38 Foods Where Gluten May Be “Hidden”
Updated August, 2021
If you’re new to eating gluten-free, you’ve been told to avoid wheat, barley, and rye, but you may not be aware that some processed foods may not sound like a problem but could be made using gluten-containing grains. An example of this is malt, which is germinated dried barley.
How is it possible to consume gluten when you’re being so careful about what you eat? You may have ingested, or otherwise taken in, “hidden gluten.”
“Hidden” gluten refers to the gluten that is either not mentioned on a product label in a way that is obvious or is in products that may not seem likely to contain gluten but do. Gluten isn’t really hiding, but you have to check ingredients carefully – or contact the manufacturer – to identify it.
Why Is Gluten Sometimes Harder to Identify?
Sometimes, it can feel like you need to be a detective to determine if a product you want to consume is safely gluten-free. Understanding all the variables of product production and labeling can be daunting. Even when you think you’ve checked everything and asked all the right questions, you can get “glutened.”
FDA-compliant food labels specify “wheat” in the ingredients list or in a “Contains” statement for any ingredient derived from wheat for people with wheat allergies. However, there are no required warnings for barley or rye, because those grains are not considered major allergens by the FDA. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) identified eight foods as major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybean.
If you’re sensitive to gluten derived from wheat, barley, and rye, you must be more diligent about reading food labels. Check out our article: 3 Tips for Reading Gluten-Free Food Labels.
To add to the confusion, some processed food items contain gluten – like certain salad dressings – but unless you read the ingredients label, it may not be obvious.
Finally, there are packaged foods that are usually gluten-free but may come in a specialty flavor or be made by a specialty product producer that could potentially contain gluten.
You’ve probably encountered situations where you eat something that is supposedly gluten-free that turns out not to be. If you are purchasing imported packaged foods, some of them could contain gluten grain derivatives, even if similar products are considered gluten-free in the U.S. such as certain mustards, sausages, sauces, and spreads. If you can’t read the label on the packaging because it is in a different language, you could be putting yourself at risk for consuming “hidden gluten.”
NOTE: Any food that is processed and packaged could have cross-contact with gluten in some way – from agricultural commingling at the farm while being harvested, stored, or shipped or from shared equipment at the manufacturing facility. If a product is regulated by the FDA and contains an ingredient that is derived from wheat, then “wheat” must be clearly indicated on the label, either in a “Contains” statement, or in parentheses right after the ingredient from which it is derived.
We’ve compiled this list of foods that may contain gluten, but you need to read the label carefully to know for sure because they don’t but don’t scream “WHEAT, BARLEY, or RYE.” This list is by no means comprehensive, but it shows how complicated living gluten-free can be when any amount of gluten is problematic. (FYI, we verified that we were able to find actual products on the market that contain the ingredients as described below.).
The “Hidden” Gluten List
1. Soy sauce and teriyaki sauce – Traditionally made with fermented crushed wheat and soy in a salty brine with mold cultures.
2. Corn flakes and crisp rice cereal – Some popular brands are made with malt from barley.
3. Soup thickened with “roux” – Roux is a mixture of fat, usually butter, and flour.
4. Salad dressings – May contain malt vinegar, soy sauce, or flour. Could also contain modified food starch that’s used to emulsify, thicken, or as an anti-caking agent. In the U.S., modified food starch is usually made from corn; if made from wheat, this must be specified on the label as “modified wheat starch” or “modified food starch (wheat.)”
5. Marinades and barbeque sauces – May contain malt vinegar, soy sauce, or flour.
6. Taco seasonings – Certain brands contain wheat.
7. Vinegar – Fermented vinegars made from gluten-containing grains need to be avoided. Malt vinegar is fermented and made from barley. Chinese black vinegar could be made using wheat in addition to rice. Distilled vinegars made from gluten-containing grains are gluten-free after distillation. Read our article: “Does Fermentation or Distillation Make a Product Gluten-Free?”
Items that are usually gluten-free, but could potentially contain gluten:
8. Cooking spray – Certain brands of cooking spray contain wheat flour, but most do not.
9. Specialty ketchup – Some brands may use additional ingredients like malt vinegar or miso, which may not be gluten-free.
10. Mustard – Wheat flour could be added as a thickener or bulking agent in some specialty mustards like English mustard.
11. Cheese – Some cheeses have added flavors or other ingredients that could contain gluten. For example, some hard cheeses could be soaked in beer. Blue cheese may use penicillium derived from wheat; although gluten levels in the cheese are probably low, GIG recommends choosing GF certified or labeled blue cheeses.
12. Broth/stock – Some powdered or packaged broths can contain gluten, such as yeast extract derived from barley. Some may contain hydrolyzed wheat protein. GFCO does not certify products as gluten-free if they contain hydrolyzed wheat protein.
13. Yeast spreads – Popular in the UK and “Down Under” and available in the U.S., these vegan spreads are made from yeasts derived from wheat, barley, oats, and rye.
14. Sausage – Could contain rusk, a twice-baked, gluten-containing bread that is used as a cereal filler in some types of sausage like British “banger” sausages. Some specialty or plant-based (meat-free) sausages could contain wheat gluten.
15. Beef jerky – Certain flavors of beef jerky – such as teriyaki – contain soy sauce.
16. Meat substitutes – Seitan is made of wheat gluten. Other “imitation meats,” such as certain imitation bacon brands, could contain gluten due to the use of vital wheat gluten or yeast extract, which may not be gluten-free. If products with yeast extract are not labeled or certified gluten-free, they should be avoided.
