Shrimp tempura is a popular Japanese dish consisting of shrimp coated in a light tempura batter and then deep fried. With its crispy exterior and tender shrimp interior, it’s easy to see why this dish is a favorite for many. However, for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, determining if shrimp tempura is safe to eat can be tricky. The key question is whether the tempura batter used to coat the shrimp contains gluten or not. Let’s take a closer look at what makes up tempura batter and if it’s possible to prepare shrimp tempura that is totally gluten-free and safe for gluten-free diets.
What is tempura batter?
Tempura batter is a light coating used to fry foods like shrimp, vegetables, and fish before frying. It results in a delicately crispy exterior while keeping the interior moist. Traditional tempura batter consists of water, egg, and wheat flour. Specifically, the wheat flour works to crisp up when fried while also adhering the batter to the shrimp.
So in its traditional form, the wheat flour in tempura batter means it is not gluten-free. For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, consuming conventional tempura batter will cause issues due to its gluten content.
Is there a gluten-free substitute for wheat flour in tempura batter?
Luckily, there are several gluten-free alternatives to wheat flour that can be used to create gluten-free tempura batter:
Rice flour is one of the most popular substitutes for wheat flour in gluten-free cooking and baking. Rice flour contains no gluten and works well in fried foods like tempura since it gets ultracrispy when fried. Look for superfine white rice flour to create the lightest, crispiest batter.
Cornstarch is another gluten-free pantry staple that substitutes well for wheat flour in tempura batter. It gets crispy when fried while also helping adhere the batter to the shrimp. Opt for cornstarch over corn flour, which has a grittier, heavier texture.
Tapioca flour is made from the starchy tuberous root of the cassava plant. It has no gluten and fries up nice and crispy, making it another suitable choice for gluten-free tempura batter. Tapioca flour also helps promote browning in the batter.
Also known as garbanzo bean flour, chickpea flour has gained popularity as a versatile gluten-free flour. Its binding abilities and crispy texture when fried make it a good wheat flour alternative for tempura batter. Just be aware chickpea flour has a stronger flavor than other options.
Finely ground blanched almonds create almond flour, which can also substitute for wheat flour in tempura batter. It may result in a slightly nuttier tasting batter that crisps up nicely when fried.
Tips for gluten-free shrimp tempura
When making gluten-free shrimp tempura at home, follow these tips for best results:
– Choose a high-quality oil with a high smoke point for frying like peanut, vegetable, or rice bran oil. This allows the batter to fry up crispy and golden brown.
– Dip shrimp in batter just before frying. Letting it sit too long will cause the batter to get soggy. Work in batches to keep the oil temperature consistent.
– Use ice cold sparkling water or soda water to mix your gluten-free batter. This creates a lighter, crisper crust when fried.
– Let fried tempura drain on a wire rack or paper towels. This prevents sogginess from frying oil.
– Batter shrimp lightly. Too thick of a coating detracts from the plump, tender shrimp inside.
– Fry tempura at 350-375°F for 2-3 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
Is pre-made shrimp tempura gluten-free?
When buying pre-made shrimp tempura from grocery stores, restaurants, or frozen meal kits, always check the label and ingredients carefully for wheat-based products. Some pre-made tempura batters do contain wheat flour or other gluten sources:
Ingredients to avoid
– Wheat flour
– Barley malt
– Beer batter
– Soy sauce (contains wheat)
safer bet options
– Look for “gluten-free” on the label
– Rice flour, tapioca starch or cornstarch-based batters
– Brands certified gluten-free
So while many pre-made options do contain gluten, there are also lots of gluten-free pre-made shrimp tempura choices available too. Just be diligent about reading labels thoroughly if you need to avoid gluten. When in doubt, making your own gluten-free batter at home is the best way to ensure safety.
Even if a tempura batter itself is gluten-free, cross-contamination during cooking and serving is a potential issue to be aware of for gluten-free diets. Here are some common risks and tips for avoiding cross-contamination:
– Shared oil with non gluten-free foods
– Shared cooking tools and surfaces
– Fried in same oil as non gluten-free foods
– Handled with tools/surfaces that contacted gluten
Tips to prevent cross-contamination
– Use dedicated gluten-free fryer or oil
– Clean tools and surfaces thoroughly before cooking
– Use fresh, clean oil and tools to cook gluten-free dishes
– Keep gluten-free foods separate during prep and service
– Designate gluten-free prep and cooking areas in restaurant kitchens
So even with a gluten-free recipe, cross-contamination is still a possibility in restaurants and shared kitchens. Taking steps to keep gluten-free batter and shrimp separate is important for safety.
Common questions about shrimp tempura and gluten
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about whether shrimp tempura is gluten-free:
Is air-fried shrimp tempura gluten-free?
