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Stocking a Gluten-free Asian Pantry

July 6, 2011

I’d be so sad if I couldn’t share bakmi, one of my favorite Indonesian dishes–it contains wheat noodles, sweet soy sauce, AND soy sauce–with my gluten-free friends. 

A few years ago, my friend randomly mentioned that her mom has a stash of wheat-free soy sauce kept in a safe place at her neighborhood Chinese restaurant. And every time she goes there the owners whip out the bottle and happily prepare her favorite dish–shrimp fried rice–for her.

I was much bemused by this. I’d never even considered that Asian cooking contained a lot of wheat products, and besides, I didn’t know any Asians who were bothered by wheat. In fact, we live on wheat products. Egg noodles, wheat gluten (aka TVP), bean sauce, soy sauce–all of these products contain wheat.

Then last year, I was visiting my husband’s aunt who was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. I wanted to cook for her from my cookbook and her pantry was stocked with gluten-free products. Both she, and I, were pleasantly surprised at how many Asian meal options she had. I did a little research to help her with shopping and coincidentally, I was also asked to write a blog post about gluten-free options for common Asian sauces and condiments for Wasabimon readers.

I figured my own readers would be interested in this as well. According to the University of Chicago’s Center for Celiac Disease, 3 million Americans are affected by this disease. So you might be cooking for someone with celiac disease very soon!

While there are many gluten-free Asian products out there, pay attention and please please please read the labels! There are some sneaky ones that you’d never expect.

Shaoxing rice wine

This aromatic cooking wine adds flavor to Chinese stir-fries and braises. While it is made by fermenting glutinous rice, wheat is usually added. Pale dry sherry (I use Trader Joe’s Tesoro brand) is a great substitute.

Dark soy sauce

To replicate dark soy sauce, add some molasses or dark brown sugar to a gluten-free tamari soy sauce (like San-J or Eden Foods) to thicken and sweeten the potion.

Hoisin

All the bottled hoisin sauces I’ve tried contain wheat flour. A quick online search revealed Premier Japan brand Organic Hoisin Sauce. Although this gluten-free sauce has some unorthodox ingredients (at least by Chinese standards) like apple cider vinegar, molasses and orange juice, it’s worth a shot.

Mirin

True mirin (hon-mirin) is made by fermenting sweet rice and contains nothing else (besides the alcohol of course). I have seen unfermented products labeled “mirin” containing Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (HVP) which may be made from wheat. In this case, use sake or dry sherry with some sugar added.

Bean sauce

Bottled black bean garlic sauce contains wheat but you can easily make your own with fermented black beans (they come in a cellophane bag). For a from-scratch black bean sauce recipe, go here. Chinese yellow or brown bean sauces usually contain wheat as a thickener. Substitute with a gluten-free hatcho miso paste made only from soybeans. If you like it spicy, Yeo’s brand hot bean sauce is gluten-free; but it contains MSG. Or you could mix miso with a chili paste like sambal oelek.

Noodles

Most dried rice noodles are made from just rice and water but please read the labels as not all brands are created equal. The fresh rice sheets/noodles you find at Asian markets often contain wheat starch. So if you’re at an Asian restaurant, avoid any dish containing wide rice noodles. Soba noodles, if made only with buckwheat, are gluten-free as well.

Instant dashi powder

Yes it’s convenient but this Japanese staple contains hydrolyzed wheat protein so make your own dashi. It’s not difficult at all. All you need is some sheets of kombu, bonito (dried bonito fish flakes), and patience and a watchful eye! Refer to my cookbook for a recipe.

Oyster sauce

Lee Kum Kee’s Panda Brand Green Label Oyster Flavored Sauce and Choy Sun Oyster Flavored Sauce in glass bottles and metal cans are both gluten-free and MSG-free.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2011 5:01 pm

    Thanks! This is really great information!

  2. July 7, 2011 9:23 pm

    I love Bakmi!!!

  3. August 6, 2011 6:47 am

    Gluten free sauces (various)

  4. August 12, 2011 7:45 pm

    I discovered your site and recipes after sharing recipe for ‘Salad Rolls with Crab and Mango Sauce’ from ‘Gluten Free Asian Kitchen’ (published August 23).

    Thanks for offering great practical tips on gluten-free options in your piece.

    Here is link to ‘Salad Rolls’ recipe.

    http://www.sergetheconcierge.com/2011/08/salad-rolls-with-crab-and-spicy-mango-sauce-from-gluten-free-asian-kitchen.html

    Serge

  5. August 30, 2011 3:39 pm

    This is such a useful list to have onhand! I’m sending it to my gluten-free friends who can’t stop talking about how much they miss good Asian food!

  6. September 2, 2011 8:39 am

    I’m glad you are all finding this list so useful!

  7. September 2, 2011 12:11 pm

    Thank you for the list. I am new to writing my gluten free blog inspired by pakistani and middle easter cuisine.

    http://www.glutenfreemeinwinnipeg.blogpsot.com

  8. October 1, 2011 9:30 am

    This information is for me, too useful….Thanks for sharing…

  9. October 5, 2011 1:02 pm

    You are most welcome, Tracy!

  10. October 5, 2011 1:10 pm

    What a great idea! I wish you all the best with your blog.

  11. October 5, 2011 1:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Serge. I’ve heard about the book and the recipe does sound tasty. I’ll have to try it!

  12. October 5, 2011 1:14 pm

    Hee hee… you and me both!

  13. October 28, 2011 9:49 am

    Hi Pat, how true what you have written about some of our Asian condiments and ingredients. I like to introduce to you my brand called WORLDFOODS which is suitable for celiacs. We do test on our products to assure it to be gluten free!:-) do visit my website and will be happy to hear your comments

  14. February 1, 2014 12:23 pm

    This is the exact list that I was looking for. Thank you very much for sharing!

Trackbacks

  1. Gluten-Free Wizard « My Soul Leapt
  2. Gluten-Free Wizard « My Soul Leapt
  3. Homemade Gluten-Free Japanese Curry | foodNowYes

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