Do sushi rolls have gluten in them?

The short answer is that most sushi rolls contain at least some ingredients with gluten. However, there are gluten-free sushi options available for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine.

About 1% of the population has celiac disease, while 6-7% is estimated to have NCGS. This means around 10 million Americans need to avoid gluten for medical reasons.

Gluten in common sushi ingredients

Many common sushi roll ingredients contain gluten:

  • Rice – Sushi rice is typically made from short grain white rice which does not contain gluten. However, many sushi restaurants season their rice with a rice vinegar mixture that may have wheat added.
  • Seaweed sheets (nori) – Nori is naturally gluten-free.
  • Fish – Most fresh fish and seafood do not contain gluten. However, imitation crab meat (aka surimi), which is common in sushi rolls, is made from fish that has been processed with wheat.
  • Vegetables – Fresh vegetables are gluten-free. However, tempura batter used to fry veggies like avocado, sweet potato, and asparagus often contains wheat flour.
  • Sauces – Soy sauce, spicy mayo, eel sauce, and other sushi sauces often contain wheat.

So while some sushi ingredients like fish and nori are naturally gluten-free, the additions like batter, rice seasoning, and sauces often add gluten to the final sushi rolls.

Gluten-free sushi options

Thankfully, there are still ways to enjoy gluten free sushi:

  • Opt for rolls with only fish, vegetables, and rice. Request plain fresh fish rather than imitation crab. Ask for rolls to be made without sauces.
  • Verify that the restaurant uses gluten-free rice vinegar without wheat to season their rice.
  • Choose sashimi (just sliced fresh fish) which is lower risk for gluten exposure.
  • Look for gluten-free soy sauce options.
  • Ask if they have gluten-free tamari available for dipping.
  • Choose vegetable-based rolls like cucumber, avocado, and pickled daikon radish rolls.
  • Enjoy sushi hand rolls in rice paper wrappers instead of nori.
  • Look for restaurants with gluten-free menu options and training on avoiding cross-contamination.

With some modifications and special requests, people who are gluten-free can still enjoy delicious sushi. Being aware of ingredients and open communication with restaurants helps minimize the risk of gluten exposure.

Cross-contamination risks

Even when sushi ingredients are naturally gluten-free, cross-contamination is still a concern. Restaurants using the same knives, cutting boards, fryers, etc. for wheat and gluten-free ingredients can transfer gluten to the gluten-free dishes.

Some ways sushi restaurants can reduce cross-contamination include:

  • Using separate colored cutting boards for gluten-free prep
  • Designating gluten-free fryer oil that only fries battered items with gluten-free flours
  • Keeping gluten-free sauces and condiments separate from regular ones
  • Using separate knives and utensils for gluten-free rolls
  • Ensuring gluten-free items are placed on their own trays or plates away from gluten-containing foods

Low risk sushi rolls are those only containing items like sashimi, cucumber, avocado, and rice seasoned with gluten-free vinegar. High risk rolls would be ones with breaded ingredients, imitation crab, or sauces.

Gluten-free soy sauce

One tricky ingredient for gluten-free sushi is soy sauce. Regular soy sauce contains wheat. However, there are a few gluten-free substitutes:

  • Gluten-free tamari – This is the most direct replacement made from fermented soybeans and salt, but without wheat.
  • Coconut aminos – Made from coconut tree sap with a soy sauce-like flavor.
  • Liquid aminos – A gluten-free soy sauce alternative made from soybeans. Typically less salty than regular soy sauce.

Always verify with the restaurant that any soy sauce or tamari provided is certified gluten-free and not subject to cross-contamination. Or bring your own gluten-free tamari to be safe.

Is sushi rice gluten-free?

Plain white rice is naturally gluten-free. However, many sushi restaurants season their rice with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. This seasoning mixture may contain wheat and barley ingredients if not using a gluten-free recipe.

