Question: Is rice gluten-free?
In most cases, yes: rice is gluten-free.
Plain rice — regardless of whether it's whole-grain brown rice, polished white rice, long-grained basmati rice or even exotic black rice — is always considered gluten-free.
So is the form of rice called glutinous rice, also known as sticky rice or sweet rice. Despite the name, it doesn't contain the form of gluten that's dangerous to those of us with celiac disease or gluten intolerance; the term "glutinous" simply refers to the fact that glutinous rice gets glue-like, or sticky, when cooked.
Wild rice blends also should be safe, but always double-check — in one restaurant, the chef warned me that the wild rice blend he used contained barley grains.
In addition, if you're sensitive to vinegar derived from gluten grains (as I am), you should watch out for the rice used in Japanese restaurants to prepare sushi — it almost always contains a grain-based vinegar. I was glutened very badly by grain vinegar used in sushi rice at a Japanese restaurant, and now know to avoid the rice or to ask the restaurant for plain rice instead.
Prepared rice mixes, on the other hand, often contain gluten in the ingredients, potentially in the form of wheat (used as a thickener or in soy sauce). Sometimes gluten also appears in pre-packaged flavored rice in the form of barley-based flavoring.
Always check for gluten on food labels when you're buying flavored rice (or anything else, for that matter) to make sure the product is safe.
Of course, if you can't find a prepared rice dish that's both gluten-free and tasty, you can try making your own. About.com's Guide to Gluten-Free Cooking has a great recipe for gluten-free wild rice with mushrooms, tomatoes and cheddar cheese. In addition, many forms of Spanish paella are naturally gluten-free — but you'll need to double-check the ingredients and make substitutions as necessary.
There's one more risk that applies mainly to people who are more sensitive to gluten cross-contamination: rice or rice products processed on equipment or in a facility that also processes gluten-containing products. Some packages — but not all — will note potential cross-contamination issues.
To alleviate any concerns, you can look for products certified gluten-free; while I haven't found a company that certifies its plain rice, many rice-based products — such as rice crackers, rice cakes and rice pasta — hold gluten-free certification.