Herbs and spices are simple. They are usually ground, shredded or whole seeds or leaves. No gluten there, right? Well, not so fast.
While bottled herbs and spices that contain just one ingredient are almost always gluten-free, there are a few secret sources of gluten that may be lurking in your spice cabinet.
Here are 3 surprising facts about gluten in herbs and spices…
- Asafoetida (hing), a common spice in Indian cooking, nearly always contains wheat flour.Asafoetida is a powder made of dried gum of a root called ferula. It is known for its unpleasant smell and its delicious oniony, garlicky flavor. It is an important part of many Indian dishes. Although the powder is naturally gluten-free, it is almost always manufactured by diluting it significantly with wheat flour.The only American company making a verifiably gluten-free asafoetida is Frontier Naturals, which makes an asafoetida powder that is cut with rice flour instead. When eating at Indian restaurants, be sure to ask if asafoetida (often referred to as hing) was used in the preparation of your meal.
- Taco seasoning is not always gluten-free.Taco seasoning in bottles or packets usually contains a blend of spices such as cumin, cayenne, garlic and more. It generally also has flavoring agents and fillers such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), maltodextrin, and flour. MSG is gluten-free, though some people have reactions to it. In the U.S., maltodextrin is gluten-free unless the packaging specifies that it is derived from wheat. Flour is obviously problematic for celiacs, and it is a listed ingredient in several brands of taco seasoning, including Lawry’s and Pace.There are several gluten-free brands, such as Ortega and McCormick’s, which make gluten-free taco seasoning, and you can also easily make your own from scratch. Be similarly cautious about Cajun seasoning and other blends – wheat flour is not a common ingredient; luckily, gluten-free replacements are always available.
- Bulk herbs and spices purchased from bulk bins may be cross-contaminated.If you purchase your herbs and spices from bulk bins or jars, be sure the store hasn’t previously stored spice mixes (taco seasoning, Cajun seasoning, etc.) or asafetida (hing) in the same bin or jar. Bulk containers are not always cleaned well, they can be difficult to clean completely, and they may be a source of cross-contamination. Take care that Indian spices bought in bulk were not exposed to asafetida in particular.
The general rules about gluten-free shopping apply when spice shopping. Read labels, and know which brands are reliable about avoiding cross-contamination and labeling allergens.
McCormick’s and Frontier are two brands that are especially consistent about disclosing any gluten-containing ingredients clearly on the packaging. Now that the FDA requires allergen labeling for wheat, all brands should disclose in the ingredient list if there is wheat in any products, but they may not declare barley, rye or (non-gluten-free) oats based ingredients as clearly. In addition, some brands label their gluten-free products as such in a clear place on the label, which can help make shopping easier.
Although gluten is present in some spice mixes, gluten-free alternatives abound, and recipes for making them from scratch abound as well. Making spice mixes from scratch also helps you avoid MSG, preservatives, fillers and flavorings.