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Is Soy Sauce Gluten-free?

Celiac.com 10/11/2012 - Would you be surprised to learn that a number of naturally brewed soy sauces are technically gluten-free? I was.

I was recently doing some research for a catered even and needed to make a decision about what kind of soy sauce to use in the food preparation. Since the Korean food being served required a great deal of soy sauce for marinating purposes, the hosts were concerned that gluten-free tamari might end up costing too much. However, the event included a number of folks who eat gluten-free, and the hosts did want to provide food that everyone could eat. So, what to do? The restaurant making the food uses Kikkoman. Is Kikkoman safe to serve to people with celiac disease and gluten-intolerance?

Photo: CC--SmitemeIn an effort to answer that question, I did a bit of research. I was a bit surprised when my research led me to an interesting article on the naturally fermented soy sauce made by Kikkoman and Lima Foods, which are two major manufacturers of soy sauce.

There are two ways to manufacture soy sauce. The first uses natural fermentation. The second uses chemical hydrolysis. Both methods will break down the complex proteins including gluten into smaller components such as amino acids and polypeptides.

However, the soy sauces tested for the article were produced using natural fermentation. That's because chemically produced (or artificial) soy sauce is may contain toxic and carcinogenic components produced by hydrochloric acid hydrolysis.

The article said that the soy sauces made by these companies actually met Codex Alimentarius standards for gluten-free foods, and that tests show their gluten content to be well under the 20ppm required for gluten-free products.

The people who produced the article sent samples out to a major laboratory in the Netherlands for gluten analysis, and the results were surprising.

Gluten content in both samples was well under the acceptable detection limit of 5ppm (see report).

According to a new European laws, any product labeled gluten-free must contain less than 20 ppm gluten. The FDA has proposed the same 20 ppm level for their rule, which they look set to implement very soon.

That means that the naturally fermented soy sauces that were tested meet gluten-free standards, and will likely not trigger adverse reaction in gluten sensitive individuals, especially considering the small daily quantities of soy sauce consumed.

Anyone who does not trust this can, of course, choose soy sauces that do not contain any wheat to start with. Tamari soy sauces are typically produced without wheat, but some brands do not follow this tradition and are not wheat-free, so: Buyer beware.

As for the catered event, after talking with the gluten-free guests, the hosts decided to go with traditional Kikkoman. They have not received any reports of illness or adverse reactions, even in the several people with high gluten-sensitivity.

I'm sure there are plenty of gluten-free eaters who have plenty to say about soy sauce. What's your take on the test results?

Source:

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52 Responses:

 
Roberta
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said this on
11 Oct 2012 4:07:41 AM PST
Kikkoman has come out with a gluten-free version -- why would they feel it's necessary to do that if the regular version is virtually gluten-free?

 
Heston
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 7:29:12 AM PST
Probably pretty simple -- put "GF" label on bottle and able to charge double...

 
KLB

said this on
18 Jun 2013 5:31:02 PM PST
That's exactly the case!

 
mike
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said this on
16 Sep 2013 1:02:29 AM PST
They use rice instead of wheat in their gluten free soy sauce and it costs exactly the same...

 
Jared M.
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 11:34:47 AM PST
Roberta,

That's probably because they are not able to market the regular one as gluten free in the U.S. The FDA currently does not recognize <20ppm as gluten free. You cannot slap a gluten free icon on the label if you used wheat in the manufacturing process.

 
kel
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said this on
07 Nov 2013 5:23:55 PM PST
Roberta, I know all over the US people are asking your question. It's because the ingredient lists says "wheat" on the Kikkoman bottle. Which is true. However, the fact is the wheat is fermented into something else. The law is the law, and is not very helpful, but the fermentation process is similar to digestion. You may have eaten a sandwich but your body breaks this up so small, eventually very small molecules are absorbed. The label might show that wheat NOT its lesser components is in the soy sauce. But the label may be incorrect. Wheat =/= gluten.

 
Ella
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said this on
11 May 2015 5:05:40 PM PST
Marketing purposes. Same reason why they have corn tortillas labeled as GF.

 
Melanie
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said this on
16 Jul 2015 12:56:14 PM PST
Corn DOES contain gluten.

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
17 Jul 2015 9:47:35 AM PST
Yes, just not the kind that harms celiacs.

