What sushi is not gluten-free?

Sushi is a popular Japanese dish that consists of cooked vinegar rice combined with other ingredients like raw fish, vegetables, and sometimes egg. For many people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, enjoying sushi can be tricky because some types contain gluten. Knowing which sushi options are not gluten-free can help you make safe menu choices.

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 reaction that damages the small intestine. This can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue, skin rashes, depression, and joint pain. The only treatment is following a strict lifelong gluten-free diet by avoiding all foods and beverages with gluten.

Why Does Sushi Contain Gluten?

While rice is naturally gluten-free, many sushi restaurants add wheat flour or breadcrumbs to the rice. This helps the rice hold together better when forming sushi rolls. Other sources of gluten in sushi include:

  • Soy sauce – Most soy sauce contains wheat
  • Mirin – Gluten-containing starch often used in sweet Japanese rice wine
  • Panko breadcrumbs – Used to coat fried sushi like tempura
  • Rice vinegar – Some vinegars are distilled from gluten grains
  • Imitation crab – Surimi seafood made with wheat-based fillers
  • Teriyaki sauce – Contains soy sauce, mirin, and starch

Even sushi made with rice and seafood can get contaminated with gluten from shared utensils, prep surfaces, and fryers.

Types of Sushi That Are Not Gluten-Free

Many popular sushi rolls and items are made with or contain ingredients that have gluten:

1. Makizushi Rolls

Makizushi refers to sushi rolls that are rolled up in nori seaweed. Unfortunately, the rice used in maki almost always has added gluten. For example:

  • California roll – Crab meat, avocado, cucumber, and glutenous rice.
  • Spicy tuna roll – Contains glutenous rice.
  • Tempura maki – The fried tempura contains wheat-based batter.
  • Unagi maki – Gluten may come from the eel sauce.

2. Nigiri Sushi

Nigiri is the traditional type of sushi with a piece of raw fish or seafood served on top of a block of rice. The rice and potential for cross-contamination make these not gluten-free:

  • Tuna nigiri
  • Salmon nigiri
  • Eel nigiri – Likely contains glutenous eel sauce.
  • Shrimp nigiri

3. Temaki Hand Rolls

Temaki are cone-shaped hand rolls filled with rice and ingredients like fish or vegetables. Just like maki rolls, the rice used for hand rolls typically contains gluten:

  • Tuna temaki
  • Salmon skin temaki
  • Avocado temaki
  • Cucumber temaki

4. Sushi Bowls

Rice bowls topped with raw fish are popular sushi meals, but the rice and sauce make them unsuitable for a gluten-free diet:

  • Chirashi sushi bowl
  • Poke bowl – Contains soy sauce.
  • Teriyaki salmon bowl – Gluten from teriyaki sauce.

5. Inari Sushi

Inari sushi is made of sweet and savory seasoned rice wrapped in deep-fried tofu pockets called abura-age. While plain abura-age is gluten-free, most sushi restaurants add wheat flour to the tofu when frying:

  • Inari sushi

6. Maki Sushi

Maki sushi contains sushi rice and fillings wrapped in a thin omelette known as usuyaki tamago. The egg is gluten-free but contamination is likely:

  • Shiitake maki – Shiitake mushrooms and egg wrapped around sushi rice.
  • Natto maki – Fermented soybeans and egg with glutenous rice.

7. Baked or Fried Rolls

Some sushi rolls are baked or fried which increases the chance of gluten exposure:

  • Baked scallop roll – May contain breadcrumbs.
  • Fried salmon roll – Wheat-flour likely used when frying.
  • Spider roll – Fried soft shell crab with glutenous rice.

8. Sushi Cones and Wraps

Trendy cone-shaped sushi and seaweed snack wraps contain gluten from added wheat starch:

  • Sushi ice cream cones
  • Tuna tataki wraps
  • Spicy salmon wraps

9. Sushi Sandwiches

Another sushi fusion dish, sandwiches made with seaweed “buns” have glutenous ingredients:

  • Tuna sandwich
  • Salmon sandwich
  • Shrimp sandwich

10. Fried Sushi

Frying sushi in wheat-flour batter or breadcrumbs adds gluten:

  • Tempura sushi
  • Fried soft-shell crab sushi
  • Fried California rolls

Gluten-Free Substitutions

While traditional sushi is not gluten-free, there are some ingredient swaps you can request to make sushi safe for a gluten-free diet:

Instead of Request
Regular soy sauce Gluten-free tamari
Rice with wheat starch Sushi rice seasoned only with rice vinegar and sugar
Battered/fried sushi Sushi without breading
Imitation crab Real crab meat
Mirin Gluten-free rice wine

You can also order sushi varieties that are lower risk like sashimi, which is just slices of raw fish without rice.

