Do Thai spring rolls contain gluten?

Thai spring rolls, also known as fresh spring rolls or summer rolls, are a popular appetizer or snack originating from Southeast Asia. They consist of various fresh ingredients wrapped in rice paper wrappers. The fillings usually include mixed greens, herbs, protein such as shrimp or chicken, vermicelli noodles, and sometimes peanut sauce. Thai spring rolls are a refreshing, lighter alternative to fried egg rolls.

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 in the body that damages the small intestine. This can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and other health issues. People following a gluten-free diet must avoid foods containing gluten.

So do Thai spring rolls contain gluten? The answer depends on the specific ingredients used. Let’s take a closer look.

Rice Paper Wrappers

The outer wrapper or skin of Thai spring rolls is typically made from rice paper. Rice paper is a thin paper made from rice flour and water. It is sometimes also called spring roll wrappers or summer roll wrappers.

Rice does not contain gluten. Therefore, rice paper wrappers are naturally gluten-free. This is the gluten-free outer layer encasing the fillings in the spring rolls. As long as rice paper made only from rice flour and water is used, the wrappers will not contain any gluten.

Some less commonly used spring roll wrappers may contain added tapioca starch or wheat starch. Tapioca starch is gluten-free but wheat starch contains gluten. It’s important to verify rice paper ingredients if there is any doubt and select ones made only with rice flour and water.

Fillings – Meats and Seafood

Common protein fillings in Thai spring rolls include shrimp, grilled chicken, roast pork, crab meat, and sometimes thinly sliced beef. Occasionally, the rolls may also contain fried tofu.

None of these meat, seafood, and tofu fillings inherently contain gluten. Meats, fish, shellfish, and tofu are naturally gluten-free foods. Of course, it depends on what other seasonings or marinades they are prepared with, which will be addressed next.

As long as the proteins are not breaded or battered with wheat-based coatings before rolling in the wrappers, these fillings will not contribute any gluten to the spring rolls.

Fillings – Noodles and Rice

Some Thai spring rolls also incorporate noodles and rice in the filling. Common choices include vermicelli noodles made from mung bean starch or rice starch, and sticky rice.

Rice noodles made from rice flour, and sticky rice made from regular rice, do not contain the gluten protein. So vermicelli noodles and sticky rice provide gluten-free carbohydrate options for the fillings.

In some restaurants or recipes, wheat flour noodles may sometimes be used in spring rolls. Wheat contains gluten, so wheat noodles would make the spring roll no longer gluten-free. Check the noodle ingredients to verify they are rice or mung bean based.

Fillings – Vegetables and Herbs

The vegetable and herb fillings are the parts that create all the fresh flavors, colors, and crunch in the rolls.

Typical choices include lettuce, mint, cilantro, Thai basil, cucumber, bean sprouts, shredded carrot, avocado, red cabbage, green leaf lettuce, and more. Sometimes spinach, watercress, or other greens are also used.

All these fresh vegetable and herb fillings are naturally gluten-free. Of course, it’s important they are not cross-contaminated during handling and preparation. As long as good kitchen practices are followed, the produce for the fillings will not contribute any gluten.

Sauces – Peanut Sauce

A popular dipping sauce paired with Thai spring rolls is peanut sauce. Traditional peanut sauce contains the following core ingredients:

– Peanut butter
– Coconut milk
– Lime juice
– Fish sauce
– Soy sauce
– Chili garlic sauce
– Brown sugar
– Spices like ginger

Peanuts, coconut, lime juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and brown sugar themselves do not contain gluten. However, companies manufacturing these condiments may add wheat as a thickener or use shared equipment with wheat-based foods, introducing cross contamination.

When buying these sauce ingredients, check labels and call manufacturers to verify they are gluten-free. Some brands specifically indicate “gluten-free” on the label, making it easier. A number of mainstream brands for items like soy sauce, peanut butter, and brown sugar are labeled gluten-free.