 
Keith Harris
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said this on
11 Oct 2012 10:04:33 AM PST
Very helpful.

 
Anna
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said this on
11 Oct 2012 1:41:18 PM PST
Wow! I'm so surprised to hear this! I have always (since being diagnosed with celiac disease) heard that Kikkoman has gluten. Kikkoman has come out with a gluten-free version too. Thanks for the research!

 
cristina
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said this on
11 Oct 2012 5:53:54 PM PST
I am swedish and a few months back, I got the monthly celiac magazine, were it was stated that soy sauce is GF.

 
Pat
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 4:18:34 AM PST
When I was diagnosed with CD, my doctor recommended that I also go to a nutritionist. When she was going over the GF diet and what was on it and what wasn't, she also stated that soy sauce (she did mention Kikkomans) was ok to use. This was right after I was diagnosed, which was over 5 years ago.

As to why Kikkomans is now getting around to labeling their product as GF...I think it's the same as Chex cereals: they always WERE GF, but marketing shows that they want everyone to know it now.

 
Emaegf
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 9:09:27 PM PST
Chex cereals where NOT always gluten-free. They contained barley malt in them. Barley contains gluten, therefore off limits for us who must follow a gluten-free diet. That ingredient was removed and replaced with another one that is gluten-free.

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
15 Oct 2012 2:56:26 PM PST
FYI: They are not currently labeling their sauce as gluten-free.

 
Lori
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said this on
19 Jan 2013 4:03:31 PM PST
Actually the Chex cereals in the past were NOT gluten-free. They had barley malt syrup. They changed it to brown rice syrup to make them gluten-free at the request of employees that have gluten-free family members.

 
Annette
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 6:59:13 AM PST
I am leary of this finding for many reasons. We must remember what is an average serving? Is it a teaspoon? A tablespoon? Many items are soaked in soy sauce and are likely to have more than a single serving. So let's say the PPM are 19 (just below the level considered gluten-free. And you have two or three servings in a single day..you would already have consumed 57 PPM just with the soy sauce labeled gluten free. I think it is easy for us to fall into that trap and believe that portions don't matter because it is "gluten-free". We need to be cautious of this.

 
Robert Geddes
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 7:22:06 PM PST
Not picking on you Annette - but you are assuming that the soy sauce was 19ppm (it was much less). In fact the 19ppm measure would be the same amount regardless of whether you drank a cup full or a teaspoon full. It's parts per million - that's a fractional figure. Of course continuing with that logic is that as you have it with food its even more dilute (even lower ppm) - so maybe it's very safe...

This argument is the same one offered for beer. The brewing process breaks down the gluten proteins (apparently). I have seen quite reasoned arguments either way that therefore beer is/is not safe. A lot of the 'is not safe' arguments say that the remaining proteins will still cause coeliacs damage even though they pass the classic gluten tests.

I would have thought by now some poor uni looking to make some funding money would have roped in some coeliac beer devotees and used their guts for the only reliable testing - but I have never seen that published - sadly.

Use wheat containing soy sauce (and other products) at your peril....

 
Jason
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 3:29:03 PM PST
Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the findings show 1ppm is 1mg(gluten) per Liter (soy sauce), so one Liter of soy sauce contains <5 mg of gluten.
you should be OK with even a bottle of soy sauce a day.

 
Angela
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 5:26:20 PM PST
I also am leary. While the ppm may be low, I'm going to lean toward cautious. It's a matter of how far you go to avoid gluten. I avoid anything that may not have wheat but is processed in a facility with wheat. While there may not be much gluten in the soy sauce, the fact that it is still derived from wheat and is therefore created in a facility WITH wheat, then in my mind there is the possibility of cross contamination, which I choose to avoid. For me, just a grain is enough to cause neurological problems. How likely is the soy sauce to be cross contaminated in the processing and bottling, since there IS wheat being used in the first place?

 
LeeAnne
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said this on
08 Nov 2012 8:22:43 AM PST
I agree with you, Angela; if the product is derived from wheat, then this fact most certainly can not be overlooked. I too avoid most foods that are processed in a facility with wheat, because they still cause some minor problems for me. It is unknown how much cross contamination is truly in the food.

