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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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    "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.

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    I am thrilled!! No soy sauce compares to Kikkoman! Their gluten-free is good but not the same. I choose to "believe" the research because I WANT to be able to eat it!

    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!

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.)

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    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?

    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.

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    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.

    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.

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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.

    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.

     

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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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