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Soy Sauce: The Enemy of the Gluten Free?

When I first went gluten free, and before I did much research, I mistakenly thought the only thing I would have to cut from my diet was bread, pasta, cakes and similar gluten containing foods. Well, was I wrong. After further research I discovered that wheat was hiding in many other foods like dressings, soups and, unbelievably, soy sauce. Yes, soy sauce. So how can this delicious condiment that has been around more than 2,500 years (the oldest condiment in the world) be off limits to the gluten free? Well, it is made with wheat.

Soy sauce was not always made with wheat. Chinese soy sauces were originally made with 100% soy and when the condiment made its way to Japan, the mixture was changed by adding wheat. Today, some traditional Chinese soy sauces are still made entirely with soybeans, and some modern versions have opted to use the Japanese method and add wheat to their recipe. This soy/wheat combo results in a sweeter and less harsh sauce.

Whether the mixture is 100% soybeans or an even ratio of soybeans and wheat, brewing, or fermentation, is the traditional method of making soy sauce. The “brew” is a mixture of mashed soybeans, salt, wheat and enzymes, fermented together for up to six months.

The original Kikkoman Soy Sauce is a naturally brewed Japanese soy sauce and contains wheat. So, no Kikkoman’s for the gluten free, right? Well not so fast. Last year, Kikkoman’s came out with a gluten free soy sauce. The Kikkoman website states that this sauce is “a premium Tamari-style soy sauce with the same rich, savory flavor you’ve come to expect from Kikkoman soy sauce.” So if you loved Kikkoman’s before you were gluten free, you now have a solid replacement.

Another type of soy sauce is Tamari sauce. Tamari is very similar to the traditional Chinese soy sauce and generally contains little or no wheat. The higher soybean content in Tamari gives it a flavor that is stronger and richer than Japanese soy sauce. Because some Tamari sauces can possible contain wheat, it is best to opt for the gluten free versions such as those offered by San-J. According to the San-J website, their Premium Tamari Soy Sauce (Black Label) has been has been reformulated (the wheat was taken out) and is now sold as Tamari Gluten Free Soy Sauce. They also offer low sodium and organic version of their Gluten Free Tamari Sauce.

Another version of soy sauce is what can be called “chemical soy sauce.” This “soy sauce” is made much more quickly (2 days) than traditional soy sauce (6 months), uses hydrolyzed protein and is colored with corn syrup and caramel. It has been stated by reviewers that the flavor of these sauces is “far removed from traditional soy sauce and “should strongly be avoided.” These sauces generally do not contain wheat but also do not claim to be gluten free. For me, that is the best reason to avoid them. An example of this type of soy sauce is La Choy and Walmart brand.

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