Last week we discussed eating gluten-free while in China, India and Japan. Well, as tasty as gluten-free Asian food can be, not all of us can fly off to Asia on a whim. Many of you wrote in and asked for tips on preparing these dishes yourselves rather than ordering them in foreign countries.
We’re happy to oblige!
While there are many naturally gluten-free foods in Asian cuisines, a lot of Asian cooking relies upon ingredients that are likely to contain wheat or barley. For the home cook who has been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, cooking Chinese or Japanese dishes may feel daunting since so many familiar brands of condiments are off limits.
Let’s take a look at gluten-free alternatives that will help you bring your favorite Asian dishes to the dinner table safely…
- Soy Sauce / Tamari: Most commercially available brands of soy sauce are fermented with wheat. There is a type of soy sauce popular in Japan that’s called tamari. Tamari-style soy sauces are often (though not always) wheat-free. Gluten-free offerings in the United States include San-J’s Tamari Gluten Free Soy Sauce & Tamari Gluten Free Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce as well as their Organic Gluten-Free Tamari Travel Packs which are convenient for travel or bringing to restaurants.Kari-Out also makes gluten-free soy sauce travel packets. Eden and Wan Ja Shan also make organic gluten-free tamari – Wan Ja Shan makes a low-sodium version, too. Kikkoman now makes a gluten-free soy sauce, too. The other mainstream brand some people purchase is LaChoy – their regular soy sauce is not an authentic soy sauce like the others we’ve listed, and contains many flavorings, sweeteners and preservatives. It contains no obvious gluten-containing ingredients, but LaChoy does not test their products to determine if they’re gluten-free so we recommend sticking to the other brands.
- Teriyaki Sauce: If you’re looking for a sweet, flavorful sauce for grilling, stir-fries and more, teriyaki sauce is a great option. It used to be hard to find a gluten-free bottled teriyaki sauce but now there are a number on the market. Kikkoman, San-J, Edward and Sons, and OrganicVille all make widely available gluten-free teriyaki sauces. OrganicVIlle makes a Sesame Teriyaki sauce as well as an Island Teriyaki sauce, both of which are organic.
- Wasabi: This sharply flavored paste served with sushi is traditionally made of a Japanese type of horseradish. However, imitation wasabi is very common (especially in the U.S.) and tends to be made of mustard and/or non-Japanese horseradish instead. Some brands of wasabi powder or paste contain wheat starch. Eden Foods makes a gluten-free wasabi powder that is more natural than most brands. Just add water to make it!
- Sake: Traditional sake is a rice-based wine that is served both cold and hot. Unfortunately, many brands of sake add barley or other distilled grains. When ordering sake, make sure that the word “Junmai” is on the bottle. This means that it is made exclusively from rice. Thanks to Laura from Can We Eat That? for the tip!
- Hoisin Sauce: A salty, sweet Chinese sauce rich in umami flavor. It’s often used to spread on mu shu pancakes or dip spring rolls in. It is traditionally made with toasted soy beans and bottled hoisin sauces almost always contain wheat-containing soy sauce or wheat flour. Premier Japan makes a gluten-free hoisin sauce that is also organic. If you cannot find it, you can also make a recipe for hoisin sauce substitute using your favorite gluten-free soy sauce.
- Miso: This fermented paste or powder is dissolved in hot water for soups, added to salad dressings and marinades for a deeper and more savory flavor, and used in glazes and other cooking applications. Miso is traditionally made with barley, soy or rice. Some newer miso products use fermented chickpeas instead. Be sure to read ingredient labels. Miso made with barley is never gluten-free, and sometimes miso made with soy or rice will also be flavored with barley or made on cross-contaminated equipment.Eden Organics makes gluten-free shiro (sweet white) and genmai (sweet golden) miso powders. Edward and Sons makes a “miso cup”, which is an instant soup mix. Many brands of miso paste use fermentation starters that contain barley so trace amounts may remain in the finished product (fermentation, however, may cause them to not test positively for gluten, so be careful here). Miso Master and South River make gluten-free miso pastes. Miso Master Chickpea Miso is gluten-free and uses a brown rice based starter. South River’s gluten-free miso pastes include Hearty Brown Rice, Chickpea, Azuki Bean, Sweet White and more.
Additional Asian ingredients, such as gluten-free rice vinegar, rice wine, peanut sauce and chili sauce are also available. As always, check ingredients and look for allergy warnings on labels. Ingredients and manufacturing processes change frequently. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer. If you’re looking for ideas on how to make gluten-free versions of your favorite Asian foods, such as potstickers (dumplings) or spring rolls, check out The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen, a fantastic cookbook by Laura B. Russell.