Sushi is a popular Japanese cuisine of vinegared rice that is shaped and topped or filled with a variety of other ingredients and sauces (1).

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. People following a gluten-free diet may wonder if sushi is suitable for them to eat (2).

Common ingredients in sushi, such as rice, fish, seaweed, and vegetables, are gluten-free.

However, there is a huge variety of sushi available, and some types include ingredients that are not suitable for people on a gluten-free diet.

This article tells you which sushi ingredients are gluten-free, which to avoid, and tips for making sushi gluten-free.

Homemade sushi on a counter next to a plate of various ingredients.Share on Pinterest
JR Photography/Stocksy United

The common ingredient across most types of sushi is rice. Usually, medium- or short-grain white rice is used, though it can also be made from brown rice.

Sushi rice is prepared with water, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. All these ingredients are usually gluten-free, however, some types of vinegar, such as non-distilled or malt, do contain gluten. It’s best to double-check the ingredients list before eating (3).

There are a large number of other gluten-free sushi toppings, fillings, and sauces, including:

  • Seaweed or nori: Can be used as a wrapping around the sushi rice.
  • Fish and seafood: Raw fish is often thinly sliced and draped over sushi rice or used as a filling. Cooked and smoked fish, crab, prawns, and other seafood are also used.
  • Cooked meats and eggs: Some regional varieties of sushi may use eggs, chicken, beef, or pork. These are gluten-free, but be careful of sauces used in their preparation, such as teriyaki, which might not be (1).
  • Vegetables: All vegetables, such as avocado, cucumber, carrot, and green onions, are naturally gluten-free.
  • Tofu: Plain tofu is usually gluten-free, however, added flavors or other ingredients may not be. It’s best to check the label or with the restaurant before eating.
  • Gluten-free soy sauce: Only use soy sauce or tamari that is specifically labeled as gluten-free.
  • Cream cheese: It’s sometimes mixed with crab or other meats for the filling.
  • Mayonnaise: Also used in fillings, it should be gluten-free when made fresh. Ready-made varieties may contain gluten-containing additives.
  • Masago/Tobiko: The small bright orange roe (fish eggs) used as a garnish on sushi are gluten-free unless prepared with regular soy sauce. Check before eating.
  • Wasabi: Also called japanese horseradish, it is ground to a paste and used both in sushi or served on the side. Pure wasabi is gluten-free.
  • Imitation wasabi: Most wasabi is in fact an imitation product made from horseradish, mustard flour, cornstarch, and green food coloring. It is best to check the product label in case other gluten-containing ingredients are added.
  • Pickled ginger: It’s a palate cleanser made from ginger, vinegar, sugar, and salt (1).

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale and can therefore be found in any product that includes or comes into contact with these grains (2).

There are a number of sushi ingredients/fillings and sauces that contain gluten:

  • Imitation crab: Fish that has been made into a paste and pressed into shape, often containing starch from wheat — meaning it also contains gluten.
  • Tempura: Some sushi contains fish or vegetables that have been battered and fried, known as tempura. This batter is usually made with gluten-containing wheat flour.
  • Breadcrumbs: Some ingredients like prawns may be breaded and fried, making them unsuitable for a gluten-free diet.
  • Soy sauce: Soy sauce is traditionally made with wheat as an ingredient. However, there are some gluten-free varieties.
  • Other sauces: A number of other sauces are made with soy sauce or may contain other sources of gluten, including Teriyaki sauce, eel sauce, barbecue sauce, and Ponzu sauce. It’s best to read the label or check with the restaurant before eating.

There are several things you can do to ensure that your sushi is gluten-free.

  • Opt for fresh prepared sushi: If sushi is made fresh, you can specify which ingredients you would like or which should be left out. It’s best to avoid store-bought sushi, as these can contain additives or ingredients that contain gluten. Plus, it can be difficult to check how it was prepared.
  • Make a swap: Ask for gluten-containing ingredients to be swapped for ones that are safe for you. For example, swap imitation crab for avocado.
  • Keep it simple: Simpler sushi with just one or two fillings may be a better option than rolls with many ingredients and sauces, as it’s easier to see what’s in your roll.
  • Call ahead: If eating out, you can call the restaurant ahead of time to check if they have gluten-free options and if they follow safe food preparation practices to avoid cross-contamination with gluten.
  • Avoid cross-contamination: It is important that the gluten-free sushi is made in a clean area away from gluten-containing ingredients, such as flour or breadcrumbs.
  • Bring your own soy sauce: To make sure your soy sauce is gluten-free, you may want to bring your own to a restaurant or when buying ready-made sushi.
  • Make your own sushi: If you want to be really sure that your sushi is gluten-free, try making it at home.

Many types of sushi can be enjoyed by people on a gluten-free diet, such as people with celiac disease.

However, some ingredients and sauces won’t be suitable, such as regular soy sauce, imitation crab, tempura, breadcrumbs, and many other sauces.

Therefore, if you have to follow a gluten-free diet to protect your health, it’s important to check which ingredients are being used. When in doubt, look for a safer alternative or prepare your own sushi at home.

Luckily, most gluten-containing ingredients can be left out or swapped for more suitable options.

Just one thing

Try this today: Making sushi at home can be a great way to ensure it is gluten-free. It’s also a fun activity to do with friends or kids.

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