Pickles can be a main ingredient in dishes like tuna salad or a side item served alongside a sandwich.
While pickles generally refer to cucumbers fermented with seasoned vinegar, an array of food items—carrots, onions, eggs, and beyond—can be fermented and pickled.
Most pickles are gluten-free, although the fermentation solution or brine will often determine whether or not they are considered a gluten-free product.
This article outlines gluten-free pickles that you should avoid, especially if you have celiac disease.
The spices, herbs, and aromatics used to season most pickles, such as garlic cloves, dill, and mustard seeds, are usually gluten-free. This means that your focus should be on the salt solution itself.
Pickles can be fermented in a range of mixtures.
Gluten-free pickles are fermented in vinegar made from gluten-free grains or distilled vinegar. These include vinegar from corn, sugar cane, grape and apple juice — or, in the case of pickles fermented with milk, a brine of salt water (
Studies show that exposure to trace amounts of gluten (an average of 2.1 mg per exposure) does not usually produce obvious symptoms in people with celiac disease, although this may vary from person to person (
According to US Food Regulations, a product labeled “gluten-free” must contain less than 20 parts per million (parts per million) of gluten (
To this end, if you are on a completely gluten-free diet due to celiac disease or another health condition, look for products made in a facility that does not process gluten-containing products to avoid cross-contamination.
This will help prevent even residual gluten from entering the pickle jar – and keep you free from unwanted side effects associated with gluten.
If trace amounts of gluten are a concern for you, look for brands that include messages about being gluten-free. It is safer to choose brands that have been approved by third parties.
Brands that claim to be gluten-free include:
Other common additives, such as calcium chloride, citric acid, and sodium benzoate, do not contain gluten.
Flavoring agents such as “natural flavor” can be assumed to contain gluten if the product labels itself as gluten-free.
If the ingredient list simply lists “vinegar,” it generally means that apple cider vinegar or apple cider vinegar has been used. Thus, the product must be safe to eat for those who need to avoid gluten.
Look for pickles fermented with distilled vinegar made from corn, sugar cane, apple juice, or brine. If you can’t eat any gluten, it’s best to choose only pickles that are labeled gluten-free and made in a gluten-free facility.
Pickles fermented with malt vinegar may contain traces of gluten, as they contain wheat, barley, or rye (
If you enjoy pickles but are concerned about gluten, avoid pickles made in brine that contains malt vinegar.
- Barley vinegar is made by distilling barley and contains gluten.
- It’s best to steer clear of flavored vinegar, as it may also contain barley (which contains gluten) (6).
- Chinese (Qinqiang) black rice vinegar also usually contains gluten and should be avoided, although most rice vinegar is gluten-free.
You are more likely to come across pickles with malt vinegar brine outside the US For example, Ploughman’s pickle, popular in the UK, is made with brine from barley vinegar and is therefore not gluten-free.
If you have celiac disease, this trace amount may or may not trigger a response. However, if you avoid gluten for other reasons, it may not affect you.
Avoid pickles fermented with malt vinegar or rice vinegar, as they contain gluten. It’s also a good idea to avoid pickles made with flavored vinegar, as they may contain barley — which contains gluten.
Most pickles do not contain gluten.
Pickles made with distilled vinegar, sometimes referred to as “vinegar,” are safe to eat. However, watch out for these terms on the ingredients label, as they indicate trace amounts of gluten:
- wheat protein
- barley vinegar
- flavored vinegar
- rye vinegar
Also, be wary of items that often accompany pickles, as they can often contain gluten. If you have celiac disease, continue to use caution and eat a sandwich or cracker if it is not labeled gluten-free.
Instead, consider these 14 gluten-free breads.
Remember, it’s always safer to choose foods that are third-party certified to be gluten-free if you have celiac disease.
Watch out for terms like “barley vinegar,” “wheat protein,” or “rice vinegar” on the ingredients label. Pickles fermented with these ingredients contain small amounts of gluten. Distilled vinegar, or labeled “vinegar”, should be safe to eat.
Most pickles are gluten-free. Pickles made with distilled vinegar, such as those made from corn or apple cider vinegar, will not contain gluten and should be safe to eat if you are on a gluten-free diet for celiac disease.
However, pickles made with malt vinegar or rice vinegar should be avoided. To be safer when shopping, make sure the packaging says “gluten-free.”
If you are very sensitive to gluten and are affected by trace amounts, make sure that the pickles you buy come from a facility where the gluten in any product is not processed.
You’re most likely to encounter pickles containing gluten outside of the US – for example, in the UK, where Ploughman’s pickle is a favorite.
If you’re in a restaurant, ask if the pickles served are gluten-free or avoid them entirely if you’re concerned. Keep in mind that items often paired with pickles, such as crackers or bread, usually contain gluten.