Sushi, the Gluten-Free Way

I could have sushi multiple times a week (and, confession!, sometimes I do). It’s flavorful, creative, and satisfying without being heavy. Sushi is also a great meal for sharing — the small, bite-sized items, ordered in small portions, allow you get a variety of items. And, thankfully, sushi is great option for gluten-free dining.

At their core, sushi and sashimi are naturally gluten-free, and if you order those, taking care to specify no sauce or wasabi, which is sometimes dabbed on the underside of the fish, you can enjoy a great meal. It’s the stuff around the sushi that causes problems for us. While vigilance is essential for GF folk — for example, there is a potential for cross-contamination — you can generally eat well at most sushi restaurants. To make it easier to navigate the menu, below are some areas of key concern:

  • Soy Sauce. Soy sauce, of course, is a huge danger. Most commercial soy sauce contains wheat. This is part of the fermenting process. Japanese-style tamari generally does not have wheat, but you need to be careful. Check labels (or bring your own). This means, unless the restaurant uses gluten-free soy sauces when preparing food, you’ll need to skip just about everything that comes with sauce.
  • Teriyaki and Other Sauces. These aren’t just for dipping or drizzling over the prepared food. Items such as broiled eel are often brushed with a teriyaki or other sauces. Ask lots of questions when ordering sushi items that are grilled or cooked. I always, very clearly ask for no sauce at all, explaining that I am gluten free.
  • Krab vs Crab. The next thing you need to watch out for is fake crab (also known as Krab and or surimi). This is an ingredient commonly found in California and other rolls. Fake crab is often made using wheat as a binder. A general rule: if the restaurant cannot guarantee you will be served fresh crab, avoid crab altogether. When I encounter a California roll made with real crab, you can bet I eat every bite!
  • Wasabi. True wasabi is made a horseradish-like root from Japan. Because it’s expensive, restaurants likely serve wasabi made from horseradish, food coloring, and a starch, generally corn. Because wheat is sometimes used, I generally request no wasabi at all instead of playing 20 Questions About Wasabi with the serving staff. If you’re a wasabi fan, check the ingredient list first.
  • Fish Eggs. There are also some types of roe (fish eggs) that are marinated in soy sauce. Ask if this is the case with any of the dishes you’ve ordered — you can always get your sushi without roe if that is the only option.
  • Tempura. Also on the “no” list is most tempura. While you can find tempura batters made with rice flour instead of wheat flour, this is the exception to the rule. When I crave tempura, I just make it at home.
  • Vinegar. Finally, check the type of vinegar used to make the sushi rice. As a rule, it is made with rice vinegar, which imparts a lovely, light flavor. Some restaurants, apparently, use malt-based vinegars. I’ve never personally encountered this, but have heard enough stories online to make asking about vinegar part of my routine when I go to new restaurants.

This seems like a long list, but it really covers a small portion of the sushi experience. You can generally eat safely as long as you pay attention to these simple things — or, as with any dining-out experience, exercise the same level of caution you normally exhibit.

Do you have a favorite sushi restaurant that meets your gluten-free needs (mine is Sushi Roku, thanks to their great gluten-free menu)? To add your thoughts, use the comments section.

Tip of the Week

If you are a huge soy sauce lover, you can purchase gluten-free soy sauce packets from Amazon. Please note that you’re buying in bulk, so be prepared! I carry a handful in my purse at all times. They’re perfect for traveling!

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

As mentioned, when I crave crispy, crunchy tempura, I make mine at home. The key to good tempura batter is cold seltzer or soda water and hot oil. Thinner vegetables, especially if you’re cooking something dense like sweet potatoes, ensure your veggies cook evenly without burning your batter.

Serve your tempura veggies with grilled albacore over sushi rice. I enjoy the sweet and sour flavors of this rice, and also use it with salmon, shrimp, and stir-fried vegetables. It makes rice a little bit decadent.

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