Find out what you need to know about chicken and its relationship to gluten. Is chicken safe for a gluten-free diet? Does chicken have gluten? Find out here!
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If you are just getting started with a gluten-free diet or have been at it for a while and just need a refresher, you may have been wondering about what foods are a good choice to eat or continue eating.
Chicken is a very popular protein choice and can be found in a wide range of dishes, from grilled chicken, barbecue chicken, chicken sandwiches, chicken salads, fried chicken, chicken pasta, chicken tacos and enchiladas, chicken and gravy, chicken and rice dishes, and even chicken pizza.
If you’ve been eyeing some specific chicken recipes, options from restaurants, or simply want to know what you can pick up from the store to make an easier lunch or dinner option, we’re going to help you out here.
Find out in this post what you need to know about chicken and gluten, when chicken is gluten-free, when it’s not, and what you need to know about where gluten can come into a chicken dish.
It’s not always straightforward to find this information, but by the end of this post, hopefully you’ll have what you need to make easier decisions about what chicken dishes to make, order, and pick up from the grocery store.
Let’s talk about chicken!
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in most wheat products, and acts as the “glue” that helps to hold wheat, barley, kamut, spelt, farro, durum, bulgur, rye, and semolina together to maintain their shape.
Gluten is naturally occurring, and therefore is impossible to strip away from the grain. If a grain naturally has gluten in it, there’s no way to make that food gluten-free.
Is chicken gluten-free?
Chicken is a naturally gluten-free food. When prepared simply and without added gluten ingredients, chicken is considered to be gluten-free and safe for folks on a gluten-free diet.
That said, chicken isn’t always prepared in a way that is a good choice for a gluten-free diet. Let’s talk about those specific instances.
When is chicken not gluten-free?
Once chicken has had any kind of processing or manufacturing applied to it, that’s when you need to start doing research and checking ingredients and labels to make sure there’s no hidden gluten added during the processing.
Chicken is considered gluten-free unless an ingredient has been added to it that contains gluten. Another way chicken could contain gluten is if it is cooked in an area that is shared with another food that contains gluten, causing cross contamination.
Where to watch out for gluten in chicken and chicken dishes
There are a few places where gluten can be found in chicken and chicken dishes. Let’s talk about some of them to help you know where to look next time you’re shopping or ordering at a restaurant.
Many seasonings contain hidden gluten ingredients, like wheat flour, wheat starch, or hydrolyzed wheat protein. Though herbs and spices are gluten-free when they are sold individually, many times herb or spice blends add these gluten ingredients.
You’ll find that seasoning blends of all kinds, like chili powder, taco seasoning, ranch dressing mix, au jus seasoning, and even seasoning packets that come in prepared box rice and pasta mixes can contain gluten.
Something else to note is that some seasoning blend mixes from certain brands contain gluten while others that they offer do not. Don’t rely on name brand alone unless you’ve researched this brand and have found they have a commitment to only offering gluten-free products and share this on the label on their products.
If you’re buying a food with any type of seasonings added to chicken or you plan to add to your chicken recipe at home, be sure to review the list of ingredients for gluten first.
Flour or roux
Many chicken dishes are coated in flour before cooking in order to create a thickening effect to the dish you’re eating.
Dishes like chicken marsala, chicken piccata, chicken in a cream sauce, or other dishes that have the sauce made right in the pan with the chicken.
Any chicken dish that uses flour as an ingredient (and that flour is not listed specifically as a gluten-free flour) should be considered not gluten-free.
The same is true for any dish that uses a roux to thicken a soup with chicken in it or a sauce that is used to top chicken after it has been cooked.
Dishes like cream of chicken soup, chicken and dumplings, or a casserole dish that uses a homemade sauce made from flour and butter all likely contain gluten unless otherwise noted.
Read on: Gluten-free roux
Read on: Is chicken stock gluten-free?
Read on: Dairy-free Cream of Chicken Soup (gluten-free)
Read on: Gluten-free Chicken and Dumplings (dairy-free, egg-free)
It’s not uncommon to find chicken dishes that have been breaded at restaurants or in the freezer section at the grocery store. Foods like fried chicken, chicken nuggets, crispy chicken sandwiches, or breaded chicken that’s served on salads are all breaded.
The basic recipe for breading chicken includes all purpose flour, which contains gluten. If you love crispy chicken or fried chicken foods, you’ll want to make your own at home using a gluten-free flour to ensure this is a safe option for your gluten-free diet.
Many premade dinners or frozen food options from the store that contain chicken often have other ingredients added to them. Things like chicken pasta dishes and chicken pizza from the freezer or deli section or chicken sandwiches from the deli will almost certainly contain gluten.
Obvious foods that contain gluten are bread, pasta, pizza crust, crackers, or any other food that is made with all purpose or wheat flour. If you see pre-made foods like this or are planning to cook them at home, be sure that you review ingredients lists for any hidden names of gluten so you can avoid them.
While the chicken in these dishes is gluten-free, many ingredients that get added to dishes do contain gluten. If you make a pasta dish, the pasta contains gluten. If you make pizza using homemade or store bought dough that uses all-purpose flour, this pizza dough contains gluten. If you make a casserole that has a homemade sauce that uses flour, this sauce contains gluten.
In this case, it’s about knowing what the ingredients are that are joined in with the chicken in your dish that you’ll want to be aware of. The chicken itself may be safe for your gluten-free diet, but the ingredients that go along with it in a dish may not be.
Finally, chicken may contain gluten not from the chicken itself or from the ingredients that have been added to it, but from the proximity to other gluten ingredients where the food has been prepared and cooked.
For example, if chicken is seasoned or prepared on the same surface as a food that contains gluten or there is a gluten ingredient nearby, there is a possibility that the chicken will get some traces of gluten on it while being prepared.
Or if the chicken is fried in a deep fryer with other gluten-containing ingredients, even if the chicken itself doesn’t have any gluten, this chicken can have gluten just from sharing oil in the deep fryer.
When it comes to cross contamination, some folks who are gluten intolerant react to this level of gluten while others do not. If you are following a gluten-free diet due to Celiac disease, then you will want to be extra careful about cross contamination and where the food you’re eating is prepared and cooked.
If you are sensitive to gluten at these levels, it’s wise to look for gluten-free labels on anything you purchase from the store to ensure you’re not buying something that will make you sick. In this case, it’s probably also a good idea to avoid eating at restaurants that have the potential for cross contamination.
The best way to avoid cross contamination with gluten is to make your own food in your own kitchen so you know the cleanliness and amount of gluten present in your kitchen.
Gluten-free Chicken Recipes and Useful Posts
- 25 Gluten-free Dairy-free Chicken Casserole Recipes
- 25 Gluten and Dairy-free Chicken Crockpot Recipes
- 25 Gluten-free Chicken Soup Recipes
- Chicken Lettuce Wraps (gluten-free, dairy-free)
- Is Chicken Broth Gluten-free?
- Gluten-free Chicken Broth
- Super Easy Crock Pot Chicken Tacos
- 3-Ingredient Chicken Enchiladas (gluten-free, dairy-free option)
- Gluten-free Chicken Nugget Brands
- Gluten-free Chicken Tenders
If you’ve been wondering if chicken contains gluten, the answer is yes and no. Chicken is naturally gluten-free, but it is often prepared and cooked in a way that is not.
Be aware of these four main places gluten can come into contact with your chicken dish and use your best judgment on deciding if a food from the store or restaurant is a good option for you.
The best way to know your chicken is for sure gluten-free is to prepare it at home with ingredients that you have vetted as gluten-free.