Is dim sum gluten-free? What about other types of Chinese food – are they gluten-free as well? If you are a fan of Chinese food and are embarking on a gluten-free diet, you likely want to know more about what types of Chinese food you can consume safely and what kinds you can’t. In this post, we will focus predominantly on dim sum. However, we will also explore other types of Chinese food and how you can best avoid gluten when enjoying them.
So, without further ado, let’s get into today’s topic.
Table of Contents
- Dim Sum Gluten Free?
- Gluten Free Chinese Food Guide
- Gluten Free Chinese Food Recipes: Gluten Free Stir Fry
- Is Dim Sum Gluten Free? Not Exactly…
Dim Sum Gluten Free?
Generally speaking, all dim sum cannot be considered gluten-free. But it is possible that some types of dim sum are.
“Dim sum” relates to a type of Chinese food that is served in small portions often along with tea. It is a wide array of dishes often enjoyed for brunch.
Though the term dim sum relates to a variety of dishes, many of the components of dim sum stay relatively consistent. These quaint meals are often accompanied by seafood, meats, vegetables, dumplings, wrappings, and rice noodle rolls. Desserts, soups, and other accompaniments such as steamed vegetables may also be served, usually at the same time as the rest of the other meals since the consumption of dim sum does not usually follow a particular sequence.
With all of this in mind, it is easy to see how the lines can get blurred when looking to find a dim sum that is gluten-free. Because there are an infinite number of dim sum dishes that are sold in today’s modern restaurants, it is near impossible to give you a definitive “yes” or “no” when it comes to whether or not dim sum is gluten-free.
What we can say is that you should err on the side of caution when choosing to enjoy these popular Chinese meals. These are the reasons why:
When eating dim sum, bear in mind that many meals you are eating may or may not have ingredients lurking in them that contain wheat. In the next segment of this post, we’ll be breaking down those ingredients in detail. But for now, the most concerning ingredients when it comes to dodging gluten in dim sum include soy, dumplings, wheat wraps, and wheat noodles.
Check the ingredients of what you choose to eat. And if you aren’t sure what you’re eating, then don’t take the risk.
Variation of Recipes
Because there are so many varieties of small dishes that can potentially be served for dim sum, it may be very hard for you to detect what is in each dish. It’ll be hard to ensure it’s okay for your diet and health to consume.
If you can, check with the waiter and explain your concerns. See if they can bring you a dim sum dish that is gluten-free.
If they are unable (which may be the case because even soy sauce has gluten) then you may have to forgo your dim sum and opt to eat something else.
Along with variation of recipes comes unknown ingredients, especially if you are taste-testing.
To avoid any surprises, we recommend you only eat a dim sum dish that you are familiar with and that you are sure is gluten-free.
Popular gluten-free ingredients that may be included in dim sum include:
- taro dumplings
- taro cake
- tofu pudding
- sticky rice bundles
- plain rice
- rice noodles.
There are other ingredients that would also be considered gluten-free including tamari soy sauce.
But unless you know that your dim sum is made with these gluten-free ingredients, we don’t recommend you take any risks.
Aside from knowing what’s in your dim sum, you also have to worry about how your dim sum dish was prepared.
Cross-contamination happens when gluten from wheat-containing products make its way into an otherwise gluten-free dish. This can happen in any setting or restaurant, unless the restaurant goes out of its way to ensure it doesn’t. And while many restaurants today are becoming more well–versed in gluten-free cooking and how to prevent cross-contamination, not all restaurants adhere to these guidelines.
Thus, consuming even “gluten-free” dim sum can come with risks if the restaurant or place where you are consuming the dim sum isn’t taking the right precautions to ensure your dish stays safe.
Gluten Free Chinese Food Guide
Now that you’re a little more familiar with why dim sum may not be the best option for individuals that live a gluten-free lifestyle, it is now time to focus our attention on Chinese food in general.
If you have gluten sensitivity or have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, it is likely that dining out at places you are unfamiliar with is a source of anxiety for you.
When it comes to eating at Asian restaurants, not only should you be careful of what is in your dish, but you should be sure that the lines of communication are open as well. If the staff is unable to understand your requests or if you are unable to understand the staff, it may be best to ask for help or not to continue eating at the place. For those with Celiac Disease and those with extreme sensitivity, it is imperative that your server knows and understands your dietary needs in order for you to best guard your health.
Once the lines of communication are established, you should be diligent to learn more about what’s in your food. And also, by what method your Chinese food is prepared.
Let’s go over some of the ingredients you’ll need to watch for when ordering Chinese food if you are on a gluten-free diet:
Many Chinese food restaurants have dishes that feature delicious and flavorful sweet and umami-flavored sauces to top meat, veggies, wraps, and dumplings.
