Why Your Sushi May Not Be Gluten Free

By Laura Miller (Taylor's Mom)
So I like to think that I am a really educated gluten free person who has been through the ropes and has a pretty good grasp on what is and what Is not gluten-free.  For years now I have been eating sushi without a care in the world … that is until last weekend.  We were out with a group of friends and we ordered our food.  I ordered a tuna roll and brought my San-J Tamari Soy Sauce with me – prepared and ready to eat.  The waiter just happened to overhear a conversation that I was having with my friends about my gluten free diet and he told me that their sushi was not gluten free.  He said that the product they used to hold the rice together contained wheat.  What????  My mind was completely blown.  All these years I thought that I was safely eating sushi when who knows how many times I got sick and had no idea it was from the sushi.

The next morning I made it my mission to go on the internet and educate myself about what can make sushi unsafe for us eating gluten free and what to ask for when ordering.  Some of these are no brainers but the big one is the rice itself.

  • Sticky Rice – Some restaurants can use a special binding agent – a Japanese broth or vinegar which can contain wheat.
  • Imitation Crab – Which is not crab at all.  Imitation crab is processed fish parts that are dyed to look like crab.  The binding agent in imitation crab is what makes it not gluten free.
  • Eel Sauce – Most eel sauces are made from sugar, rice wine and soy sauce.  There is a very strong chance that the soy sauce used to make the eel sauce contains wheat.
  • Wasabi – This is usually made up of horseradish, food coloring and mustard.  Most of the time it is also mixed with corn starch or flour containing wheat.  Also depending on the food coloring or mustard that is used either can contain gluten or wheat.
  • Tempura – This fish, shrimp or vegetable has been battered in flour and then fried.
  • Spicy Mayo – Can contain unsafe ingredients that are not gluten free.
  • Soy Sauce – Most brands of soy sauce contain wheat.  I prefer to use San-J Tamari Sauce which comes in all different types of variety and even travel packs.
  • Teriyaki Sauce – Contains wheat.  Again, San-J makes a very tasty gluten free teriyaki sauce. 
  • Ponzu Sauce – Contains soy sauce which is almost always not gluten free at restaurants.

Cross Contamination 
Sushi chefs don’t clean their knives or board between each roll.  If a sushi chef was making a roll with tempura on it and some crumbs were still left on the counter when he made your roll you could definitely get some gluten on your roll.  The knife being used to cut all the rolls could also have tempura on it.  Make sure to advise the waiter and kitchen staff that you are gluten free (I always use the word allergy because it’s taken more seriously even though it’s not technically true.

Were you aware of the gluten ingredients possible in sushi? Comment below!
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  1. Hi! Great job with this article. I've actually never had sushi since my celiac diagnosis, but I think you did a great job pointing out all the different places where gluten could sneak in. I also wanted to let you know that this fall, transOcean, which makes the Crab Classic (a form of imitation crab) switched its formula to be gluten free. I met them at GFAF, and they were so friendly. They even switched to making the crab classic in a dedicated gluten free facility. So, if you're ever making your own sushi, you could look up their imitation crab. (It'll say gluten free on the packaging. Although I think the transition is over by now.) I blogged about it on October 26, or I can send you the press release if you're interested in learning more!

  2. Cannot believe that my family has been eating Sushi thinking it was GF. Your article pointed out so much information and we will no longer eat sushi out. Great article.

  3. The big surprise was the rice binder. How prevalent is it? BTW, I carry the San-J soy sauce in individual serving packets. You can buy them by the case for very little money on Amazon. There are always several in my purse, my car, my airplane travel kit.

  4. My sushi restaurant told me (last week) that their miso soup mix has soy sauce in it and that has wheat in it...

  5. Thank you for this article! My husband has celiac disease, so we are viligant when we go out. We almost always go to restaurants with dedicated gluten free menus, including Asian. One restaurant in particular serves San-J sauces when requested. We have asked if the sushi is gluten free, but now we will re-double our efforts....who knew about the potential in wasabi? Now we do! :)

  6. You're welcome, all! Hope it helped some of you!

  7. wasabi- really? rice binding agent? My single favorite food is now kaput:( Thanks for the information but am now totally depressed and this is not a joke.

  8. My son, who we have only recently discovered is gluten intolerant, loves sushi!
    We had no idea all the sources of gluten in sushi. The last time he had sushi, he thought it was bad sea weed or such that made him sick.
    I hope now that we can find gluten free sushi so that he can enjoy it again.
    Thank you for this very informative post!

  9. This my go to when we go out. I carry my own gf soy sauce.Please tell me this rice binding agent with gluten in it is not the norm also the wasabi? noooooo!!!!!!

  10. Had no idea and just had some for lunch. Hoping I didn't have enough. Thank you for the update.