Pho is the national dish of Vietnam, and it’s also a worldwide favorite. Anyone on a gluten-free diet may be tempted to try it, but they should first ensure that it meets gluten-free standards.
Most ingredients in pho are gluten-free. Pho must use a gluten-free sauce, such as gluten-free hoisin or sriracha (rooster) sauce, and employ standards that prevent cross-contamination to avoid allergens.
Reading this article will help you answer the question “is pho gluten-free?” We also explain how certain pho condiments and accompaniments can be gluten-free, and how you should approach the conversation when ordering at a restaurant.
Which Parts of Pho are Gluten-Free?
Pho is a popular Vietnamese dish that contains many layers of flavor. At its most basic composition, this include:
You need to inspect each ingredient on its own to ensure that none contain gluten or have come into contact with gluten-containing materials.
True pho noodles derive from rice flour, so they are naturally gluten-free.
The primary concern with the noodles in pho is whether they are truly pho noodles and how they are prepared.
Most restaurants will let you know if they use an alternative noodle when making pho, but there is no harm in questioning this. A popular alternative to rice noodles is egg noodles. These may contain wheat, and they are not friendly for a gluten-free diet.
Make sure the restaurant uses different tools when handling their rice noodles and egg noodles. It is not uncommon to boil both in the same pot,
Rice noodles should have their own pot and should not come in contact with any tools that handle other ingredients that contain gluten.
Pho often contains vegetables at its root or as condiments, popularly:
- Bean sprouts
- Thai basil
- Mint sprigs
- Bird’s-eye chilis
- Sliced jalapeno peppers
Vegetables are naturally gluten-free. If they’ve been altered at all, you need to verify the added ingredients do not compromise this with gluten-contaminated breading, seasoning, or sauce.
If you are ordering out, you can request plain vegetables in your pho.
Pho is most often made with beef (phở bò), but you’ll occasionally come across chicken (phở gà). Other meats include:
- Other seafood
In all cases, the meat is naturally gluten-free. Just like vegetables, however, it can lose this designation if breaded, marinated, or cooked with a sauce.
The further you deviate from the natural state of the ingredient, the more likely it is to cross-contaminate with an allergen.
Broth is where most of the issues with gluten and pho exist.
Traditionally, pho uses beeth broth and fish sauce. Both ingredients are prone to have hidden gluten sources, so it’s not as easy to spot an issue here.
It’s best to find a restaurant or recipe that actively seeks clean ingredients and mindful preparation to prevent any contact with gluten. This may look like gluten-free broth and fish sauce, alongside using dedicated pots and utensils for gluten-free dishes.
Gluten-Free Pho Condiments and Side Dishes
Most condiments offered with pho are vegetables. As previously mentioned, these should be fine as long as they are unadulterated or they are guaranteed to use gluten-free breading or sauces.
Pho is often served with a side of summer rolls. These use a rice wrapper, and they are often gluten-free.
Pay attention to your sauce when ordering pho. Hoisin sauce usually contains gluten, and it can easily ruin an otherwise safe dish.
Rooster sauce (sriracha) is a safer option. This sauce is made from chiles, but balances out with sugar, vinegar, garlic, and a few other spices.
A few people have noted issues relating to sriracha contaminated through slight contact with hoisin sauce. If this is a concern for you, it’s best to use a fresh bottle of the sauce or avoid it outright.
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Ensuring Gluten-Free Pho
While pho should be a naturally gluten-free dish to enjoy for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it’s tricky to navigate.
The best ways to ensure that your food is gluten-free are by questioning processes for sourcing ingredients or making the food or making it on your own.
When on a gluten-free diet, you need to get used to asking about how food is made and where ingredients come from. While this is easy information to find when purchasing prepared food, it requires greater application when ordering out.
Any time that you order pho from a restaurant, check to see if they:
- Boil their rice noodles separate from egg noodles
- Use different tools with different noodles
- Bread, marinate, or sauce their meat and/or vegetables
- Use gluten-free hoisin sauce
- Ensure no cross-contamination with other sauces
Keep in mind that asking these questions does not guarantee you a gluten-free dish. The server may not be as familiar with the information, and accidental cross-contamination can occur.
It’s best to find a restaurant familiar with and dedicated to providing gluten-free options. If they are familiar with the diet and the work it takes to ensure the purity of the food, you will run into few issues, if any.
Making Your Own
The best way to ensure your pho is void of gluten is by making it yourself. It takes several hours, but you end up with a satisfactory dish that is safe for you to consume.
There are several variations of pho and you can choose a method that works best for you.
Different recipes include:
- Cooking in an instant pot
- Preparing chicken pho (phở gà) to avoid beef broth
- Ensuring a gluten-free beef pho (phở bò) recipe
Pho is easy to make, and it’s well worth the time and effort you dedicate to making this savory dish gluten-free.
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Pho should be safe for anyone with a minor gluten allergy, but those who are more sensitive can react to issues through cross contamination. It’s best to ensure that the soup only uses safe ingredients, and that there is no risk of impurities through contact.
With enough patience, you can make your own pho at home. This keeps you safe from accidental contact, and you can have it any time you want.