Japan is known for its delicious and diverse food culture, but for those with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease, finding gluten-free snacks can be a challenge. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, is present in many popular Japanese snacks such as Pocky, Umaibo, dorayaki, and manju. However, those on a gluten-free diet still have plenty of sweet and savory Japanese snacks to choose from.
Rice is an essential part of any Japanese meal, so it comes as no surprise that many Japanese snacks are made from rice flour known as mochiko. Rice crackers are one such example. Known as senbei, okaki, or arare depending on their size, these crackers come in various flavors and are widely available in supermarkets and convenience stores across Japan.
Because rice crackers are made from rice flour, many can be gluten-free. However not all senbei receive a gluten-free stamp of approval. Many rice crackers are flavored with soy sauce, which often contains gluten, so it’s always recommended to check the label before sampling the latest new flavor. For those looking for a gluten-free rice cracker with the perfect balance of bitter and sweet, consider Kuramaan’s Matcha Arare flavored with green tea from Kyoto.
Perhaps the most well-known traditional Japanese snack outside of Japan is mochi. Mochi is another snack made from glutinous rice flour, making it a popular gluten-free option. Mochi is often filled with sweet red bean paste and can be found in various forms such as daifuku (mochi with a fruit filling) or dango (mochi skewered on a stick). Just like rice crackers, mochi can be flavored with soy sauce, so it's best to always read the ingredient list before taking a bite of these chewy sweets.
Purin (Japanese Pudding)
Another popular and trendy sweet snack is Japanese pudding, otherwise known as “purin”. Those who have had the pleasure of sampling purin will know that it differs from pudding cups found in the West. Purin is a Japanese take on custard pudding and is more similar to crème caramel or flan than it is to American pudding. Those with gluten allergies can rejoice as purin, made with only eggs, sugar, and milk, is entirely gluten-free!
For those looking for an unprocessed option, dried fruits are a filling and naturally gluten-free snack! While dried fruits are not unique to Japan, certain fruits grown in the land of the rising sun can introduce surprising new flavors to those with a more Western palate.
Two of the most popular dried fruits in Japan are hoshigaki (dried persimmons) and sour citrus yuzu peels. Hoshigaki is a sweet, jammy treat often enjoyed in Winter , while yuzu is a beloved citrus fruit that's described as as cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit.
While finding gluten-free snacks in Japan may seem like a challenge, there's a surprisingly wide range of delicious options! From rice crackers to Japanese cheesecake, there are plenty of tasty Japanese snacks that cater to those on a gluten-free diet. Next time you're in Japan, don't hesitate to indulge in some of these delicious gluten-free snacks to satisfy your cravings.
About the author:
Kimberly Matsuno is a professional content writer and editor from the US. Having spent several years living in the Japanese countryside, Kimberly holds a particular fondness for Japanese culture and cuisine—particularly anything made with shiso. You can view more of her work at kimberlymatsuno.com.