Are Spices Gluten Free?

Assorted Gluten-Free Spices and HerbsCredit: Lavender Rose

For most people, moving to a gluten-free diet is a major lifestyle change. Wheat, barley, and sometimes rye form the greater part of almost every meal or snack. From toast and pancakes for breakfast, to sandwiches, hamburgers, and dinner rolls, gluten tends to show up on a regular basis. That can make designing gluten-free meals a bit timely, especially when you consider that the seasonings, spices, and herbs you use must also be gluten free.

Gluten-free spices, seasonings, and herbs are easy to find at any grocery store. However, only single ingredient spices and herbs are inherently gluten free. If you’re used to buying combinations of spices, quick-and-easy gourmet seasoning mixes, all-purpose seasonings, or cheap, off-brand herbs and spices, you might need to switch to a different brand or completely change the way you season your food. If you're new to cooking gluten free, here’s what you need to know about gluten-free spices, herbs, and seasonings.

Wheat in All-Purpose Seasonings and Mixes of Herbs and Spices

At one time, many manufacturers put wheat in their all-purpose seasonings or ground spices to keep their mixes from clumping. While most brands today use silicon dioxide, sodium aluminum silica, or calcium silicate, some cheaper, off-brand products still use wheat. With the rise in gluten-sensitivity awareness and more individuals being diagnosed with celiac disease, many manufacturers, such as The Spice House, have reformulated their products to keep up with the demand. 

When purchasing a blend, be sure to check the label. Since wheat is one of the top eight major allergens, if a manufacturer has added wheat to their product, it must say so on the label. However, many manufacturers don't understand the seriousness of cross contamination, so beware of those who claim their products are gluten free because "they" do not add gluten themselves. 

McCormick Spices Can Make Gluten-Free Shopping Easier

McCormick Spices are Gluten FreeCredit: Lavender Rose

Most celiacs and gluten-intolerant individuals find it easier and quicker to do their grocery shopping if they stick to major brands such as McCormick who have a good reputation for not hiding gluten beneath the general terms of "natural flavoring" and "spices." Most of those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity recommend McCormick above all other brands. However, that is more for convenience, rather than necessity.

Along with gluten free concerns, additional allergies and food sensitivities such as corn or soy, also need to be considered when choosing your herbs and spices. While McCormick is known to be gluten free, many of their products are contaminated with corn. In addition, The Spice House replaced the wheat in their products with corn masa and corn flour, but all of their products except for The Glace de Canard Gold (a duck sauce) are free of soy.

5th Season Brand and Spice Classics Brand Herbs and Spices

5th Season Brand Spices and Herbs are Repackaged McCormick SpicesCredit: Lavender Rose

Name brands can get expensive, especially when you add in the other ingredients needed for gluten-free cooking. When you replace wheat flour in your gluten-free baked goods with other whole-grain or white-rice flours, you need to add additional seasonings and extracts to replace the missing flavor of wheat. The 5th Season brand sold at Walmart costs less than a dollar. The Spice Classics brand can also be found at various retailers for about a dollar. They are older McCormick spices that McCormick has repackaged to sell at a lower cost.

While older seasonings are weaker, a bit faded, and less flavorful compared to major brands, if you’re on a strict budget, they make a great alternative. At less than 25 percent of the price of other brands, I’ve found them to be extremely cost effective even though you do need to use a heavy hand.

Issues of Cross Contamination

Although single ingredients are inherently gluten free, cross contamination can be a serious problem for those who are extra-sensitive to gluten. The same holds true for some of the major brands of herbs and spices. While many companies openly declare gluten they have personally added on the label, any herb or spice that is not labeled gluten free might not be.

Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb Seasoning MixCredit: Lavender Rose

For example, McCormick runs their spices on the same lines as other gluten-containing products, but they thoroughly clean the lines in between runs, making them safe for most people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but not all. Mrs. Dash salt-free seasonings are produced on gluten-free dedicated lines, but they are packaged in a facility that also packages products that contain wheat. Mountain Rose Herbs, available online, comes with a good reputation among those who are extra-sensitive to gluten or corn, but they are not marked gluten free either.

While all of these companies take every precaution to ensure their product’s safety, they cannot guarantee their products are 100 percent gluten free. If you need seasonings that are produced in a gluten-free facility, and therefore guaranteed, you can buy them online through Penzy’s Spices and American Natural and Organic Spices. While a couple of Penzy's products do contain wheat, they are packaged in a different facility from their gluten-free spices.

What Seasonings are Gluten Free?

The following brands are some of the most popular among those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance:

  • 5th Season spices and herbs
  • American Natural and Organic Spices
  • Benson’s Gourmet Seasonings
  • Durkee spices and herbs
  • Emeril: Bam! Burger seasoning; and chicken, fish, rib, and steak rubs
  • Lawry’s salts and pepper seasonings
  • McCormick spices, seasonings, and herbs
  • McCormick Grillmates spice mixes and marinades
  • McCormick taco seasoning mix
  • Miss Bev's Kick-Ass Rooster Rub
  • Mountain Rose Herbs
  • Mrs. Dash salt-free seasonings and spices
  • Penzy’s spices and herbs (gluten-free facility)
  • Spice Island spices and herbs
  • Spicely Organic Spices
  • The Spice House (but not "asofoetida" or "Classic French Demi Glace")
  • Tone’s spices and herbs
  • Weber seasonings (but not "Sweet’n Tangy BBQ Seasoning")

This list is not all inclusive, of course, as there are many brands that are gluten free. Nor do these particular brands claim that all of their products are safe. Reading each label and calling the manufacturer to verify their gluten-free status is always essential to ensure their safety.

Danger of Using Gluten-Free Lists

If you are following a gluten-free diet, using online gluten-free lists can be convenient and help cut down on the amount of time it would take to do the work yourself. However, many of the online lists for gluten-free seasonings, foods, and personal-care products such as gluten-free shampoo or makeup are outdated. Keep in mind that these lists only offer you a good starting point from which to begin your own personal research. Never think of these lists as being all-inclusive and guaranteed.

Label reading is essential every time you buy something, but labels can also be confusing. Although all major allergens are required by U.S. law to be listed on the label, gluten is not a major allergen. That means wheat will be listed, but barley and rye might not be. Nothing short of doing your own personal detective work can guarantee that the herbs and spices you choose to use are safe. 

Grinding Your Own Spices Improves Flavor

When it comes to herbs, growing your own and snipping off the amount you need will give you the best flavor, but that isn't always practical. Sometimes, grinding your own spices or crushing your own herbs is a better choice. That way flavors are released into your food, rather than into the air.