Are Sushi Rolls Gluten-Free?

With its focus on raw, fresh ingredients, Japanese food puréeis considered healthy. However, sushi rolls, which are an iconic Japanese food, may not be suitable for people who are gluten sensitive or gluten intolerant. Are sushi rolls gluten-free? 

Sushi rolls can be gluten-free, but many common ingredients used to make sushi rolls contain gluten. To get gluten-free sushi rolls, you have to pay close attention to the ingredients in the particular sushi roll you choose. Ingredients like sushi rice, tempura, and sesame seeds may contain gluten. 

This article explores the ingredients that may contain gluten that you may find in sushi rolls. It also has some helpful advice on how you can make sure your sushi rolls don’t contain gluten.

What Are the Ingredients in Sushi Rolls?

To know whether a sushi roll is gluten-free, it’s essential to consider what ingredients sushi rolls contain. Here are some ingredients that indicate a sushi roll may not be gluten-free. 

Sushi Rice

Sushi rice is often made with rice wine or rice vinegar which doesn’t contain gluten. However, some sushi rice may be made with vinegar that is derived from gluten grains. Asking your restaurant what kind of sushi rice they use may help you understand whether it contains gluten.

Crab Meat

While real crab meat doesn’t contain gluten, some restaurants and outlets will serve surimi, which is pulverized white fish used as crab meat. To give it a similar texture to crab meat, they bind the purée together using a binder that may contain gluten.  

Sesame seeds 

Many types of sushi rolls are topped or stuffed with sesame seeds. While pure sesame seeds are gluten-free, some sesame seeds are flavored. Flavored sesame seeds may contain gluten, so be sure to check what kind of sesame seeds are on your sushi roll. 

Tempura Dipped Ingredients

Some sushi rolls have ingredients dipped in tempura batter, including tempura sushi and vegetable rolls, which are especially popular. Tempura batter is typically made with wheat which contains gluten. However, some restaurants use gluten-free tempura batter, so be sure to ask your restaurant to confirm what kind of batter they use. 

Wasabi 

Many spicy sushi rolls contain wasabi, a paste made with horseradish. While pure wasabi is gluten-free, some restaurants use imitation or packaged wasabi, which may contain gluten. To get a truly authentic sushi roll, make sure the restaurant uses only pure wasabi.

Soy Sauce

While soy sauce is not often an ingredient in sushi, it’s typically served alongside sushi rolls. It‘s generally made with wheat, which means it’s not gluten-free. Some restaurants can serve alternatives to soy sauce such as coconut aminos. 

Soy sauce may also be used to make teriyaki, one of the main ingredients in teriyaki sushi rolls. If your sushi roll contains hints of a sauce, check what kind of sauce it is and what’s been used to make it. 

Other sauces that may contain gluten include eel sauce, ponzu sauce, barbeque sauce, and mayonnaise.

Masago 

Some sushi rolls are stuffed or topped with tiny fish eggs, with the most common variants being masago and tobiko. While tobiko is gluten-free, some masago may be mixed with soy sauce. Check with the restaurant to make sure these ingredients are not used.

Japanese Omelet

Japanese omelet or tamagoyaki is a sweet omelet made by delicately rolling together seasoned slivers of eggs, and is used to top and stuff certain types of sushi. The egg is flavored with mirin and soy sauce, making it a non-gluten-free ingredient. 

Tofu 

Pure tofu is made with soy milk and doesn’t contain gluten. However, in Japanese cuisine, tofu is typically marinated in a sauce that contains soy sauce. You can generally avoid this if you stick to sushi rolls made exclusively with fish.

Pickled Ginger

Pickled ginger is often served with sushi and adds an extra kick to your sushi roll. It’s made by mixing sliced ginger roots with rice vinegar, sugar, and water. Some types of rice vinegar may contain gluten, so check the ingredients your pickled ginger is made with.

The Risks of Cross-Contamination

Even if ingredients in your sushi roll don’t contain gluten, your roll may still be susceptible to gluten traces, because of cross-contamination. If your chef uses the same knife for chopping board to prepare several sushi rolls, the equipment may pick up traces of gluten from a range of ingredients. 

