Trying to avoid gluten can feel like an impossible task at times considering how many simple and delicious foods seem to add wheat or barley for no reason. If you’re a fan of Mediterranean cuisine but you’re being careful about your diet, then you will want to know: is falafel gluten-free?
Traditional falafel does not contain gluten as there is no wheat, rye, barley, or triticale in the recipe. Unfortunately, however, some non-traditional recipes and pre-made falafel products use wheat flour as a substitute binding agent, meaning they will contain gluten.
Read ahead to discover what exactly makes traditional falafel gluten-free, how to make it without gluten, and which kinds of falafel you should avoid.
What Is Falafel and What Is In It?
Falafel is delicious, crisp balls of chickpeas, herbs, and spices that are easy to eat on the go. While it is originally from the Middle East, where it’s often eaten as street food or a quick snack, it has now become a staple all over the world. Many different countries claim to be the inventors of the dish, but no one knows exactly where it comes from.
Authentic falafel is a great option for anyone that is gluten-free as it should not contain any gluten whatsoever – and it’s vegan too!
The core ingredient in falafel is chickpeas (otherwise known as garbanzo beans). Many recipes simply use dried chickpeas, onions, herbs, and spices blended together to create the mixture, but some do rely on chickpea flour to act as a binding agent.
Although it is not essential, the flour can be a simple and cheap way to make sure the falafel balls actually stick together without needing to be chilled first, and it helps them to keep their shape if they are packaged or shipped.
Gluten-free falafel is not a healthier alternative version – it’s actually the most delicious and genuine way for this dish to be made!
Does Gram Flour Contain Gluten?
When you’re looking at falafel ingredients or recipes you might see the term “gram flour” being used. The question is: is it safe for anyone that is gluten-free?
Gram flour is another name for chickpea flour – also known as garbanzo bean flour or besan. It is a very popular kind of flour used all over the world and it is completely free from gluten.
The flour is actually made from ground-up chickpeas (garbanzo beans), which are a healthy legume filled with loads of fiber and phytonutrients, but no gluten.
Are All Falafel Gluten-Free?
Traditional falafel does not contain gluten, but that unfortunately does not mean that all falafel is safe to eat.
While gram flour is the ingredient of choice in an authentic recipe, some brands and chefs will switch it out for wheat flour instead, which does contain gluten. Any falafel that is made with wheat flour will not be gluten-free and can be risky for people with celiac disease and anyone else that is avoiding gluten.
If you are making falafel yourself, then you simply need to follow a traditional recipe that uses only dried chickpeas or gram flour. When buying falafel from a restaurant, it is always worth asking whether or not any alternative flour has been used.
Read More >> Are Chickpeas Gluten-Free?
Is Ready-Made Falafel Gluten-Free?
Making falafel can be a bit messy and time-consuming, so a lot of people choose to buy theirs preprepared. They can come chilled or frozen, they’re usually pretty cheap, and they keep for a long time.
It is important to note that some pre-made falafel will have been made using wheat flour as a cheaper alternative to gram flour.
Always check the ingredients list on any falafel that you are buying to see which kind of flour (if any) has been used. Flour that contains gluten should be highlighted in bold, and the packaging should clearly state that the product “contains gluten”.
Gluten-Free Falafel Recipe
If you want to be certain that your food is definitely free from anything you’re trying to avoid, your best bet is always to make it yourself. That way, you can see for yourself exactly what has gone into it.
Falafel is really fun to make, and it’s a pretty cheap and easy recipe to follow too.
- Dried Chickpeas (1 cup soaked overnight)
- Onion (1 cup, chopped)
- Parsley (1 cup, chopped)
- Cilantro (1 cup, chopped)
- Garlic (3 cloves, chopped)
- Salt and Pepper (to taste)
- Baking Powder (1/2 tsp)
- Spices: Cumin, Coriander, Cayenne pepper (1 tsp of each)
- Blend your chickpeas, herbs, garlic, onion, and spices in a food processor. Pulse in short bursts until it is fine and the texture is relatively coarse.
- Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight.
- Form the mixture into small balls or patties.
- Heat neutral-flavored oil in a pan to medium-high, then add the balls carefully and fry for 3-5 minutes, turning them in the middle. Alternatively, you can bake them in the oven.
- Serve hot or cold, or refrigerate or freeze them for another day!
Summary: Is Falafel Gluten-Free?
So, is falafel gluten-free? Traditionally, yes! Genuine falafel is made with chickpeas and/or chickpea flour, and it does not contain any gluten at all.
Some alternative recipes, however, will use wheat flour as a substitute for chickpea flour, which means they will contain gluten. It’s always worth asking a restaurant and/or checking the ingredients list before you eat falafel that you didn’t make yourself.