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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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    So could we eat at Chinese restaurants again?

    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.

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    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) gluten-free 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."

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    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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    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.

    California rolls usually contain crab stick, which always contains wheat. Are you sure it's the soy sauce?

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    As with Emaegf, Melinda S, and Heather, I get sick from Kikkoman Soy Sauce. All the studies in the world won't change the fact that it puts me in gut-wrenching pain for four days. Gluten enzyme pills cut it to two days. No, I'm not being psychosomatic. No, it's not a placebo effect.

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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?

    Because some people are extremely allergic and cannot have any gluten. Also for someone with celiac any gluten no matter how small of an amount over time will shorten their lives. and I don't know about you but I want to live longer.

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    I'm not a particularly sensitive celiac, but regular soy sauce is one of the few things that sets me off immediately (bloated stomach, horrible trapped gas at night) and hurts for days (ankle joints hurt, shooting pains in my body). However, Tamari, is fine and causes no issues.

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    As a Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry I would like to refute this article in the name of safety for my fellow celiacs. Kikkoman and other soy sauces that have wheat are NOT GLUTEN FREE. Test results for any naturally fermented gluten-containing product, whether it be soy sauce or beer, are guaranteed to underestimate the gluten content because of how they work. Modern tests work based on detection with antibodies that recognize the whole gluten protein. When gluten is broken into smaller fragments by fermentation, antibodies in these tests will fail to recognize the fragments. However, these gluten protein fragments will still cause a reaction for most celiacs because the fragments still interact with the immune system in an identical way. I repeat, these fermented products are not gluten free and the reasoning in this post is not scientifically sound. 

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    Thanks for the input, Jarod.

    About a year ago, I was trying to use the Gluten-in-Food tests made by Imutest, and had a long discussion with their (very patient) tech department. They said the same thing as Jarod: that gluten levels in fermented foods and drinks cannot be reliably measured, and are likely higher than the results that testing indicates. 

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    Jesus this is outdated article someone delete this misinformation before it kills someone (Exaggeration but seriously it can land some of us in the ER) -_- This is the same kind of s$#& that is leading restaurants to think soy sauce is safe for celiacs and making people sick and the recent issues and articles from gluten free watch dog....do not want to be biased....PUT A BIG RED BANNER ACROSS THIS ARTICLE WITH A WARNING.
    She said we could share  these
    https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/make-no-mistake-about-it-wheat-based-soy-sauce-is-not-allowed-in-foods-labeled-gluten-free/
    https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/restaurants-and-gluten-free-menu-claims/

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    On 11.10.2012 at 6:07 AM, Guest Roberta said:

    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?

    Maybe because the gluten-free version costs twice as much?

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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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