Gluten-Free Southern Cuisine
When thinking about Southern cuisine, the term “comfort food” probably comes to mind as well as the word “fried.” Fried chicken, fried okra, fried tomatoes. When you’re living gluten-free, Southern cuisine can pose challenges when searching for authentic Southern cooking that doesn’t contain wheat.
We wanted to explore regional cuisines of the U.S. South. The South is officially defined by the U.S. federal government as including Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
For this article, we’re focusing on Louisiana and South Carolina. We’ve listed popular dishes by region and separated them by ones that are likely gluten-free versus the ones that would require adapting the recipe. When eating out, always inquire about the ingredients used, especially when ordering an unfamiliar dish or one that is typically made with gluten-containing ingredients.
Keep in mind there is always a risk of cross-contact in a kitchen that prepares both gluten-containing and gluten-free dishes. Also remember that anything fried could be at risk of cross-contact if the same oil is used to fry gluten-containing and gluten-free foods.
Let’s explore what gluten-free cuisine these two Southern states have to offer!
Two of the most distinctive styles of cooking in lower Louisiana are Cajun, a spicy combination of French and Southern cuisines, often featuring meats, rice, and zesty spices, and Creole, a fusion of Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences typically made with rich tomato-based sauces thickened with roux. Both cuisines use chopped green peppers, onions, and celery – what is referred to in the region as “the holy trinity” but more commonly referred to as mirepoix, a flavor base originating in France during the 18th century.
Likely Gluten-Free (Always Confirm)
Blackened fish – The blackening on blackened fish is achieved by dipping the fish – like trout, flounder, or catfish – in melted butter, dredging it in herbs and spices, then cooking it on a hot cast iron skillet until a black crust forms. No flour is used to make this dish.
Boiled crawfish – Crawfish are the official state crustacean of Louisiana. These freshwater crustaceans look like lobsters but are usually the size of large shrimp. A popular preparation for crawfish is boiled in a big pot of water with vegetables such as corn, green beans, and mushrooms and seasoned with garlic, bay leaves, and Cajun spices. Cajun spices are typically a blend of paprika, onion powder, cayenne pepper, oregano, thyme, and red pepper as well as salt and black pepper.
Boudin – Pronounced BOO-din, this Cajun delicacy is made with pork, rice, and spices stuffed into a casing, all of which should be gluten-free.
Pralines – This is a sweet, melt-in-your-mouth confection made with pecans, brown sugar, white sugar, butter, and whipping cream. That’s it!
Red beans and rice – Slow-cooked kidney beans along with “the holy trinity” and white rice. No flour required. This classic dish may contain sausage or meat, and it might be served with a side of Tabasco (which is gluten-free but not certified gluten-free). Find a GFCO-certified hot sauce by searching the GFCO Product Directory.
Adapt or Inquire Further
Beignet – Originally from France, these fried dough pillows covered in powdered sugar are practically synonymous with New Orleans, or with the local restaurant Café du Monde. The Café du Monde beignets are definitely not gluten-free, but beignets can be made with a gluten-free flour blend or even a gluten-free pizza dough mix.
Cracklin’ — These fried pieces of fatty pork are also known as “Graton” (French) and are by-products of rendering pork. Like fried pork rinds, they are naturally gluten-free, but only if any seasonings used are gluten-free and if they were not fried in the same oil or fat as gluten-containing foods.
Étouffée — French for “smothered,” this style of dish usually features seasonal seafood, like shrimp or crawfish, in a thick, gravy-like stew. The gravy could be made with a roux of wheat, flour, and butter. Double check!
Gumbo – Because gumbo is traditionally made with roux, asking what type of flour is used (typically wheat) is essential. Other ingredients such as onions, bell peppers, celery, and chicken and seafood are gluten-free. The sausage may not be.
Jambalaya – Also known as “Cajun paella,” Spanish settlers in the Louisiana territory in the 1700s used a tomato base instead of saffron, a spice that was unavailable to them. This zesty rice dish with seafood, meat, or sausage and vegetables is often made with roux, but not always, so asking very specific questions about ingredients is important.
Po’ boy – Like a sub or a hoagie made with a long bread roll, this traditional Louisianian sandwich is stuffed with meat or fried seafood such as shrimp, catfish, or oysters. The bread used is an obvious issue if not gluten-free. Anything fried also poses risks.
Barbecue features prominently in South Carolina cuisine, a region on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Known as the place where grits originated, dishes are rich and hearty, often with a little heat from red pepper flakes or red-hot sauce.
