During the holidays, most of us bake more than any time of year. In fact, for some, it’s the only time baking is done.
For those of us on a gluten free diet, that can be challenging at times, especially for those new to gluten free living.
With that in mind, I’ve created a list of common holiday baking ingredients with details about each in regard to gluten and possible gluten contamination.
Before we get to the list, please note:
- This list is not intended to be all-inclusive (regarding ingredients OR specific brands listed), but instead to cover items used often in our favorite traditional holiday recipes.
- I provide additional information (for example, on the risk of cross-contamination), article links and notes where appropriate.
- This information pertains to a gluten free diet; however, because many of us also live with additional food allergies and intolerances, I include information on the risk of cross-contamination with other food allergens if it exists.
- I am not advocating the use of any particular product or brand of product, nor do I receive any form of compensation – monetary or in the form of free products – for mentioning these to you. I am simply providing a service to those of you who enjoy baking with these or similar ingredients and must adhere to a gluten free diet.
- I promote a healthy lifestyle based on balance and moderation and respect your personal food choices. I hope the information here is useful to you as you make those choices, keeping in mind the “Smart Nutrition Backed by Science” motto I encourage all of us to live by.
Here’s to your happy holiday baking! For more useful information about how to successfully live gluten free, be sure to sign up for my FREE eLetter, the “Daily Gluten Free Fix“!
Essential Facts about 9 Top Holiday Baking Ingredients for Your Gluten Free Diet
1. Alcohol (for cooking or for cocktails)
The National Institutes of Health Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign states all distilled spirits are gluten free.
So, what is a “distilled spirit” exactly?
According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, “distilled spirits, also referred to as ‘liquor’, are beverage alcohol products which are first fermented and then distilled. Beer and wine are not included in this definition.”
Although some starting materials for distilled spirits contain gluten (like barley and rye), pure distilled alcohol is still gluten free.
During distillation, liquid from fermented grain mash is boiled to create steam. The resulting vapor is captured and cooled. This causes the vapor to return to a liquid state. The protein portion of the starting material (i.e, a gluten-containing grain) does not vaporize; therefore no gluten-containing proteins are in the finished product.
Keep in mind, though, the Celiac Sprue Association recommends individuals with Celiac disease only consume spirits derived from gluten free sources (like potato vodka, tequila, rum, wine and brandy with no additives, and gluten free beer).
The bottom line on distilled spirits: Consume these in moderation at your discretion and personal comfort level, but always err on the side of caution when in doubt.
If you consume mixed cocktails, be sure the mixer used is gluten free.
Wine is generally gluten free. However, in the event you’ve heard or read about (1) wheat paste being used to seal the inside of oak barrels for wine storage or (2) winemakers using wheat gluten for fining wines (fining is the process where wines are clarified and unwanted ingredients are filtered out), I want to briefly address these issues:
First, sealing barrels with wheat paste is a dated practice used mainly (and these days, rarely) in Europe by artisan winemakers.
Second, everything from a substance called bentonite (an impure clay) to fish bladders (Yes, I’m serious!) are used to fine, or clarify, wine. Although research is limited, that which does exist indicates wine fined with wheat gluten remains gluten free.
The bottom line on wine: If you drink wine and have no issues, carry on (in moderation, of course!). If you drink wine and have unexplained symptoms of Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you may want to consider eliminating the wine, at least for a time, to determine if that relieves your symptoms.
Beer is not naturally gluten free; however, quite a few gluten free beers exist. Some options are…
- St. Peter’s Sorghum Beer (it’s an English beer I’ve used in this cocktail recipe)
- Red Bridge (this one is made by Anheuser-Busch, makers of Budweiser)
- New Planet (a Boulder-based company that produces several pale ales).
Ciders like Woodchuck and Crispin brands are made from apples, with no gluten-containing ingredients, so are naturally gluten free.
Woodchuck Granny Smith Apple Cider is a featured ingredient in my Autumn Meatloaf recipe!
2. Baking Soda and Baking Powder
Both are usually gluten free.
Baking soda is refined from a naturally occurring mineral called trona, which is mined in Green River, Wyoming here in the US.
Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda plus an acid, along with a starch to prevent caking.
The acid is typically cream of tartar. You can learn more about cream of tartar in this article I wrote about gluten free holiday baking.
In the US, the starch is usually cornstarch. In the UK, some baking powder contains wheat starch as the anti-caking agent, so read labels carefully.
As with any other food products, there is a possible risk of cross-contamination due to shared equipment and processing, so be sure to read labels and stick with products labeled “gluten free”.
In the US a few baking powders bearing a “gluten free” label are:
- Bob’s Red Mill
- Clabber Girl
For cornstarch-free baking powder, try Hain brand in the US (made with potato starch) or Barkat brand in the UK (made with rice starch). There are others, as well.
You can also make your own Grain Free Baking Powder with my simple recipe.
3. Candied Fruit (also called Glacé Fruit)
Candied fruits (those used in fruitcakes) typically contain fruit, high fructose corn syrup, water, citric acid (as a preservative), various natural and artificial flavorings and colorings along with other preservatives.
These should naturally be gluten free; however keep these points in mind:
- There is always the possible risk of cross-contamination with gluten or other allergens, depending on the facility where the product is made and packaged. To be certain about specific products, always call the company direct to inquire.
