Gluten Free In Korea


gluten free in Korea

I started seeing an acupuncturist, and I love him. I’ve always liked acupuncture but hadn’t found someone since I had moved. One of the things he said was that I needed to remove my toenail polish because my liver breathes through my toenails (everyone’s does – FYI – not just mine). I thought that was interesting, and in doing research I found this article. For me it’s no big deal to have naked toes so I’ve decided to give that a go. The other thing he said was a lot harder. He told me… to eat less wheat.

I kind of wanted to die a little inside when he said that. It was like a flash back to 2001 when I figured out I was lactose intolerant and literally sobbed, grieving over my loss of cheese, yoghurt, ice cream…I digress.

So – I’ve been starting to remove gluten from my diet. Slowly.

I haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease, or a gluten allergy/intolerance, so this information is more of a “Hey yeah, let’s try less wheat”. For those of you who are interested, here are some resources I have found for a less gluten-y life here in Seoul.

I’m going to use gluten and wheat interchangeably, using mostly the word “gluten.”

Living in South Korea, I was especially concerned. I don’t speak Korean or read it well, and the concept of gluten-free is still sort of new for a lot of people. Don’t Fret! I found some great stuff to share, and Korea is catching on. Here’s an article from the Korea Herald about the rise of gluten free in K-town and another amazing one from Seoulist Magazine on Korean foods and gluten free options.

Online Resources has some just amazing things. In addition to a plethora of information – they have created cards to give to hotels and restaurants to help them explain what sorts of things they can and cannot eat. Here is a link to the Korean card, which you can download for free.  (English translation here)

Gluten Free Passport also offers a Korean restaurant card that has some more specific-to-Korea food suggestions/limitations.

And frankly just doing a web search for “Gluten free Seoul” or “gluten free Korea” or “Laurel is awesome” (just kidding) will give you more info than I could ever share.

 There’s an App For That

Here are some links to gluten-free apps (paid and free) for you mobile device. They’re not necessarily related to Korea, or Korean food, but they may help in shopping, shipping, and other knowledge.

Gluten-Free iPhone Apps to Help You Shop, Eat Out

Top 5 Free Vegan And Gluten-Free iPhone Apps

Android and Apple Gluten Free apps

Apps for Gluten Free Eating

Eating out

Bi Bim Bap


click image for source

Here are some typical Korean foods that generally don’t have gluten in them:

Bi Bim Bap  – typically isn’t cooked with a lot of soy sauce which actually usually does contain gluten

Kam Ja Tang – A hearty stew made with potatoes and pork bones

Too Boo Kimchee – A plate of warm tofu and kimchee, often served with soju

Bee Gee Chee Gay – A thick stew made from the skins of the soybeans

Soon Doo Boo Chee Gay – A spicy soup made with soft tofu, clams, egg, and vegetables

Jhap Chay – A dish of clear noodles mixed with various vegetables; the noodles are made of sweet potatoes, this is common in Jeollado and in Chinese restaurants in Korea

Ahl Bap – Fish eggs and vegetables mixed with rice; a bit like bibimbap

Kim Chee Boke Um Bap – Kimchi fried rice

Cham Chee Boke Um Bap – Stir-fried tuna and kimchee with rice

Saeng Sun Gooey – Grilled fish

Cham Chee Kimbap – Tuna and vegetables rolled in rice and seaweed; beef kimbap should also be OK

Noo Duh Kimbap – Vegetables and other ingredients rolled in seaweed and rice with the rice facing out. Watch out for ham, odeng, and artificial crab meat, though.

Mae Oon Tang – Spicy stew made with whole fish

Tokk Gook – Flat round rice cakes in a thin broth, commonly served on Lunar New Year’s Day

Tole Sut Bap – Rice and vegetables served in a hot stone bowl

Say Ooh Cheot – Salted shrimp, used as a seasoning for pork or for making kimchee. This is really a condiment, not a meal.

So Long Tang – A soup made from beef broth, spring onions, rice, salt, and red pepper paste. There are usually noodles in this dish, but often they are , which are sweet potato noodles, be sure to ask.

Tak Jook – Thick porridge made from chicken broth, sticky rice, ginseng, garlic and salt

All Tang – Spicy soup made from fish eggs, red pepper, spring onions and other seasonings

Jang Oh Goo Ee – Marinated and barbecued eel filets wrapped in lettuce

Sam Gye Tang – A whole chicken stuffed with rice, jujubes, garlic and ginseng and boiled whole

임실치즈피자 Im Sil Cheese Pizza -Made with 100% rice flour

Soju – made with sweet potatoes

Shopping – Gluten: It’s Everywhere

gluten freeIf you’re really going to be strict, or just have a casual interest in knowing, gluten is in just about everything. Aside from the obvious, bread, most baked goods, white flour, wheat flours, and spelt, gluten also hides in dressings, sauces, imitation fish, beer, soy sauce, candy, popsicles, snack foods, and even in lunch meats and hot dogs. If you’re shopping in a grocery store, and the words “Gluten-Free”are not on the package, it probably has gluten hiding in it, or processed in a facility where there may be gluten contamination.

In Korean grocery stores, especially larger ones, there are more and more gluten free products that are labeled in English. Usually the organic section has options including snacks, cereal, and various flours. I have also found that the regular baking section has many flours needed to create a gluten free all purpose flour.

Beware: many brands of soy sauce contain wheat. Joseon soy sauce is gluten free (or was as of 2011); Kikkoman has a gluten free line of sauces, and some varieties of tamari are gluten free (available in both regular and low sodium formulas). Always check the ingredients list to be sure.

