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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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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    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.

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    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?

    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.

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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.

    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.

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    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.

    Even if this is true, Heinz vinegar in the USA is made from corn, and is distilled which removes all gluten.

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    There is a brand by the name of SanJ that has gluten-free soy sauce and various other sauces. They are labeled gluten free.

    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.

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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.

    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.

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    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?

    Marketing purposes. Same reason why they have corn tortillas labeled as gluten-free.

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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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