Hidden Sources of Gluten & Wheat

Hidden Sources of Gluten by The Allergy Chef

Ahhh dreaded gluten. It’s everywhere, including the air (more on that later). Today we’re going to tackle the ins and outs of where gluten can be found, and at the bottom of this article you’ll find links to more resources. We’ve also put together the Gluten Free Allergy Friendly Guide: 120 products that are NOT made on shared equipment with wheat.

What Is Gluten

Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley that’s responsible for the elastic texture of dough.

Celiac Disease vs Wheat Allergy

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. When someone with Celiac eats gluten, their body attacks itself. There is no cure, and treatment is to avoid gluten in all forms.

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A wheat allergy, like other food allergies is a reaction by the body (immune system) in response to something ingested, inhaled, or touched. In some cases, the response is life-threatening. Allergic reactions generally subside within a few hours after initial contact.

IgE is the antibody at play where food allergies are concerned. With Celiac Disease, IgE is not responsible for the reaction.

One of the key differences in the two is the long term damage done by Celiac Disease. Usually with a food allergy, the response is immediate and the long term effects from a particular reaction are little to none. However, with Celiac Disease, each time gluten is ingested, the villi in the intestines are damaged. Additionally, there’s a long list of other conditions that can be directly linked to eating gluten and living with Celiac Disease.

With a food allergy, the response is generally obvious, leading to a quick diagnosis and avoidance of the food(s) a person can not have. Celiac Disease is generally harder to diagnose as you can present with so many different symptoms.

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With both food allergies and Celiac Disease, no two people are the same. Some people can tolerate more trigger foods than others. Some can tolerate cross contamination while others can not.

If you suspect you may have Celiac Disease, or are new to your diagnosis, spend some time on Celiac.org and the Gluten Intolerance Group websites. You can also find loads more resources here on RIASE. RAISE Members have access to over 150 gluten free recipes that are seriously delicious.

Does My Food Have To Be Certified Gluten Free?

Not necessarily. There’s a lot of “dirty secrets” when it comes to food certifications. Let’s just say, some companies like to bend the rules as far as possible. With that in mind, sometimes a certification only means a company had enough money to pay for it.

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For this reason and many more, I’m always going to stress calling before trying a new product. You may find that a product is not certified gluten free because it’s made on a farm and the farmers have 5 plants that they grow. In this example, the farmers didn’t feel it was necessary to go through the certification process.

On the other hand, a product may claim gluten free, and when you call, you’ll learn that their practices may not meet your standards.

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We wanted to show some of the items you’re least likely to suspect, as well as some that may be tricky.


There are loads of cereal that don’t contain wheat or anything else that resembles gluten. Yet, it’s not certified gluten free, nor does it make a gluten free claim on the label. So where’s the gluten? It’s in the raw materials via cross contamination with wheat.

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You’ll also find that some brands put a claim of gluten free on the label (even if it’s not certified). However, when you call to investigate, you’ll learn the product is made on shared equipment WITH wheat.

I can’t stress this enough: always call before you eat, especially if the food is for your child and not you.

Potato Chips

On the surface, a plain sea salt chip should be gluten free. Like cereal, you’ll need to call to find out about the facility and equipment. Where full on wheat and gluten can be found is usually in chips that have flavor.

Meat Substitutes

Great for vegans and those who can’t have meat for medical reasons, meat substitutes can be pretty rad… until they’re not. I’m not going to get on my soap box today about science experiments in the alternative food world. However, be warned, just about EVERY meat substitute on the market contains wheat. Some also contain soy, pea protein, and other major allergens. The Jackfruit Company makes meat substitutes that are wheat and gluten free.

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I’m sure many of you have fond childhood memories of playdough. Turns out, there’s gluten in playdough. Side note: if you have a corn allergy (or a corn allergy kid) ALL school supplies need to be investigated.

There are several playdough recipes floating around the web that are gluten free, so have your pick and get to making. Remember, little kids eat things, and some kids continue this trend well into double digits in age. Be sure your wheat allergy and celiac kids are creating with gluten free playdough.

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Yup. There’s gluten there too. Oohuu. And did you know that not all alcohol is vegan? Some brands use fish bladder as one of the ingredients when processing. Other alcoholic beverages can sometimes be an issue as well. Urban Taste Bud has put together an extensive guide to gluten free beer and alcohol. Like all guides online, remember, it’s just a guide. Companies can change at any moment, and they don’t have to write us a letter. Always call and double check before consuming.

