Question: Is cranberry sauce gluten-free?
In many cases, yes, cranberry sauce is gluten-free, making it one of the easier ingredients to source for a holiday meal. In fact, there are multiple store-bought options and great recipes for gluten-free cranberry sauce.
Fresh cranberries — the kind you find in the produce section around holiday time — don't contain any gluten unless they've been subjected to gluten cross-contamination in processing or handling (unlikely, in this case). Therefore, it's pretty simple to make a really excellent homemade gluten-free cranberry sauce using these fresh berries, plus other safe ingredients.
In addition, some store-bought cranberry sauces — especially "pure" ones with no added ingredients beyond cranberries and sugar — are considered gluten-free. If you don't have time (or inclination) to make your own cranberry sauce, these brands can represent a safe fallback for your holiday meal.
List of Gluten-Free Cranberry Sauce Brands
Although most cranberry sauces appear gluten-free by ingredients, there are relatively few that appear on stores' gluten-free lists. That doesn't mean the sauces in question actually contain gluten; instead, they may be processed on shared equipment or in a shared facility.
It's quite possible, too, that the cranberry sauce for sale under your local store brand is perfectly safe — check ingredients carefully, and if in doubt, call the toll-free number for the store's customer service.
Here's a list of gluten-free cranberry sauce brands available in the U.S:
- Ocean Spray. When many people think of cranberry sauce, they think of Ocean Spray. The company makes two different types of cranberry sauce: whole berry and jellied. Both are considered gluten-free to less than 20 parts per million, according to Ocean Spray's Frequently Asked Questions. Since Ocean Spray products are readily available nationally, especially around holiday time, I frequently advise people following the gluten-free diet to plan on purchasing Ocean Spray when they need safe cranberry sauce and don't want to make it themselves.
- Safeway cranberry sauce. This store brand, found at Safeway stores along with sister grocery store chains Carrs, Dominick's, Genuardi's, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb, and Vons, appears on Safeway's gluten-free list.
- Publix whole cranberry sauce. Publix, a grocery store chain prevalent in the southeast U.S., has an extensive gluten-free list, and that list includes the Publix store brand whole cranberry sauce.
Note that cranberry sauce does not appear on Trader Joe's gluten-free list or on Whole Foods' gluten-free list for the 365 house brand, so in each case, I'd choose another option.
Homemade Cranberry Sauce Recipes
Although our family tradition generally calls for a can of Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce, I really enjoy homemade sauce ... and it's pretty easy to make, too. Here are some great recipes:
- Slightly Tart Cranberry Sauce Recipe. This recipe, from About.com's Expert on Culinary Arts, calls for orange juice and sugar. Just make certain to use a safe orange juice (there are many choices) from the gluten-free juice list.
- Sugar-Free Cranberry Sauce Recipe. If you follow a low-carb diet in addition to eating gluten-free, you might want to check out this recipe from About.com's Expert on Low-Carb Diets.
- Cabernet Cranberry Sauce Recipe. This interesting recipe combines red wine, orange juice and cinnamon with a pinch of (really) cayenne pepper. The result is terrific. Just make sure to use gluten-free spices.
- Maple Cranberry Sauce. Almost more a relish than a sauce, this recipe includes fresh cranberries, maple syrup, wine, juice, orange zest and walnuts. Again, make sure to use a safe juice.
- Cranberry Sauce Video. If you're more of a visual learner, this video will take you step-by-step through the process of making a simple cranberry sauce.
Don't Eat Aunt Edna's Cranberry Sauce!
With cranberry sauce, your biggest risk is a homemade sauce ... not one you make in your own gluten-free kitchen, but one a friend or relative makes in their not-so-gluten-free kitchen. No matter how certain they are that the ingredients themselves are gluten-free, I strongly advise you not to eat it.
The cross-contamination is likely to come from the sugar — if the package of sugar used for the cranberry sauce also was used in baking, it quite likely has been contaminated (think: spoon shared between flour and sugar). The sauce also can get cross-contaminated from plastic bowls, teflon pots, wooden spoons and other cooking supplies and utensils previously used with gluten-containing foods.
Believe it or not, you're also at risk for a glutening from canned sauce served in someone else's kitchen — there, the potential problem is a cross-contaminated can opener.
Regardless of the source of that possible gluten, it's just not worth the risk, especially on a holiday. For more on why you shouldn't take chances on other peoples' dishes, check out Should I Eat 'Gluten-Free' Food Prepared by Friends or Relatives?
And, for the details on how you can make a completely safe holiday meal, take a look at my rundown in Traditional Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Menu.