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Is Pad Thai Gluten-Free?

Is pad thai gluten-free?

Pad thai is a dish that can be made gluten-free, however not all versions of it are gluten-free. Whether a particular pad thai is gluten-free depends on the restaurant and ingredients used. Those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should not eat pad thai unless you make it yourself with gluten-free ingredients, or have confirmed with the person making it that it is, in fact, celiac-safe. 

What is Pad Thai?

Pad thai (also spelled phad thai) is a stir-fried, rice noodle dish from Thailand. The dish was created in the 1930s to foster feelings of patriotism and a national identity in Thailand. Ingredients can vary depending on preference, but generally it contains rice noodles, a protein (chicken, beef, shrimp or tofu), peanuts, a scrambled egg, and bean sprouts. Seasonal vegetables are often added. The ingredients are sautéed in a wok and then tossed in pad thai sauce. It is then served with lime wedges and crushed, roasted peanuts. 

The pad thai sauce is an area of concern for those with celiac disease. It is usually a mixture of fish sauce (condiment made of fish), oyster sauce (made from oyster extract), brown sugar and tamarind (tree seed), but can also include shrimp, garlic, shallots or red chili pepper. Some establishments or chefs may use soy sauce, which is traditionally made by fermenting soybeans and wheat. (Read more about soy sauce on our soy page.) If someone else is preparing your pad thai, ask for a list of ingredients in the dish and in the sauce, as well as if they take steps to reduce the risk of cross-contact.

In short, traditional pad thai ingredients are naturally gluten-free, but before you order pad thai at a restaurant, be sure to ask for a list of ingredients and inquire about their prep space. 

Make Your Own Pad Thai

The safest option is to make your own pad thai from the comfort of your home! All you need to do is:

  1. Prepare rice noodles according to the package instructions
  2. In a small bowl mix equal parts gluten-free soy sauce/tamari, brown sugar, tamarind paste and oyster sauce or fish sauce
  3. Sauté onion, chicken, egg, firm or extra firm unseasoned tofu, and any vegetables (such as julienned carrots or sliced green onion) in a wide pan or wok
  4. Toss with noodles and sauce in the wok or pan
  5. Top with crushed peanuts, fresh chives, chili powder and/or lime wedges

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