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!
Lastly, make sure you don’t miss my other post on the 8 scenarios in which potatoes are NOT gluten free!
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, Risotto & 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. And make sure to check out my GUIDE: How To Make Risotto Like and Italian (and keep it Dairy 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! Share this information on Instagram and Facebook, save it on your favorite Pinterest board and subscribe to my weekly newsletter so that you never miss a post!!
Lots of love and ciao!
I send you all a big kiss and I will catch you next time!
What about the different types of rice grains?all are safe to use?
Ciao Irene, yes, plain, unprocessed rice is always gluten free. Even the Thai varietal called “Gutinous Rice” is actually gluten free and the name only refers to the facts that the grains are quite sticky. Beware or rice mixes as they often contain other grains, and rice labeled as “wheat-free”as it might come from a manufacturer where they process products containing gluten.
I hope you enjoyed the article!! 🙂
I have been told recently that I have a food sensitivity to wheat gluten. I have substituted rice of many kinds. I
recently bought the Cedar’s Black Rice. It was recommended on the package to visit their website, which I did.
It stated that the rice had gluten in its make-up. My question is: Is rice gluten the same as wheat gluten?
Thank you. Raylene
Hi Raylene, this is a really great question. I did take a look at the page you are referring to on the Cedar Phoenicia brand’s website and I am inclined to believe that they made a mistake writing copy for their own site. As a matter of fact, Chinese black rice – like other rice varieties – is a naturally gluten-free grain, but because, when cooked, it has a sticky texture (also referred to as “glutinous”) they might have made a mistake using the word “gluten” improperly. You can write to the brand to verify this information, or simply switch to another brand of black rice that has a clear gluten free label on their package.
Ugh! Thank you Ambra. Makes so much sense now!
Kathy, thanks so much for reading!
I am so glad you found this useful. It took me a long time to figure this out (actually, rice boiled in the pasta pot is something that just happened to me last week here in Italy… I was at a gastronomic store and wanted to get plain rice, but fortunately the person who cooked was there and she told me that wasn’t sage for me to eat.
Have a great day!
interesting and rather misleading title… as the point you are trying to make is that the rice itself may well be fine, but IT IS WHAT IS DONE WITH IT IN A MIX OR THE PREPARATION, that causes the problem not the rice.So in restaurants ask how a dish is prepared and with what ingredients. When grocery shopping and you pick up a package of seasoned rice- beware- it it is likely to not be gf unless, like Lundbergs from CA, it is GF and free of cross contamination..
Thanks for clarifying Sybil! Yes, it’s always better to ask a million times as often not even the people who work in the kitchen are aware of how the dish is prepared… Now I can only imagine how many times I had boiled rice that was boiled in a pasta pot 🙁
I have never encountered that – but 1) I never order rice as a side dish, usually just veeggies, and 2) the only place I do get rice is a gf chinese place that is superb and their rice is made in a huge steamer. I have been told rice has been prepared with a broth or or added orzo- like Rice-a-Roni, so I ask what kind of broth. Also if that pasta pot was clean to start with and not reused after cooking pasta- it would not be a problem. Clean pots and pans are key- most places clean a pot before it goes back on the shelf.
Lol, I hope so 😉 I would not want to eat in a place where they don’t clean the pot. When I meant is that often times restaurants use a big pot of water to boil multiple foods: pasta first, then they drain it and cook rice in the same water. I always ask even when I order boiled vegetables… And one time I was told the green beans were boiled in the pasta pot in the water previously used to boil spaghetti. You always need to double check 🙁
This is a very good point. I believe it is fairly common for a restaurant to have a pot of hot water on the stove that they use for heating up several items. This could include vegetables, and the partially cooked extremely aldente pasta, and whatever else a quick dip in hot water would do for. These are most likely just topped off with fresh water when they get low rather than washed between dips.
So glad you found this useful Donnie!
Oh wow! I did not know this!
Your post has answered a lot of my questions. Somedays I feel like I am banging my head against a wall after I go out and eat something, thinking it’s rice etc, why did it make me sick? Ahhhh this could be why.
Thanks so much for the feedback Jacinta! I am so glad you found this helpful!!
Hi I was just diagnosed with celiac I came across your article and it was beneficial im a huge rice eater , I usually do it in a rice cook pot not sure if that’s ok ? I use brands such as mahatma, Costco white rice and sometimes basmati is that ok? any info you can give me id appreciate it thank you .
Thanks so much for the great feedback Vivian! Yes, as long as you cook rice in a safe gluten free environment (like your house) and you read the labels well on the type of rice you buy that is totally ok!
This is a great article! Thank you for figuring this all out and for taking the time to write this all out!
So glad you found this helpful, Joy! Thanks so much for letting me know!
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