Question: I love to use spices, herbs and various seasoning blends to spice up my food… but I heard they may contain gluten! Help!
Answer: A wide variety of spices and herbs are used in foods for flavoring purposes. American and Canadian food regulations differ in how they define the terms spices, herbs and seasonings. Here are some facts about the gluten-free status of these ingredients.
Spices, herbs and seeds do not contain gluten
Although anti-caking agents may sometimes be added to spices, it is often silicon dioxide, calcium silicate or sodium aluminum silica and NOT wheat flour or wheat starch. Some imitation black peppers contain other ingredients such as buckwheat hulls and ground rice in addition to black pepper. I have not found any companies using wheat as a filler in imitation pepper.
Seasonings may contain gluten
In general terms “seasonings” are a blend of flavoring agents (spices and/or herbs) which are often combined with a carrier agent such as salt, sugar, lactose, whey powder, starches or flours. The carrier agent in seasoning mixtures in gravy mixes, sauces and snack foods often contain wheat flour or wheat starch.
If a seasoning mixture/blend is sold separately as a bottled or packaged seasoning(e.g., Cajun Seasoning, Taco Seasoning Mix, etc.) the components of all the ingredients must be declared on the label. When a seasoning mixture is used in other foods it may only say “seasoning” on the label and not indicate its components. However in the USA, the FDA’s “Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act” requires that all components of ingredients when used in other foods must be declared if they contain any of the top eight allergens (including wheat). So if wheat flour or wheat starch was used in a seasoning blend it would have to be listed as “seasoning (wheat flour or wheat starch)” or “seasoning” and at the end of the ingredient list “Contains Wheat”. Also, whenever the term “seasoning” is used in the ingredient statement of a meat or poultry product, its components must be identified as a sublist.
It should be noted that, in Canada, seasoning, spice or herb mixtures, when used as ingredients in other foods are exempt from a declaration of their components. Although it is not currently required by regulation, Health Canada strongly urges manufacturers to declare components of ingredients such as seasonings if they contain allergens or gluten sources. Fortunately many companies are voluntarily labeling the components of seasonings when used in other foods. Also, Health Canada has proposed new labeling regulations entitled “Schedule No 1220- Enhanced Labelling for Food Allergen and Gluten Sources and Added Sulphites” that would make it mandatory to declare allergen and gluten sources.
The Bottom Line
If gluten sources such as wheat flour or wheat starch are used in a seasoning mixture/blend, it must be declared on the label of products sold in the USA. Although it is not yet mandatory in Canada, most companies do declare the source of the seasoning blend if it contains an allergen or gluten source. However, if a food product in Canada lists “seasonings” on a food label it is recommended to contact the company to ask if wheat is used as the carrier agent.
The above information was adapted from Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide, Revised and Expanded Edition by Shelley Case, RD. Case Nutrition Consulting Inc.