Wasabi is a spicy condiment that you can find in most Japanese restaurants. Its green color and pungent taste impart uniqueness to sushi rolls and sashimi dishes. Is wasabi gluten free?

A white spoon full of wasabi.

Answer: Does Wasabi Have Gluten?

The answer is yes and no. It depends if you are eating real wasabi or imitation wasabi. Real wasabi, made traditionally from the Japanese wasabi plant, does not have gluten. It is safe for consumption by people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. You can taste the quality of wasabi in every bite.

The downside is real wasabi’s cost. Real wasabi is expensive, and because of this, some wasabi products are now made containing wheat flour and wheat starch. This is because real wasabi is hard to cultivate, as I mentioned earlier.

The standard wasabi that you see served in most restaurants in North America is usually a mix of cornstarch, horseradish, mustard flour, artificial colors, and other cheap ingredients.

It is very important to check the package labeling to ensure your wasabi product has gluten-free ingredients.  While you are here, check out all of my articles to know which Asian ingredients are gluten free!

What Is Wasabi?

Wasabi, also called Japanese horseradish, is a root that belongs to the mustard family. It is native to Japan and South Korea.

When fully grown, the wasabi root is usually ground up. When ground up, it looks like a thick, pungent green paste. It adds a spicy kick to sushi and sashimi. Its strong smell and taste come from compounds called isothiocyanates, formed when the plant cells rupture when they are grated or cut.

Wasabi is a popular ingredient that can be spread directly on raw fish or mixed in gluten free soy sauce or tamari for dipping sushi. It can also be added to different ingredients to create flavorful sauces.

I love adding it to mayonnaise and mixing it to make a spicy mayo wasabi sauce, perfect for a salmon wrap or grilled cheese sandwich. Wasabi can also be added to soups and stews to give more heat to the dish.

Wasabi gets its spicy kick from volatile compounds that are released when it is cut or grated. Since they are volatile, the flavors diminish if left exposed to air. This is the reason wasabi is put under the fish in sushi rolls. This way, the wasabi is shielded from too much exposure to air. 

If you love sushi, don’t forget to check this gluten free sushi guide to see if sushi is gluten free, and get my top tips to eat at gluten-free sushi restaurants. Most Japanese restaurants offer gluten-free soy sauce, tamari, or coconut aminos for their gluten free guests, but is this enough to consider sushi gluten free?

Rubbing wasabi root on a board.

Real Wasabi vs Fake Wasabi

  • Real wasabi has a strong smell that gives that kick in the nostril when you consume it, giving you that mild burn that is not harsh but can make you twitch your nose. 
  • True wasabi is pale green, and its taste is more herb-like. Fake wasabi has a sharper or brighter green color due to extra coloring that is added during processing. 
  • Additionally, since true wasabi is grated directly from the plant, you can feel the grits when you touch or put it in your mouth.
  • Fake wasabi is mildly processed; thus, its paste is smoother, giving a consistency like that of toothpaste. 
  • Another way to check whether your wasabi is real or fake is to check how it comes. If it comes in a tube, packet, or condiment sitting on the table, it’s most likely fake wasabi.

Celiac disease patients and those sensitive to gluten must take extra steps to ensure that they consume the real wasabi.

  1. Pick the restaurant you want to dine in and call, demanding to speak with the manager or chef, as they will be a better place to give you information on whether they offer gluten free dining. If they seem not to understand your questions about gluten-free options, then you should call another restaurant. 
  2. If the restaurant has gluten free options, then you might want to ask for gluten free tamari, as it is a substitute for the gluten-containing traditional soy sauce. Some people can make theirs at home and take it out when they go dining, so ask if that is okay with them if they do not have it. 
  3. The main course should consist of meats like beef and chicken, and seafood like crab and white fish should all be cooked with gluten free ingredients, and you can add your gluten free tamari to it. 
  4. Watch out also for imitation crab meat used in making sushi, as it is popular in California rolls. These contain gluten, which you should avoid as you dine out. 

Also, read Is Udon Gluten Free to learn what brands are gluten free.

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