Cross-Contamination Precautions

Even if you order gluten-free ingredients, cross-contamination is still a concern at sushi restaurants. Take these steps when dining out for sushi to minimize contamination:

  • Verify if dedicated gluten-free prep areas and supplies are used.
  • Request new gloves to handle your gluten-free order.
  • Opt for thinly sliced fish without rice like sashimi or sushi without rice wraps.
  • Avoid fried or baked sushi which has a higher risk of contamination.
  • Ask for tamari instead of regular soy sauce.
  • Specify no teriyaki sauce or eel sauce which likely contain gluten.
  • Inspect sushi before eating to ensure proper ingredients.

Types of Sushi That Are Gluten-Free

You can still enjoy delicious sushi on a gluten-free diet by ordering the right menu items. Here are some good gluten-free sushi options:


Sashimi is fresh raw seafood sliced into thin pieces without rice. Opt for sashimi orders of:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Yellowtail
  • Scallops
  • Octopus

Vegetable Rolls

Request maki rolls made with rice vinegar and no wheat starch and fillings like:

  • Cucumber rolls
  • Avocado rolls
  • Asparagus rolls
  • Carrot rolls
  • Bell pepper rolls

Inside-Out Rolls

Inside-out rolls with rice on the inside and nori on the outside may have less cross-contamination. Try:

  • Inside-out tuna rolls
  • Inside-out salmon avocado rolls
  • Inside-out yellowtail jalapeno rolls

Temaki Hand Rolls

Request newly made temaki with no-gluten rice for lower contamination chances. Fillings like tuna, salmon, and avocado work well.

Nigiri/Sashimi Combo Platter

A combo plate with nigiri sushi and sashimi lets you enjoy both while limiting gluten exposure.

Ponzu Sauce

Ponzu is a gluten-free citrus-based dipping sauce that’s safe to eat with sushi.

Fresh Oysters

Raw oysters on the half shell make a great gluten-free starter.

Homemade Gluten-Free Sushi

For full control over ingredients, making gluten-free sushi at home is a smart option. Here are some recipes to try:

Gluten-Free Spicy Tuna Rolls

This recipe uses sushi-grade tuna, cucumber, avocado, and gluten-free tamari to recreate a classic spicy tuna roll:


  • 2 cups gluten-free sushi rice
  • 4 nori sheets
  • 1 lb sushi-grade tuna
  • 1 cucumber, julienned
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • Sriracha (to taste)
  • Pickled ginger
  • Gluten-free tamari


  1. Cook sushi rice and mix with seasoned rice vinegar.
  2. Lay out nori sheet and spread rice evenly, leaving 1 inch uncovered at the top.
  3. Line bottom third of nori with tuna, cucumber, and avocado.
  4. Roll up tightly. Seal with a bit of rice and water mixture.
  5. Slice into 6-8 pieces and top with sriracha, ginger, and tamari.

Baked Salmon Nigiri

These gluten-free baked salmon nigiri are an easy homemade option:


  • 1 lb wild salmon fillet, skinned
  • 2 cups gluten-free sushi rice
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Wasabi
  • Gluten-free tamari


  1. Cook salmon and let cool. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Make sushi rice. Mix in vinegar and sugar.
  3. Mold small rice balls in hands. Top with wasabi and salmon.
  4. Eat with a dip of tamari.

Inside-Out Avocado Cucumber Rolls

Here is a recipe for easy inside-out vegetarian sushi rolls:


  • 2 cucumbers, julienned
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 2 cups gluten-free sushi rice
  • 4 nori sheets, cut in half
  • Sesame seeds (optional garnish)


  1. Cook sushi rice. Lay nori strips smooth side down.
  2. Spread rice thinly over nori sheets, leaving a 1⁄2 inch border.
  3. Layer cucumber and avocado on lower half of rice.
  4. Roll up tightly and seal with water. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.
  5. Slice each roll into 6 pieces.

Talk to Your Sushi Chef

Dining out for sushi with celiac disease or gluten intolerance can seem limiting, but by understanding menu options and talking to the chef, enjoying safe gluten-free sushi is possible. Be sure to confirm the precautions they take to avoid cross-contamination with the kitchen staff. With the right modifications, you can still savor tasty gluten-free sushi.

The Bottom Line

Many types of sushi are made with wheat-containing ingredients and risk cross-contamination, making them unsuitable for gluten-free diets. Focus on sashimi, vegetable rolls with no-gluten rice, and inside-out rolls made to order. With some simple ingredient swaps and preparations done separately, you can safely enjoy gluten-free sushi. Making sushi at home also gives you full control over ingredients. Overall, with the right menu choices and precautions, giving up sushi is not necessary with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

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