Again, if you’re serious about no gluten – if it doesn’t say “Certified Gluten Free” don’t buy it.

Editor’s Note: One of the best resources I have found for navigating US grocery stores is this Gluten Free Grocery Guide. The company publishes an updated edition each year, and is fully comprehensive. They also have a restaurant guide by state, but that’s likely not much help if you’re looking for a good restaurant in Seoul or Daegu.

Makin’ it Yourself

gluten free in Korea

If you like to bake, or want to try to bake gluten free – there are a ton of great resources online. One of my favorites is The Gluten Free Girl she has a wealth of knowledge to share. I could wax poetic about how much I love her. Her writing is just great, and she has spent so much of her life sharing her knowledge with the Internet about gluten free living.

I started with her when I was trying to decide what route I wanted to go with baking. She has videos and examples of how to mix your own gluten free flour, as well as this awesome guide on different commercial gluten free flours as well as details on the options, how to use them, and why.

One thing to note: when mixing your own flours it’s better to use a scale in grams than using cups. Here’s why. Kitchen scales are easy to come by and fairly cheap. Luckily we already had one that I stole from my husband.

First of all, it’s a lot easier to find the ingredients to make your own gluten free flour at home in Korean markets than I expected. If you have access to the Yongsan Base, then there are a lot of gluten free alternatives in the commissary, including a lot of Bob’s Red Mill flours and grains which can help. There are also several gluten free products, crackers, cookies, cake mixes, pasta, and cereals.

I wanted to try to make my own Gluten Free flour because I do a lot of baking. I’m going to experiment with some different ratios of mixing. Typically All Purpose flour is a combination of 40% whole grain and 60% white flours/starches. Here’s a breakdown of some options.

I was able to find the following items on base in the commissary:

Bob’s Red Mill: Dairy free, Gluten free All Purpose Baking Flour, Coconut Flour, Almond Meal/Flour, Organic Whole Grain Quinoa Flour, Stone Ground Flour, and White Rice flour. I believe they have some more options but I haven’t purchased them yet.

In a Korean Lotte Supermarket: Lotte Brand Sweet potato starch and potato starch, and perilla seed powder.

I’m going to try different combinations of my whole grains with my starches to see what works. I tried this cornbread recipe with the pre made All purpose Gluten Free flour and I didn’t like it at all. The flour mix is mainly Fava Bean flour – and I think that just doesn’t taste right to me. My husband liked it. I will try the mix with some more sweet options and see how it comes out.

gluten free in Korea

Side Note. So you’re like “What is Perilla Seed Powder?!”and I’m like “It’s a mistake, I mean, a really exciting new prospect.” So I thought I was buying psyllium husk – which is in that corn bread recipe. And I was all proud of myself for remembering the weird name, finding something that I had never really heard of, and it was in a Korean market. Pro Tip: just because they both start with “P”doesn’t make them the same. Perilla Seed Powder is made from the perilla plant, common in Korean cooking. Oops! Which I will now experiment with! But probably not in my baking. Psyllium Husk is used to add fiber, I substituted with Flax Meal instead, which I had on hand.

As for cooking in general – here’s how I started. Tacos are a staple in my house so I switched to corn tortillas. I stopped making pasta and served my ragu sauce over cheesy polenta. Typical “starch” sides are quinoa or rice. I use rice noodles, especially with my Asian themed dishes. Lentils, beans, and a LOT of veggies go along with the rest of our meals. Burgers get served “protein style”wrapped in lettuce. When I’m lazy, Amy’s Rice Mac & Cheese or their Rice Crust pizza are great options. I’m still learning, still growing, and still trying.


Gluten Free Girl

Gluten Free Goddess

Gluten Free on a Shoestring Budget

Elena’s Pantry

BBC Good Food

Editor’s Note: If you do a web search for “paleo recipes” or “grain free recipes” you’ll find another huge source of recipes that are by and large naturally gluten free without needing to use many gluten free substitutes for regular products.

Ordering Online

gluten free in Korea

Amazon offers a huge selection of gluten free items. A quick search of “gluten free”returned 134,537 results and OMFG Bisquick makes a gluten free mix. Hello shopping cart.

Amazon ships to both APO addresses as well as South Korea through their Amazon Global shipping. For APO addresses, Amazon Prime ships free and typically arrives within 7-10 days. Note though, their returns policy does not include food items (I learned this the hard way —there was a Chestnut Emergency in 2013 so when we arrived here I went a little overboard. Anyone want some chestnuts?)  is a great company that ships internationally for free for orders over $40.00. Their regular shipping seems to be about $4.00 internationally, so that’s a great deal.

Bob’s Red Mill which is sold on base in a small quantity, also ships internationally and to APO addresses.

Note: For some reason, some food products cannot be shipped to APO addresses or internationally. Some companies (even ones through Amazon) will also not ship to APO addresses. Keep trying though!

I hope this helps. Good luck being all gluten-less. For those of you state side, please go to In-N-Out and order a “Double Double with cheese, protein style, no sauce” for me with a side of fries.

Editor’s Note: Heather here. As the parent of a child with celiac disease our family is very familiar with this lifestyle, as the only treatment for this autoimmune disease is a 100% gluten free diet. Cross-contamination at eateries outside our own kitchen is our family’s biggest challenge, and navigating a strict diet in a foreign country can be a huge obstacle to overcome. 

For those who have been eating gluten free in Korea, we’d love to hear your stories, tips and tricks for living gluten free here. Please share in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Gluten Free In Korea

  1. Diane says:

    This is excellent information. I have been GA for 3 years and was apprehensive about visiting my son in Korea. But I think it will be fine with this information. Thanks. One question, do they have lactose free milk in the stores?


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