A Guide to Gluten-Free Japanese Food

by Krystina Quintana

Having a gluten intolerance narrows down the foods you can eat. It can also make it intimidating to try new cuisine, especially from different cultures. Luckily, there’s gluten-free Japanese food that you can enjoy without worry.

These items range from side dishes to street foods, noodles, and even gluten-free Japanese snacks. Below, we dig into which gluten-free options you can choose on a trip to Japan or in a Japanese market.

What Is Gluten-Free Food?

Before exploring what Japanese dishes are gluten-free, it's important to understand what a gluten allergy is. For some people, consuming gluten makes them sick. This upset can present as bloating, gas, or even tiredness after eating gluten foods.

Gluten is a protein in many foods, from specific grains to sauces, food, drinks, some medications, vitamins, etc. To prevent a gluten allergy, consuming gluten-free foods is ideal as there's no cure for a gluten allergy.   

Celiac disease is not to be confused with a gluten allergy. It’s much more severe and is a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause more severe symptoms like weight loss. In this case, it’s also necessary to follow a gluten-free diet.

What Japanese Food is Gluten-Free?

Absolutely! While finding gluten-free food in Japan may be more challenging, it's far from impossible. Continue reading to explore the gluten-free Japanese foods you can try to help you with gluten-free dining.

Gluten-Free Japanese Food & Culture

Overall, Japanese food is not typically gluten-free. Soy sauce contains wheat, a common allergen for those with gluten allergies and sensitivities. Since soy sauce is a common 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.

Is Japan Good For Celiacs?

Yes and no. As mentioned above, if you know the correct items to eat that are typically gluten-free, you’ll be okay in Japan. However, it’s much less common for gluten allergies and celiacs to occur in Japan, so there’s not as much information available for gluten-free individuals.

Traditional Gluten-Free Japanese Cuisine

Keep your eyes peeled for these Japanese dishes/foods, as they’re usually naturally gluten-free! Generally, these are safe to eat though it’s important to avoid sauces as they likely have gluten.

  • Rice
  • Mochi (including sweet versions)
  • Yakitori, aka chicken skewers (without soy sauce)
  • Onigiri, a rice ball with seaweed and filling
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Gluten-free sushi (without any sauce)
  • Buckwheat soba noodles
  • Gluten-free rice vinegar (like Kikkoman)
    Traditional Gluten-Free Japanese Food

    Useful Japanese Phrases For Gluten Allergies

    Look for these phrases to know which foods are okay to eat in Japan!

    • 小麦, komugi (wheat)
    • 全粒小麦,zen-ryu komugi (whole wheat)
    • 麦, mugi or 大麦,oo-mugi (barley)
    • 醤油, shoyu (soy sauce)
    • ライ麦, raimugi (rye)
    • 麦芽,bakuga (malt)
    • セイタン (seitan)
    • 麩 (fu), aka wheat gluten (similar to seitan)

    Avoid the above foods, and you’re on your way to enjoying a gluten-free experience in Japan.

    Things To Avoid

    Now that you know some foods you can enjoy, it’s time to check out foods to avoid while in Japan.

    • Yakitori (with sauce)
    • Okonomiyaki
    • Soy sauce
    • Unagi, aka eel
    • Miso soup
    • Tempura
    • Takoyaki, octopus balls that are popular street food in Japan

    Are Typical Japanese Foods Gluten-Free?

    Unfortunately, a lot of noodles in Japan are not gluten-free as they're made from wheat flour. Udon noodles and ramen noodles are on the list of things to avoid, for example. The exception is that these noodles can be made with buckwheat, which is gluten-free. If you're unsure what their ingredients are, skip these noodles and opt for a rice dish.

    Eel sauce is also not gluten-free; it's a soy sauce-based sauce. It has wheat as a primary ingredient and, therefore, gluten.

    How To Try Gluten-Free Japanese Snacks

    Now that you’ve heard about several delicious gluten-free dishes that you can enjoy, you're likely wondering where you can get some delicious Japanese snacks! Here are some gluten-free Japanese snacks from Bokksu Boutique that you can try at home that will keep you satisfied and help prevent any negative gluten-related symptoms.

    • Mochi – there are crispy, chewy, sweet, and savory mochi options that you’ll love snacking on! These range from cheesy bites to fruity delights.
    • Gluten-Free Japanese Sweets – handmade candy, matcha-dusted cakes, and fruity gummies are a few options you can enjoy at home.
    • Japanese Senbei – senbei is a traditional snack in Japan that consists of rice cakes or crackers. These crunchy snacks come in various savory flavors like edamame and black sesame.
      Senbei is a traditional snack in Japan that consists of rice cakes or crackers

      Check out Bokksu Boutique for additional gluten-free Japanese food options! Filter by selecting the gluten-free option, and you'll easily find foods that fit your dietary needs such as this premium Gluten-Free Sakura Matcha bread. Bokksu Boutique also offers teas, kitchen goods, and more. 

      Author Bio

      Krystina Quintana is a 29-year-old copywriter living outside of Chicago, IL. Her passion for Asian culture began at a young age as she learned to create Asian-inspired recipes like homemade sushi with her family. This interest in Asian culture continues today with time spent in the kitchen and copywriting pursuits. Krystina has worked with customers ranging from small businesses to food Youtubers with 70,000+ subscribers. With a passion for food and travel, she seeks to help businesses bring traffic to their page by writing blog posts that are engaging, informative, and fun to read.