The first thing we do when we realize we are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease is find out what the safe replacements are. Rice usually becomes the food we rely on as a true life savior, but there are times in which even plain rice is not gluten free and we need to be aware of the cooking techniques and preparations that can turn this gluten free staples into a gluten carrier.
I started to pay more attention to this problem when, after being gluten free for over a year, my blood results still showed gluten in my system. The day I went to pick up my results, my doctor welcomed me in her office with a sardonic smile: “So…. We are cheating with gluten, huh?!”
As I explained to her that the only grain I was eating was rice, we started looking more into where the traces of gluten in my blood could come from. And after a careful investigation (that included talking to a lot of restaurant manager about their rice dishes), I discovered that often times rice is not gluten free at all!
Here are the 5 Rice Dishes in Which Rice Is Not Gluten Free:
1. Sushi Rice
There can be various reasons why sushi is not gluten free:
- In order to keep the grains sticky, sushi rice is seasoned with vinegar and in many cases this is wheat vinegar, which may cause reactions in people who are particularly sensitive. Always ask to see the bottle of vinegar they use and make sure it’s rice vinegar that’s certified gluten free. (NOTE: while distilled wheat vinegar is free from gluten, non-distilled vinegar whose starting material is wheat is NOT gluten free. Read more here. Just to be safe, since not always your server can tell you if the vinegar they used was distilled or not, anytime the vinegar comes from wheat I simply skip it) ;).
- Teriyaki or soy sauce seasoned sushi. Many of the fillings for sushi rolls, such as unagi (freshwater eel) but also salmon and tuna, can be prepared with soy sauce-based marinades, and since regular soy sauce contains wheat as a thickener, you’ll need to stay away from those too. If you like the taste of soy sauce, order a plain roll and ask them to bring you gluten free certified soy sauce instead.
- California rolls and all rolls containing “crab” are actually made with “imitation crab” meat, a product that’s obtained by grinding white fish and then binding it with wheat, starches and flavorings so that it resembles real crab meat. Always ask if they use real crab and avoid ordering sushi containing “surimi” or “imitation crab”.
- Tempura sushi. All the sushi rolls that include tempura-dipped vegetables and meats are covered with a tempura batter that’s almost always made with wheat flour and that’s then fried in fryer that’s also used for gluten-containing items. When you read the words “crispy” or “tempura” on the menu, skip it!
If the kitchen staff is not able to answer your questions properly, simply order sashimi (plain fish) and a side of steamed rice with no vinegar topped with sesame seeds and avocado.
2. Boiled Rice
Many times, in order to save time, the boiled rice that’s sold already cooked at in gastronomic section of the grocery store is cooked in the same pot they use to boil pasta and other gluten-containing products. Even when the list of ingredients only says “rice”, it’s better to double check and ask if it was boiled in a separate pot.
3. Instant Rice Mixes:
Precooked and preseasons rice mixes that are sold in supermarkets frequently contain gluten-based ingredients, wheat-based thickeners such as hydrolyzed wheat protein or flavor enhancers like soy sauce. Sometimes these mixes can also contain a mixture of grains like barley or rye packaged together with rice. Make sure to read the list of ingredients carefully and prefer brands that are certified gluten free.
4. Cuban Rice, Saffron Rice & Paella
These rice dishes call for a preparation in which rice is simmered in some kind of stock or broth, mostly made with chicken. Even high-end restaurants sometimes use chicken stock that has wheat in it (I know, it makes no sense) and that will turn your rice dish into something that’s not gluten free.
Always make sure to ask if the broth or stock they used is guaranteed gluten free.
5. Rice Dishes at Self Service Buffets and Whole Foods:
Anytime you eat out at buffet where the customers have access to service spoons, you need to look out for gluten contamination. Have you ever noticed how people at Whole Foods think it’s ok to grab a scoop of pasta and then use the same spoon to take some rice and put in their plate? Have you ever tried to grab some kind of rice from a container and noticed that it was dirty with pieces of a different dish?
Cross-contact can easily occur in buffet bins because other shoppers that are simply not aware of the issue use the same scoop for both gluten-free and gluten-containing grains.
Did I forget about anything? Please, if you are aware of some other occasions in which rice is not gluten free, don’t hesitate to let me know by leaving a comment below!
Your tips and experience can definitely help a lot of other gluten free eaters so make sure to leave your feedback!
I send you all a big kiss from Italy and I will catch you next time!