Likely Gluten-Free (Always Confirm)
Barbecue or BBQ – Slow-roasted and smoked, this pork-based meat dish is a staple in the Carolinas, with recipes and preparation style varying from region to region. For example, in the northeastern part of the state, the pork is basted with vinegar, salt, black pepper, and red pepper. In the “Midlands,” a mustard-based sauce, called “Carolina Gold,” is popular and mixed with sugar or honey, black pepper, and apple cider vinegar, all of which are gluten-free. Worcestershire sauce might also be added and is usually gluten-free, too. In “Lowcountry,” or the southern parts of South Carolina bordering Georgia, you might see sauces made with a combination of mustard and ketchup.
Boiled peanuts — Simply boiled in water with salt, this popular peanut snack is naturally gluten-free.
Collards – Collard greens were named the official state vegetable of South Carolina in 2011. They are typically cooked in chicken broth with onion, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (less for heat than to enhance flavor). A smoky flavor comes from added smoked ham hock or pork neck bones in the broth. The broth, known in the region as “pot likker,” is gluten-free as are the greens.
Corn pone — Corn pone is a type of cornbread that is simpler and more “rustic,” made with the basic ingredients of cornmeal, water, salt, and oil or bacon drippings. By contrast, cornbread recipes add eggs, sugar, butter, milk, flour, and baking powder. Cornmeal is considered gluten-free.
Deviled eggs – Southern deviled eggs are a multi-purpose dish in the region, served cold as appetizers, snacks, or main dishes and popular fare for any gathering. The basic deviled egg recipe consists of halved hard-boiled eggs stuffed with cooked yolks mixed with mustard, mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, and paprika. While South Carolina cannot claim deviled eggs as their own creation, this dish takes on a new life with regional flair such as the addition of hot pepper sauce or horseradish. Additions to the yolk mix are almost always gluten-free, however, restaurants in the area might add something that might not be, like crispy onions.
Sweet potato – Like all vegetables, sweet potatoes are naturally gluten-free. How they’re prepared can affect their gluten-free status, particularly fried. Popular preparation styles for sweet potatoes in the region include baked, roasted, mashed, and candied. They are commonly used in casseroles, pies, pancakes, and waffles, too. If you can’t confirm gluten-free flour is used in the latter, avoid those dishes.
Adapt or Inquire Further
Biscuits – Served piping hot with butter on the side or smothered in gravy. Biscuits are not gluten-free unless gluten-free flour is used for both the biscuits and the gravy.
Fish Fry — Fried fish and seafood are served so often down South that it could be called a national dish. Fish fries are typically thrown to celebrate birthdays, graduations, and other special occasions and often served with hushpuppies and coleslaw. Always confirm that any breading uses gluten-free flour and has not been fried in the same oil as gluten-containing food.
Frogmore stew – Named after the Lowcountry fishing community along the coast of South Carolina, this popular regional dish is more of a boil than stew. This hearty meal typically consists of shrimp, sausage, potatoes, corn on the cob, and seasonings prepared in a big pot of seasoned broth. Double check the broth ingredients – otherwise, the main components are all gluten-free.
Grits – Grits are made from ground “dent” or less sweet corn – and corn is naturally gluten-free. Grits can be served as a main course for breakfast or a side dish with any meal such as Shrimp and Grits. It is often served with melted cheese or pats of butter, and with salt and pepper. Traditionally, grits are not served sweet. Because this is a ground corn, the risk of cross-contact is possible. Find GFCO-certified grits by searching the GFCO Product Directory.
Okra – As an edible seed pod, okra is naturally gluten-free, however, the way it is prepared may contain gluten. Okra can be fried, steamed, sauteed, or stewed. As with any fried food, particularly if dredged in flour, gluten can be an issue. Some okra recipes might call for dredging in cornmeal. In that case, it could be safe if the oil used isn’t shared with gluten-containing foods. If steamed, sauteed, or stewed, it should be gluten-free but will depend on what is in any sauce or seasonings.
Pimento cheese – What do you get when you mix cheese, mayo, and cherry peppers (aka pimentos)? You get pimento cheese spread or relish! Also called “Carolina caviar,” this spread goes well on gluten-free crackers or bread. This condiment should be gluten-free, whether using Velveeta cheese or sharp cheddar. If packaged, read the label. If served elsewhere, it’s a good idea to ask if it’s store-bought or homemade and to verify ingredients.
As you can see, Southern cuisine draws from diverse influences and features both naturally gluten-free foods and dishes that are heavy on the gluten. If you’re doing the cooking, swap out gluten-containing ingredients for the gluten-free ones, namely the flour. If you aren’t in the kitchen, confirm what ingredients were used. Ask to see the labels on packaged foods. When in doubt, pick another delicious regional dish that you can be confident is gluten-free.
The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.
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