"Wait," you might say. "Aren't spices at least those with only one ingredient always gluten-free?"
Sadly, no. My experience shows that dried spices even simple, single ingredient spices like cinnamon and basil are commonly cross-contaminated with gluten. It's not clear whether the problem lies in their harvesting, production or distribution, but you can't simply grab any old bottle of a particular spice and assume it's safe on the gluten-free diet instead, you need to be more selective.
Following is a rundown of the major spice brands in the U.S., plus each company's statement on gluten content and gluten cross-contamination. As you can see, some manufacturers do better than others when it comes to this issue.
If you're particularly sensitive to trace gluten, you might want to stick with products that carry gluten-free certification, which means they're tested to below 10 parts per million of gluten (GF-10), and their manufacturers follow other best practices to keep gluten out of the final product. One manufacturer Spicely certifies everything it produces as gluten-free, while other manufacturers have a smattering of gluten-free-certified products.
Here are the top spice brands, plus their gluten-free status:
- Durkee. Durkee, a subsidiary of ACH Food Companies, Inc., sells more than 92 individual spices plus a wide variety of blends. The brand names Spice Islands and Tones also are ACH Food subsidiaries, and the spices for all three subsidiaries are processed in the same plant. According to a customer service representative for ACH Food, there are gluten ingredients present in the plant, but the single-ingredient spices are processed on dedicated lines that aren't used for gluten-containing items. She also reports that "99%" of spice blends sold by the brands should be gluten-free; the only ingredient that could contain hidden gluten is "modified food starch." Although that's typically sourced from corn, the customer service rep urges a call to confirm the status of the ingredient.
- Frontier Co-op. This purveyor of bulk and organic spices has eliminated all known gluten from its facility, according to its gluten-free FAQ. However, Frontier says up front that it only tests some of its gluten-free-certified Simply Organic line (see below) for gluten cross-contamination: "We don't make gluten-free claims for any other products because even tiny amounts of gluten can be a problem for some people, and these may be present in the facilities of our suppliers of ingredients."
- Magic Seasonings. Famous Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme started this line of seasoning blends, which includes well-known spice blends such as Poultry Magic, Magic Seasoning Salt and Fajita Magic. According to the company, all the blends are considered gluten-free to 20 parts per million (GF-20) except for Breading Magic and Gumbo Gravy Magic.
- McCormick. McCormick is one of the most widely available brands of spices in the U.S., and produces an extensive variety of spices and blends. Although the company does use gluten grains in some of its products, McCormick will declare the use of wheat, barley, rye or oats prominently in the ingredients list. In addition, the products that include gluten grain-derived ingredients are processed on separate lines, with "good manufacturing processes" used to keep them separate, according to a McCormick customer service representative. McCormick does not test its raw ingredients for gluten cross-contamination.
- Simply Organic. As I noted above, Simply Organic is a line of products from Frontier Co-op. Several of its seasoning mixes in packets (including Black Bean Seasoning Mix and Sloppy Joe Seasoning Mix) but only one of its more traditional spice mixtures (Orange Ginger Seasoning) appear on Simply Organic's certified gluten-free list. Note that Simply Organic's single-ingredient spices and multi-ingredient spice mixes (with the exception of Orange Ginger Seasoning) are not gluten-free certified.
- The Spice Hunter. Like Simply Organic, The Spice Hunter brand does have several certified gluten-free products ... but none of them are single-ingredient spices or multi-ingredient spice blends. A customer service representative says there are two problems: one, the spices are processed on the same lines as gluten-containing products, and two, it can be extremely difficult to obtain spices that have been protected all along the way from gluten cross-contamination. See The Spice Hunter's gluten-free FAQ here.
- Spice Islands. Spice Islands spices are processed by ACH Food Companies. See the entry for Durkee for the details.
- Spicely Organic Spices. Spicely covers all the bases: its spices are certified vegan, Kosher, organic and gluten-free (by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization, which requires testing to below 10 parts per million, or GF-10, levels). The company carries more than 50 different individual spices plus another 50 or so seasoning mixes. Several people I know who are particularly sensitive to trace gluten have had decent luck with Spicely products.
- Tones. Like Spice Islands and Durkee, Tones spices are processed by ACH Food Companies. See the entry for Durkee for the details.
Or, You Can Grow Your Own Gluten-Free Spices
When I need some dill, oregano, mint or basil for a recipe, I usually turn to the herbs sold fresh in the produce section of the supermarket, rather than to dried spices that tends to alleviate some cross-contamination concerns, plus it seems to give my dishes some extra zip.
Some years (when I have the time), I've also grown my own spices. Even if you don't have a garden or much of a green thumb, you can grow herbs in containers pretty easily. If you want to try it, check out Herb Container Garden Basics. Enjoy!