Though an Asian staple, many of these delectable sauces are made thick with the help of flour.
It is because of this that you need to be careful when consuming sauces from any restaurant, especially if the sauce appears thick. There is a chance that the sauce was thickened using flour.
You may already know this. But in case you don’t, your average soy sauce may contain wheat. And while there are certainly other soy sauce options out there that those with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivities may consume, they aren’t regularly used in your typical Chinese establishment.
Therefore, because most dishes are made with soy sauce in Chinese dining, you must be deliberate to either avoid foods with soy or ask that no soy sauce is added to your food.
Bear in mind, however, that not all individuals with gluten sensitivities react negatively to soy sauce. So it may be the case that one person reacts differently to soy than the other when it comes to this particular condiment.
The Dumplings (and Wrappings)
This will probably come as no surprise, but the dumplings and wrappings on dim sum and other Chinese cuisine items are major offenders when it comes to eating gluten-free.
These wrappings and dumpling shells often combine flour with other ingredients which makes these wrappings a major no-no.
Still, you may be able to find some dim sum recipes that use gluten-free wraps (such as rice and taro wraps) but don’t bank on this being the case.
As always, you should ask whoever is serving your meal beforehand about the ingredients to avoid ingesting gluten that may make you sick.
Last but not least, be sure to keep an eye out for breading on foods when consuming dim sum.
In most cases, the breading will be made up of flour. But in some cases, you may get lucky and find that the breading is made of cornstarch (which is considered gluten-free).
No matter what is the case, however, you should be aware that even fried and breaded gluten-free Chinese cuisine is often cooked in the same oil or pan with gluten-containing foods. This makes the chances of exposure to gluten still very possible.
Gluten Free Chinese Food Recipes: Gluten Free Stir Fry
Worried about in-person dining affecting your gluten-free diet? Why not make your own Asian cuisine at home?
Try this delicious gluten-free stir fry recipe to satisfy your craving for Chinese food when you can’t dine out.
- ½ cup chicken broth
- ¼ cup gluten-free soy sauce (try San-J Tamari Soy Sauce)
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ tsp powdered ginger
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional, or a sweet chili sauce substitute)
Meat and Veggies
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into strips or 1-inch cubes
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp oil,
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
- ½ cup carrots, shredded or thinly sliced
- 2 tsp minced garlic
How to Make Gluten Free Chinese Stir Fry
- Make sauce
In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together all of the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
- Season chicken
Season your chicken with salt and pepper before heating a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil to your pan and wait for it to become hot.
- Cook chicken
Once hot, add your chicken to the pan, sautéing until fully cooked through. Once finished, place your chicken on a clean plate and set it to the side.
- Add and cook veggies
In the same skillet, add more oil and toss in your stir fry vegetables. Cook until the vegetables start to become tender at about 5 minutes. Add your garlic and cook for an additional minute.
- Put together
Add the chicken back to the pan and top with the sauce you set aside earlier. Heat the mixture until boiling and then reduce the heat. Allow your stir fry to simmer in the sauce until it has become fragrant and thick.
Serve with rice. Enjoy!
Is Dim Sum Gluten Free? Not Exactly…
So, is dim sum gluten-free? Not exactly. Though some types of dim sum may be gluten-free, it is highly unlikely that most are.
Not only are many dim sum dishes going to have wheat lurking in the ingredients, but many dim sums are going to be contaminated with gluten through cross-contamination with other dim sum foods.
Unless you are lucky enough to find a Chinese restaurant that is very knowledgeable and meticulous about serving gluten-free meals, your best bet might be to avoid dim sum altogether. Opt for making your own rendition of your favorite Chinese dishes in the comfort (and safety) of your own home.
We hope you found this helpful – See you soon!
It is possible that you’ll find some types of dim sum that are gluten-free, but due to the factors mentioned in this post, we do not recommend you try eating dim sum without knowing exactly what’s in it, and how it was prepared if you are gluten sensitive.
Some types of dim sum dishes are made of flour. Remember also that soy contains wheat, and that soy is a major ingredient in most Chinese cuisine.
No, dumplings are not typically gluten-free. They are usually made from wheat flour and thus should be avoided by people with Celiac Disease or that have gluten sensitivities.
Rice noodles, fried rice, brown rice, white rice, steamed meat, and veggies all tend to be gluten-free. However, many sauces may contain gluten. Some Asian restaurants accommodate gluten-free patrons by offering at least one or two dishes that may be gluten-free, so be sure to ask your server if you are requiring these options.