Does Chinese Food Contain Gluten? (What to Eat)

For individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, adhering to dietary restrictions can pose challenges when it comes to ordering takeout, selecting a restaurant, or meal planning. If you fall into this category, you may be curious about the safety of consuming gluten-containing ingredients in Chinese cuisine.

Not all Chinese food has gluten, but some do. Two of the most frequently used ingredients in Asian cuisine, rice and rice noodles, are gluten-free. However, it is best to steer clear of other noodle types, egg rolls, dumplings, breaded components, and dark sauces like soy sauce as they may contain gluten. Gluten-free variations of popular Chinese dishes are available.

It is important not to assume that all Chinese dishes are free of gluten, just as it is not safe to assume the opposite. Soy sauce, which is a fundamental ingredient in Chinese cooking and adds flavor, is used as commonly as butter in French cuisine.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten refers to a group of proteins present in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale that act as a binding agent to give foods their shape or hold them together; although it is naturally occurring, it can also be extracted and added to gluten-free foods.

It is possible to find gluten in ingredients that are not supposed to have gluten due to the processing of gluten-containing ingredients near gluten-free ones.

How Can You Tell If Something Contains Gluten?

When consuming Chinese food, it is crucial to take into account the severity of gluten sensitivity, the constituents, and potential cross-contamination during cooking since gluten has varying effects on individuals. To assist with a gluten-free diet while eating Chinese cuisine, we have provided a guide below.

When Food Contains Gluten as a Raw Ingredient

Determining whether a food contains gluten can be challenging as the term originates from the Latin word for “glue,” which is rooted in the Indo-European term meaning “to make a coagulated lump, to be thick or sticky.”

Gluten is composed of proteins found in wheat that can alter their form when they come into contact with water, and the elastic amino acids in gluten bond effortlessly together.

That is the reason why dough is formed when wheat flour, which has gluten, comes into contact with water and pressure from kneading, but it’s important to note that gluten can also be found in other ingredients besides all-purpose flour.

Soy sauce, which is made from fermented wheat and soybeans, is one example. A list of typical Chinese dishes and their gluten-free status is provided in the table below.

Food Contains Gluten? Safe for Celiac Disease? Safe for gluten intolerance? Safe for wheat allergy? Safe for IBS? (Low FODMAP Diet)
Tamari  No Yes Yes Yes Unknown
Sriracha No Yes Yes Yes Only 1 tsp
Soy sauce Yes No No No Only 2 TBSP
Fish sauce Yes No No No Yes
Duck sauce Yes No No No No
Oyster sauce Yes No No No Yes
Hoisin sauce Yes No No No Unknown
Side of brown rice No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Side of white rice No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fried rice Yes No No No Yes
Rice noodles No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Glass noodles No Yes Yes Yes No
Egg Noodles Yes No No No No
Egg rolls Yes No No No No
Dumplings Yes No No No No

While not an exhaustive compilation, this can serve as a preliminary guide to determine if gluten is present in Chinese cuisine. Those with celiac disease should be mindful of the preparation methods used in the kitchen as they are most susceptible to adverse reactions from gluten consumption.

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When Food Contains Gluten By Mistake

Regrettably, gluten can be found in food due to accidental contamination, despite its absence in the original ingredients. Two forms of contamination exist: cross-contamination and cross-connection.

Cross-contamination may happen if the chef has gluten on their hands and comes in contact with a product that is already prepared to eat. To avoid cross-contamination, it is important to practice proper hand-washing techniques.

When a cook uses the same utensils or equipment for both gluten and non-gluten products, it can lead to cross-contamination, which includes tongs, fryer baskets, and holding trays.

Some Chinese restaurants have specific woks for preparing gluten-free dishes to prevent cross-contamination with menu items that contain gluten.

Discover more: Do Deep Fryers Destroy Gluten?

How Do I Know if I Need to Avoid Gluten?

Individuals with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition, generate antibodies to protect against gliadin, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and occasionally oats.

For individuals diagnosed with celiac disease, the absorption of nutrients is hindered due to the attack of antibodies on the intestinal cells.

Gluten-free grains such as amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and teff do not have gliadin and are generally considered safe for individuals with gluten intolerance or wheat allergy. However, it is important to ensure that these foods were not processed or packaged in the same facility as those containing gliadin.

Individuals who have an intolerance to gluten may encounter digestive problems like abdominal discomfort and swelling, which can be alleviated by taking digestive enzyme supplements and following a diet that is low in gluten.

While gluten intolerance and wheat allergy share similar symptoms, the latter can also lead to anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, which is why it should be given equal importance as celiac disease when opting for a fully gluten-free diet.

Individuals who have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may choose to adhere to a Low FODMAP diet and restrict their consumption of gluten.

FODMAP refers to naturally-occurring food chemicals that can cause digestive system irritation, with oligosaccharides being one of the components represented by the “O” in FODMAP, which is also present in gluten-containing products like wheat, barley, and rye.

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What Chinese Meals Are Gluten-Free?

It is possible to make certain Chinese dishes without gluten in a restaurant or at home, but it is important to carefully examine the ingredient list of any new recipe before attempting to prepare it.

Chinese cuisine has a wide range of gluten-free options owing to the widespread use of rice in their culture. Certain Chinese restaurants even indicate their gluten-free dishes with the “GF” symbol. Here is a compilation of Chinese food items that could potentially be gluten-free when perusing a menu.

  • Cheung fun
  • Nian Gao
  • Order a serving of white or brown rice on the side
  • Chow fun
  • Mei fun

Regrettably, individuals who avoid gluten and enjoy Chinese cuisine will be disappointed to know that several popular dishes like Kung Pao chicken, fried rice, and Lo Mein have wheat as an ingredient.

