Gluten-Free Irish Cuisine

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When exploring international cuisines, Ireland may not be on your radar until St. Patty’s Day, but if you are avoiding gluten, you could find some dishes to enjoy year-round that are typically gluten-free. Many traditional Irish dishes feature meat and potatoes. The meat tends to be lamb or mutton, and hearty, root vegetables like carrots, onions, and potatoes – and sturdy greens like cabbage and kale – complement dishes. Despite the potato’s complicated history in Ireland dating back to the mid-1800s, it is still a common staple in Irish cuisine.

Here are some of the most recognizable Irish foods, and some that you might only know about from St. Patty’s Day, and a breakdown of which are gluten-free, which can be made gluten-free, and which might be too risky to eat.

 

Dishes

Bangers and mash – Bangers (or sausages) and mash (or mashed potatoes) are a traditional British dish that is said to have originated during World War I and extended into Ireland. The sausages often pop open with a bang when cooking, hence the name “bangers.” This dish can be served with peas and onion gravy. The gravy can be problematic if gluten-containing flour is used to thicken it or if there is gluten in the beef broth or stock flavoring the gravy. While many types of sausage are gluten-free, traditional Irish bangers often contain a bread filler, so unless you know that bread is gluten-free, choosing a GFCO-certified sausage is a safer bet.

Boiled bacon and cabbage – While corned beef and cabbage is typically served in the U.S. for St. Patty’s Day, the more traditional Irish version of this dish is boiled bacon, not corned beef. Most traditional recipes for these dishes are gluten-free: bacon or corned beef, cabbage, salt, pickling spices, and other seasonings. Note that corned beef is normally gluten-free. The meat gets its bright pink color from Potassium nitrate (saltpetre) which is also gluten-free.

Coddle – Take last night’s dinner leftovers and throw them together for a one-pot brothy stew, usually made of sausage, bacon, potatoes and onions, and you have this dish. Also referred to as Dublin Coddle this Irish comfort food can also be made with fresh ingredients slow-cooked. Check the broth for gluten, and if barley has been added, avoid eating it. Otherwise, it should be gluten-free.

Crubeens (from Irish crúibín, meaning “pig’s trotter”) – This classic street and pub food of Ireland is boiled pigs’ feet either with a crunchy outer layer made with breadcrumbs or a breading-free version seasoned with garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorns. When they are made without breading, they should be gluten-free.

Cured salmon – Salmon is considered a prize fish in Ireland, caught wild, not farmed. Like all fish, salmon is naturally gluten-free, but depending on how it is prepared, it may contain gluten. Some recipes cure the salmon in Irish whiskey (gluten-free) or Guiness Stout (not gluten-free).

Irish pasties – These tasty hand-held pies are dough filled with ground or shredded pork or beef and potatoes. Pasties are not typically gluten-free, but recipes can be adapted with a high-quality, one-for-one gluten-free all-purpose flour. If you’re making this at home, find a GFCO-certified gluten-free flour in the GFCO products directory. Pasties are also deep-fried. Even if made with gluten-free flour, make sure they are not fried in the same oil used to fry gluten-containing foods.

Irish Stew – A popular, easy-to-prepare dish that is also a familiar offering on St. Patty’s Day, traditional Irish stew uses lamb or mutton while English stew uses beef. The meat is accompanied by onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes, all of which are gluten-free.

Irish Bread

Bread can always be tricky when you’re trying to avoid gluten and must be made with gluten-free flour and ingredients in an environment free from gluten or the potential for cross-contact with gluten. There are several types of bread that are popular in Irish cuisine: Brown bread, Irish Soda Bread, and Soda Farls, a St. Patty’s Day fare. Brown bread is made with whole wheat and white flour with oats. Irish Soda Bread uses white flour. Farls are a flatbread made with potatoes, butter, flour, and baking powder cut into fourths or “farls” in Gaelic.

Brown bread recipes can be adapted with certified gluten-free whole grain flour and certified gluten-free oats. (See our article on “The Shortage of Gluten-Free Oats.”) Some gluten-free whole grain flours get their brown color from carob flour or dried, powdered molasses. Traditionally made brown bread is much denser than its counterpart, Irish Soda Bread, because whole wheat flour has less gluten than white flour but is not gluten-free. Gluten-free flour blends can produce a similar density.

Irish Soda Bread gets it distinct texture and flavor – somewhere between bread and a biscuit – from sour milk (buttermilk) and baking soda. Certified gluten-free all-purpose flour can be used instead of regular flour for Soda Bread and Soda Farls, but if you’re eating out, it is unlikely that any Irish bread will be safely gluten-free. Note that some brown bread recipes might even call for the addition of vital wheat gluten to reduce the density and vital wheat gluten is not gluten-free.

Sides and Desserts

Black and white pudding – Not desserts, despite the names, but flavorful sausage usually served for breakfast. Black pudding gets its dark color from blood – typically pigs’ blood. White pudding is made with pork and oatmeal with bacon and seasoning but without blood. Technically, white pudding is not white but has a lighter grayish or golden hue. Some black pudding recipes include barley, wheat flour, or breadcrumbs as thickeners, so unless it is a certified gluten-free version, it is not safe to eat if you’re avoiding gluten. Even if thickened with oatmeal, make sure the oatmeal used is certified, or at least labeled gluten-free.

Boxty – Potato pancakes made with both grated and mashed potatoes, flour, egg, milk, and seasoning. Unless the flour is gluten-free, this traditional side dish should be avoided.

Champ – Mashed potatoes with milk, scallions, and lots of butter, served with literally a pool of melted butter in the middle. Traditional Champ recipes do not call for flour or any gluten-containing ingredient. Some recipes do call for mustard which is typically gluten-free. If eating out, ask the usual questions to make sure the chef didn’t add anything with gluten.

Colcannon – Usually Champ (Mashed potatoes with milk, scallions, butter) with cooked cabbage added or, in some cases, cooked kale. Like Champ, a naturally gluten-free dish.

Bread pudding – A popular dessert pudding, traditionally made with scraps of stale bread. Make sure the bread is  gluten-free. The rest of the ingredients are naturally gluten-free and include sugar, milk or cream (or water), raisins and spices like cinnamon and ginger. Some recipes might call for fancy toppings like whiskey caramel sauce. Whiskey is distilled so it is gluten-free. Caramel flavor and caramel color are typically gluten-free, but when in doubt, avoid any toppings other than sugar.

Trifle – A custard-filled sweet treat with sherry- or fruit juice-soaked sponge cake or ladyfingers, a long, sponge-like cookie. May also contain fruits, jam, and topped with whipped cream. The sponge cake or ladyfingers would need to be gluten-free to ensure this delicious dessert was on your gluten-free menu. All other ingredients in the dish are naturally gluten-free.

As you can see, traditional Irish food is based on many staples that are naturally gluten-free, and recipes are basic enough that you can make an Irish dish gluten-free at home with a few modifications. If you’re eating out, use the same tactics you’ve been using to stay safely gluten-free. (See our article: Eating Out: 7 Tips for Staying Gluten-Free for more). Ith gu leòir! (Translation: Eat plenty!)

The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.

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