Whether you need to feed a pickle addiction or just want to add them to your dish, it’s important to make sure they’re safe for your gluten-free diet.
Pickles are naturally gluten-free unless they list malt vinegar in the ingredients. Most pickles, both store bought and homemade, use distilled vinegar, so there is little chance of gluten contamination.
Keep reading as we look at why we consider pickles naturally gluten-free, what exceptions you should look for, and how easy it is to make them at home.
Pickles: Naturally Gluten-Free
In most cases, pickles should be safe for anyone with celiac’s disease or anyone with a gluten intolerance. They require few ingredients, and all of those ingredients tend to be naturally gluten-free.
The process used to make pickles also offers virtually no room for cross-contamination. Most pickle manufacturers have no issue clearing the FDA standard of fewer than 20 ppm, and companies that usually list their pickles as gluten-free include:
- Mt. Olive
- Famous Dave’s
You should always verify this on the label, but it’s easy to remain optimistic with pickles.
Ingredients and Processing
The ingredient list on a jar of pickles usually includes:
The biggest thing to look out for when grabbing pickles off the shelf is what kind of vinegar the pickles sit in. Most companies used distilled white vinegar, which you can trust to be gluten-free.
In some cases, you will see pickles with malt vinegar on the label instead. This type of vinegar is a byproduct of beer manufacturing, and it comes from barley. The potential for gluten exists in these cases, and the only time these pickles will be gluten-free is if they are labeled as such.
There are no concerns with processing and cross contamination. Pickles do not come in contact with other foods, and they should only sit in their brine bath until they reach perfection and head off to sell.
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When Pickles are not Gluten-Free
Assume pickles are not gluten-free if they use malt vinegar (sometimes listed as barley malt vinegar) or if you notice any gluten-suspect additives.
Most spices and additives are still safe for a gluten-free diet, and it’s easy to find pickles labeled as gluten-free. If you ever run into a label that does not clear the pickles for a gluten-free diet, it’s simplest to move on to the next brand.
Another concern is cross-contamination in certain food environments. Pickles are not usually stored with gluten-containing products, but they may end up with sandwich crumbs in the jar. You also shouldn’t snag pickles slices off someone’s (not gluten-free) plate.
The Issue with Barley Malt Vinegar
Barley malt extract and barley malt vinegar come from a gluten-containing grain, and you should always proceed with caution when you see either in the ingredients.
The extract and vinegar is a by-product that comes from modifying the brewing process for beer. Malt vinegar specifically reroutes to ferment and turns into vinegar. While this happens, the gluten proteins in the barley are hydrolysed. Some people assume that this breaks the gluten protein down into small enough pieces that it is safe for consumption, but evidence suggests otherwise.
Some people handle malt vinegar without suffering an allergic reaction, but enough people have adverse reactions to advise against it. The only exceptions are if the label states they are gluten-free or if you can get the manufacturer to confirm that their product has been tested and has a gluten count fewer than 20 parts per million.
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How to Make Gluten-Free Pickles at Home Easily
The easiest way to make sure your pickles are gluten-free is by making them at home. This is the same for pretty much any food you’re concerned about, but pickles are much easier to make than a lot of snacks and you may find that you prefer to do them yourself.
Making your pickles at home lets you control their flavor profile, and even people who are not crazy about pickles find them irresistible.
Gathering Ingredients and Materials
You can look up different pickle recipes online, especially if you have a specific flavor you want to achieve, but for most gluten-free recipes you need:
- 1 ¼ cups of distilled white vinegar (at 5% acidity)
- 5 Tablespoons of kosher salt
- 1 Tablespoon of sugar
- 1 cup of cold water
- ~3 kirby cucumbers (about 1 pound)
- Seasonings and additives (such as dill sprigs, coriander, garlic cloves, or mustard seeds)
You also need a knife, a non-reactive saucepan, something to stir the brine with, and a one-quart jar.
Before you can start to actually make the gluten-free pickles, you need to prepare your ingredients and your workspace. Make sure you gather everything you need before you get started and ensure that you have enough of each ingredient.
Decide how you want your pickles. You can leave the cucumbers whole, but many people prefer to cut them before pickling.
For pickle spears, cut them lengthwise twice. Another option is slicing the cucumbers.
To prepare the brine, combine your distilled white vinegar, salt, and sugar in your saucepan. Heat this mixture until the sugar dissolves completely, then transfer it to a bowl with your cup of cold water. Keep this in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
After you’ve prepared your cucumbers, move them into the jar. Add in your desired seasonings, then pour in the brine. You can add more cold water to the brine until it covers the cucumbers completely.
Seal the jar and shake it to ensure even distribution, then set it in your fridge for at least 48 hours. This should be enough time to draw out the cucumber taste to leave you with crispy and fresh gluten-free pickles.
You should not have any issues finding gluten-free pickles on store shelves, but watch out for hidden gluten with malt vinegar. If you feel up to it, making gluten-free pickles at home will offer the most peace of mind and likely give you a much better taste.