluten
If you consumed products containing gluten, don’t stress too much. The after-effects may not be pleasant, but you can reduce the symptoms in the following ways:
- Take digestive enzymes as soon as you notice symptoms. Take a greater amount than you usually do. Some people take up to six tablets.
- Pop a strong probiotic into your mouth at the same time.
- Take some antacid tablets—the chewable kind tends to be the most effective.
- Add some milk thistle tablets to clear the liver.
Note that if you are allergic to any of the above products, it is counter-productive to ingest them. And remember: always check with your doctor before taking any over the counter medications.