To prevent this from happening, it’s important to tell your server and even your chef that you’re gluten intolerant. With this knowledge, they’ll be sure to use sterilized equipment when preparing your rolls. 

How Can You Make Sure Your Sushi Rolls Don’t Contain Gluten?

While some sushi rolls can contain gluten, you don’t need to give up sushi entirely! There are several things you can do to ensure gluten doesn’t end up in your roll.

Eat at High-Quality Restaurants

High-quality sushi restaurants won’t use imitation ingredients like imitation wasabi, surimi, and masago. They’ll also be more knowledgeable about the ingredients they use. When choosing a sushi restaurant, look at the restaurant’s ratings and reviews to ensure it’s high-quality. 

Talk to Your Server and Chef

If you’re dining at a restaurant, let both your server and chef know that you can’t eat gluten. Ask them to use different equipment when preparing your sushi so you avoid the risk of cross contamination. Give them an understanding of the ingredients you can’t eat so they ensure it doesn’t inadvertently end up in your sushi roll. 

Know Which Ingredients Don’t Contain Gluten 

When you’re ordering sushi rolls, it’s helpful to know which ingredients you can eat. Here are some ingredients that are sure to be gluten-free: 

  • Raw or smoked seafood: All seafood that is raw or smoked will be gluten-free. However, be sure that it has not been marinated with a sauce. 
  • Vegetables: Most vegetables in sushi rolls will be gluten-free. Look for mushrooms, scallions, snap peas, asparagus, avocados, and carrots. However, as with the seafood, make sure the vegetables have not been marinated in a sauce. 

Order Specific Types of Sushi Rolls

Several types of sushi rolls are less likely to contain gluten. You cut down the risk of your sushi roll containing gluten by ordering these sushi rolls:

  • Rainbow rolls: Rainbow sushi rolls contain cucumber slices, avocado pieces, and crab sticks and can contain a range of fish, including white fish, eel, tuna, or salmon. The roll is topped with a range of fruit and raw fish, so it’s called a ‘rainbow roll.’ Be sure to check that the rainbow roll doesn’t contain surimi. 
  • California rolls: A California roll is a type of inside-out sushi, with sushi rice on the outside and cucumber, crab, and avocado on the inside, and is topped with sesame seeds and tobiko or masago. Remember to check that your California roll doesn’t contain surimi or masago in the place of the crab meat or tobiko. 
  • Sashimi: If you want to be extremely safe, forego your sushi roll for slices of sashimi instead. Sashimi is simply thinly sliced fish, so it most definitely doesn’t contain gluten. You can get sashimi in various types of fish, including salmon, white fish, and tuna. 

Remember not to dip your sashimi into the accompanying soy sauce! 

Make Your Own Sushi

If you cannot find sushi restaurants or take-out eateries that promise gluten-free rolls, why not try making sushi rolls at home? Buy high-quality ingredients at specialized Asian stores and check that each ingredient is gluten-free. Take out any ingredients that may contain gluten, and feel free to experiment with combinations of ingredients to create your own signature sushi rolls.

Conclusion 

Sushi rolls can be gluten-free. However, many do contain small amounts of gluten, as some of the most common ingredients used in sushi rolls, such as wasabi, rice wine vinegar, imitation wasabi, and crab, contain gluten. However, it’s possible to have a gluten-free sushi roll. You need to be vigilant about the ingredients that have gone into it. 

Here are some of my favorite sushi making tools

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you find it useful as you make sushi at home. Here are some tools I’ve used that I hope you’ll find helpful, too. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to use any of them, I will earn a commission. But honestly, these are the exact tools that I use and recommend to everyone, even my family.

Rice cooker: For getting started, I really like Zojirushi Rice Cooker. The Zojirushi Rice cooker does not only make rice-cooking dirt simple, but it is a quality gadget that cooks better than most chefs can. Unlike most kitchen gadgets, it does not sacrifice quality for convenience.

Knife:The Kai Knife is one of the best sushi knives in the market. Made in Japan’s famous knife-making capital, Seki city.

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