Surprising Foods That Contain Gluten

Surprising Foods That Contain Gluten

Having celiac disease will turn you into a gluten detective, but the learning curve can be quite steep. Even a small amount of gluten will make you sick and slow down your healing process, and finding something safe to eat can feel overwhelming at first. You’re going to be reading a lot more food labels than you used to.

To help give you a jump start, here’s the list I wish I had when I first went gluten free. I’ve left off the more obvious gluten sources like bread, and stuck to the ones that surprised me. But if you think any additional items should be included, please let me know! I hope this list can help others avoid the sneaky sources of gluten that plagued the first few years after my celiac diagnosis.

Table of Contents

common gluten foods

Pringles (they contain wheat starch!) from Jeff Siepman via Unsplash

Cross Contamination

This one is perhaps the most nuanced. Celiacs seem to vary widely in how much cross-contamination bothers them, so it could take some experimentation on your part. In general, it’s recommended to avoid it as much as possible to avoid damage to your health.

If you have a home that’s shared with gluten eaters, you should sit down with them and explain how they can help keep your food prep areas and condiments free from gluten. In restaurants that aren’t dedicated gluten free, you’ll want to ask the staff to switch gloves and clean the food prep area, or do things like open a new ice cream container that hasn’t had a gluten-covered scoop put into it yet.

common gluten foods

Fries from Mitchell Luo via Unsplash
  • Shared fryers

    • gluten-filled batter from other foods may stick to your food
  • Shared condiments

    • crumbs matter, and most people double-dip knives when making sandwiches
  • Shared toasters and cutting boards

    • again with the crumbs. buy a new toaster that’s dedicated gf for your home
  • Shared blenders

    • if your favorite smoothie or coffee place also makes smoothies with cookies, etc, and doesn’t deep clean the blender afterwards, you might want to switch. this includes Starbucks
  • Shared griddles

    • most diners cook pancakes, eggs, and the like on the same griddle. a poached egg might be your best bet
  • Shared ovens

    • if you order a gf pizza crust at a regular pizza spot, they’ll probably cook it on the same floury oven surface. ask them to use a clean pizza pan to cook it, if possible
  • Shared pasta water

    • make sure to let restaurants know that you’re allergic to gluten or have celiac disease. don’t just order the gf noodles and assume they’re safe, because the boiling water might be shared

Grocery Items

common gluten foods

Coleman's mustard from Simona Sergi via Unsplash
  • English mustard (!)

    • this condiment often includes wheat flour as a thickener
  • Oats

    • cross contamination issues
  • Couscous and orzo

    • both of these pastas are made from wheat, even if they may look like their own little grains
  • Canned soup

    • many canned soups are full of flour
  • Breakfast cereals

    • most cold cereals contain barley malt extract for flavor
  • Granola

    • may include wheat, malt extract, or uncertified oats
  • Flavored nuts

    • coating may include flour
  • Chopped dates

    • often coated in uncertified oat flour
  • Pringles

  • Dry rice mixes

    • some rice mixes include grains like barley for extra nutrition, choose carefully!
  • Bouillon cubes

    • many contain autolyzed yeast extract from barley
  • Processed meats

    • some bacon (usually Black Forest style) contains malt extract, but this varies widely. but most cured meats are gluten free!
  • Seitan and vegetarian meats

    • most are made from wheat gluten, because it’s high protein and provides a meaty chew. however, Beyond burgers and Impossible burgers are gf as of this writing
  • Frozen hashbrowns

    • may contain flour
  • Ovaltine, Milo, and other malted milk powders

  • Marmite and Vegemite

  • Seasoned rice or veggies

    • often seasoned with soy sauce, flour
  • Matzo

  • Asafoetida

    • this Indian spice is usually cut with wheat flour


The good news is that distilled alcohol is gluten free! It’s just the mixers you need to pay attention to. Wine, hard cider, and hard seltzer are also safe bets!

common gluten foods

Bloody mary from Johann Trasch via Unsplash
  • Beer, ale, or lager

  • Malt liquor, hard lemonade, wine coolers

    • anything using malted wheat or barley as a base that isn’t distilled is not safe
  • Bloody mary or bloodly mary mixer

    • may contain worcestershire sauce that isn’t certified gf
  • Milkshakes

    • may contain malt
  • Certain teas

    • watch out for barley and malt extract. for instance, Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride from Celestial Seasonings contains barley
  • Coffee alternatives

    • includes: Pero, Kaffree Roma, Cafix, Nestle Pensal Cevada, Postum, caffè d’orzo. they’re made from roasted barley or rye

