Is Miso Soup Gluten-Free?

Miso soup is a Japanese comfort food -- similar to chicken noodle soup in the U.S. Eaten at breakfast, lunch or dinner, this savory soup is made with fermented soy beans and some type of grain, including gluten-containing barley. If you need to avoid gluten, you can find -- or make -- miso soup made with gluten-free grains.

Miso soup may not always be gluten-free. (Image: 29september/iStock/Getty Images)

What Is Gluten

Gluten is a small protein found in certain grains, including wheat, barley and rye. Eating foods that contain the protein make some people sick. Individuals with celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive tract, can't eat foods with gluten because it causes severe inflammation of the intestines, which leads to poor absorption of nutrients and malnutrition. Additionally, some people are sensitive to gluten, referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity and experience abdominal bloating and pain, as well as lethargy when they eat gluten-containing foods.

How Miso Soup Is Made

Like any recipe, many variations of miso soup exist, which makes it difficult to determine whether it's gluten-free or not, unless you make it yourself. Typically, the soup consists of the seaweed wakame, miso paste, dashi, which is a broth made up of a special type of seaweed and fermented fish, tofu and green onions.

The source of gluten comes from the miso paste, which is fermented soy bean combined with a grain, such as barley. However, some miso pastes are made with gluten-free grains, including rice or buckwheat. White and black miso paste may contain the gluten-free grains, while yellow and red miso paste are usually made with barley.

Reading Labels for Gluten Free

If you enjoy miso soup, you'll need to read food labels to help you identify those that are gluten free. Although not mandatory, some soup-makers may label theirs as gluten-free, which means the item must be made without any gluten-containing foods and is considered safe to eat for people with gluten sensitivities.

Reading the ingredients list may also help you stay away from gluten-containing miso soup. Avoid any that contain wheat, barley, modified food starch, starch or flour of any kinds. You also want to avoid any soups that contain soy sauce, which is also a source of gluten.

If you're eating out, you'll want to tell the server you need miso soup made without gluten. Given the prevalence of food allergies and sensitivities, most restaurants should be able to cater to your needs.

Make Your Own Gluten-Free Miso Soup

Making your own miso soup gives you the most control over what's in it, which is especially important when you're trying to avoid gluten. With the exception of miso paste, all of the ingredients in the soup are already naturally gluten-free. Reading the label and finding a miso paste made with rice or buckwheat helps ensure you avoid the problematic protein.

The gluten-free miso pastes may have a different flavor than the ones made with barley, and you may need to play around with the recipe to create the flavor that works for you. For example, white miso, which is made with rice and fermented soy bean, has a mild flavor, and you may want to add a touch of tamari for depth. Or, combine the white miso and black miso, which is a highly flavorful paste made with buckwheat, to create the right taste.

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