03/30/2015 04:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Hidden Sources of Gluten to Avoid When Dining Out

Marco_Ficili via Getty Images

by Justina Huddleston, food writer for the Menuism Blog

When you have a gluten sensitivity, sometimes dining out feels like no fun. Even less fun? Accidentally eating gluten and feeling like garbage later because of it. When in doubt, ask your server about how your food is prepared. Make things even easier on yourself by heading to the restaurant knowing these unlikely places gluten might be hiding in your next meal.


Most soy sauce contains wheat. This can make Asian dining in general tricky -- teriyaki, hoisin and even miso usually contain gluten. But at your local sushi joint, there's another culprit to watch out for: imitation crab meat.

Also known as crab stick, Krab, or sometimes (mistakenly) kani, imitation crab meat can throw a wrench in your gluten-free diet. Crab stick is made of fish paste and starch (usually wheat), along with flavorings, salt and sometimes MSG, which can also contain gluten. Crab stick is almost always used in California rolls. For the safest bet, treat yourself to the real thing. Your taste buds will thank you, too.

Sauces and Soups

While most people know that soy sauce contains gluten, it's not the only sauce that can contain wheat ingredients. Many cream sauces, soups and gravies are thickened using a roux, a mixture of wheat flour and fat. But don't be fooled into thinking that only "creamy" sauces use this technique -- even dishes like boeuf bourguignon and chicken marsala can contain wheat flour. Avoid the obvious culprits, like alfredo sauce and clam chowder, but if you aren't sure about what's in your meal, make sure to ask your server to check with the kitchen to see if your meal is being prepared with gluten-free ingredients.

French Fries

Fan of fries? This might disappoint you. Those shatteringly crisp fries at your favorite gastropub could be tossed with flour, making them a big no-no. Troublingly, if you're very sensitive to gluten you may want to avoid fried foods all together. Battered and flour-dusted foods can contaminate the oil in the fryer, so that when otherwise gluten-free foods are cooked, they're tainted.

Hot Chocolate and Coffee

If you're eating at a diner or dive, beware -- instant cocoa and coffee mixes sometimes contain wheat in the form of starch, used to add bulk to the mixture. The same goes for non-dairy creamers and beverage flavoring syrups. You'll also want to watch out for beverages that contain malt or caramel color, which is usually derived from wheat sources.


Yes, eggs are gluten-free. However, you need to be careful when scarfing them down at restaurants, rather than the safety of your own kitchen. Some chain and buffet establishments add baking mix or even pancake batter to their scrambled eggs and omelets to make them nice and fluffy. At a more upscale eatery you probably don't need to worry, but as always, it's better to err on the side of caution and just ask.

Related Links from the Menuism Blog:
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26 Crazy Bloody Marys, from A to Z
• The New Face of Chinese Dining in the United States
• Wine Ratings: Why the Points Don't Matter

5 Hidden Sources of Gluten to Avoid When Dining Out originally published on the Menuism Blog.

Justina Huddleston is a food writer living in Los Angeles. When she's not writing for Menuism or SheKnows, she spends her time in the kitchen creating both virtuous and decidedly junky vegan food. Buffalo chickpea pizza, anyone? She's also been known to eat a plain block of tofu or beans straight out of the can for lunch, but somehow those culinary adventures don't make it to her Instagram. You can follow Justina on Twitter or see what's cooking in her kitchen on her blog A Life of Little Pleasures.