Is Japchae Gluten-Free?

Have you ever had the urge to try japchae only to wonder “is japchae gluten-free”? Dining out with Celiac can be pretty stressful if you don’t know the ingredients you’re getting in your meal. Even communicating your dietary needs can be intimidating, especially when entering a new environment of food you’ve never tried before. 

For those who want to venture out – but are reluctant to – this is for you. We’ll be taking a brief  look into Korean cuisine so you can have the knowledge and confidence that your next meal is gluten-free! 

Before getting too deep into it though, I do want to say that if you’re looking for more gluten-free restaurant guides then you’ll definitely want to download my FREE Gluten-Free Restaurant Cheat Sheets.

These cheat sheets come with gluten-free and cross-contact guides to different common USA restaurant chains and cuisines to help you simplify dining out. Be sure to grab your cheat sheets here!

P.s. this blog post was drafted by dietetic intern Jovelle Magapan and revised by celiac dietitian, Tayler Silfverduk.

Table of Contents

Picture of noodles and vegetables in a bowl with a hand holding chopsticks over it at the top of the page. This is all on a light pink background with a bold text writing "can japchae be gluten-free?" with body text under saying "for more visit:, This is a popular Korean dish that uses gluten-free glass noodles with a variety of meats and vegetables The glass noodles used are made of vegetable starch (potato, mung bean, or peas) and water - all of which are GF! Soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil are used for flavoring. To make it a true GF dish, opt for GF soy sauce or tamari and prepare it free from cross-contact."

What is Gluten?

Before we can know if Japchae is gluten-free, we need to know what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, contaminated oats, and wheat. It may be helpful to remember the acronym “BROW” when trying to remember what foods have gluten.

In baked goods, gluten holds things together working as a binding agent. It gives texture and chew to foods.

Most people can safely eat gluten. However, some people have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease which means they need to avoid gluten. It can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea and nausea as well as nonintestinal symptoms such as rashes, headaches, or joint pain.

What is Japchae?

Before we can talk about if Japchae is gluten-free, we also need to know what it is. Japchae (pronounced chaap-chay) is a popular Korean cuisine where I’m sure many ask “is japchae gluten-free?”.

The dish uses gluten-free glass noodles with a variety of meats and vegetables. Meats may include beef, chicken, or pork while vegetables tend to include things like mushroom, carrot, cabbage, onion, garlic, etc.

This dish can also be made vegetarian by simply omitting the meat. It’s typically prepared as stir fry with sauce made from soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil. Japchae can be served as a main course or banchan, a small side dish.

Is Korean Japchae Healthy?

Gluten-free japchae can be healthy, but first I want to address that the term “healthy” is variable from person to person. “Healthy” for one individual may look different for another.

Generally speaking, japchae is a healthy Korean dish due to its combination of protein (meat), starchy roots (glass noodles), and vegetables (carrots, mushroom, etc). It has a variety of macro and micronutrients to nourish the body.

Instead of maintaining the focus on “healthy” vs. “unhealthy”, let’s shift the focus to the array of nutrients japchae provides. If made with both meat and vegetables, japchae can provide lots of potassium, iron, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, magnesium, vitamin A, biotin, vitamin C, and so much more! These nutrients are all essential in maintaining everyday bodily functions. 

On the other hand, japchae encompasses the culture of Korea. Meals act as the center of family bonding experiences and as a connection to bridge people and their differences. After all, food is more than just the sum of its nutrients! And Japchae can be healthy simply because it helps people connect to Korean culture.

Picture of noodles and vegetables in a bowl with a hand holding chopsticks over it at the top of the page. This is all on a light pink background with a bold text writing "can japchae be gluten-free?" with body text under saying "for more visit:, This is a popular Korean dish that uses gluten-free glass noodles with a variety of meats and vegetables The glass noodles used are made of vegetable starch (potato, mung bean, or peas) and water - all of which are GF! Soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil are used for flavoring. To make it a true GF dish, opt for GF soy sauce or tamari and prepare it free from cross-contact."

Is Japchae Gluten-Free?

The question “is japchae gluten-free?” has a somewhat tricky answer. It’s because japchae is usually stir fried with soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil. Soy sauce does have gluten if it’s brewed with wheat, and finding a 100% soy-based soy sauce can be difficult.

As previously mentioned, japchae is made with glass noodles (also known as cellophane noodles). These noodles are  made of vegetable starch and water. Starch sources only come from potatoes, mung beans, or peas – all of which are naturally gluten-free! You will never find glass noodles made with wheat starch, and many glass noodles packages have a gluten-free claim on them.

