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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Is Soy Sauce Gluten-free?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    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?

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    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.

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    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.

    Annette, this soy sauce tested below 5 ppm.

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    When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, my doctor recommended that I also go to a nutritionist. When she was going over the gluten-free 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 gluten-free...I think it's the same as Chex cereals: they always WERE gluten-free, but marketing shows that they want everyone to know it now.

    FYI: They are not currently labeling their sauce as gluten-free.

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    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.

    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.

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    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.

    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?

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    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.

    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....

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    When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, my doctor recommended that I also go to a nutritionist. When she was going over the gluten-free 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 gluten-free...I think it's the same as Chex cereals: they always WERE gluten-free, but marketing shows that they want everyone to know it now.

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    Annette, this soy sauce tested below 5 ppm.

    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.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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