17. Meatless (veggie or vegan) pepperoni – Some brands use wheat gluten as a binder.
18. Meatless or vegan deli meats – Pre-sliced and packaged, these are often made with wheat gluten.
19. Sliced deli meats – They may contain added ingredients that could contain gluten as thickeners, such as wheat-derived dextrin or modified food starch. While these two additives are not always derived from gluten-containing grains, some are. Even if deli meats are gluten-free, watch out for cross-contact when deli workers use the same slicing machines for all products. One way to avoid cross-contact is with pre-packaged lunch meats that are labeled or certified gluten-free. Since deli meats are regulated by the USDA and not the FDA, contact the manufacturer if you have questions or concerns.
20. Vegan hot dogs – Like other imitation meat products, some brands add wheat gluten to bind and may use yeast extract for flavor.
21. Veggie burgers – Some brands are made with wheat gluten while others contain oat bran or rolled oats. To avoid potential cross-contact with oats which may contain gluten, find veggie burgers with oats that are labeled or certified gluten-free. See our article: “Are Oats and Oat Flour Gluten-Free?””
22. Imitation crab products – Some may use wheat starch to bind and unless labeled or certified, wheat starch cannot be assumed to be gluten-free.
23. Restaurant eggs – Some restaurants add pancake batter to their scrambled egg and omelet mixtures to increase fluffiness and sweetness. Even though eggs are naturally gluten-free, these dishes are not.
24. Seasoned rice – Seasonings could be combined with gluten-containing ingredients like soy sauce solids (powder), wheat flour, or wheat starch.
25. Rice pilaf – Could be made with orzo (a small wheat pasta) or contain wheat flour.
26. Frozen vegetables – While plain vegetables – fresh or frozen – are naturally gluten-free, any with sauces, seasonings, add-ons or special shapes (like broccoli stars) could contain wheat gluten.
27. French fries – Say no to “crunchy,” “seasoned,” or “battered” fries or fries with gravy or sauces on them if you cannot verify that they use entirely gluten-free ingredients. French fries from fast food restaurants are most likely fried in the same oil as gluten-containing foods. Frozen seasoned fries from the grocery store could also contain wheat flour.
28. Pickles – Some brands are made using malt vinegar (derived from barley).
29. Nuts – Plain, packaged nuts don’t typically contain gluten, but avoid nuts from bulk bins due to possible cross-contact.
30. Processed and flavored potato or corn chips – Some chip brands use wheat starch or whole wheat in their “reconstituted” chips (versus sliced potatoes or corn-only). Also watch out for flavorings derived from wheat or barley.
31. Ice pops and dessert bars – While fruit ice pops made with only fruit juice, water, and sweetener should be gluten-free, other frozen treats on a stick could contain gluten. For example, fudge bars could be made with malted barley extract. Ice cream bars and frozen yogurt bars could contain added ingredients, wheat starch that isn’t certified gluten-free, or flavorings containing gluten such as malt.
32. Some milkshakes – If a milkshake is made with malt – a malted milkshake – it contains an ingredient derived from barley. If at an ice cream shop, make sure you know exactly what ingredients are added to your shake and make sure clean scoops are used to avoid potential cross-contact.
33. Licorice – Red and black licorice typically contain wheat flour as a main ingredient to bind the rest of the ingredients together.
34. Energy bars/granola bars – Many are made with oats and are often not labeled or certified gluten-free. To avoid potential cross-contact with oats that may contain gluten, stick to bars with oats that are labeled or certified gluten-free.
35. Chocolate – Some additives, including emulsifiers and flavoring agents in certain chocolates or fillings, could contain gluten. Some specialty chocolates contain barley malt powder.
36. Specialty or flavored coffee and teas – Coffee alternatives could be made with roasted barley. Also watch out for roasted barley tea, including brand names that don’t mention barley.
37. Cocktail mixers – Some mixers that you add to alcohol, such as certain Bloody Mary mixers, contain wheat or barley derivatives as an ingredient.
38. Hard lemonades and wine coolers – Malt-based fermented alcoholic beverages are problematic. Some wine coolers – or beverages marketed as wine coolers – could also use a malt base. Some beverages that might appear to be hard cider made from apples could be a malt-based, apple flavored drink.
BONUS: What Gluten Might Be Called
Confusion around ingredients could come from the way gluten-containing grains are worded on ingredient lists. Some may use the Latin or scientific name of a substance instead of the more common name. It could also be the name of a processed or synthetic compound that may be unfamiliar to a consumer. Here are a few ways gluten could be named in an ingredients list.
Triticum* vulgare – Latin for wheat
Hordeum vulgare* extract – Latin for barley
Secale cereal* – Latin for rye
Avena sativa* – Latin for oats
Remember that if a product is regulated by the FDA and contains an ingredient that is derived from wheat, then “wheat” must be clearly indicated on the label, either in a “Contains” statement, or in parentheses right after the ingredient from which it is derived.
Where have you accidentally encountered gluten? We’ll consider adding your suggestions to this running list of places where gluten may be present but is confusing or less obvious. Look for products labeled gluten-free in accordance with FDA regulations. We can only vouch for products that are GFCO third-party certified as gluten-free.
Disclaimer: GIG does not endorse any particular diet or food. We provide educational information to people living gluten-free. GIG is not verifying the labeling practices of any food company. We can only vouch for GFCO-certified products.
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