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
15 Oct 2012 2:54:47 PM PST
Annette, this soy sauce tested below 5 ppm.

 
LeeAnne
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said this on
16 Oct 2012 7:39:37 AM PST
I understand what Annette is saying. Having too much in one day can make the most sensitive person sick. Kikkoman is probably for people who are less sensitive to it and will not consume too much of it in any given day, taking into consideration other forms of gluten a gluten sensitive person may unknowingly or inadvertently consume in one day. It all adds up.

 
chris
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said this on
23 Feb 2015 2:46:08 PM PST
Simple algebra dictates that if you multiply the numerator, you must also multiply the denominator. What am I saying? If the PPM is 19, and you have 3 servings, you would not then have 57 Parts Per Million. You would have 57 Parts Per Three Million. That averages out to 19 PPM. If you ignore the FDAs guidelines for a serving, you are taking the risk. Tripling the servings does not triple the concentration.

 
dappy
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 8:17:54 AM PST
I gave up my much loved Kikkoman when I was diagnosed. I went to La Choy, which is ok, but I prefer Kikkoman. I would still be very wary of the Kikkoman since I was warned off by a dietician early on...what does Kikkoman have to say??

 
Mary Louise
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 8:25:24 AM PST
There is a brand by the name of SanJ that has gluten-free soy sauce and various other sauces. They are labeled gluten free.

 
RDKrisry
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said this on
02 Mar 2014 9:23:21 PM PST
Good call! I am a Registered Dietitian who lives with celiac disease. I recommend and use SanJ products often. SanJ sauces brought flavor back into my life. Great marinades, sauces, glazes; I pour distilled vinegar into near-empty bottles of the SanJ sauces and make a quick salad dressing. If you want stronger flavor, leave more sauce at the end of your bottle before adding the distilled vinegar...add a little light olive and/or sesame oil, too.

 
Lori
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 9:03:17 AM PST
We prefer to start with no-wheat at all in ptoducts we consume due to high sensitivity in 3/4 of our household members (no grain vinegars or alcohol). I was looking forward to seeing a comparison of many soy sauces..not just one. Although we pay extra for gluten-free tamari sauces, I've always noticed LaChoy does not list wheat in the ingredients. Very affordable option, I was hoping to see lab data on LaChoy.

 
Luann
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 9:14:59 AM PST
I am thrilled!! No soy sauce compares to Kikkoman! Their GF is good but not the same. I choose to "believe" the research because I WANT to be able to eat it!

 
Lucy
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said this on
16 Oct 2012 2:58:38 PM PST
Isn't it wonderful to think that way! I love to eat good food, I love to cook and when I was diagnosed about 4 years ago I was a mess... Long hours at the supermarket reading labels (sometimes even cried in between aisles) I'm so happy to see someone else thinks like me! Keep up the good work, Jefferson!

 
GlutenFreePDX
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 1:47:24 PM PST
Thank you for this article, it certainly flew in the face of what I thought I knew! Following your sources and hearing that samples of the soy sauce have been tested in a lab, this news may make people with gluten-intolerance very happy indeed.

 
Chris
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 6:48:36 PM PST
I thought the only soy sauce that could be used was La Choy. I am surprised to hear this about Kikkoman. If true it would solve a lot of problems at Chinese restaurants

 
Emaegf
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said this on
15 Oct 2012 9:16:24 PM PST
I have tried Kikkoman and suffered the same symptoms as I do if I eat wheat filled bread. This information may mean some can consume it, but not all. We'll hear from a lot of consumers who buy it and suffer a reaction then claim in fact it is not gluten-free or cross contaminated. Also this was one batch. Will they test every batch made to make sure it falls below the maximum amount allowed? I doubt it, but you never know. This one we need to keep an eye on.

 
Hilary
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said this on
16 Oct 2012 5:18:35 AM PST
Once again surprising information. Thank you again, Jefferson! Have you looked into the GMO corn controversy? That would be right up your alley, thanks again for all your info for us.

 
Nikki Chandler
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said this on
16 Oct 2012 10:06:32 AM PST
So could we eat at Chinese restaurants again?