Nevertheless, it is possible to replace typical components with gluten-free alternatives in order to replicate these traditional meals.

Can You Order Guten-Free at Restaurants?

The appearance of menus and options may vary depending on your location. However, in my experience, waiters usually make an effort to accommodate gluten intolerance and other dietary restrictions.

If the menu of the Chinese restaurant fails to mention whether a dish is gluten-free or not, it is advisable to inquire with the waiter for suggestions on gluten-free options or request the chef to prepare a gluten-free version of the dish.

Restaurants are familiar with customers inquiring about gluten content due to the increasing number of people with gluten intolerance, so if they haven’t provided clear indications of safe dishes, it’s not surprising that you’re asking.

What Chinese Meals Can Be Made Gluten-Free? 

Fortunately, nowadays there are numerous alternatives to traditional Chinese ingredients that do not contain gluten. The following list comprises gluten-free options that can be utilized in Chinese cooking.

  • Cornstarch
  • Rice vinegar
  • Gluten-free Hoisin Sauce
  • Gluten-free Oyster Sauce
  • Gluten-free Fish Sauce
  • Tamari Sauce can be used as a replacement for soy sauce and is versatile in dishes such as fried rice, noodle dishes, and dipping sauces.
  • Plum Sauce can be used as a replacement for duck sauce.
  • Mirin can be used as a replacement for rice vinegar or Shaoxing cooking wine.
  • Rice Flour can be used as a replacement for all-purpose flour.
  • Rice Wrapper / Paper
    • Can be used as a replacement for dumpling, pot sticker, and wonton wrappers.

If you are cooking Chinese food at home and want to avoid gluten, it is simpler to opt for ingredients that are free from gluten. The following list provides details of gluten-free versions of popular Chinese dishes.

  • Rice paper is used to make dumplings
  • Rice wrapper pot stickers served with tamari dipping sauce.
  • Barbecue ribs prepared using tamari sauce
  • Rice that has been fried using tamari sauce
  • Egg Foo Young made using tamari sauce and mirin
  • Using tamari sauce to prepare Kung Pao chicken
  • Shrimp, chicken, pork, or beef cooked with mirin and no hoisin can be a gluten-free option for Szechuan dishes.
  • Shrimp cooked in garlic sauce made with tamari and mirin
  • Hot braised chicken made exclusively with tamari sauce
  • Peking duck made using tamari and mirin
  • Using tamari sauce, sweet and sour pork is made
  • Make beef and broccoli using tamari sauce exclusively, without any other sauces.
  • Mongolian beef made using tamari sauce exclusively and without any other sauces
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What Chinese Sauces Are Gluten-Free?

Tamari sauce is the most prevalent gluten-free sauce, although it has roots in Japanese cuisine. It is made with fermented soybeans and tastes richer and appears darker than traditional soy sauce.

Plum sauce is also considered to be gluten-free unless it is made with hoisin sauce. As the name suggests, the sauce is made of boiled sweet plums with vinegar, salt, crushed black pepper, and chili peppers. The brand Wok Mei carries a gluten-free variety of plum sauces.

Light vs. Dark Soy Sauce

Chinese soy sauce is usually produced by mixing soybeans and wheat, with light soy sauce having a greater proportion of wheat than soybeans, while dark soy sauce has a higher percentage of soybeans than wheat.

Light soy sauce, which is also known as “pure bean,” “thin,” or “fresh soy sauce,” is frequently used as a final seasoning ingredient in Cantonese cuisine and is made from the initial pressing of fermented soybeans. It is commonly utilized in stir-fries, soups, and marinades.

While light soy sauce is used for seasoning, dark soy sauce has a less salty taste and is utilized for cooking. It possesses a strong flavor that can convey sweetness and umami flavors to sauces and meat. However, it’s important to note that neither light nor dark soy sauce is free from gluten.

What Chinese Noodles Are Gluten-Free?

Chinese term for “noodle” is “mian” or “mien,” and while noodles are a common part of Chinese food, not all of them contain gluten. Although the following list is not exhaustive, it provides some gluten-free noodle alternatives, even if some have origins in other cultures.

  • Buckwheat sweet potato noodles
  • Cheung fun
  • Chickpea noodles
  • Chow fun
  • Bean thread, also known as saifun or cellophane noodles, is commonly referred to as glass noodles.
  • Ho fun
  • Kelp noodles
  • Vermicelli rice noodles, also known as mai fun
  • Quinoa noodles
  • Rice noodles
  • Shirataki noodles
  • Only soba or buckwheat noodles labeled as “100% gluten-free” are safe to consume.
  • Sweet potato noodles
  • Raw zucchini or summer squash can be transformed into noodle-like shapes using a spiralizer.

Besides noodles, there are additional components in Chinese dishes that may have gluten. It is probable that the ingredients found in typical starters, entrees, and sauces contain gluten.

What Chinese Ingredients Should You Avoid If You’re Gluten-Intolerant?

Here are some Chinese ingredients that you may need to steer clear of if you cannot consume gluten:

  • All-purpose flour
  • Noodles come in various types such as blended buckwheat noodles, egg noodles, Lo Mein, Yi Mein, Yao Mein, Diao Xiao Mian, La Mian, and Liangpi.
  • Sauces such as soy sauce, oyster sauce, duck sauce, fish sauce, and hoisin sauce should be considered when determining if Chinese food contains gluten.
  • Shaoxing wine and rice vinegar are safe options for those on a gluten-free diet.
  • Dumplings

If you have a gluten intolerance, it is important to be careful and cautious. Before eating at a restaurant, make sure to read labels carefully and educate yourself on menu items that may contain gluten.

You can also check this video about “Does Chinese Food Contain Gluten? (What to Eat)”

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