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Malt & Other Syrups

Malt is usually made from barley, which is why it’s not gluten free. It’s sometimes made from other plants, but that will be difficult to find in stores. Other syrups can also be a problem as they may contain barley-based malt as an ingredient, or may be made on shared equipment with barley-based malt. Alternatively, barley enzymes may be used during the creation process. Malt vinegar must also be avoided if you are gluten free.

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Like people, soup comes in all shapes and sizes. Also like people, some soups are gluten free and some soups are not. Gluten in soups will usually be part of a thickening agent. Alternatively, it can also be part of a flavoring agent.

There isn’t a type of soup that will always be gluten free when it comes to commercial options. Thickeners will be used in vegan soup, vegetable soups, chicken noodle soup, and everything in between.

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While there isn’t a long list of medications to avoid, gluten can be used in the making of pills and supplements. Gluten can be found in many forms in medication based on the manufacturer’s formula. Beyond Celiac has put together an extensive article on gluten in medication.

Salad Dressing (and other condiments)

While I have yet to find gluten in ketchup or mayo at the store, gluten can be in just about every condiment on the shelf. BBQ Sauce, Marinades, and Soy Sauce should especially be investigated. This includes vegan options too. Remember, wheat, rye, and barley are all vegan options.

My personal rule – the more ingredients there are on the label, the less likely I am to purchase the product. Why? Simple: every ingredient increases the chances of cross contamination with something we’re allergic to in our home.

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Brewer’s Yeast

Brewer’s Yeast is a yeast that’s used primarily in wine-making, and the brewing of top-fermenting beer.  Baker’s and Brewer’s Yeasts are two different strains. Live Strong has a great comparison article if you’re interested.

The term brewer’s Yeast can refer to the yeast before AND after use. The general rule is: if a product lists brewer’s yeast as an ingredient, and the product is not clearly labeled gluten free, it should be avoided.

This is because if it’s spent yeast, it’s been used in the beer/wine making process and may contain trace amounts of gluten because of other ingredients it may have come into contact with.

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Yeast extract and autolyzed yeast extract may also be made from spent yeast, so they should be avoided as well.

Finally, all yeast *can* be grown on gluten containing starters/media. It’s important to know where your yeast is coming from, if you can tolerate it at all.

When baking, we stick to the brand Red Star Yeast, as it’s a gluten free product, made in a dedicated facility free from major allergens.

It’s In the Air

As promised, let’s talk about this. Think back to the last time you opened a bag of flour, any flour. When you closed the bag, did you see the flour particles go into the air? Now, think about that on a larger scale. Imagine you go out to eat and the place says they can serve you gluten free.

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If they make cookies with wheat round the clock, the flour is going into the air, and settling all over their surfaces and equipment. This, along with many other reasons, is why a dedicated gluten free facility is best.

If dedicated isn’t an option, be sure to ask them what their protocols are. At some locations, those “round the clock cookies” are made in a separate room. Or, they may make cookies from 6am to 9am, then do complete wipe down of all surfaces.

Other Hidden/Overlooked Sources of Gluten (yup, there’s more)

  • Foods Labeled Gluten Free (If it’s made on shared equipment or in a shared facility, it may not be truly gluten free. The sourcing of raw materials is also very important.)
  • Communion Wafers/Crackers
  • French Fries
  • Multi-Grain Chips and Tortillas
  • “Starches”
  • Soy Sauce
  • Pre-Seasoned Meats
  • Baked Goods & Pastries (Cake, Cookies, Cheesecake, etc.)
  • Restaurant Food (Things that you wouldn’t think have gluten may, such as eggs. Eggs are gluten free by nature, but the restaurant may mix them with gluten-containing ingredients).
  • Panko Breadcrumbs
  • Granola and Granola Bars
  • Croutons
  • Maida, found in Indian Cuisine, made from wheat flour


Free & Friendly Foods Cookbooks: All 100% gluten free (and allergy friendly).

Serving Celiacs Coral offers an excellent course, and information too.

Yum Gluten Free Australian based and super awesome. They have built a community online, and also have digital magazines.

Living Freely Gluten Free Love her so much! Great information and resources.

Find Me Gluten Free App: Great for finding places to eat out, and has user based reviews.

Nima Sensor: A portable gluten testing kit you can take on the go.

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