If ordering in a restaurant, you’ll want to see if they use gluten-free soy sauce, or if they can use a gluten-free soy sauce that you bring. If not, you can always season your food with soy sauce packets after they cook it. I like to travel around with gluten-free soy sauce packets for this reason (affiliate link).

You’ll also want to check to make sure the noodles haven’t been made in shared water with gluten containing noodles. Sometimes restaurants may share boiling water to cook different noodles.

Other ingredients in japchae (including the sesame oil and brown sugar) are gluten-free if prepared correctly with cross-contact precautions in mind. Which brings us to our next question…

Do Sweet Potatoes Have Gluten?

Gluten-free japchae is made with glass noodles. These noodles can be made from sweet potatoes giving them a slightly sweeter flavor. Sweet potatoes, like other potatoes, are naturally gluten-free as well. Japchae can be a gluten-free dish so long as ingredients do not contain or come into contact with gluten and don’t contain gluten.

Where Can You Buy Gluten-Free Japchae?

You can buy gluten-free japchae from your local Korean restaurants. Keep in mind that it is very important to communicate your needs like requesting your order be made without soy sauce and with fresh water.

Additionally, call the restaurant and ask questions about cross-contact precautions, notify them of your dietary needs, and request your order be made with freshly cleaned or gluten-free dedicated equipment (more on this later).

You may even bring your own gluten-free soy sauce to add to the japchae. Still feeling a little unsure about dining out or ordering takeout? Read this blog post on How To Dine Out with Celiac Disease.

As for pre-packaged japchae at retailer grocery stores? Unfortunately, most of these tend to contain gluten due to the sauce. Hopefully in the future, grocery stores will start stocking pre-made gluten-friendly japchae.

So if you’re not ordering Japchae from a store or restaurant, you’ll have to make it yourself. We’ll talk more about that later too.

light pink background with a picture of glass noodles in a brown bowl in the bottom left corner of the picture and a picture of egg noodles in the top right of the picture with bold text stating "glass noodles vs. other noodles" with body text describing the differences.

Glass Noodles vs. Other Noodles

Gluten-free japchae is made with glass noodles composed of vegetable starch and water. It gets the word “glass” in its name because they’re translucent when cooked. Not only does this make it a unique sight, but it gives it an interesting texture and flavor, too!

When making japchae, glass noodles are typically boiled first. During this the noodles absorb the water giving them a chewy and bouncy texture. Once stir fried, the noodles become almost “slippery” while maintaining that chewy texture.

Also, cooked glass noodles are virtually flavorless if made without sauce. If you’re looking to buy glass noodles to make japchae at home, check this product out (affiliate link)!

Noodles are frequently used in various Asian dishes. Some other noodles you might come across include egg, ramen, somen, soba, and many more.

  • Egg noodles are typically made of egg and wheat flour. They are flat, long, and take on a mild yellow pigment from the egg.
  • Ramen noodles are made of wheat flour, kansui, water, and flour and generally thin.
  • Somen noodles are made of wheat flour and water, and are very thin.
  • Soba noodles are made of buckwheat flour and water, and tend to be brown in color.

It’s important to know the different type of noodles you might encounter so you know what’s safe and when you might need to manage cross-contact.

Are Vermicelli and Glass Noodles the Same?

Gluten-free japchae is made possible with glass noodles, but curiosity has us comparing it to other noodles. Vermicelli noodles, for example, can be made from varying ingredients depending on the region.

In Vietnam, it’s a thin noodle primarily made of vegetable starch (mung bean) and water. In Italy, vermicelli is a thick noodle made of semolina wheat and egg. In India, it’s a noodle made of maida (Indian wheat flour).

If we compared Vietnamese vermicelli noodles to Korean glass noodles, then these would be the same since they are made from the same ingredients. This is also the case in terms of thickness as both noodles are generally thin, although the textures are different.

As for the other vermicelli noodles, these are not gluten-friendly as they contain wheat. Overall, vermicelli noodles can be the same as glass noodles only if made with the same ingredients. As a rule of thumb, look at the ingredients label and check to make sure things are safe.

What is the Difference Between Rice Noodles and Glass Noodles?

Gluten-free japchae uses glass noodles, but what about rice noodles? The main difference between glass noodles and rice noodles is what they’re made of. Glass noodles are made of vegetable starch and water, whereas rice noodles are made of rice and water.

Glass noodles also tend to be chewy in texture and thicker, whereas rice noodles are firmer and thinner. And both types of noodles are naturally gluten-free!

light pink background with bold title text "other Korean dishes that can be made GF" featuring Bibimap and a picture of it, and Kimbap with a picture of it too to the left. For more visit:

What Korean Dishes are Gluten-Free?

