Is Szechuan sauce gluten free?

Is Szechuan sauce gluten free?

Szechuan (四川) sauce, also called Sichuan, Szechwan, and Schezwan, is a fragrantly spicy, savory, and umami-filled sauce with Chinese origins. There are a variety of styles of Szechuan sauces across China and India, but here we’ll be focusing on the common ingredients that are usually included in traditional Szechuan sauce bases, and on the Indian chutney called ‘Schezwan’.

Unfortunately, many Szechuan sauces are not gluten free by default. We’ll provide substitutes, some premade gluten free options, and links to gluten free recipes so you can make your own. On the plus side, chili crisp is usually gluten free!

szechuan sauce

Image from Mala Market

Table of Contents

Chinese Szechuan Sauces

If you’re American, you might think of Szechuan sauce as the sugary McDonald’s condiment, but that’s obviously not the most authentically Chinese version. Instead, the Szechuan sauces we’re referring to here are chili crisp and the fermented chili bean sauce called doubanjiang (辣豆瓣酱). Doubanjiang is used in popular dishes like mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) and Sichuan hot pot (火锅).

szechuan sauce

Map tofu from China Sichuan

Chili crisp is almost always gluten free, because it’s mostly just chilis, oil, spices, and possibly some fried beans. Some versions may contain soy sauce, but it’s rare.

Doubanjiang isn’t gluten free. Common ingredients in doubanjiang include fermented bean paste, wheat flour, chilis crisped in oil, ginger, garlic, spiced oil (including sichuan peppercorns and white pepper) and soy sauce.

Doubanjiang’s gluten-containing ingredients are soy sauce, fermented bean paste, and (obviously) wheat flour. Most types of Chinese fermented bean paste include a wheat flour-based fermentation innoculant and thickener. Soy sauce includes wheat, unless a gluten free version has been specifically chosen. If white pepper powder is used in the spice blend, make sure it’s not cut with wheat flour. Some low quality white pepper powders are not Celiac safe, but it’s really the least of your worries here, given that doubanjiang contains straight wheat flour.

szechuan sauce

Image from Tip Buzz

We found a couple versions of premade gluten free doubanjiang, which we’ll link below! Otherwise, your best bet is to make your own and sub out ingredients as necessary.

Soy sauce and white pepper powder are easy enough to substitute when making your own doubanjiang, but the fermented bean paste is a bit trickier. Using gluten free red miso is a good enough sub, although it may be a bit less punchy than the Chinese version. Another option would be to sub out doubanjiang entirely with a gluten free gochujang. If you use gochujang in your recipe instead of doubanjiang, it’ll be sweeter, milder, and will carmelize more quickly. You’ll also need additional chili and spices to bring a bit more umami to the dish that fermented chili bean sauce would usually provide.

Indo-Chinese Schezwan Sauce

Schezwan sauce is a popular ingredient in Mumbai street food. Schezwan sauce is the melding of the flavors and cooking techniques of Szechuan with Indian herbs and spices. This sauce often even includes vegetables like celery, making it more of a chutney.

The main ingredients of Schezwan are Indian chilis, Szechuan peppercorns, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, garlic, celery, sugar, and spices. It’s easy to make this version gluten free - just use GF soy sauce instead!

Buy Gluten Free Szechuan Sauce

szechuan sauce

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Gluten Free Szechuan Sauce Recipes

szechuan sauce

Image from Alpha Foodie

* Title image courtesy of Mala Eats.

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