Chinese fried rice may contain gluten depending on the ingredients used. Traditional fried rice contains rice, eggs, vegetables, and sometimes meat. These ingredients are naturally gluten-free. However, many restaurants add soy sauce to their fried rice, and soy sauce contains wheat. So fried rice made with soy sauce contains gluten. To avoid getting gluten from fried rice, check the ingredients and request the dish be made without soy sauce.
What is Chinese Fried Rice?
Chinese fried rice is a popular dish that consists of cooked rice stir-fried in a wok with other ingredients like eggs, vegetables, and meat. It originated from the Chinese technique of using up leftover cooked rice in a quick stir-fry. The natural ingredients in traditional fried rice are gluten-free. These include:
- Cooked white rice
- Vegetables like carrot, peas, corn, bell pepper, onion
- Meats like chicken, pork, shrimp
- Soy sauce
- Sesame oil
- Green onions
The main ingredient is rice. For fried rice, regular long grain white rice is usually used because it gets nice and crispy. Rice is a gluten-free grain, so plain rice contains no gluten.
Eggs are another primary ingredient in fried rice. Eggs are naturally gluten-free. Vegetables and meats are also gluten-free foods.
Two common seasonings added to fried rice are sesame oil and soy sauce. Sesame oil is made from pressing sesame seeds and does not contain gluten. However, soy sauce is typically made from fermented soybeans and wheat. The wheat contributes gluten to the soy sauce.
So in fried rice, the ingredients to watch out for related to gluten are soy sauce and any thickening agents potentially added such as wheat starch.
Does Traditional Fried Rice Contain Gluten?
Fried rice made with just rice, eggs, vegetables and meat does not naturally contain gluten. These ingredients are all gluten-free:
- Cooked white rice
- Bell peppers
- Chicken, pork, shrimp
So plain fried rice is gluten-free.
However, many restaurants add soy sauce to their fried rice to enhance the flavor. Soy sauce contains gluten from the wheat it is made from. So fried rice made with soy sauce does contain some gluten.
The amount of gluten depends on how much soy sauce is added. Just a splash of soy sauce to season a large batch of fried rice contains minimal gluten. But fried rice overloaded with soy sauce can contain higher, problematic levels of gluten for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
How is Fried Rice Typically Prepared in Chinese Restaurants?
There are some variations in how different Chinese restaurants prepare their fried rice recipes. But here are some common practices:
Typical fried rice contains:
- Cooked white rice
- Eggs and/or small shrimp
- Frozen peas and carrots
- Soy sauce
- Sesame oil
- Garlic and ginger
- Green onions
Meat or tofu may be added to make it a protein-based fried rice. Some common additions are chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, char siu pork, or tofu.
On the vegetable side, restaurants may also add things like onion, bell pepper, baby corn, water chestnuts, mushrooms, etc.
The typical process for making Chinese fried rice includes:
- Coating wok with hot oil. Sesame oil is commonly used.
- Cracking a couple eggs into the wok and scrambling.
- Adding the cold, cooked rice and breaking up any clumps.
- Adding frozen peas and carrots.
- Adding soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and green onions.
- Tossing everything together over high heat until heated through.
- Adding a protein like cooked chicken if desired.
- Garnishing with more green onions.
The rice is frozen or refrigerated overnight before cooking. This dries out the rice so it fries up nicely and doesn’t get mushy. The ingredients are added in stages at high heat to get that iconic fried rice flavor.
Does Fried Rice Get Thickened with Wheat Starch?
Some Chinese restaurants and frozen Asian food brands use wheat starch to help thicken and stabilize fried rice. Wheat starch gives the rice a sticky texture and enhances the flavor. However, wheat starch of course contains gluten.
Whether fried rice contains wheat starch depends on the restaurant. Some traditional Chinese chefs would consider wheat starch an unnecessary additive. Good wok technique can achieve a nice fried rice texture without starch.
But some modern restaurants and frozen foods do add wheat starch to quickly thicken up their fried rice in mass production. So if gluten is a concern, it’s important to check whether a particular fried rice contains wheat starch or other thickeners that may contain gluten.
What Soy Sauce Alternatives Can Be Used to Make Fried Rice Gluten-Free?
To make gluten-free fried rice, tamari or coconut aminos can be used to replace regular soy sauce, For example:
- San-J Tamari Gluten Free Soy Sauce
- Kikkoman Gluten Free Soy Sauce
- La Choy Gluten Free Soy Sauce
- Coconut Secret Coconut Aminos
These gluten-free alternatives provide the salty, savory flavor of soy sauce without containing wheat or gluten.
When ordering fried rice in restaurants, you can request for them to use a gluten-free soy sauce or simply make it without any soy sauce added. Most places are accommodating to such requests these days.
For homemade fried rice, look for gluten-free soy sauces in the Asian food aisle of grocery stores or online. Or use coconut aminos which are made from coconut tree sap, not soy.
What About Fried Rice Made with Brown Rice or Rice Noodles?
Some restaurants offer fried rice made with brown rice or rice noodles instead of white rice.
Brown rice fried rice has a nuttier flavor from the brown rice but does not contain gluten. Brown rice is gluten-free just like white rice.
Rice noodles made from just rice flour and water are also naturally gluten-free. So fried rice made with rice noodles instead of regular rice is safe for gluten-free diets.
However, be aware that some rice noodle brands actually contain wheat starch in addition to rice flour. So check the ingredients before using rice noodles to ensure they are 100% rice flour without gluten-containing additives.
Overall, fried rice made with just brown rice or rice noodles can be a tasty gluten-free alternative. But always check with the restaurant on the ingredients if you have celiac disease or allergy.