Yes, you can still make gluten-free shrimp tempura in an air fryer by using a gluten-free batter recipe and oil spray. The results will be less greasy than deep fried.
What about the dipping sauce?
The dipping sauce served with tempura can also contain gluten from soy sauce or other ingredients. Check for gluten-free dipping sauces or make your own using gluten-free tamari.
Can you make gluten-free chicken tempura too?
Yes, the same gluten-free batters work well for making chicken tempura. Just use boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs cut into bite-sized pieces.
Is tempura safe on a nut-free diet?
Almond flour-based batters are not safe for nut allergies. Stick to options like rice flour, cornstarch, or chickpea flour instead.
What’s the difference between tempura and panko breadcrumbs?
Panko breadcrumbs are not gluten-free since they contain wheat flour. Tempura batter uses gluten-free starches instead.
Gluten-Free Shrimp Tempura Recipes
Here are a few recipes to try out for making gluten-free shrimp tempura at home:
Basic Gluten-Free Shrimp Tempura
– Shrimp, peeled and deveined
– Rice flour
– Ice cold sparkling water
– Vegetable oil for frying
1. In a bowl, whisk together rice flour, cornstarch, and salt.
2. In a separate small bowl, lightly beat the egg.
3. Add ice cold sparkling water to the cornstarch mixture while whisking. The batter should be thin like heavy cream.
4. Dip shrimp into egg, then into the tempura batter letting any excess drip off.
5. In a pot or deep skillet, heat at least 2 inches oil to 350°F.
6. Fry shrimp 2-3 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
7. Drain on paper towels and serve hot with dipping sauce.
Crispy Coconut Shrimp Tempura
– Rice flour
– Unsweetened coconut flakes
– Ice cold soda water
– Frying oil
1. In a bowl, mix rice flour, cornstarch, coconut flakes, and salt.
2. In another bowl, beat egg with soda water.
3. Dip shrimp in egg mixture, then coconut batter.
4. In a deep pot, heat oil to 350°F.
5. Fry battered shrimp 2-3 minutes until golden brown.
6. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.
Crunchy Vegetable Tempura
– Assorted vegetables like zucchini, sweet potatoes, green beans, peppers, etc. thinly sliced
– Rice flour
– Baking soda
– Ice cold soda water
– Frying oil
1. In a bowl, whisk together rice flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt.
2. In a small bowl, beat egg with soda water.
3. Dip vegetables into egg mixture, then toss in tempura batter.
4. Fry in 350°F oil until lightly golden, about 2-3 minutes.
5. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with dipping sauce.
Health Benefits of Shrimp
Beyond being naturally gluten-free, shrimp packs some great nutrition. Here are some of the top health benefits of eating shrimp:
High in Protein
A 3 ounce serving of shrimp provides over 18 grams of protein. The protein in shrimp contains all nine essential amino acids making it a complete, high quality protein.
Low in Calories
With around 84 calories in 3 ounces of shrimp, it’s a lean and light protein choice that won’t break the calorie bank. Combined with the nutrition of vegetables in tempura, it makes for a healthy meal.
Rich in Antioxidants
Shrimp contain the antioxidant carotenoid astaxanthin which gives them their pink hue. This antioxidant has anti-inflammatory effects in the body to reduce oxidative stress.
Good Source of Selenium
Shrimp provide over half your daily needs for the essential mineral selenium in just 3 ounces. Selenium supports thyroid health and immune function.
Vitamin B12 is only naturally found in animal foods, making shrimp an excellent source for vegetarians and vegans. B12 is crucial for nerve tissue health and energy levels.
When paired with a light, gluten-free batter, shrimp tempura makes for a healthy and satisfying gluten-free meal full of protein, antioxidants, and important nutrients. Just opt for gluten-free dipping sauces and be mindful of cross-contamination when cooking and serving.
In summary, here are the key takeaways on whether traditional shrimp tempura is gluten-free:
– Conventional tempura batter contains wheat flour, making it unsafe for gluten-free diets.
– Luckily, there are several easy gluten-free substitutes for wheat flour in tempura batter such as rice flour, cornstarch, chickpea flour, and more.
– When cooking at home, be careful to avoid cross-contamination from shared oil, tools, and surfaces to keep gluten away from your gluten-free dish.
– Pre-made shrimp tempura often does contain gluten, so diligently read labels and look for certified gluten-free options to be safe.
– Shrimp is naturally gluten-free and provides protein, antioxidants, and important nutrients like selenium.
By using the right gluten-free ingredients and taking precautions around contamination, preparing delicious gluten-free shrimp tempura at home is totally possible. Crispy and tender, it makes for an appetizing main dish or addition to a Japanese meal that can be safely enjoyed on a gluten-free diet.