Candies and Sweets

common gluten foods

Ferrero Rocher from Isabella Fischer via Unsplash
  • Licorice

    • wheat flour is one of the main ingredients
  • UK Mars Bars

    • contains barley extract
  • Granola bars

    • many contain malt syrup or are made with uncertified oats
  • Cow Tales candy

  • Chocolate

    • it’s rare, but some varieties contain wheat or malt extract as flavoring
  • Whoppers malted milk balls

  • UK Nestle Smarties

  • Rice crispy treats

    • usually made with puffed rice that contains malt extract
  • Ferrero rocher

    • includes a crispy wheat wafer layer
  • Fudgesicle fudge pops

    • contains malted barley extract
  • Ice cream

    • many mix-ins contain gluten. if you’re ordering at a shop, be aware of cross-contamination


The number of delicious sauces that contain gluten is a real bummer. Sauces are the main reason it’s difficult for celiacs to eat a lot of Asian foods. That said, there are substitutes for all of them these days, so it’s not all bad.

common gluten foods

Saucy bbq from Luis Santoyo via Unsplash
  • Soy sauce

    • most soy sauce contains wheat
  • Oyster sauce

  • Malt vinegar

    • this vinegar is not distilled, so the gluten proteins may still be intact
  • Chinese black vinegar

    • this vinegar is not distilled, and is usually made with both wheat and rice
  • Teriyaki sauce

    • contains soy sauce
  • Certain BBQ sauces

    • may contain soy sauce, beer, or malt vinegar
  • Some types of miso

    • certains misos are made with barley, but many are safe
  • Salad dressings

    • may contain soy sauce or malt vinegar
  • Gochujang

  • Doenjang

  • Gravy

    • usually thickened with wheat flour
  • Worcestershire Sauce

    • some varieties contain malt vinegar, check the label. this varies by country
  • Hoisin


You’re probably going to feel annoying in restaurants that aren’t dedicated gluten free, because you’ll need to ask a lot of questions. There are so many considerations to make things gf! Cross contamination needs to be avoided, and you should always ask for confirmation that the dish you’re ordering is gluten free, even if there’s a symbol designating it gf on the menu. Sometimes those symbols just indicate that a dish can be made gluten free.

common gluten foods

Tiny portions from Jay Wennington via Unsplash
  • McDonald’s Fries

    • their fries contain beef, dairy, and wheat products in the US, but it varies according to country
  • Tuna salad from Subway

    • breadcrumbs are added
  • Egg salad

    • some restaurants add breadcrumbs
  • Scrambled eggs or omelettes at diners

    • may add pancake batter, also cross-contaminated on griddle
  • Muhammara dip

    • thickened with breadcrumbs
  • California rolls

    • imitation crab meat is made with flour
  • Gazpacho

    • usually thickened with bread
  • Meatballs

    • most contain breadcrumbs
  • Chowders, chilis, bisques

    • many soups contain flour
  • Meats with a marinade

    • marinades often contain soy sauce
  • Fish cakes

    • Korean fish cakes contain flour
  • Certain sausages

    • includes: haggis, English bangers, black puddings, kiszka, sundae, blodkorv, boudin noir. all are thickened with flour, barley, breadcrumbs, rusks, or uncertified oats
  • Soba

    • buckwheat itself is gluten free, but these noodles are usually made from a mix of buckwheat and wheat


common gluten foods

Play Doh rainbow from Julietta Watson via Unsplash
  • Medications and supplements

  • Playdough

    • made of wheat! if your kid has celiac and might eat the dough, make gf playdough instead
  • Lip balm

    • some include wheat germ oil, but it’s not super common
  • Yeast extract and brewer’s yeast

    • a common flavoring additive that’s usually made from barley
  • Rusks

    • a type of twice-baked bread often used as a filler in things like sausages
  • Communion wafers

Other Names for Wheat, Barley, or Rye

There are endless names for gluten-containing grains in other languages, but these are the most common names I’ve encountered over the years. Avoid all of them. Even though certain types of ancient wheat and sourdough might have a slightly reduced gluten content, it doesn’t mean they’re safe for celiacs.

common gluten foods

Crusty gluten slice from Spring Fed Images via Unsplash
  • Malt (malted barley or wheat)

  • Semolina (rava, rawa, ravva, suji, sooji)

  • Kamut

  • Einkorn

  • Triticum vulgare

  • Triticale

  • Hordeum vulgare

  • Secale cereale

  • Triticum spelta

  • Bulgur

  • Durum

  • Emmer

  • Freekah

  • Kamut

  • Farina

  • Farro

  • Graham

* Title image courtesy of Isabella Fischer via Unsplash.

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