What about Fried Rice in Frozen Meals and Rice Mixes?
Frozen fried rice meals and instant rice mixes provide quick and convenient options for fried rice at home. But with packaged foods, you have to carefully read the labels for gluten-containing ingredients.
Some things to look out for:
- Soy Sauce – Most brands use regular soy sauce made with wheat. Look for brands made with tamari or gluten-free soy sauce instead.
- Starch – Many add starch to thicken the fried rice. The starch may come from wheat. Check if rice starch is used instead.
- Flavorings – Things like teriyaki sauce and hoisin sauce often contain gluten. Opt for products without these flavorings or use gluten-free versions.
- Cross-Contamination – Even if labeled gluten-free, there is some risk of cross-contact in processing facilities. Higher risk for those with celiac.
Some examples of gluten-free frozen fried rice brands include:
- Lundberg Family Farms – Organic Fried Rice
- Trader Joe’s – Vegetable Fried Rice
- Evol – Fire Grilled Chicken Fried Rice
- COCO FRIED RICE – Vegan Fried Rice
With rice mixes, verify the seasoning packets are gluten-free and avoid mixes with soy sauce powder that likely contains gluten.
Overall it’s best to closely inspect packaged fried rice products and contact the manufacturer with any questions if you are highly sensitive.
Is Fried Rice Gluten-Free at Popular Take-Out Chains?
If you are eating fried rice from a take-out restaurant, here are some tips for the popular chains:
Panda Express offers vegetable, chicken, shrimp, or beef fried rice. Their standard fried rice contains soy sauce (wheat) and wheat starch.
However, you can request to have their fried rice prepared gluten-free:
- Ask for fresh, unseasoned rice
- Request no soy sauce
- Ask them to clean wok and utensils
PF Chang’s fried rice options all contain soy sauce and are not gluten-free. They currently don’t offer a gluten-free preparation.
At Benihana, you can request gluten-free fried rice that is made without soy sauce. Just ask to have it prepared with fresh rice and no soy sauce.
Pei Wei notes their fried rice contains soy sauce and wheat starch so it is not gluten-free. But you can request freshly prepared rice with no soy sauce or wheat starch added.
Is Fried Rice Gluten-Free at Popular Grocery Stores?
If you are buying take-out fried rice from a grocery store deli, here are some things to look out for:
Fried rice from the Whole Foods deli may contain soy sauce or wheat starch, making it not gluten-free. The cashier can check ingredients for you, but modifications aren’t possible.
Trader Joe’s fried rice contains soy sauce so it is not gluten-free. You can purchase their frozen gluten-free vegetable fried rice instead.
Publix fried rice contains soy sauce as well. You can request plain rice from their grain bowls station instead.
Wegmans Chinese bar fried rice contains soy sauce and is not gluten-free. Their plain white or brown rice from the grain bar would be a gluten-free option.
Costco’s take-out fried rice is not labeled gluten-free and likely contains soy sauce. Your safest bet is getting plain rice cups instead.
Tips for Ordering Gluten-Free Fried Rice in Restaurants
If you need to avoid gluten, here are some tips for ordering gluten-free fried rice in restaurants:
- Ask if they can make it without soy sauce
- Request fresh, plain rice to be used
- Ask them to clean the wok and utensils first
- Avoid thickened sauces or gravies on top
- Check that no wheat starch is used as a thickener
- Ask about other ingredients besides the main rice, veggies, eggs
- Ensure no wheat flour is used if browning the rice
- Ask for ingredients list and about prep process if highly sensitive
- Explain it is due to an allergy to get added care
With custom orders, there is still some risk of cross-contact. But most kitchens will take reasonable precautions to accommodate allergies.
You can also look for restaurants that advertise gluten-free menus and allergy protocols. Or stick to places with transparent kitchen practices.
Can I Make My Own Gluten-Free Fried Rice?
Yes, making gluten-free fried rice at home is simple. Here is an easy recipe to try:
- 3 cups cooked white rice
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 eggs, scrambled
- 1 cup frozen peas and carrots
- 1 cup diced chicken (optional)
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce or coconut aminos
- Cook white rice according to package instructions. Spread on a sheet pan and refrigerate overnight.
- Heat a wok with sesame oil. Add eggs and scramble, then remove and set aside.
- Add the chilled rice to the hot wok and break up any clumps. Toss frequently.
- Mix in the peas and carrots. Add cooked chicken if using.
- Season with soy sauce alternative, garlic, and green onions.
- Stir in scrambled egg and toss everything together until hot.
- Garnish with more green onions if desired.
Making it at home lets you control all the ingredients. You can ensure it’s safely gluten-free for those with celiac disease or on a gluten-free diet.
In summary, here are the key points on whether Chinese fried rice contains gluten:
- Plain fried rice made with just rice, eggs, veggies and meat is naturally gluten-free.
- Fried rice at restaurants often contains soy sauce, making it not gluten-free.
- Some places also add wheat starch as a thickener, adding gluten.
- You can customize fried rice orders by asking for no soy sauce and wheat-free ingredients.
- Gluten-free substitutes include tamari, coconut aminos, and rice starch.
- Gluten-free versions may also be made with brown rice or rice noodles.
- Packaged fried rice products and restaurant chains need to be checked closely.
- Making gluten-free fried rice at home is a tasty option.
Overall, fried rice can be adapted to be gluten-free for those with celiac disease or food intolerances. Just take some care to avoid soy sauce, wheat starch, and other hidden sources of gluten. With some simple modifications, you can still enjoy delicious gluten-free fried rice.