Is Kimchi Gluten-Free? 3 Reasons It May Not Be

Most kimchi is gluten-free, however, if you have celiac disease, don’t take our word for it! There are a few reasons, why your homemade or storebought kimchi may contain gluten! Here are the most common perpetrators and reasons why some kimchi is not explicitly labeled gluten-free:

1. Contains a flour base that has gluten

Traditionally, the spicy, vibrant red kimchi paste is thickened using glutinous rice flour, which is 100% gluten-free. However some chefs or Korean moms may opt for a different flour paste to mix into their kimchi base, that may contain gluten. Whether it’s store-bought or homemade, take the time to double-check, which type of flour was used.

2. A fish sauce that isn’t gluten-free

Most non-vegan kimchi recipes contain a type of fish sauce, that often isn’t vegan. If you don’t see a GLUTEN FREE label, it is best to avoid storebought kimchi, if you’re gluten-sensitive.

Does every fish sauce have gluten?

No. Most Korean kimchi recipes call for fish sauce (also known as aekjeot), but not all of them contain gluten. Some brands are gluten-free, others contain hydrolyzed soy protein, wheat, or hydrolyzed vegetable protein to tweak their texture.

3. Using regular soy sauce

Some kimchi recipes, especially vegan ones, that strive to substitute the aforementioned fish sauce, call for soy sauce. Soy sauce is a fantastic tool to emphasize the much-needed umami flavor. Unfortunately, most soy sauce is made from crushed wheat and soy. 

Use Tamari for gluten-free kimchi!

Tamari is a traditional Japanese soy sauce. Compared to other soy sauces, it is typically made with little to no wheat. Still… better be safe than sorry! Only buy tamari sauce, which is explicitly labeled as gluten-free. My favorite is Kikkoman’s Gluten-Free Tamari Sauce, as it doesn’t make any sacrifices in terms of flavor and mouthfeel!

One of the easier gluten-free kimchi recipes

Should celiacs take probiotics?

I don’t want to give health advice. Let me refer you to this meta-analysis, suggesting that “Probiotics may potentially improve GI symptoms in patients affected by celiac disease. However, further research is required

Are there other fermented foods, that are 100% gluten-free?

Of course, there are, and you probably eat some of them daily!

  • GF, fermented vegetables (similar to kimchi):
    • Any lacto-fermented, pickled vegetables
    • Sauerkraut
  • GF, fermented drinks:
    • Kefir
    • Lacto-fermented beer
    • Kombucha
  • Rice-based sourdough
  • GF, fermented dairy (all of which can also be veganized using nuts and seeds!):
    • Buttermilk
    • Cheese
    • Sour Cream
    • Yogurt
    • Creme Fraiche

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