Is Sushi Gluten-Free?

Are you confused about the gluten-free status of sushi? Isn’t sushi just a roll of rice, seaweed, fruit, vegetables, and fish?

And aren’t all those ingredients individually (naturally) gluten-free? Yes, all of those individual ingredients in sushi—rice, seaweed, fruit, vegetables, and fish are (naturally) gluten-free.

This post is going to discuss ingredients that may contain gluten and potential sources of cross-contact in preparing a gluten-free sushi roll.

Is Sushi Gluten Free?
Is Sushi Gluten-Free?

What is sushi?

Sushi is any food that uses rice seasoned with vinegar (1). The art of making sushi has tremendously changed since its initial preparation by the Japanese in the 7th century (2).

Today you can find so many different variations of sushi that incorporate different ingredients. Yet, there are three broad categories of sushi (2).

3 Types of Sushi:

  • Nigiri Sushi: This is a pair of rice with typically raw fish. Additional toppings include: salmon eggs, cooked shrimp, or sliced egg (2)
  • Maki Sushi: This is the typical roll sushi. The rice, nori (seaweed), and additional ingredients are rolled using a bamboo mat. Then it is cut into 6 or 8 bite-sized pieces.
  • Temaki Sushi: This is hand-rolled sushi into a cone shape. It contains nori (seaweed), rice, and additional ingredients.

Bonus Type:

Sashimi is raw fish that is served by itself without rice, seaweed, or other ingredients. This is not considered to be sushi because it does not contain rice seasoned with vinegar.

Are ingredients in Sushi Gluten-Free?

You’ll come across different variations of sushi that incorporate different ingredients.

  • Cream Cheese: Gluten Free
  • Fish/Shellfish: Gluten Free
    • Avoid anything that’s “tempura”. Tempura is a Japanese term refers to foods that have been battered (in gluten-containing ingredients) and deep-fried.
  • Fruits: Gluten Free
  • Imitation Crab: Read the ingredients/label to verify its gluten-free status.
    • Imitation Crab is processed fish meat to mimic crab meat. Typically it does not contain any crab meat but may contain gluten-containing ingredients.
  • Seaweed: Gluten Free
  • Sauces: Read the ingredients/label to verify its gluten-free status.
    • There are a lot of different sauces that can be accompanied with your sushi. It’s important to verify the gluten-free status of each as ingredients can vary.
  • Soy Sauce: Not Gluten-Free
    • Soy Sauce is typically not gluten-free. Because it is the fermentation of soybeans and wheat. Ask for gluten-free soy sauce or gluten-free tamari soy sauce.
  • Rice: Gluten Free
  • Rice Vinegar: Read the ingredients/label to verify its gluten-free status.
    • Typically, sushi is rice that is seasoned with rice vinegar. Pure distilled rice vinegar is gluten-free.
    • The worry in the gluten-free community regarding distilled vinegar is that a gluten-containing grain may have been used in the process. However, the process of distilling a grain separates the alcohol from protein residues (3). There are virtually no protein residues in the final product.  
    • It’s important to note that any additional ingredient added to pure distilled rice vinegar post-distillation may not be gluten-free.
  • Wasabi:  Read the ingredients/label to verify its gluten-free status.
    • First of all, wasabi is a rare vegetable due to difficult growing conditions (2).
    • Thus, pure wasabi is very expensive.
    • As a result, the wasabi next to your sushi is not pure wasabi and other ingredients are added to it.

Remember that you are your best advocate while dining out. And you can request to read the ingredients/labels of products to verify its gluten-free status. And if you are unsure about the gluten-free status of any ingredient it is best to avoid it.

Is Sushi Gluten Free?
Is Sushi Gluten-Free?

Is Your Sushi Contaminated with Gluten?

You should always be ensuring that establishments serving gluten-free foods and beverages are taking precautions to prevent cross-contact with gluten-containing ingredients and surfaces.

Adding shrimp or salmon tempura to sushi is a popular menu item. And bamboo mats are used to roll maki sushi.

Both of these are two possible ways that cross-contact can be introduced to the surface area. Therefore, it is important that the surface area is thoroughly cleaned prior to starting your gluten-free sushi.

Summary:

  • Assess the gluten-free status of potentially hidden sources of gluten-containing ingredients used in making sushi.
  • Ensure that the establishment prevents cross-contact while preparing your sushi.

What’s your favorite type of sushi?

Let me know in the comments below.

 References:

  1. Mishima, Shizuko. “What Is Sushi: The Not-So-Raw Truth.” TripSavvy, 13 Apr. 2019, https://www.tripsavvy.com/what-is-sushi-1550725.
  2. Feng, Cindy Hsin-I. “The Tale of Sushi: History and Regulations.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, vol. 11, no. 2, 29 Feb. 2012, pp. 205–220., doi:10.1111/j.1541-4337.2011.00180.x.
  3. Thompson, Tricia. “Questionable Foods and the Gluten Free Diet.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 100, no. 4, 2000, pp. 463–465., doi:10.1016/s0002-8223(00)00142-5.

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