Ketchup is one of the most popular condiments out there. French fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, and even scrambled eggs just taste better with ketchup! But now that you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease or are living a gluten-free lifestyle for other health reasons, you’re wondering if the ingredients in your ketchup bottle are gluten-free?
The good news is that "most" ketchup is gluten-free, including many of the leading brands. But "most" isn't an acceptable answer, so how do we know for certain? Living with celiac disease or gluten intolerance forces us to re-frame how we look at food, especially food ingredients and labels. Read on to understand what's in your ketchup.
The star ingredient in ketchup – tomatoes – is naturally gluten-free. Most likely, the very next ingredient you'll see is "vinegar". The debate on "is vinegar gluten-free" has been going on way before I was diagnosed in 2005, so let me break it down for you:
- Distilled White Vinegar*
- Red Wine Vinegar
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Rice Vinegar
- Corn Vinegar
- Balsamic Vinegar
*Distilled vinegars (including vinegars in foods and condiments) are gluten-free because the distillation process filters out the large gluten proteins so they do not pass through to the end product making the finished liquid gluten free. Resource: University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center
UNSAFE - Non-Gluten-Free Vinegar
- Malt Vinegar - malt vinegar should always be avoided by people with celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities. The main ingredient in malt vinegar is barley, a common gluten-containing grain.
- Non-Distilled Vinegar made from wheat, barley, or other gluten grains.
To check if a ketchup is gluten-free:
- Look to see if the bottle says gluten-free or has a seal from an organization that certifies gluten-free food. If it does, happily proceed to eating.
- Still unsure? Check the ingredients list. If the ketchup contains distilled white vinegar and no other gluten-containing ingredients, this is a gluten-free ketchup!
- If the ketchup contains apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, or corn vinegar and no other gluten-containing ingredients, this ketchup is also gluten-free.
- If the ketchup contains “white vinegar” and distillation is not noted, it may not be gluten-free. Contact the brand via website, chat, or phone to clarify.
- If the ketchup contains “malt vinegar” it is NOT gluten free.
- If you are dining out and do not have access to the ketchup’s ingredients, it may not be gluten-free. Use caution - when in doubt, go without.
Unfortunately, ketchup ingredients aren’t our only concern. Cross-contamination issues can come into play whether you're eating at home or at a restaurant.
In restaurants, beware of pots of ketchup that could have had gluten introduced to them by previous customers. Sometimes a diner will even touch the top of a ketchup bottle to their sandwich, or stick a contaminated knife inside a ketchup bottle to get the condiment out.
You'll hear this over and over, but if you're in doubt that the product is gluten-free, go without. Your immune system will thank you.
At home, you’ll also need to be careful of contamination. In addition to educating anyone who raids your refrigerator, squeeze bottles are one of the safest ways to avoid gluten cross-contamination. If, for some reason, your favorite gluten-free ketchup doesn’t come in a squeeze bottle, it’s super easy to purchase your own empty bottles and transfer it over for your gluten-free peace of mind.
If you have gluten-eaters in your home, maintain separate gluten-free and "glutenous" versions of the same product in your home and label your gluten-free version. I write a huge GF in permanent marker.
Hold the Gluten Tip: When dining out, sealed ketchup packets are your best friend. I personally keep mini packets of ketchup, mustard, and gluten-free soy sauce in a grab and go baggie.
Feeling confused and overwhelmed on "what is gluten"?
You're not alone! I've put together a comprehensive list to decipher the mystery and meaning of gluten just for you.