 
KAren
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said this on
07 Aug 2015 5:54:06 PM PST
I'm with you. Let's get to the point. Are Kikkoman using Asian restaurants safe as far as soy sauce in foods go? I quit eating at Asian restaurants and am learning from youtube how to cook various Asian dishes using yucky Coconut Aminos (a coconut based soy sauce substitute). It's too mild and sweeter attempt to be a soy sauce substitute, in my opinion.

 
An Onimous
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said this on
16 Oct 2012 10:45:13 AM PST
"Tamari soy sauces are typically produced without wheat..."

All the tamari I could find in the stores contain wheat. I couldn't find any that were made without it. Some tamari even has 'alcohol' as an ingredient, but the type is unclear.

La Choy is naturally gluten-free, but it's the worst tasting I've tried, just taste test it against your favorite brand and you'll see... it's like sweetened salty brown water. Yuck. If you don't yet know the difference, you're in for the treat of your life - go taste some Kikkoman right now!

How convenient that the natural brewing process allegedly breaks down both the gluten AND soy proteins; soy is something I've tried to cut out of my diet too (I am male), so if the findings are legit, it's some of the best news I've read in a long time!

The findings need to be replicated a few more times by other labs before any of you can switch back to the brand you love most. Never trust only a single source.

 
Becky
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said this on
17 Oct 2012 1:18:24 AM PST
My husband is gluten intolerant and we use Kroger's Lite Soy Sauce. It contains no gluten, though it's not labeled as such. We also use San J teriyaki sauce.

 
Sharon Mc
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said this on
17 Oct 2012 11:15:56 AM PST
Our local Chinese restaurant uses a soy sauce brewed with corn. I can't recall the brand - likely a synthetically produced one. Kikkoman's gluten-free is made from soy and rice. I have one I use for cooking: San-J that is made from soy alone - a Tamari, I believe. Honestly, even a tablespoon of a low salt version of soy sauce is enough to send one's blood pressure through the roof - so putting the gluten issue aside no one needs to be using or cooking with too much soy sauce health wise - despite its fabulous flavor.

What works for me is to just stay away from anything that starts its process with wheat, barley, or rye - why rock the boat now that I am gluten-free and feeling great? To correlate the soy sauce brew method and its gluten-freeness, many experts note that the distillation process with alcohols fermented from wheat, barley and rye removes all the prolamins - gluten proteins so these are considered safe. Yet I get slight GI and joint issues whenever I have a drink with whiskey in it - so now I just stick to wines and white rum when I feel like having an adult beverage.

In regards to the Chex, as with Rice Krispies - both originally used barley malt as a sweetener - and barley contains gluten. Rice Krispies parent company made the executive decision to keep the original recipe with the barley malt on the market that likely gave it its distinct flavor while Chex decided in its non-wheat cereals to just remove the gluten portion, i.e. the barley malt and sell those 5-6 varieties minus the gluten rather than have gluten and gluten-free version of each. I think that was the history there - Chex had to alter the recipe not just the label. Many candy bars also use/used barley malt and have had to alter their recipe. Some folks feel that even gluten-free candy bars can suffer contamination in the factory that manufactures other candy that has barley flour or malt.

 
Melinda S
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said this on
18 Oct 2012 5:58:55 PM PST
I was so excited to read this!!

Sadly, I tried Kikkoman's soy tonight with the California rolls I eat all the time and 2 hours later (like clock-work, my standard gluten reaction time) I'm nauseous, flushed and running to the bathroom. Maybe it's only safe for people with an intolerance (not celiac like me). I have no problems with San-J gluten-free soy sauce, by the way.

 
Lester
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said this on
29 Nov 2012 4:41:00 AM PST
Never underestimate the power of placebo. If you eat something, and worry about it, your body will show it. Fear/placebo alone is enough to provoke a reaction with me.

However, this made sense to me. And all fear went away. Adding wheat usually makes things thicker, but soy sauce is even thinner than water. If there were any remains, there would be lumps of crap. And when lab test finds less than 0,0005 %, then it's good enough for me.

After reading about this, same source, about a year ago I started using reqular soy sauce again. I have a Filipino diet, using very much soy sauce, several days a week. I've tasted gluten-free ones, and they all taste horrible. They also cost a lot more than twice as much here. A 1 liter bottle of Silver Swan costs about half as much as a 180 ml of a gluten-free one.

