Question: Is tea gluten-free, or does tea contain gluten?
Answer: Traditional plain tea — black or green — is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, which is not related to the gluten grains wheat, barley and rye. Therefore, plain tea should be gluten-free, assuming it hasn't been subjected to gluten cross-contamination in processing.
However, not all teas are made from Camillia sinensis, and even some that are made from real tea leaves can contain added gluten ingredients.
For example, some herbal teas contain barley malt as a sweetener, and some "real" teas have gluten-grain-based flavors (most frequently from barley) in them. That makes it essential to check the ingredients before you take a sip.
In addition, a form of tea made from roasted barley is popular in some Asian countries, including Japan, Korea and China. Therefore, you'll need to determine exactly what you're getting when you order "tea" in a restaurant featuring Asian cuisine.
For tea drinkers, it's definitely a case of "buyer beware" when it comes to gluten. However, most major tea companies keep gluten-free lists (and some are even certified gluten-free), so it's quite possible to find a type of tea you enjoy that's also gluten-free.
Here's the list of tea manufacturers, along with their gluten policies and gluten-free lists, where available:
- Bigelow teas. All of Bigelow's extensive selection of teas are considered gluten-free, according to the company, including popular flavors such as English Breakfast, Constant Comment and Sweet Dreams herbal tea. "Please note, however, that Twinings at this time does not utilize an outside agency to certify our teas as gluten-free," the company adds in a statement. You can search Bigelow's tea listing here.
- Celestial Seasonings. Most of Celestial Seasonings' teas are considered gluten-free to at least 20 parts per million, but a handful contain barley, including Roastorama, Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride, Sugar Plum Spice, Holiday Herbal Tea and Gingerbread Spice. The company says in its gluten statement that it will label non-gluten-containing products as "gluten-free."
- Lipton tea. Lipton says it does not publish a list of gluten-free tea varieties. However, it will disclose any gluten ingredients on the label. "We recommend that you read the label each time before buying our product. If gluten is present, it is clearly listed in plain language on the ingredient label (i.e., wheat flour, rye, barley, oats, and malt)." There's also no gluten-containing glue in Lipton tea bags: "We do not use any glue in the assembly of our Tea bags or tags. Where a staple is not used, we use pressure and heat to adhere the string to the tag and the bag."
- Mighty Leaf teas. Mighty Leaf states that none of its teas contain wheat, barley, rye or oats. However, "our teas may be processed in a facility that also processes gluten products, opening up the risk for cross contamination." In addition, those who are sensitive to corn should be aware that Mighty Leaf uses tea pouches made from corn starch.
- Red Rose tea. Red Rose labels its black tea, English Breakfast tea, its decaffeinated black tea English Breakfast tea and its Earl Grey tea as gluten-free.
- Republic of Tea. Republic of Tea holds gluten-free certification, which means its gluten-free-labeled teas contain less than 10 parts per million of gluten (see the company's statement here). However, make sure the package you purchase actually is marked with that "GF" logo, since the company doesn't guarantee all its flavors are safe. One tea flavor — Coconut Cocoa Cuppa Chocolate — contains barley, which of course is a gluten grain.
- Stash teas. According to a statement from Stash: "All of the flavors used in our blends are gluten-free. We do not use barley malt in any of our blends." The maltodextrin in Stash iced green tea powder is from corn, and the company's tea bags are made from wood cellulose.
- Tazo teas. Tazo, owned by Starbucks, makes four gluten-containing flavors: Green Ginger, Tazo Honeybush, Lemon Ginger and Tea Lemonade. Beware of ordering Tazo tea in a Starbucks shop, since the baristas use the same tongs to pull out each tea bag, so cross-contamination is fairly likely. (For more on Starbucks, check out my Gluten-Free Starbucks Guide.)
- Tetley teas. The company states that, "to the best of our knowledge," none of its teas contain any gluten ingredients or are at risk for gluten cross-contamination. Tetley does not make flavored teas.
- Twinings teas. Twinings USA does not maintain a gluten-free list on its website, but the company said in an email that all of its teas were gluten-free.
- Yogi tea. Several Yogi teas, including Stomach Ease, Calming and Kava Stress Relief, include barley malt as an ingredient. Yogi will disclose gluten ingredients, including barley, on its ingredients lists, so your best bet is to check the label.