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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    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?

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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?

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    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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

    Probably pretty simple -- put "gluten-free" label on bottle and able to charge double...

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    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??

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    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.

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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!

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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,

     

    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.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams 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 biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as 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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