Pickles can be a key ingredient in dishes like tuna salad or a side item served alongside a sandwich.
While pickles generally refer to cucumbers fermented with seasoned vinegar, an array of food items — carrots, onions, eggs, and beyond — can be fermented and pickled.
Most pickles are gluten-free, though the fermentation or brining solution will often determine whether or not they are considered a truly gluten-free product.
This article defines which pickles are gluten-free and which to avoid, especially if you have celiac disease.
Common spices, herbs, and aromatics used to season most pickles, such as garlic cloves, dill, and mustard seeds, will typically be gluten-free. That means your focus should be on the brining solution itself.
Pickles can be fermented in an array of mixtures.
Gluten-free pickles are fermented in vinegars made from gluten-free grains or distilled vinegars. These include vinegars from corn, cane sugar, grapes, and apple cider — or, in the case of lacto-fermented pickles, a saltwater brine (
Studies show that exposure to trace amounts of gluten (an average of 2.1 mg per exposure) usually yields no discernible symptoms in people with celiac disease, though this could vary from person to person (
Per United States food regulation, a product labeled “gluten-free” should contain less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten (
To that end, if you are following a strictly gluten-free diet due to celiac disease or another health condition, look for products made in a facility that does not process gluten-containing products in order to avoid cross-contamination.
That will help prevent even the most residual amounts of gluten from entering your pickle jar — and keep you free from unwanted gluten-related side effects.
If trace amounts of gluten are a concern for you, look for brands that include messaging about being gluten-free. It’s even safer to choose brands that have been third-party certified.
Brands that claim to be gluten-free include:
Other common additives, like calcium chloride, citric acid, and sodium benzoate, do not contain gluten.
Flavoring agents like “natural flavor” can be assumed not to contain gluten if the product overall labels itself as gluten-free.
If the ingredients list simply lists “vinegar,” this generally implies that apple vinegar or apple cider vinegar has been used. Thus, the product should be safe to eat for those who need to avoid gluten.
Look for pickles fermented with distilled vinegars made from corn, cane sugar, apple cider, or a saltwater brine. If you cannot eat any gluten, it’s best to only choose pickles labeled gluten-free and made in a facility free from gluten-containing foods.
If you enjoy pickles but are concerned about gluten, avoid pickles made in a brining solution that includes malt vinegar.
Keep in mind:
- Malt vinegar is made from the distillation of barley malt and will have gluten.
- It’s best to steer clear of flavored vinegars, as these may also contain malt (which contains gluten) (6).
- Chinese black rice vinegar (Chinkiang) also usually contains gluten and should be avoided, though most rice vinegars are gluten free.
You are much more likely to run across pickles brined with malt vinegar outside of the U.S. For instance, the Ploughman’s pickle, popular in the United Kingdom, is made with a malt vinegar brine and is thus not gluten-free.
If you have celiac disease, this trace amount may or may not trigger a response. However, if you avoid gluten for other reasons, it may not affect you.
Steer clear of pickles fermented with malt vinegar or rice vinegar, as these will contain gluten. It’s also a good idea to avoid pickles made with flavored vinegars, since these may contain malt — which contains gluten.
Most pickles will not contain gluten.
Pickles made with distilled vinegars, at times labeled simply “vinegar,” will be safe to eat. However, watch out for these terms in the ingredients label, as they indicate the presence of trace amounts of gluten:
- wheat protein
- malt vinegar
- flavored vinegar
- rye vinegar
Also, be wary of items that often accompany pickles, as these can often contain gluten. If you have celiac disease, continue to be mindful and pass on sandwich bread or crackers if they are not labeled gluten-free.
Instead, consider these 14 gluten-free breads.
Remember that it’s always safest to choose foods that are third-party certified to be gluten-free if you live with celiac disease.
Watch out for terms like “malt vinegar,” “wheat protein,” or “rice vinegar” on the ingredients label. Pickles fermented with these will contain small amounts of gluten. Distilled vinegars, or those labeled simply “vinegar,” should be safe to eat.
Most pickles are gluten-free. Pickles brined with distilled vinegars — like those made from corn or apple cider vinegar — will not contain gluten and should be safe to eat if you follow a gluten-free diet due to celiac disease.
However, you should avoid pickles made with malt vinegar or rice vinegar. To be extra safe when shopping, be sure the jar reads “gluten-free.”
If you are very sensitive to gluten and affected by trace amounts, be sure that the pickles you buy come from a facility where gluten is not processed in any product.
You’re more likely to encounter gluten-containing pickles outside of the U.S. — for instance, in the U.K., where the Ploughman’s pickle is a favorite.
If you’re at a restaurant, ask whether the pickles served are gluten-free or avoid them entirely if you’re concerned. And be mindful that items often paired with pickles, like crackers or bread, will typically contain gluten.
Just one thing
Try this today: Make your own pickles! Sanitize a glass jar by washing it with soap and water, then baking at 230 °F (110 °C) until dry (10–15 minutes).
Flavor your favorite gluten-free vinegar with a garlic clove, mustard seeds, salt, and washed herbs. Add equal parts water. Bring to a boil in a small pot.
Add as many cucumber spears as will fit in the glass jar, then fully submerge them with your solution. Refrigerate and enjoy after 48 hours.