If preparing homemade peanut sauce, start with all gluten-free ingredients. For thickening, use cornstarch instead of wheat-based thickeners. This allows the sauce to be safely gluten-free.

Sauces – Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce is also a popular dip for spring rolls. Traditional hoisin sauce contains soybeans, vinegar, sugar, garlic, chili peppers and spices.

However, many mass market hoisin sauce brands contain wheat. The wheat can provide thickness, sweetness, and coloring to the sauce. Always check the ingredients and gluten information when purchasing hoisin sauce.

To keep spring rolls gluten-free, choose hoisin sauces that are specifically labeled “gluten-free” or contact the manufacturer to confirm. Or make homemade hoisin sauce using tamari instead of soy sauce, and cornstarch instead of wheat for thickening.

Sauces – Fish Sauce

Fish sauce or nam pla is a staple condiment in Thailand made from fermented fish. It provides a savory umami flavor to many dishes including spring rolls.

The fish sauce itself does not contain gluten. However, some brands may add wheat or other gluten sources. Check that the ingredients just list fish, salt, sugar and water without wheat, soy sauce or other questionable additions.

If concerned, look for brands that state “gluten-free” on the label or call the manufacturer. Red Boat is one popular gluten-free fish sauce brand. Or make your own fish sauce at home with just fish and salt.

Cross Contamination Prevention

When dining out, there are some additional precautions needed to ensure Thai spring rolls are safely gluten-free:

– Verify with the restaurant that they have gluten-free spring rolls and request them to be prepared separately from regular ones. This prevents cross contact from gluten-containing ingredients.

– Ensure they cook the meat, tofu, noodles and rice separately from breaded and wheat-based dishes.

– Request they use clean, unused utensils, pans, colanders etc for preparing the gluten-free rolls.

– Ask them to assemble the spring rolls on a clean surface, not one where wheat flour wraps were previously rolled.

– Have them refresh gloves, wash hands, and change aprons between preparing regular and gluten-free spring rolls.

– Request gluten-free dipping sauces like peanut sauce, not regular soy sauce which likely contains wheat.

Following these steps helps prevent cross contamination when dining out. At home, prep and cook gluten-free fillings first before handling any wheat-based foods. Clean cooking surfaces thoroughly and use fresh ingredients to avoid any gluten cross contact.

Are Rice Paper Wrappers Safe for Celiac Disease?

For individuals with celiac disease and high sensitivity to trace gluten, rice paper safety is sometimes a concern. Do rice paper wrappers contain traces of gluten from cross contamination?

Several studies have tested different brands of rice papers and found gluten levels well below the international standard for gluten-free of 20 parts per million (ppm):

– A 2013 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics tested 22 different rice paper wrapper brands. 19 were below 5 ppm of gluten, 2 were under 10 ppm and 1 was 11 ppm.

– A 2008 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested 8 rice paper brands. All were below 10 ppm, most under 5 ppm. Only 1 was slightly higher at 16 ppm.

– Another study in the journal Food Additives & Contaminants tested rice papers labeled “gluten-free”. All 10 samples contained less than 5 ppm of gluten.

While trace amounts under 20 ppm may be present from cross contamination in facilities, these independent studies verify rice paper wrappers are considered gluten-free and safe for the majority of celiac patients. Individuals with extreme sensitivity should check with their doctor.

Costco Spring Rolls

A popular option is the Thai Spring Rolls available at Costco stores. The product details listed on the Costco website indicate these spring rolls are made with:

– Rice paper wrappers
– Vermicelli rice noodles
– Carrots, red cabbage, cucumber, avocado
– Cilantro, basil, mint
– Chicken breast

The Costco site states the spring rolls do not contain any wheat, soy, milk, or egg ingredients. The rice paper and rice noodles align with the gluten-free fillings discussed earlier.

