Enjoying Gluten-Free Turkish Cuisine

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Turkey is a country that lays across two continents — Asia and Europe — plus its major city, Istanbul, is partly in both. When you are visiting Istanbul, you could stay at a hotel in Asia then go to lunch in Europe and return to Asia for sightseeing – or any combination of locations, all within Turkey’s borders. This unique geographical fact influences Turkish cuisine, which has both Eastern European and Asian influences. The fact that Turkey has coastlines on the Mediterranean and Black Seas and borders the Middle East also influences available foods and Turkish culinary practices.

All these converging influences mean there is a world of options and flavors to be had when exploring Turkish cuisine. Let’s explore some of the popular ingredients and dishes and discuss which are gluten-free and which are not.

Frequently used ingredients include lamb, chicken, beef, fish (especially in coastal areas), rice, bulgur (wheat based, so not gluten-free), eggplant, green peppers, beans, tomatoes, nuts, yogurt, olive oil, and spices including cumin, mint, parsley, sumac, oregano, and dill.

What dishes do people in Turkey like to eat?


One of the most well-known dishes in Turkey. Kofte is made with spiced meatballs that come in many different shapes and sizes. The meatballs are usually made with lamb, beef, or a combination of both and are seasoned with onion, herbs, and spices such as cumin and parsley. Some kofte might also be made with rice (gluten-free) or bulgur or breadcrumbs (not gluten-free).  Kofte can be grilled, pan-fried, stewed, or broiled, sometimes with a yogurt sauce on top. They are often served with side dishes of French fries, bulgur or rice, or grilled vegetables. They might also be wrapped in flatbread or lettuce leaves with a squeeze of lemon juice. To be gluten-free, confirm that no gluten-containing grains or breadcrumbs are used to make the meatballs and that bulgur or gluten-containing bread is not served on the side. Enjoy the lettuce-wrapped version for a gluten-free dish.


A baked potato with toppings, this popular street food can be enjoyed anytime. Once baked, the potato is partially split enough to mix the inside with butter and cheese. Next, all sorts of toppings are added, including olives, corn, pickles, pickled cabbage, and/or sausage. The sky’s the limit on toppings. For the most part, this dish should be gluten-free, but always double-check toppings, particularly if you’re not familiar with them.

Shish kebab

Marinated meat on a skewer, typically grilled. The meat could be beef, lamb, chicken, or even fish. Marinades vary but often include garlic, olive oil, and paprika. The grilled meat may be served with vegetables, but the vegetables are cooked on a separate skewer since they cook at a different rate. Shish kebab is traditionally served with pita bread which is made of wheat. Enjoy your kebabs without the bread, or when made at home, use a gluten-free pita. The marinades generally are not made with ingredients with gluten, but always double-check. The origin of this dish is said to be during the war in Anatolia in the 11th century when Turkish soldiers used their swords to grill meat in open-field fires.

Doner kebab

“Doner” means “turning.” Large vertical stacks of lamb or chicken are turned on a rotisserie, and thin shavings are cut from the rotating meat as it cooks and typically served in a bread wrap, like pita. This wrapped meat is often topped with tomato and/or yogurt. Most marinades and seasonings for the meat should be gluten-free but always confirm. Enjoy the meat on its own but be aware of the risk of cross-contact with any gluten-containing bread that’s being served to other customers.


Meze isn’t one dish, but refers to a selection of small dishes. Meze can be served as appetizers or as a main course when many are served together. Here are a few popular small dishes. Most of these are typically gluten-free, but always confirm the gluten-free status of the ingredients.

  • Muhammara A colorful dip or spread made of ground walnuts, roasted red bell peppers, pomegranate molasses, and usually breadcrumbs. The recipe we link to uses gluten-free panko instead.
  • White bean salad, potato, or eggplant salad — Recipes vary. Served cold or warm.
  • Hummus Different from the hummus you may be familiar with. Turkish-style hummus is often made with yogurt.
  • Barbunya A traditional dish made with borlotti beans (also known as cranberry beans), cooked with garlic, tomato paste, carrot, lemon, bay leaf, and olive oil. Served cold or at room temperature.
  • Dolma Stuffed grape leaves. The stuffing can be ground meat, rice and/or vegetables, including green pepper, eggplant, tomatoes, and zucchini.
  • Cacik A thick, creamy condiment made with yogurt and grated cucumber. Good with just about everything.

Rice pilav

Rice sautéed with butter and seasonings and sometimes stock. Endless variations of ingredients may be added, including lamb, tomato, and other vegetables. Sometimes orzo – a small wheat-based pasta – is added to the rice, or bulgur may be used in place of rice, so always confirm that any pilav you order, or make, is made with rice only.


Eaten in other parts of the world, too, most notably Greece. Baklava is extremely popular in Turkey and is a layered pastry made of phyllo dough which is made with wheat flour and contains gluten unless otherwise specified. Chopped nuts and syrup or honey are mixed into the pastry in layers.

Turkish delight

A lightly chewy candy that comes in small squares made of a sugar gel and often flavored with rosewater or lemon. This gluten-free treat typically contains nuts such as pistachios, hazelnuts or walnuts.


A cold, savory, yogurt-based drink made by combining yogurt, water, and a bit of salt. Thirst quenching and refreshing, it is consumed both with meals and on its own.

As you can see, there are many ways to enjoy Turkish cuisine while eating gluten-free.  Some dishes might be made with wheat or other gluten-containing ingredients, so always confirm the gluten-free status of any dish you order or the ingredients you use if you’re making a dish at home. Watch for bulgur or orzo in pilavs and other dishes. Avoid obvious sources of gluten like pita bread and sweet and savory pastries.

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

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