Gluten-free japchae can only be made gluten-free if prepared correctly, but what other Korean dishes are out there to try?

Bibimbap is another great gluten-friendly dish to start with. It’s a rice bowl topped with sauteed mixed vegetables, raw meat, and raw egg yolk. Although, the egg and meat can be cooked if desired.

The bowl is then drizzled in mildly spicy bibimbap sauce (red pepper paste, garlic, sesame oil, rice vinegar, sugar). Although, be sure to check that the rice vinegar used is gluten-free because sometimes rice vinegar may contain gluten. FYI red pepper paste is made of red pepper, onion, garlic, and seasonings like cumin and pepper!

Another gluten-friendly dish is kimbap, a Korean take on Japanese sushi without the meat. This is made with seaweed, rice, and an assortment of vegetables rolled and sliced into pieces. Because this is similar to ordering sushi, be sure to check that ingredients used are gluten-free and cross-contact precautions are taken.

light pink background with bold black title text "questions to ask when ordering GF Japchae" with picture of noodles and veggies in a bowl with chopsticks in the bowl and questions listed underneath. or more visit:

How to Order Gluten-Free Japchae at Restaurants

Want to order gluten-free japchae at your local Korean restaurants? First, let’s address cross-contact precautions and questions you can ask to avoid being glutened.

Questions to ask when screening a Korean restaurant include:

  • Are the sauces gluten-free? 
  • Can you substitute soy sauce with a 100% soy-based sauce instead? Can I bring my own gluten-free soy sauce for you to cook with?
  • Can you boil my glass noodles in a freshly washed pot/pan with fresh water?
    • Note: Other noodles that contain gluten and may be present in a Korean restaurant kitchen include somyeon (wheat flour noodle). Be sure to ask that your glass noodles do not come into contact with this. 
  • Can you use a freshly washed strainer to rinse my glass noodles after boiling them?
  • Can you use a freshly washed pan/wok with fresh oil when you stir fry?
  • Do you marinate any of your meat for your japchae? Are you able to cook fresh meat with gluten-free marinade? If not, could I order the meat to be unseasoned and cooked without marinade?
  • Could the cook change into new gloves before preparing my order?
  • Could you use freshly washed cooking utensils before cooking my food? 

Ordering to prevent cross-contact after asking these questions may look like:

“Hi, I have a severe gluten allergy. Can the cook change into new gloves before preparing my order, and can I get the glass noodles for my japchae boiled in a freshly cleaned pot with fresh water, rinsed in a clean strainer, and stir fried in a freshly washed wok/pan with fresh oil? Also, can I have the meat cooked unseasoned without marinade? I know that was a lot so I’m happy to repeat it. Thank you!”

If you found this helpful, check out my Gluten-Free Dining Course where I simplify how to dine out safely with celiac disease!

Gluten-Free Japchae Recipe

This gluten-free japchae made by Fresh Ness is easy to follow, gluten-friendly, and uses gluten-free ingredients like tamari (fermented soybean sauce).

The recipe calls for glass noodles, a variety of vegetables, gluten-free tamari, sesame oil, vegetable oil, sugar, and black pepper. 

First, boil the glass noodles until they are soft, drain them, and rinse in a mesh strainer or colander.  Cut the noodles to your desired length, mix with tamari and sesame oil, then set aside.

In a pan or wok, add your oil and cook the following vegetables on medium heat in this order until soft: onion, carrot, mushroom, spinach, green onion, and garlic.

Once you start to notice less oil in the pan, add a bit more each time. After the vegetables are cooked, add them to your glass noodles and mix your sauce in a separate bowl.

The sauce will be made with tamari, sugar, sesame oil, and pepper. Pour this sauce over, mix everything together, and garnish with sesame seeds.

Some suggestions I would make to this recipe are stir frying the noodles after rinsing to reincorporate the firmness. You can also add meat for added protein, if desired.

I also suggest using brown sugar as this has a lighter sweetness to it. Lastly, the recipe calls for kimchi (salted, fermented vegetables) which can be found pre-packaged and certified gluten-free!


Dining out in a new food environment can be a stressful experience if you don’t know the ingredients in your meals, especially when you’re asking “is japchae gluten-free?”.

But remember, it is entirely possible to dine out with celiac disease and have an enjoyable experience! If you’ve never tried Korean food, and want to, japchae is a perfect dish to start with. 

When planning on trying out new cuisine at a Korean restaurant, make sure that you address cross-contact precautions beforehand. Also be sure to specify exactly what steps need to be taken when preparing your food.

Still not feeling comfortable? I help others just like you feel confident with the help of guides, scripts, and restaurant cheat sheets in my Gluten-Free Dining Course.

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