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Is Tofu Gluten-Free: Here's All You Need to Know


Tofu is a healthy source of plant protein and plays an important role in vegan, vegetarian, and other diets. Recently, people have been trying to decide if tofu is keto-friendly (read this article to find out). Most of us know it is non-dairy, but does tofu have gluten in it? The answer is somewhat tricky and nuanced. It also makes all the difference for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Tofu ingredients that are gluten-free

Is there gluten in tofu? Traditional or plain tofu is generally gluten-free. It is made of only 3 ingredients: soybeans, water, and coagulant. The latter is an acidic substance that acts as a curdling agent. In other words, it's what holds the tofu together. As no wheat, rye, oats, or barley are involved in tofu making, plain tofu is free of gluten and safe for those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.

SOy-free tofu substitutes do exist. You can use many different beans, as well as chickpeas, to make substitute tofu products.

What is gluten?

Gluten is the general name that is used for all the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. It's a protein that acts as a glue and holds food together, helping it to keep its shape. It's mostly found in wheat, rye, and barley (and all of the foods that contain those ingredients) but it can also be found in oats because cross-contact can happen when oats are grown alongside wheat, barley, or rye.

Gluten is also found in triticale, which is a newer grain and is most easily described as a cross between wheat and rye, and can be found in bread, pasta, and cereals.

Gluten is problematic for people who are sensitive to it because it triggers various gut problems. These include diarrhea, bloating and flatulence, cramping, indigestion, and constipation. For people who are allergic to gluten (celiacs), the symptoms can be far more severe. Eating gluten can cause rashes, nerve damage, fatigue from malnutrition, unintentional weight loss, and disorders that affect coordination, speech, and balance.

Here is a list of where you will find gluten:

Wheat products:

  • Breads
  • Baked goods
  • Soups
  • Pasta
  • Cereals
  • Sauces
  • Salad dressings
  • Roux

Rye products:

  • Rye bread, such as pumpernickel
  • Rye beer
  • Cereals

Barley products:

  • Malt (malted barley flour, malted milk and milkshakes, malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavoring, malt vinegar)
  • Food coloring
  • Soups
  • beer
  • Brewer’s Yeast

A word on gluten and veganism

There is a common misconception that vegans aren't allowed to eat gluten. This isn't true. Gluten is found in plants - which form the basis of a vegan diet. Some vegans may choose not to eat gluten for health or diet reasons, but it's not because they 'can't' eat it. In fact, many vegans choose to eat gluten and enjoy it as much as non-vegans.

Is all tofu free of gluten?

As mentioned, traditional or plain tofu is gluten-free.

However, be careful if you are allergic - some varieties do contain gluten. Unless you’ve been on a gluten-free diet for a long time and have a thorough knowledge of what ingredients to avoid, spotting gluten in something as seemingly innocent as tofu can be challenging.

Which tofu contains gluten?

The nuances emerge when it comes to ready-flavored tofu. This can be a convenient choice if you’re in a hurry and don’t have the time or the right tofu press to drain and marinate the tofu yourself. It's easy to pick up ready-flavored tofu at the store. However, it is the flavorings or, more specifically, the marinades and sauces, that often contain hidden gluten. For example, one of the most popular tofu flavorings - soy sauce. Did you know soy actually contains wheat? Look for the gluten-free alternative called tamari, and you will be safe. Other popular condiments to avoid are brewer’s yeast, malt vinegar, and wheat flour. Also, be aware of potential cross-contamination during processing or preparation.

How to make sure your tofu is gluten-free

Luckily, most tofu brands label their products as "gluten-free". To be on the safe side, simply opt for these labels. Manufacturers use them when the gluten content in a product does not exceed 20 ppm (parts per million). Such small traces are usually safe even for people with high gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. Remember to ask for gluten-free options in restaurants, and only look up gluten-free tofu recipes online. Know your ingredients and enjoy your favorite tofu recipes safely.

There are plenty of alternatives for the ingredients you have to avoid. Make your own marinades using ginger, garlic, lemon and lime juice, white vinegar, and the many other gluten-free ingredients out there.

Is Trader Joe's tofu free of gluten?

For a long time Trader Joe's had different kinds of tofu available for purchase that were all gluten-free. These included sriracha-flavored baked tofu and organic sprouted tofu. However, it recently had to update its list and limit it to a range of food that meets the Food and Drug Administration standards for what is considered gluten-free, and it had to take its tofu off the list.

But there are other tofu brands, that are free of gluten, available:

  • House Foods Organic Tofu
  • Azumaya Tofu
  • Morinaga Tofu (Silken)
  • Nasoya Tofu

The final word on tofu's gluten status

Remember that tofu is made of beans. It contains no gluten whatsoever. You may have a problem when you buy ready-flavored tofu that has extra sauces or flavorings on it. Make sure you check the ingredients list and the labels, which should alert you to the fact that your tofu is either gluten-free or not.

Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and some oats. Make sure you're reading all your food labels and you'll be able to avoid gluten. Trace amounts are harmless.

If you're unsure about whether or not which tofu contains gluten the next time you want to buy some of this plant-based goodness, why don't you refer back to this article?

Life is always better with tofu!

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