- Some individuals with Celiac disease are sensitive to other ingredients like artificial flavorings and citric acid. These may cause some individuals to react with gastrointestinal symptoms similar to those experienced by a Celiac or gluten sensitive person after they ingest gluten.
Paradise Fruit Company states on their website their candied fruits are gluten free.
For candied ginger, why not save a bundle and make your own like I do with my simple recipe for candied ginger.
4. Chocolate Baking Pieces and Candy Coating
While chocolate doesn’t contain gluten, per se, sometimes gluten ingredients are added to chocolate or there is a risk of cross-contamination due to chocolate being processed and packaged on shared equipment.
Use this list to guide your decision regarding the chocolate that is best for you:
- The Hershey Company (also covers Dagoba and Scharffen Berger chocolates, both owned by The Hershey Company)
Hershey’s states on their website the following Hershey brand baking chocolates are gluten free according to the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current proposed standards for gluten free product labeling: Milk, semi-sweet (regular size and mini) special dark and sugar-free chocolate chips; semi-sweet baking bar.
In addition, Hershey’s lists the following non-chocolate baking confections as gluten free according to the FDA’s proposed standards: Butterscotch chips, premier white chips, cinnamon chips, peanut butter chips.
Hershey’s also lists their cocoa and special dark cocoa as gluten free.
Hershey’s also owns other chocolate producers, Dagoba and Scharffen Berger. All products from these two companies are listed as gluten free on Hershey’s website.
- Nestlé states their products will be fully labeled for the presence of gluten or gluten containing ingredients.
Further, Nestlé claims to ask their suppliers about any gluten used in ingredients they purchase.
To that end, the following chocolate baking products from Nestlé are gluten free: semi-sweet, milk, dark, mini and swirled chocolate chips and chunks.
Nestlé swirled peanut butter/chocolate and caramel/chocolate morsels are also gluten free, as are their premier white morsels and holiday morsels.
Note: Nestlé butterscotch baking chips are not gluten free. They are made with artificial flavors that contain barley protein.
- The following brands, while they may not contain gluten-containing ingredients, all state there is a risk of gluten cross-contamination in their chocolates due to the production of gluten products on shared lines (several of these companies also admit they do not clean lines in between products): Ghirardelli, Godiva, Green & Black, Lindt and Newman’s Own.
- For those of us with multiple food allergies to ingredients like dairy and soy, often included in chocolates, Enjoy Life Foods offers gluten free allergen-free mini chocolate chips as well as chocolate chunks, both are free from gluten and the top 8 food allergens.
5. Cool Whip Topping
Cool Whip, made by Kraft, is gluten free.
Note: Cool Whip contains dairy and casein, as well as xanthan and guar gums.
All varieties of Cool Whip also contain other ingredients you may be avoiding on your healthy gluten free diet like hydrogenated oil, corn syrup and a variety of artificial colorings and preservatives. The label reads more like a science project than a food ingredient label.
If you’re looking for a preservative- and dye-free alternative, you may want to try my Dairy Free Coconut-Milk Whipped Topping recipe.
6. Extracts and Flavorings
Extracts and flavorings are a convenient way to add concentrated flavor to a variety of baked goods and recipes.
Several brands are options for those of us on a gluten free diet. Here are a few:
- This company reports their extracts use alcohol that is not grain-based and that they are gluten-free.
- They also state if any of their extracts or flavorings contain gluten it will appear on the label.
- McCormick also produces Mapleine Imitation Maple Flavor under the Cresent brand. It is listed as gluten free on their website.
- All Cook Flavoring Company’s extracts and flavors are 100% gluten free.
- This company provides hundreds of flavors and extracts that are gluten free as well as vegan and kosher.
Note: Barley is sometimes used in flavorings like barley malt flavoring and imitation smoke flavorings. Most food manufacturers add “barley”, “malt” or “barley malt” to the food label when this is the case.
7. Spices (Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Mace, etc.)
For dried spices like ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, cloves, mace, etc., McCormick’s single ingredient spices are gluten-free to 20 parts per million;
McCormick also reports they do not use wheat as an anti-caking agent (some manufacturers do).
Simple is best when purchasing dried spices, so buy single-ingredient items, then make your own spice blends for pies, cakes and muffins. For example, you can make your own Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice blend with my simple recipe!
8. White Chocolate
White chocolate isn’t really chocolate at all. It is a blend of cocoa butter, added milk solids, sugar and vanilla.
Cocoa butter is a natural fat derived from cocoa beans, obtained by pressing chocolate liquor from the beans. Cocoa butter is not a dairy product.
Both Hershey’s and Nestlé premier white baking chips are reported by the manufacturers to be gluten free.
Other brands, like Ghirardelli, may not contain gluten ingredients on the label; however, are at risk of gluten cross-contamination just as their chocolates are (see #4, above).
Note: White chocolate usually contains dairy/casein and often contains soy protein and soy lecithin.
For more on soy lecithin, read my article, “The Facts about Soy Lecithin in a Soy-Free Special Diet”.
Yeast is a leavening agent used to make certain baked goods rise. Unless an individual suffers from a yeast allergy, yeast is a-OK on a gluten-free diet.
Note: Some individuals with Celiac disease suffer from yeast allergy, too. For science-backed information on this topic, please read my article, “The Connection between Celiac Disease and Yeast Allergy”.
Happy Holiday Baking!