Does Chinese Food Have Gluten?
A delicious Chinese restaurant meal is one of life’s great pleasures. Naturally, people want to know whether it is still possible to eat great Chinese food while on a gluten free diet.
So is Chinese food gluten free? It’s complicated. The short answer is likely no. But fortunately, the answer doesn’t end there.
There are several factors that make finding gluten free Chinese food difficult. One of the biggest challenges is the use of soy sauce. Traditional soy sauce is made with wheat flour and is unsuitable for those with Celiac disease or Non-Celiac gluten sensitivity. Soy sauce is used widely in Chinese cooking, both as a seasoning on its own and as an ingredient in sauces such as teriyaki. Other ‘Dark sauces’, such as oyster sauce and hoisin sauce are likely to contain hidden gluten, unless specifically marked gluten free.
Many Chinese restaurants use breaded or battered ingredients in some dishes. Wheat-based breading or batter both contain gluten. Gluten is also present in wonton wrappers and many types of noodles.
Cross-contamination is always a potential issue when eating out, and Chinese restaurants are no exception to this rule.
It might be tricky to find gluten free Chinese food, but it shouldn’t be impossible. There are some steps you can take to enjoy Chinese food safely.
What Chinese food is gluten free?
When ordering at a Chinese restaurant, try to go for simple dishes. Dishes such as plain steamed vegetables and meats are all more likely to be gluten free.
Light sauces are more likely to be gluten free than dark sauces. Often, sauces are thickened with cornstarch but it’s a good idea to confirm this with your server.
Avoid traditional soy sauce in Chinese restaurants. A good alternative is tamari, a Japanese soy sauce made without wheat. Ask your server whether they have gluten-free soy sauce available. Otherwise, taking your own tamari and adding it to dishes at the table gives you the same flavor without the gluten.
A little preparation can go a long way when it comes to eating out gluten free. If you can look at the menu ahead of time, or phone to speak to the restaurant, you can get a better idea of what’s available. This guide from Beth Israel Lahey Health gives you a great idea of the dishes you can eat, and how dishes can be adapted to be gluten free.
Talk to your server about what might be suitable and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Do be aware that there are no guarantees, and that the risk of cross contamination is always an issue.
Chinese Dishes That Are Gluten Free (Always Double Check)
- Steamed Vegetables
- Steamed Rice
- Steamed Chicken or Seafood
- Fried Rice (must use gluten free tamari not soy sauce)
- Egg Drop Soup
Possible sources of cross-contamination in Chinese restaurant food include shared oil in fryers, water that has been used to cook wheat-based noodles, and shared pans or woks.
Talk to your server about these risks, and ask questions about how they avoid cross-contamination. Some cross-contamination risks - like shared oil in fryers - are almost impossible to eliminate, but it should be easier to change pans or use fresh water when steaming food. However, remember that the risk of cross-contamination is down to the individual kitchen. If you don’t feel safe eating somewhere, you can always take your business elsewhere.
How to Make Gluten Free Chinese Food at Home
It’s possible to make tasty gluten free Chinese food at home by making simple swaps like using tamari instead of gluten free soy sauce. Specialist gluten free ‘dark sauces’, such as hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, and teriyaki sauce also make it easy to recreate delicious Chinese recipes in the comfort of your own home.
You can use cornstarch as the basis of a batter or dredge meats and vegetables to create the crispy dishes which you can find in Chinese restaurants.
We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite recipes to help you get started cooking delicious Chinese food at home.
Q: Is soy sauce gluten free?
A: No, soy sauce is not gluten free. Traditional soy sauce is brewed using wheat and is unsuitable for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity
Q: Is rice gluten free?
A: Yes, rice is naturally gluten free. However, if you’re dining out be aware of the risks of cross-contamination. Make sure rice is cooked with fresh water and in a clean pan. Fried rice is usually made with soy sauce, so isn’t gluten free. Ask for gluten-free soy sauce to be used if possible.
Q: Is tamari gluten free?
A: Yes, tamari is a Japanese soy sauce that doesn’t contain wheat and is gluten free. It’s a great substitute for traditional Chinese soy sauce.
Looking for some Gluten Free Chinese Recipes? Try these: