If you have celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or are off gluten for general health reasons, it can be hard to figure out what you can eat. Even with all the awareness and media attention surrounding gluten, there are hidden sources of gluten that few people know about. Here are some surprising sources of gluten to keep your eyes out for.
Soy sauce doesn’t sound like it should have gluten in it, but unless it is specifically marked gluten-free it probably does. This means that not only bottled soy sauce is going to be off-limits, but so is most Chinese takeout and other bottled sauces, such as teriyaki. Look for gluten-free soy sauce or tamari sauce for home use and call Chinese restaurants in your area to find out if they can prepare gluten-free food for you. National chain P.F. Chang’s has a separate gluten-free menu.
It seems pretty sneaky to put gluten in this childhood favorite, but in fact it’s almost entirely made of wheat starch and sugar. Who knew? There are some brands making gluten-free licorice, such as Lovely Candy and Candy Tree.
Imitation Crab Meat
Imitation crab meat is made with fish and wheat starch to hold it together. You’re most likely to encounter this in sushi (California rolls) or a “crab” salad or stuffing. Instead, always look for sushi or salads made with real crab meat.
Processed or Prepared Meat
Meat might be the last place you would think to look for gluten. Hot dogs and sausage could contain gluten as a binder. Many deli meat contains gluten as well. Any prepared meatball or meatloaf is likely to have breadcrumbs and gluten. It’s impossible to tell by looking or tasting it so, you need to be able to check the label.
Many bottled dressings use gluten as a thickener. In fact, any kind of bottled sauce (barbecue, mustard, chili sauce, etc.) is something you should look at suspiciously. When you’re doing your grocery shopping, it’s easy to read the bottle, but in restaurants you need to press for answers and ask your server to check with the kitchen staff.
Spice and Seasoning Mixes
If you’re buying a curry or taco mix you might not expect it to contain gluten, but it’s often in there as a thickener, or to prevent the spices from caking and getting sticky. This also applies to bouillon cubes.
Instant coffee and powdered milk are just two likely sources of hidden gluten, so check the labels for any dried or powdered or instant drink mixes you buy.
If pickles are made with malt vinegar, they contain gluten. Malt vinegar is made from barley, which is a source of gluten. This also means you should avoid malt vinegar for dipping your fish and chips—as well as beef barley soup.
Prescription and OTC meds (including supplements) can contain gluten as a binder. The ingredient list is often of no help, so you need to talk to your pharmacist or call the manufacturer yourself to determine if a product contains gluten.
Even if the fries themselves are gluten-free (and not all are, so check labels) restaurants often fry them in the same oil they use for breaded foods like onion rings and mozzarella sticks. Always ask about cross-contamination.
Brette Sember writes the blog Taking Gluten Off the Table and is the author of several cookbooks, including The Gluten-Free Guide to Travel, available on Amazon as a Kindle.
Main photo by ilovebutter CC BY