Web Only ArticleApril 21, 2015

Surprise! There's Gluten in That!

Be alert — gluten shows up in places you may not expect.

[Updated July 12, 2017]

You know the basics — there’s gluten in bread, pasta, pizza and cake. But soup, sushi, even ketchup, ice cream and dog food can contain gluten. A protein found in wheat, barley and rye, gluten comes in many guises. It can be a filler, a binder, a thickener and even a protein enhancer. We asked several leading dietitians who are experts on the gluten-free diet for some of the most surprising places you may find gluten.

surprise gluten


You’d think soy sauce would simply be made with soybeans but not so, says Rachel Begun, MS, RD, a gluten-related disorders expert in Boulder, Colorado. Most soy sauce is fermented with wheat—some contains nearly equal amounts soybeans and wheat. And you have to look beyond the bottle. Soy sauce is found in many salad dressings, sauces, marinades (think: teriyaki) and packaged and frozen foods. Many tamari-style soy sauces—but not all—are gluten-free.

Look for: Gluten-free tamari (check out Eden organic and San-J brands) and Kikkoman gluten-free soy sauce. Bragg Liquid Aminos is another gluten-free choice, as is Coconut Secret’s Raw Coconut Aminos.

See also our recipe story titled "There's No Salt in This Gluten-Free Soy Sauce."



Move over, Quaker Oats. Although oats don’t contain gluten, most conventional oats are contaminated with wheat (or barley or rye) during farming, harvesting, processing and packing. Seek out certified gluten-free oats, says Marlisa Brown, MS, RD, author of Gluten-Free, Hassle-Free. Gluten-free oats contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. In contrast, some conventional oats have been tested to contain up to 1,800 ppm of gluten.

Look for: Certified gluten-free oats from GF Harvest, Montana’s Gifts of Nature, Cream Hill Estates and Bob’s Red Mill. Gluten-free instant oatmeal is available from Glutenfreeda and Bakery on Main.

See also our story "Setting a Place for Gluten-Free Cheerios."


Many people don’t realize that wheat can be added to chicken broth, says Suzanne Simpson, RD, clinical nutritionist at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center. Bouillon cubes and soup base mixes also may contain added gluten as a binding agent.

Look for: Gluten-free chicken broth and soups from Imagine, Pacific Foods and Kitchen Basics.

See also our Chicken Stock recipe.


These corn- and rice-based cereals may sound safe but they usually contain malt flavoring made from barley, Simpson says. Barley is not one of the top eight allergens and does not need to be identified in food labels, so look for cereals labeled gluten-free.

Look for: Kellogg’s Gluten-free Rice Krispies, Erewhon Corn Flakes and Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal, as well as Chex gluten-free cereals.

See also our recipe for gluten-free Rice Krispies Treats.


Red or black, licorice is off limits. While licorice root does not contain gluten, licorice sticks and licorice candy are almost always made with wheat flour—and quite a lot of it.

Look for: Orgran Molasses Licorice and Gimbal’s Licorice Scotties.


When you order a dish with crab meat—such as sushi, California rolls or crab dip—ask whether it is made from imitation crab, Simpson says. Imitation crab is made from white fish, such as pollock, wheat, coloring and flavoring, all put together to resemble snow crab.

Look for: Sushi made with real crab meat or soft shell crab.


Although many deli meats are gluten-free, watch the slicer, Simpson says, since gluten-containing meats may be sliced on the same equipment. Buy pre-packaged deli meats clearly labeled gluten-free or ask the person at the deli counter to change their gloves and discard the first one or two slices of meat from your order.

Look for: Gluten-free meats from Applegate, Boar’s Head, Columbus and Dietz & Watson.


Don’t lose heart, chocolate-lovers. Many brands of milk and dark chocolate bars and chips are indeed safe, but to be sure, scan the ingredient list for wheat, barley malt or, simply, malt, Simpson says. Also, beware of any chocolate with “crisps” or “crunch.”

Look for: Labeled gluten-free chocolate from Enjoy Life, Endangered Species, Chocolate and Scharffen Berger.

See also our "Channeling Chocolate" section in "Call in the Substitutes."


Malt vinegar, which contains gluten, is sometimes used in the pickling process, Begun says. Although distilled vinegars are gluten-free (the distillation process removes the gluten protein), malt vinegar is fermented, not distilled, so it is not.

Look for: Mt. Olive, Bubbies and Heinz pickles. 

See also our story "Fermented Fare in a Gluten-Free Diet."


This pantry staple is usually a safe, single ingredient food. But you should always read labels when it comes to gluten because there are exceptions to the rule, Begun says. Flavored tomato paste (think: tomato paste with Italian herbs) can contain gluten.

Look for: Plain tomato paste, including products from Bionaturae, Cento and Muir Glen.


Products labeled wheat-free aren’t always gluten- free. A case in point: “Wheat-free” pie shells may be prepared with rye flour or spelt and “wheat free” cookies can contain oat flour or barley malt.

Under the FDA’s new labeling rule, gluten-containing grains that have been processed to remove gluten, such as wheat starch, may be allowed in gluten-free foods as long as the total gluten content measures below 20 ppm. This is probably OK for celiacs but it may be a problem for those with wheat allergies, Brown says.


Your favorite peanut butter may be gluten-free but if you have gluten eaters in your household, it probably isn’t. Double-dipping into peanut butter, mayonnaise, mustard or cream cheese renders otherwise gluten-free foods no longer safe, Brown says. In addition, don’t use the same toaster for gluten-free and gluten-containing bread. Ditto for hard- to-clean kitchen items like colanders.

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