Ears and grains of wheat arranged in a cross shape on a green background

Japanese Gluten-Free: Ingredients, Selection Tips, and Precautions

by: Hideo Takahashi



Time to read 4 min

What Is Gluten-Free Food?

Gluten-free food refers to any food product that does not contain gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and their derivatives. Gluten can be found in a wide variety of foods, including bread, pasta, cereals, and baked goods, as well as in less obvious sources like sauces, soups, and processed meats. For individuals with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergy, consuming gluten can cause a range of adverse health effects, from digestive issues to severe immune reactions.

Why Do People Avoid Gluten?

Celiac Disease

This is an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. For those with celiac disease, a strict gluten-free diet is essential to prevent symptoms and long-term health issues.

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Some people experience symptoms similar to celiac disease when consuming gluten, such as bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, but do not test positive for celiac disease. These individuals often benefit from a gluten-free diet.

Wheat Allergy

This is an allergic reaction to proteins found in wheat, which can include but is not limited to gluten. Symptoms can range from mild (e.g., hives) to severe (e.g., anaphylaxis).
A woman holding a bundle of wheat spikelets, signifying celiac disease and gluten intolerance

Is Japan Good For Celiacs?

Overall, Japanese food is not typically gluten-free. Soy sauce, which contains wheat, is a common allergen for those with gluten allergies and sensitivities. Since soy sauce is a prevalent ingredient in many dishes, from sushi rice to soups and noodle dishes, it's best to avoid sauce-laden dishes. However, if you keep your eyes peeled and know what to avoid, you'll find plenty of gluten-free options.

Challenges for Celiacs in Japan

Soy Sauce (醤油, Shoyu)

Traditional soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans and wheat, making it a significant source of gluten.

Soy sauce being poured into a white bowl with soybeans in the background

Tempura (天ぷら, tenpura)

The batter for tempura is typically made from wheat flour, posing a risk for celiacs.

A plate of tempura shrimp with a side of shredded vegetables and a tomato slice

Soba Noodles (そば, soba)

Although made primarily from buckwheat, many soba noodles contain a mix of buckwheat and wheat flour.

A plate of delicious soba noodles garnished with seaweed, accompanied by dipping sauce and pickles

Dashi (出汁, dashi)

Dashi, a fundamental Japanese soup stock, sometimes contains soy sauce or other gluten-containing additives.

A ladle pouring dashi, a Japanese soup stock, into a pot

Japanese Gluten-Free Foods

Mochi (餅, mochi)

Mochi is made from glutinous rice and is gluten-free.

A plate with three daifuku mochi, a type of Japanese rice cake

Egg Dishes (卵料理, tamago ryouri)

Eggs do not contain gluten, making dishes like tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) and sunny-side-up eggs safe options.

A plate with three slices of Japanese rolled omelette called tamagoyaki

Natto (納豆, nattou)

Natto is fermented soybeans and is gluten-free.

A plate of natto, fermented soybeans, on a woven mat with chopsticks nearby

Oden (おでん, oden)

Oden is a Japanese hot pot dish that can include gluten-free ingredients such as daikon radish, konnyaku (yam cake), eggs, and gluten-free hanpen (fish cakes). However, it's best to check each component's ingredients and preparation methods to ensure they are gluten-free.

A steaming pot of oden, a Japanese dish with various ingredients like eggs, fish cakes, and radish

Are Typical Japanese Foods Gluten-Free?

Sushi (寿司, sushi)

Sushi primarily consists of rice, fish, and vegetables, making it naturally gluten-free. However, caution is needed with soy sauce (shoyu), which typically contains wheat. Opt for tamari, a gluten-free soy sauce alternative.

A platter of nigiri sushi and sushi rolls with various types of fish and garnishes

Sashimi (刺身, sashimi)

Sashimi is raw fish served without rice. It is naturally gluten-free but should be consumed with gluten-free soy sauce.

A plate of salmon sashimi with wasabi and garnish, served on a leaf with ice

Onigiri (おにぎり, onigiri)

These rice balls are often filled with ingredients like pickled plum, salmon, or tuna and wrapped in seaweed. Most onigiri are gluten-free, but it's important to check the fillings and seasonings.
A plate of traditional Japanese onigiri rice balls with seaweed, decorated with smiling faces, served with lettuce and hard-boiled eggs

Miso Soup (味噌汁, misoshiru)

Traditional miso soup made from fermented soybeans, seaweed, and tofu is usually gluten-free. others contain barley or wheat, which means not all miso is gluten-free.

A bowl of hot miso soup with tofu and seaweed, accompanied by chopsticks

Tips for Celiacs Traveling in Japan

Learn Key Phrases

Being able to communicate your dietary needs is crucial. Learn phrases like "gluten-free" (グルテンフリー, guruten-furī) and "I cannot eat wheat" (私は小麦を食べられません, watashi wa komugi wo taberaremasen).

Research Ahead

Look for restaurants that cater to gluten-free diets or have good reviews from other celiacs.

How To Try Gluten-Free Japanese Snacks

Now that you've heard about several delicious gluten-free dishes you can enjoy, you might be wondering where you can find some tasty Japanese snacks to try at home. JAPANBITE’s Premium Gluten-Free Snack Box will keep you satisfied and help prevent any negative gluten-related symptoms.

Goldfish Nebuta

This is a delicious apple-flavored yokan. Aomori red apple paste is added to make the yokan look like an apple seed. The small but sharp face of the goldfish Nebuta is almost too good to eat. Please enjoy the deep and elegant sweetness. The skin peels off when you stick a toothpick into it.

Goldfish Nebuta

Yuki Fuwari

Yuki Fuwari means snow fluff and is a marshmallow-like confectionery with a cute appearance. It is a combination of agar and meringue, studded with small colorful agar jelly. The texture is fluffy and chewy, more elastic than marshmallow. Three flavors: Ramune soda, Melon, and Mikan.

Yuki Fuwari

Cotton Candy Sakura Milk

This confectionary allows you to enjoy the flavor of cherry blossoms in cotton candy, and comes in a cute package with a Japanese-style pattern design on the outside. The fragrant cherry blossom cotton candy is combined with Japanese cherry blossom leaves and mildly flavored with Hokkaido milk.

Cotton Candy Sakura Milk

In conclusion

navigating a gluten-free diet in Japan is certainly possible with some preparation and awareness. By understanding the naturally gluten-free foods available and taking steps to avoid cross-contamination, individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can enjoy the rich culinary traditions of Japan without compromising their health.

Author Bio

Hideo Takahashi

Hideo Takahashi

Born in Tokyo in 1990. Founder of JAPANBITE and CEO of its operating company, GRID Start, Ltd.
Established the company in 2023 after being an IT engineer.
Inspired by his travels to 15 countries and a deep love for Japanese food, he launched a service to contribute to small local Japanese manufacturers' businesses and allow many foreigners to enjoy Japanese culture.

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