Is Soy Sauce Gluten-Free? A 2023 Gluten-Sensitive Guide
Soy sauce is a condiment made from fermented soybeans and wheat. It has a salty, umami flavor and is traditionally used in Asian cuisine.
Soy sauce is rich in nutrients such as amino acids, nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, organic acids, calcium, and simple sugars. It even contains small amounts of B vitamins. But is soy sauce gluten-free?
As wheat contains gluten, most types of soy sauce are unsuitable for gluten-sensitive individuals on a gluten-free diet plan. The gluten in soy sauce can trigger severe reactions in people with celiac disease.
Here’s everything you need to know about soy sauce and the best safe alternatives for gluten-sensitive individuals. Is soy sauce gluten-free? Read on to find out.
Does Soy Sauce Have Gluten?
Yes, soy sauce contains gluten. It is made from the fermentation of soybeans and wheat containing gluten. So, conventional soy sauce can trigger symptoms in gluten-sensitive people.
However, gluten-free soy sauce alternatives, such as liquid and coconut amino and tamari sauce, are available. So, even if you are sensitive to gluten, you can enjoy the umami soy sauce flavor without experiencing gluten-related reactions.
What’s The Problem With Gluten?
Gluten is a protein present in wheat, barley, and rye. Approximately 1% of Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease, a condition characterized by a severe autoimmune reaction to gluten. Furthermore, 0.5-13% of the population may have another common gluten-related disorder called non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
When someone with celiac disease ingests gluten, the immune system recognizes the protein as a foreign invader and attacks it, damaging the gut lining in the process. Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, and pain. If left untreated, continuous gluten consumption can lead to nutrient deficiencies, a skin rash, and lactose intolerance caused by damage to the small intestine. People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity might experience mild symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal pain, bloating, or light discomfort after eat gluten-containing foods.
Gluten is present in many foods, and cross-contamination can occur in factories and kitchens. While it may be understood that some foods are naturally gluten-free, others might be labeled gluten-free. These labels can be helpful, as many people may question a product’s gluten content. For example, many people do not know that soy sauce often contains gluten.
Types Of Soy Sauce
Soy sauce can be light or dark, gluten-free or made from wheat, and Chinese or Japanese. Here are some of the most popular types of soy sauce:
Light Soy Sauce
Light or regular soy sauce is a type of wheat-based soy sauce. As the name implies, this soy sauce has a lighter or thinner consistency. Chinese and Japanese cuisine often use it to add a strong umami flavor. It usually has the same gluten and sodium content as most soy sauce types.
Dark Soy Sauce
Dark soy sauce is another type of wheat-based soy sauce. It is aged longer than light soy sauce, so it has a thicker consistency, darker color, and more robust flavor. It is usually used as a dipping sauce or added to stews, stir fries, braised dishes, roasted meats, and other dishes.
Tamari Soy Sauce
Tamari, typically made in Japan, is one of the main types of gluten-free soy sauce. Because it contains less than 10% gluten, it usually has less aroma than other soy sauce options.
Japanese Soy Sauce
Shoyu is the general name for Japanese soy sauce. Aside from tamari, other popular types of Japanese soy sauce include:
- Koikuchi is Japan’s most traditional soy sauce made from soy and wheat.
- Usukuchi is also made from soy and wheat and is the Japanese version of light soy sauce.
Is All Soy Sauce Gluten-Free?
No, most soy sauces contain gluten. Traditionally, soy sauce is made from the fermentation of soybeans, water, wheat, and salt. While soybean is usually the main ingredient, some types of soy sauce are made with wheat as the main ingredient.
Wheat aids the fermentation process and works as a binder and stabilizing agent. Wheat contains gluten, making wheat-based soy sauces potentially unsuitable for gluten-sensitive people.
However, the amount of wheat in soy sauce varies depending on the type and brand, so some classic soy sauces are richer in gluten than others. Also, studies suggest that the gluten in wheat-based soy sauces is undetectable as the fermentation process degrades it. So, even traditional soy sauce might be suitable for some.
While those with celiac disease should eliminate all traces of gluten, others with gluten sensitivity might be able to tolerate a small amount of gluten in soy sauce. If you have questions about gluten restrictions, talk with your doctor or registered dietitian.
How To Choose A Gluten-Free Soy Sauce
The key to choosing a gluten-free soy sauce is vigilance. Look for gluten-free labels and check the ingredient list for wheat, barley, or wheat-derived ingredients. The sauce likely contains gluten if you spot wheat or barley in the ingredient list.
You can also check for gluten-free certifications often included by some manufacturers. If the labeling is unclear, contact the manufacturer for accurate information about the product’s gluten content.
If you order fast foods that typically contain soy sauce, ensure you specify that you want it gluten-free. Or, consider ordering your meals directly from a gluten-free meal delivery service.
Gluten-Free Soy Sauce Alternatives
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Here are some gluten-free soy sauce alternatives to try:
Gluten-Free Tamari Soy Sauce
Unlike conventional soy sauce, this Japanese soy sauce is usually wheat-free. However, check the nutritional label to confirm that the ingredients don’t include wheat products.
This is a soy-based alternative that contains liquid proteins from unfermented soybeans. While they retain the typical umami flavor, they contain less sodium, have a milder taste with a smoky kick, and are sweeter than fermented soybeans.
This gluten-free soy sauce is made from coconut instead of soybeans. It is made from the sap of coconut blossoms and tastes sweeter than soy sauce. It’s a good option for gluten-sensitive individuals who also want low-sodium sauce.
Homemade Gluten-Free Soy Sauce
If you are adventurous and have the time and patience, try making your soy sauce using gluten-free grains such as rice, corn, or fermented vegetables.
Soy sauce typically includes wheat, which contains gluten and could lead to reactions in gluten-sensitive individuals. However, the gluten content is usually very low – even in varieties containing wheat.
Tamari is the most popular type of wheat-free, gluten-free soy sauce. Other gluten-free alternatives include liquid aminos, such as coconut aminos.
If you follow a gluten-free diet, ensure you meet your nutrition needs through a well-balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, gluten-free whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Ensure all your medicines and supplements are gluten-free as well. Look for supplements labeled gluten-free, such as gluten-free fat burner supplements.
We suggest consulting with a registered dietitian for personalized vitamins and dietary advice. They can advise you on a good multivitamin – such as a gluten-free multivitamin – to ensure adequate nutrient intake.
Frequently Asked Questions
Unfortunately, you cannot eat all types of soy sauce if you’re gluten-free. Conventional soy sauces contain wheat or sometimes barley, both of which contain gluten.
Tamari is a wheat-free soy sauce you can usually eat if you follow a gluten-free diet.
Soy sauce typically contains wheat, and wheat contains gluten. Barley, another gluten-containing grain, might also be used in soy sauce.
Adding crushed wheat aids the fermentation process and acts as a stabilizer in soy sauce production. Wheat also makes a sweeter soy sauce compared to soybeans.
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