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There are several staples in Japanese cuisine that contain gluten. However, with the introduction of gluten-free miso and soy sauce as well as numerous naturally gluten-free foods, diners can still enjoy Japanese flavors.

If you’re a food lover, you’ve noticed that there’s an increasing focus in both restaurant menus and grocery store shelves to alert consumers about which foods or dishes contain gluten. As gluten sensitivities and intolerance are more widely discussed, eaters with these dietary restrictions need to know what’s in their food to make informed choices.

If you’re a Japanese food lover, you may not have realized how many of the foods contain gluten. There are the obvious culprits, such as panko and wheat flour, but also less obvious items, such as soy sauce and vinegar. If you are not aware of what ingredients are in your dish’s preparation, you may experience discomfort. Want to continue to delight your palate while also respecting your dietary demands? Let us assist you with this guide to gluten-free Japanese food.

Gluten-Full

There are many Japanese foods that contain gluten and should be avoided by diners who need to maintain a gluten-free diet. If you see any of the following ingredients or dishes, you will need to avoid them:
  • Wheat flour: This is the base for many different types of noodles, including ramen noodles, tempura and takoyaki.
  • Panko: These crispy breadcrumbs are used to coat meat and fish before frying. While they produce a golden crust and crispy exterior, panko contains wheat flour. If you see tonkatsu or croquettes on a menu, they most likely used panko to coat the meats. Just check before ordering.
  • Miso: Not all misos are gluten-full. You will need to read the label carefully to see if the miso contains rye, barley or wheat. If you see “mugi” on the ingredient label, that is a Japanese term for wheat, rye, barley or oats.
  • Soy sauce: Wheat is often used during the brewing process for soy sauce.
  • Vinegar (grain-based): Steer clear of kokumotsu-san, a grain-based vinegar.
  • Fu: Fu is often a substitute for meat at many vegan and vegetarian restaurants. It can be a perfect addition to soups or stews. However, it is wheat gluten and you should avoid it.

How is panko different from regular bread crumbs?

Gluten-Free

  • Soy Sauce that’s gluten-free (tamari): Tamari soy sauce is brewed without wheat, making it naturally gluten-free.
  • Gluten-free miso: Miso is one of the staple flavors in the Japanese cooking arsenal, but you should be able to find gluten-free miso at your grocery store.
  • Rice: Sushi lovers rejoice! Rice is naturally gluten-free. Just ask if they prepared rice with vinegar that contains grains or has additional ingredients that are not gluten-free.
  • Yakitori: These grilled meat or seafood skewers are perfect for a gluten-free diet. Ask if they used tamari soy sauce for the marinade. Or, you can just stick to salt flavor yakitori which is absolutely delicious.
  • Soba: If you have some cravings for noodles, these buckwheat beauties are perfect for you. They have excellent texture and bite.

While this is a handy guide, always remember to check labels thoroughly, and ask the kitchen if you’re unsure about an item’s preparation. With a little investigation, label reading and some focused questions to your server, being gluten-free and enjoying Japanese cuisine can go hand in hand.

Ultimate guide to yakitori.