Hidden Gluten Guide

October 05, 2012

Don’t be fooled by semi-straightforward ingredients- knowing what foods may contain your allergen can save you a lot of trouble.

Allergy free diets can be hard to navigate and sometime the list of ‘avoids’ is seemingly endless. SupermarketGuru has had a lot of experience in reading labels and understands they can be very tricky to navigate. We have selected a few common ingredients that, depending on the source, can be questionable for those avoiding wheat or gluten products. Read on to find out what they are and how you can safely and successfully enjoy a gluten free diet. Remember these are some of the most common questionable ingredients, but by no means all of the possible gluten containing ingredients.

Caramel color is one of the most widely used food color additives. It is used in colas, soy sauce, seasonings, breads, cereals, cakes, and more. Due to the variations in caramel color manufacturing, it may or may not contain gluten - if the product is made in the USA, it is usually a corn derivative and likely (but not definitely) to be gluten-free. Caramel color, as defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is the result of heat treatment to one or more of the following: dextrose (corn sugar), invert sugar, lactose (milk sugar), malt syrup (usually from barley malt), molasses (from cane), starch hydrolysates and fractions thereof (can include wheat), sucrose (cane or beet).

The best way to determine if a food with caramel color contains gluten is to contact the manufacturer directly. Look for gluten free labeling and of course check the company’s website or FAQs page.

Artificial Flavor/Color, Natural Flavor/Color: Most processed foods contain artificial, and or, natural flavor and color - from the freezer section to the bakery; check the labels and you are sure to find it! Natural flavor and colors are similar to caramel color in that they can be derived from a variety of different sources. Natural flavor and color, according to the FDA can be derived from: spices, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat seafood, poultry, eggs or dairy products - whose significant function is flavoring rather than nutritional.

Artificial flavor and color are not derived from the above list but instead made artificially in a lab and are identical in chemical formula to the desired product.

Since companies are not required to declare the source of natural color/flavor, it is best to avoid products that are not clearly labeled gluten free - however, if wheat, barley, and rye are used for flavor, they are usually always listed on the label.

With both artificial and natural -flavor and color- a gluten containing grain or by product may be used to create the end product. Manufacturing cross contamination is always an issue as well. If the product isn’t specifically marked gluten free, it is best to contact the manufacturer directly.

Dry Roasted Nuts: It can be said that the majority of dry roasted nuts are safe to eat for the gluten intolerant, but be sure to read labels. In order to salt nuts, some processors dust with a wheat mixture. Refer to the company’s website or contact the company directly to ensure roasted nuts are gluten free.

Smoke flavor is derived from burning various woods such as hickory and mesquite. Some manufacturers use barley malt flour (a red flag for gluten) as a carrier for the ‘smoke.’ The ingredients list sometimes lists the sub-ingredients, but unless a product is specifically marked gluten free, or the company’s website states that all of their products are free from gluten you cannot be entirely sure.

Stock or Gravy Cubes, Mixed Spices or Seasonings: As with all of the above ingredients, stock cubes and seasonings can utilize a gluten containing grain or by-product in the manufacturing process, or as a direct ingredient. If the spice mix or gravy cube is not clearly labeled gluten free, refer to the company’s website or contact the company directly for more information.

Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, if an FDA-regulated food product contains protein from wheat, the word "wheat" must be included on the food label either in the ingredients list or ‘contains’ statement.