However, those with celiac should still check with Costco to ensure proper precautions are in place to prevent cross contamination with wheat-based foods during production. Most people following a gluten-free diet can safely consume Costco’s Thai Spring Rolls based on the ingredients. But those extremely sensitive should take extra care and verify manufacturing processes.

Trader Joe’s Spring Rolls

Trader Joe’s is another popular grocery chain carrying Thai style spring rolls. They offer several gluten-free varieties including:

– Thai Vegetable Spring Rolls
– Thai Peanut Chicken Spring Rolls
– Thai Tofu Spring Rolls

The ingredients listed confirm they are made with rice paper wrappers and do not contain any wheat-based fillings. The vegetable rolls list tofu and rice noodles as the only ingredients. The chicken and tofu rolls also contain carrot, cabbage, cilantro and scallion.

However, those with celiac should still contact Trader Joe’s to check on risk of cross contamination with gluten during production on shared equipment. For most gluten-free eaters, these spring rolls align with the safe ingredients discussed earlier. But those highly sensitive should verify manufacturing processes first.

Precautions for High Gluten Sensitivity

For people with celiac disease who react to trace gluten amounts under 20 ppm, extra care should be taken with Thai spring rolls:

– Choose spring roll brands that are certified gluten-free to ensure safety at low levels like 5 ppm. Look for GFCO or other 3rd party certification.

– Call manufacturers to ask about risk of cross contamination and testing results to ensure very low gluten levels.

– Test rolls at home yourself using Nima or other portable gluten testing devices for added assurance.

While rice paper wrappers and common fillings are naturally gluten-free, extreme sensitivity requires extra validation to feel fully comfortable consuming.

Tips for Cooking Gluten-Free Spring Rolls at Home

To cook completely gluten-free Thai spring rolls at home:

– Purchase rice paper wrappers that are made only from rice flour and water. Verify no other starches or wheat are in ingredients.

– Choose gluten-free vermicelli rice noodles as the carb filler. Avoid wheat noodles.

– Use raw, unseasoned meats like chicken breast or boiled shrimp as protein. Avoid pre-breaded meats.

– Prepare fillings in advance to allow prep area to be cleaned before assembling rolls.

– Wash all produce thoroughly to remove residues.

– Ensure peanut sauce, hoisin sauce, fish sauce and other dips/condiments are gluten-free.

– Consider designating certain cutting boards, knives and work areas as gluten-free to prevent cross contact.

With the right ingredients and diligent practices, preparing gluten-free Thai spring rolls at home is definitely achievable. It just takes some extra care and awareness.

Should You Use Tamari Instead of Soy Sauce?

Tamari is a popular gluten-free alternative to regular soy sauce. It can be used when making dipping sauces, marinades, hoisin sauce and other condiments needing the flavor of soy sauce.

Tamari is made differently than soy sauce:

– Soy sauce starts with a base of soybeans and wheat. The wheat provides the necessary carbohydrates for fermentation.

– Tamari uses only soybeans (sometimes with a little rice). No wheat is used in the production process.

Be sure to verify the tamari is 100% wheat-free. Some cheaper products add small amounts of wheat. Quality gluten-free tamari is just soybeans and salt, resulting in a rich flavor very similar to soy sauce.

For those avoiding gluten, tamari can provide that added bit of familiar umami flavor in spring rolls and dipping sauces. Try using in place of soy sauce in homemade recipes.


Thai spring rolls are naturally gluten-free when made properly with rice paper wrappers and clean, fresh fillings like vegetables, herbs, rice noodles and unseasoned proteins. With some care taken to avoid cross contact and use verified gluten-free condiments, they can be safely enjoyed on a gluten-free diet in most cases.

For those with celiac or extreme sensitivity, take some extra precautions to validate very low risk of trace gluten. Contact manufacturers, choose certified products and use designated gluten-free areas in your kitchen. With the right care taken, Thai spring rolls can be a delicious gluten-free appetizer.

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