The good news for gluten free diet followers is that pure spices, herbs and seeds do not contain gluten.
However, the operative word here is pure. When manufacturers combine two or more spices together they often add anti-caking agents and even fillers to bulk up the mix.
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It is rare for either of these additives to contain wheat but it is still something that is worth being aware of when reading labels and can up the chance that there is a cross-contamination concern in your spices. Let’s look at some product suggestions and things to look for when reading labels.
Spice and Sauce Mixes
Spice mixes are where you really need to invest some time in checking labels. Some gluten sources are obvious like gravy mix which will use wheat flour as a thickener unless stated otherwise. Trickier problems come about with things like a mixed spice blends.
Mixed seasonings like “Taco Seasoning” or “Poultry Seasoning” should be thoroughly checked. Taco seasoning, in particular, will usually contain a thickening agent that will give your taco meat that saucy consistency. Some brands will use wheat flour for this purpose while others will use corn flour (sometimes called masa harina).
For the most part, anything that is a labeled as a single spice like “Oregano,” “Turmeric” or “Cinnamon” should be free of gluten. However, there are some exceptions and even if you don’t have a problem with gluten you should still watch out for anti-caking agents which can pose risks to everyone’s health and/or allergic reaction risk. Whenever possible, buy spices that are pure and/or only contain ingredients you know are safe for your dietary needs.
A Note on Cinnamon: Cinnamon does not contain gluten though it is often mixed in with other spice blends that can contain gluten such as curry powder or pie spice blends. Another concern when it comes to cinnamon is the presence of coumarin which is a vanilla-scented compound found in many plants that can adversely affect the liver in some people. Cassia has a much higher amount of this compound and should be avoided by those who are sensitive.
Indus Organic Ceylon Cinnamon Powder: When it comes to cinnamon it is recommended that you get REAL cinnamon such as Indus Organic Ceylon Cinnamon. This single ground spice contains actual Ceylon (NOT cassia) and has a much more mellow flavor unlike the sometimes overpowering cinnamon you might be used to. Indus also has no preservatives, GMOs, irradiation or pesticides and it comes in a convenient ergonomic jar.
A Note on Fillers and Buckwheat: Both rice flour and buckwheat are commonly used to bulk up spices. Even something as simple as black pepper may contain buckwheat because it is cheaper than the actual peppercorns. The good news is that buckwheat is actually a fruit seed, NOT a cereal grain and, therefore, does not pose a risk for those who need to avoid gluten. Of course, the bad news is that ground black pepper containing buckwheat is of a lesser quality than pure peppercorn meaning you will likely end up using more of it and not getting your money’s worth.
Gluten Free Soy Sauce Alternatives
Soy sauce contains wheat. If that statement just blew your mind then you are likely new to gluten free and/or label reading. The good and bad of that is that while wheat is used in the production of soy sauce, the process breaks down much of what is harmful to those with a gluten sensitivity. Naturally fermented soy is the safest for everyone whether you have a gluten issue or not. The chemical alternative to natural fermentation causes a lot of unpleasant chemicals to show up in soy sauce and the end product isn’t nearly as flavorful. However, depending on your personal level of tolerance, even naturally fermented soy sauce still might not be advisable. Fortunately, there are a few alternatives:
Tamari: Tamari is a form of Japanese soy sauce and like traditional soy sauce it is a byproduct of fermented soybeans with the major difference that it contains no (or very little) wheat. The taste is somewhat different with tamari being darker and richer than soy sauce, however it is the absolute closest equivalent to soy sauce when you are avoiding gluten.
Coconut Secret Organic Raw Coconut Aminos Soy-Free Seasoning: If you need or want to give up soy along with wheat then Coconut Aminos might be the seasoning sauce for you. The sauce is made by fermenting coconut sap and mixing with mineral rich sea salt. Despite the coconut, this does NOT have a coconut taste and is very similar to soy sauce but with the added benefits of being soy and gluten allergy friendly. It is, however, sweeter than regular soy sauce so experiment with it first before using it in a large batch of anything.
Make Your Own Soy Alternative: While not as convenient or shelf stable as the other options, you can control the ingredients much more easily when you make your own gluten free soy sauce alternative. Try this recipe that includes beef broth as the primary ingredient: Homemade Soy Sauce Alternative.
Bragg Liquid Aminos: Bragg Liquid Aminos are brewed from soybeans like regular soy sauce is but the brand includes a guarantee that their soybeans are GMO free and gluten free along with being certified kosher, and free of chemicals, coloring and preservatives. The aminos contained in the sauce are also beneficial to your health, not just your tastebuds.
Whenever looking for gluten free herbs, spices and seasonings you should get in the habit of reading labels until you are completely familiar with a particular brand. This isn’t really limited to those with a gluten sensitivity since there are a variety of other ingredients all of us should avoid along with hidden sources of allergy reaction inducing ingredients like soy and dairy. With some practice it gets easier and keeping up with trusted sources and doing research will save you time at the grocery store.