To make gluten-free sushi rice:

  • Use short or medium grain rice like Calrose or Koshihikari
  • Season with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt mixture that does not contain wheat
  • Add small amount of rice seasoning to cooked rice while still hot and stir well to distribute evenly

Some chefs may also add sake, mirin, or other wheat-based alcohols to the rice that introduces gluten. Always inquire about ingredients and preparation techniques to ensure the restaurant makes gluten-free sushi rice.

Reading sushi labels

If you purchase pre-made sushi rolls from a grocery store, carefully read the ingredients label. Watch out for:

  • Imitation crab (surimi)
  • Breaded shrimp or fried items with batter
  • Additives like starch, maltodextrin, or hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Soy sauce or wheat-containing sauces

Some sushi labels simply say “gluten-free” on the packaging if they are safe options. Look for brands that specifically offer gluten-free or allergen-friendly lines to give you peace of mind.

Example sushi label

Rice (water, rice), imitation crab (pollack, wheat starch, egg whites), cucumber, avocado, sesame seeds, mayonnaise (soybean oil, egg yolks, vinegar, sugar, water), salt, xanthan gum, spice

This label shows the imitation crab contains wheat. This would not be safe for a gluten-free diet. Always read carefully!

Being gluten-free at sushi restaurants

Dining at sushi restaurants requires extra care when avoiding gluten. Here are some tips:

  • Tell servers you need gluten-free meals right away. Stress it is due to an allergy/sensitivity.
  • Ask if they have gluten-free soy sauce or tamari.
  • Request no batter on tempura veggies or shrimp.
  • Verify rice vinegar used is gluten-free.
  • Stick to simple rolls with fish, rice, veggies, and nori only.
  • Check that utensils and surfaces are cleaned between normal and gluten-free rolls.
  • Thank the chefs for accommodating your needs.

Being polite but firm about your gluten-free needs helps minimize mistakes. With care, sushi restaurants can be safe to enjoy while living gluten-free.

Gluten-free sushi safety

Despite best efforts, being 100% gluten-free at a sushi restaurant is difficult. There is always a risk of cross-contamination.

Those with celiac disease or severe gluten reactions should use extreme caution with sushi dining. Exposure to even small amounts of gluten can trigger symptoms and intestinal damage.

For maximum safety, choose to only eat at dedicated gluten-free restaurants that are trained on avoiding cross-contact. Or opt to prepare your own sushi at home using all certified gluten-free ingredients.

Gluten-free sushi rolling

Making homemade gluten-free sushi takes extra time and care, but provides a fun option fully in your control. Follow these steps:

  1. Cook short grain rice and mix with gluten-free rice vinegar dressing
  2. Lay out nori seaweed sheets on bamboo rolling mat
  3. Spread thin layer of rice, leaving 1 inch uncovered at top
  4. Layer fillings like sashimi, avocado, cucumber in middle
  5. Optional: place plastic wrap over fillings to help roll up
  6. Roll up sushi roll using mat to tighten
  7. Cut into bite-sized pieces with sharp or serrated knife
  8. Dip in gluten-free tamari or sauce

When preparing at home, you have full control over ingredients. You can also clean cooking tools thoroughly to avoid cross-contact. Homemade sushi is an enjoyable gluten-free cooking project.

Finding gluten-free sushi restaurants

To locate sushi restaurants with gluten-free offerings near you:

  • Search online review sites like Yelp or Find Me Gluten Free for recommendations
  • Look for “gluten-free” menus on restaurant websites
  • Ask local celiac or gluten intolerance support groups for vetted options
  • Choose restaurants that advertise gluten-free meals and training
  • Stick to dedicated gluten-free restaurants if highly sensitive

Living gluten-free does not have to mean waving goodbye to sushi! With some adaptations, research, and extra care, you can find safe and delicious gluten-free sushi options.


Although most types of sushi contain at least some gluten from ingredients like soy sauce, imitation crab, and seasoned rice, there are still ways to enjoy gluten-free sushi. Being knowledgeable about menu items, asking detailed questions, and requesting preparation accommodations allows those sensitive to gluten to eat sushi safely. With careful choices and communication, sushi restaurants can offer tasty meals that avoid gluten exposure.

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