What does “gluten free” mean?

Gluten is the protein in wheat, barley, and rye. If you’re brand new to the gluten free diet, and you want to know how to begin, here are the basic rules of the gluten free diet.

But even if a product doesn’t have the words wheat, barley or rye in the ingredient list, it might still not be gluten free. A product or food might have gluten hidden in “natural flavors.” Or it might be contaminated with gluten from being produced on the same equipment or in the same facility as gluten-containing foods.

Even though “gluten free” is a term defined by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S., we have to read ingredients and ask questions. Here’s how I know when a product is gluten-free.

Are oats gluten free?

Believe it or not, this can be something of a contentious issue. In the U.S., oats that are grown on dedicated fields (that is, not rotated with gluten-containing crops like wheat), stored in dedicated silos and processed in gluten free facilities are considered safe for those on a gluten free diet.

For a complete discussion of this issue, please click over to this post that asks and fully answers the question, Are Oats Gluten Free? Then go make some thick and chewy GF oatmeal cookies.

Is beer gluten-free?

No! Traditionally, beer is made from malted barley, hops, water and yeast. There are many gluten-free beers on the market today, though. They are usually made from sorghum, a gluten-free grain, instead of barley.

Is chocolate gluten-free?

Usually! Most chocolates are gluten-free. Cacao, the most basic ingredient in chocolate, is naturally gluten-free. But chocolates all have other ingredients added to them which may contain gluten, such as wheat.

If you’re thinking about making your own gluten-free chocolate, try my recipe for dairy-free gluten-free white chocolate. It’s way better than anything you could buy ready-made. And then get started baking one of the many, many gluten free chocolate recipes here on the blog.

Is rice gluten-free?

Yes! Rice is always gluten free, unless it has been contaminated with gluten in growing or in manufacturing. I really like Lundberg Family Farms rice products, as the safe ones are labeled “gluten-free.”

If you’re interested in taking rice and making it into rice flour, I can show you how to do that. Then, you can take that rice flour and add other ingredients to it to make an all purpose gluten free flour.

Or, you can just take rice and make the quickest, most crowd-pleasing meal ever: homemade gluten free Rice a Roni.

Is corn gluten-free?

Yes! Corn is always gluten free, unless it has been contaminated with gluten in growing or in manufacturing. Be especially careful when you buy corn products like masa harina, used to make corn tortillas and pupusas, as the most common brands are usually contaminated.

I like Bob’s Red Mill’s certified gluten free masa harina and stone ground cornmeal, and De la Estancia brand quick-cooking corn polenta.

Maseca brand masa harina is actually certified gluten free in the U.S., but it often seems to be stored on grocery store shelves with conventional gluten-containing flours, so be careful about cross-contamination right at the store.

Is pasta gluten-free?

Be careful! Regular pasta is made from wheat flour, so it isn’t gluten-free. But there are plenty of pastas made from other grains, like rice, quinoa and corn, that are certified gluten-free products. I really like Sam Mills gluten free corn pasta.

I’ve tried so many different available kinds of gluten free dried pastas over the years, and have 8 gluten free pasta brands to recommend you try. Of course, you could always make your own fresh gluten free pasta from scratch, but that’s a labor of love!

Is butter gluten-free?

Yes! Pure butter is always gluten free. Butter spreads and other butter substitutes are often gluten free, but they may contain additives that aren’t.

If you’re using dairy-free butter substitutes, pay particular attention to the package ingredients. They may have gluten-containing ingredients added to them.

Is spelt gluten-free?

No! Spelt is an ancient form of wheat. It is absolutely not gluten-free. Some people who are gluten-free because they have a wheat allergy can tolerate spelt even though they cannot tolerate wheat, but if you are gluten-free, you cannot have spelt ever.

There are companies that make gluten-free products, like Rudis, who also make products with spelt. Be careful you don’t buy the wrong product!

Are meat & chicken gluten-free?

Yes! Pure beef, pure chicken, turkey, fish and every type of animal protein, in all its various forms, are gluten-free.

But be careful! Sausages that contain meat mixed with fillers may contain gluten, as may already-prepared meatballs, stuffed chicken, and hamburgers.

If you’d like to make a great family dinner, and you’re not sure where to begin, I’d recommend trying one of my favorite gluten free chicken recipes.