In its purest form, yes, single flavor ice creams, made from pure milk, cream, sugar, are gluten free. But lots of brands add gluten-containing ingredients like cookie chunks or add wheat-based ingredients as fillers and thickeners.
Don't worry, though, since you can find gluten free ice cream at most grocery stores or make your own. Find out how ice cream is made, which ice cream is safe on a gluten free diet, and what to avoid.
In a nutshell: Is ice cream gluten free?
Theoretically, simple ice cream is naturally gluten free. In fact, gluten free ice cream is widely available, but you may be a bit limited for choice when it comes to ice cream flavors.
But that's okay – you can buy plain vanilla gluten free ice cream and then go home and add your favorite mix-ins on your own. A beautiful salted caramel sauce, tons of chocolate chips, or even crumbled gluten free peppermint candy canes will make your gf ice cream the envy of everyone!
Ice cream itself does not contain wheat, rye or barley – the three main sources of gluten and ingredients that you must avoid if you're sensitive to gluten. Instead, ice cream contains a variety of dairy products such as milk, cream, and whey along with sweeteners like sugar or sugar substitutes, and flavorings.
The problem for celiacs and those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity comes from the addition of thickening and stabilizing agents and bulking ingredients, which are often made of wheat or wheat derivatives since they're cheap and effective.
Plus, some brands have products with interesting flavors or add-ins that contain gluten, such as cake or cookie pieces. And then, of course, there's the cones and sandwich elements which are usually not gluten free.
Always check the label and only purchase certified gluten free products.
What is ice cream made from?
At its most basic level, ice cream mainly consists of milk, cream, water, and sugar and contains at least 10% fat. The fat helps maintain a smooth texture and carries flavor throughout.
The base ice cream mixture is churned to introduce air and to prevent the formation of large ice crystals. The churning process is what creates the delicious, soft texture we know and love.
The other components used in making ice cream create a delicious combination of sweetness, creaminess, and flavor.
Cow's milk and cream, or a non-dairy alternative like coconut milk, provide a creamy base. Including fat helps keeping the ice cream mixture from freezing solid. Sometimes, stabilizing agents like guar gum add structure.
Sweeteners such as sucrose, fructose or corn syrup offer sweetness and prevent ice cream from freezing solid. Flavorings and add-ins enhance taste.
What brands of ice cream are gluten free?
Fortunately, with the rise of awareness around gluten-free diets, there are now plenty of companies that offer ice cream that is most likely safely free of gluten. However, most of them don't offer certified gluten free options. Ben & Jerry's is a stand-out example, though, as it offers plenty of flavors that are certified gluten free by the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO).
Many of the mainstream ice cream brands, like Breyers, Tillamook, Häagen-Dazs, Dreyer's (also known as Edy's east of the Rocky Mountains and outside Texas) usually state that their ice cream products are gluten free except to the extent that they have gluten-containing bakery mix-ins like brownies, cookies, or cake.
These ice cream manufacturers often disclose that they don't produce their ice creams in dedicated gluten free facilities, but tend to add this information to their websites, and then take it away at will. Keep in mind that, if any ice cream brand in the United States has a statement that their ice cream is “gluten free” on the label, they will have had to comply with the FDA's requirements for that voluntary designation.
There are also many dairy-free alternatives like Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss and Vanilla Island which contain no added sugars and are certified Gluten Free by the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG).
Here is a partial list of ice cream brands to consider when searching for something gluten free. Please remember to read labels carefully, and consider whether the manufacturer has good practices to prevent cross-contamination:
- Ben & Jerry's
- Alden's Organics
- Straus Family Creamery
- Coconut Bliss (dairy-free)
- So Delicious (dairy-free)
- Nada Moo (dairy-free)
- Arctic Zero (dairy-free)
- Whole Foods Market Organic Ice Cream
- Luna & Larry's (dairy-free)
What flavors of ice cream are gluten free?
All single flavor ice creams are typically gluten free, with flavors such as strawberry, vanilla and chocolate being the most popular. However, it's important to be mindful of inclusions like cookies or brownies that contain gluten in your ice cream because these can cause cross contamination.
When a company makes a product like ice cream containing ingredients like cookies or brownies that could contain gluten, it's critical to pay attention to how they handle their production process to avoid cross contamination. Companies that take extra steps to ensure safety by implementing strict safety protocols in their production process can help lessen the potential risk of cross contamination due to shared equipment or ingredients.
When purchasing ice cream, it's important to read labels carefully before consuming any product, and contact the manufacturer if you have any questions about their production process.
Although plain ice cream usually does not contain gluten, there is potential for cross contamination in certain products. This can occur if manufacturers don't take the necessary precautions during the production process, such as using fillers like maltodextrin derived from wheat and manufacturing or handling their ice cream in such a way as to risk cross-contamination with gluten.
People with celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten should be aware of these risks and read labels carefully. If a product has been certified gluten-free by trusted organizations, it is much more likely to be safe from cross-contamination.
Here are a few of my favorite homemade gluten free ice cream recipes for you to try:
Are any Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavors gluten free?
Yes! Ben & Jerry's now offers several flavors of certified gluten free gluten free ice cream. These include:
- Cherry Garcia® (classic, nondairy, and frozen yogurt)
- Phish Food (classic and nondairy)
- Chunky Monkey®
- Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz®
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Split
- Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch
- New York Super Fudge Chunk®
- Pistachio Pistachio
- Salted Caramel Almond
- Boom Chocolatta® (nondairy)
- Karamel Sutra® Core (nondairy)
Can I order gluten free ice cream from an ice cream shop?
Sometimes, yes. When we are out of the house and want to get ice cream, first we research whether the ice cream itself has gluten-containing ingredients. Then, we learn about cross-contamination in processing, and in serving at the shop.
If the workers at the shop are willing to change their gloves and scoop with a machine-washed ice cream scoop into a new container of otherwise gluten free ice cream, that's good enough for me. Everyone has their own comfort level though!
Can I have gluten free ice cream in a cone?
Yes! But only if you purchase one of the few brands of packaged gluten free ice cream cones, or make your own gluten free ice cream sugar cones. Here are the brands of packaged gluten free ice cream cones (cake-style and sugar cones) that I really like:
- “Let's do Gluten Free” and “Let's Do Organic” gluten free (Edward & Sons)
- Joy gluten free