Can celiacs have fish sauce?

Fish sauce is a popular ingredient used in many cuisines around the world. It provides a unique umami flavor to dishes. Fish sauce is made from fermented fish that is mixed with salt and left to ferment for up to two years. The clear, golden brown liquid is then collected and bottled. Brands like Thai Kitchen and Red Boat are readily available at grocery stores and contain anchovies as the main fish ingredient. While fish sauce adds robust, savory flavor to foods, some people with medical conditions like celiac disease need to be cautious about consuming it.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. For those with celiac disease, gluten triggers an immune response that attacks the small intestine, causing inflammation and damage to the villi – the small, finger-like projections that line the intestine and absorb nutrients from food. This can lead to a variety of digestive symptoms and prevent proper absorption of nutrients from food.

There is no cure for celiac disease, but it can be effectively managed by adhering to a strict gluten-free diet. This means avoiding foods and ingredients that contain gluten, such as bread, pasta, baked goods, wheat flour, barley and rye. Even trace amounts of gluten can cause issues for those with celiac disease, so monitoring ingredients in packaged foods, condiments and sauces is important.

Is Fish Sauce Gluten-Free?

Most traditional fish sauce contains only two ingredients – fish and salt. This would make it gluten-free. However, some brands may add other ingredients that could introduce gluten, such as:

  • Wheat
  • Malt vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Modified food starch

Checking the ingredient list is important to confirm whether a particular brand of fish sauce is gluten-free. Looking for a gluten-free certification on the label can also be helpful. Many brands explicitly state “gluten-free” on the bottle if they do not contain any gluten.

Fish Sauce Brands Marked Gluten-Free

Here are some popular brands of fish sauce that identify their products as gluten-free:

  • Red Boat Fish Sauce
  • Thai Kitchen Gluten Free Fish Sauce
  • MegaChef Fish Sauce
  • Tiparos Fish Sauce
  • Roland Gluten Free Fish Sauce
  • Golden Boy Fish Sauce

Checking for the gluten-free label provides added assurance for celiacs that these brands have been tested and confirmed not to contain gluten.

Cross-Contamination Risk

Even if a fish sauce is labeled gluten-free, there can still be a risk of cross-contamination during production. Cross-contamination occurs when gluten-containing ingredients come into contact with gluten-free foods, transferring traces of the protein over to the gluten-free item.

Some potential sources of cross-contamination with fish sauce include:

  • Shared equipment – Fish sauce produced on shared lines or equipment that also process soy sauce or other gluten ingredients
  • Shared facilities – Fish sauce made in a facility that also handles wheat-based ingredients
  • Shared utensils – Using the same spoon to handle fish sauce and gluten-containing foods

Celiacs sensitive to trace gluten may react even if the amount is very small. Finding brands manufactured in dedicated gluten-free facilities greatly reduces the risk of cross-contamination.

Fish Sauce Brands Produced in Dedicated Gluten-Free Facilities

Here are some fish sauce brands that are produced in gluten-free facilities:

  • Red Boat Fish Sauce
  • MegaChef Fish Sauce
  • Roland Gluten Free Fish Sauce
  • Golden Boy Fish Sauce

Using fish sauces made in facilities free from gluten can give celiacs confidence that cross-contamination is unlikely.

Alternative Seasonings

For those newly diagnosed with celiac disease, having to eliminate beloved condiments like fish sauce can be challenging. The good news is that other flavorful gluten-free seasoning alternatives can add that savory umami taste to recipes. Some options include:

  • Coconut Aminos – Made from coconut tree sap, this has a taste similar to soy sauce
  • Gluten-Free Tamari – A wheat-free version of this thicker, bolder soy sauce
  • Liquid Aminos – Derived from plant proteins, it provides a salty, meaty flavor
  • Worcestershire Sauce – Lea & Perrins and Annie’s are gluten-free brands
  • Bragg Liquid Aminos – All-purpose seasoning made from soybeans and wheat-free

With some experimentation, those alternatives can nearly replicate the savory umami punch of fish sauce in marinades, dipping sauces and other recipes.

Tips for Safely Using Fish Sauce with Celiac Disease

If you want to keep enjoying fish sauce, here are some tips for celiacs to use it as safely as possible:

  • Always check the label for any gluten-containing ingredients
  • Look for a gluten-free certification on the bottle
  • Select brands made in dedicated gluten-free facilities whenever possible
  • Avoid fish sauce blends with soy sauce or other gluten grains
  • Store fish sauce separately from gluten-containing condiments
  • Use a dedicated spoon or pour spout to prevent cross-contamination
  • Start with a small amount of fish sauce in recipes to gauge your reaction

Being vigilant about labels and production facilities can allow those with celiac disease to continue using fish sauce, an important part of many Asian and fusion dishes.

The Verdict

Traditional fish sauce containing just fish and salt can be safe for celiacs to consume. However, some brands may add other ingredients or introduce the risk of cross-contamination with gluten. Reading labels carefully, choosing dedicated gluten-free brands and facilities, and handling fish sauce carefully can reduce the risks. Fish sauce can often be included in a gluten-free diet with proper precautions.

As with any new foods after a celiac diagnosis, it’s best to start slowly and pay attention to any symptoms. Work closely with your healthcare provider and registered dietitian to determine your tolerance. With the right brands and care, many celiacs can still enjoy culinary recipes featuring this versatile gluten-free seasoning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is fish sauce naturally gluten-free?

Traditional fish sauce made only from fish and salt is naturally gluten-free. However, some modern commercial brands may add other ingredients or be at risk for cross-contamination with gluten. Checking labels and manufacturing facilities is important.

What fish is used to make fish sauce?

The most common fish used are anchovies, along with some brands using other oily fish like mackerel or squid. Standard fish sauce is not made with shellfish.

Is Red Boat Fish Sauce gluten-free?

Yes, Red Boat fish sauce is labeled gluten-free and produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility, making it a safe option for celiacs.

Is Tiparos fish sauce gluten-free?

Tiparos fish sauce contains only fish extract and salt. The bottles are also marked gluten-free, making them another safe choice.

Can I use fish sauce if soy sauce is called for?

In most recipes, you can substitute an equal amount of gluten-free fish sauce for soy sauce. The flavor profile is different but can work well in marinades, stir-fries, and dipping sauces.

Is Thai Kitchen fish sauce gluten-free?

Yes, Thai Kitchen fish sauce is certified gluten-free, with bottles labeled clearly. Thai Kitchen also produces a range of other gluten-free products.

The Bottom Line

With vigilance about ingredients and manufacturing, the majority of fish sauce brands can be safely consumed by those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Choosing verified gluten-free products made in dedicated facilities greatly minimizes risk. Fish sauce can add its unique savory umami flavor to gluten-free cooking with the right precautions.

Leave a Comment