But sure, the more that can run tests, the better.

 
J. Noone
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said this on
18 Nov 2013 12:05:27 PM PST
Sorry to hear that you cannot tolerate the <5 ppm for Kikkoman. You have no problems with the sushi rice which contains vinegar? Some vinegar is made from grains. You're not getting rice vinegar $$$$ you are getting Heinz white vinegar $ sold by the gallons.

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
20 Nov 2013 11:10:32 AM PST
Even if this is true, Heinz vinegar in the USA is made from corn, and is distilled which removes all gluten.

 
Lorri
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said this on
22 Oct 2012 6:51:31 AM PST
Soy sauce is a GMO product. Wouldn't it be counter productive to health?

 
GoofyGoof
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said this on
22 Oct 2012 7:32:57 AM PST
This is good information to know in a pinch. I don't use much soy sauce but when I do I use the San-J gluten-free brand that to me is just as good. I have a very high sensitivity level (I am one that can NOT drink regular beer) so I only stick to what I know to be gluten-free. I still read the labels of everything I buy to be sure they truly are gluten-free since all manufacturers change their ingredients on a regular basis. Doritos is a great example. I used to be able to eat the regular nacho flavor according to their label until recently at the end of the ingredients says "contains wheat..." Bottom line - you know best what your body can handle. Read the labels and do what's best for you to avoid reactions.

 
Redbeard
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said this on
30 Oct 2012 3:44:58 PM PST
I had read this about Kikkoman soy sauce when I was diagnosed with celiac disease a few months ago and have been eating foods with soy sauce without problems. At home, I use SAN J Tamari sauce which is labeled as gluten-free. I do my best to remain gluten-free but I am not overly sensitive to trace amounts of gluten, so I prefer to allow myself such items if I don't notice any reaction.

(Regarding beer: I drink Corona and Budweiser as they were tested to less than 20 ppm gluten; but I had a "light" beer at a local brewery and reacted poorly the next day. Choose your beer carefully.)

 
paul
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said this on
03 Nov 2012 7:56:27 PM PST
I buy a huge jug of gluten-free soy sauce from Cash and Carry for about 6 bucks.

 
Rachel
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said this on
03 Feb 2013 7:20:51 AM PST
I am severely allergic to gluten every time I eat it I get rashes all over my body and my body sometimes swelling because of it and I stopped eating wheat two weeks ago and it has all stopped. Yesterday I ate a tablespoon of wheat and my whole body is itching again. The only safe brand in my experience is Braggs aminos and actually it tastes a lot better.

 
six coeliacs

said this on
01 Jul 2013 6:51:58 PM PST
Just because a person doesn't get a reaction doesn't mean their stomach lining is being affected. This has been reported in Australia and I know for a fact that is the case with my daughter.

 
kel
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said this on
07 Nov 2013 5:20:54 PM PST
What's up with people who are afraid to use the word "intestines" and use the word "stomach" for anything involving the GI or even reproductive system?

The place of absorption of particles of food into the bloodstream is the small intestine. This is the place where your celiac illness is so adversely affected.

 
Nicole
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said this on
17 Oct 2015 3:53:31 PM PST
Be careful. They state a few times that Shoyu should be ok for sensitivities. If you are gluten sensitive than you probably don't have to worry about it. If you have celiac like me or you are supposed to be following a gluten free diet and not a gluten-freeish diet or a 'as far as we know (<5ppm/<20ppm) gf diet' than you probably want to continue to eat foods without any gluten ingredients. I know for myself and my family, we react to regular shoyu.
From the article:
"Conclusion: The tested naturally fermented soy sauces are gluten-free and will probably not cause adverse reaction in gluten sensitive persons, especially when considering the small daily quantities of soy sauce used. Highly sensitive individuals who want to be 100% sure should use soy sauce which are advertised as gluten-free and which do not contain grains as ingredients. Tamari soy sauces are typically produced without wheat, but some brands do not follow this tradition and are not wheat-free."

 
heather
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said this on
11 Apr 2016 11:39:17 AM PST
I get sick from Kikkoman's. At first, I thought the restaurant was filling the bottles with generic soy sauce, but now after the second time eating it and at a different restaurant, I think I am having an adverse reaction to the small amount in Kikkoman's.




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