Popcorn is made from a type of corn kernel that puffs up when heated.
It’s a popular snack, but you may wonder whether it’s a reliable gluten-free option.
In those with gluten intolerance, wheat allergy, or celiac disease, consuming gluten can cause adverse effects like headaches, bloating, and intestinal damage (1).
This article explains whether all popcorn is gluten-free and offers tips for choosing one that is.
Popcorn is made from corn, which doesn’t contain gluten. In fact, corn is often recommended as a safe alternative to wheat for those with celiac disease, and most people who cannot tolerate gluten can safely enjoy corn products (2).
However, corn contains proteins called maize prolamins, which can be problematic for some people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance (3).
Research has shown that certain individuals with celiac disease may experience an inflammatory response to these proteins. To determine whether you have a corn sensitivity, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider (3).
Summary Popcorn kernels are naturally gluten-free. Yet, some people with celiac disease may also have intolerances to certain proteins in corn.
Though most popcorn is naturally gluten-free, certain commercial brands may contain this group of proteins.
Popcorn made in facilities that also manufacture glutenous foods may be at risk for cross-contamination.
Furthermore, popcorn that has been flavored or made using certain additives may contain gluten. For example, certain toppings or spice blends could include gluten if the product isn’t labeled gluten-free (4).
Some common gluten-containing additives include malt flavoring, wheat starch, brewer’s yeast, and soy sauce.
Summary Popcorn may be at risk for gluten cross-contamination depending on where it’s manufactured. Certain popcorn brands may use gluten-containing flavorings or additives.
If you’re particularly sensitive to trace amounts of gluten, choosing a popcorn without additives or flavorings is a good idea. Look at the ingredient list and choose a product that lists only “popcorn” or contains only corn kernels and salt.
It’s also a good idea to select products that are labeled certified gluten-free. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stipulates that products labeled gluten-free must contain fewer than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten (4).
In addition, manufacturers are required by law to indicate common food allergens — including wheat — on the label (5).
You can also reach out to companies directly to ask about their processing practices, specific product ingredients, and cross-contamination control.
The best way to ensure that your popcorn doesn’t contain gluten is to purchase products that have been certified by a third party and labeled as such.
Third-party certification marks indicate that the popcorn was independently tested and complies with the FDA guidelines for products labeled gluten-free.
Examples of third-party certifications include NSF International, which confirms that a product contains fewer than 20 ppm of gluten, and the Gluten Intolerance Group, which guarantees fewer than 10 ppm (6, 7).
Summary To minimize your risk of eating gluten-containing popcorn, look for products that only contain popcorn kernels or are labeled gluten-free. Even better, find a popcorn with third-party gluten-free certification.
It’s easy to make your own gluten-free popcorn. All you need are raw popcorn kernels and a heat source. If you don’t have an air popper made specifically for making popcorn, you can use a microwave or a pan and stove top.
To make gluten-free popcorn in the microwave:
Alternatively, you can make popcorn on your stovetop:
Summary Making your own popcorn is a good way to make sure it’s gluten-free. This can be done using a popcorn air-popper, microwave, or pan on the stovetop.
Popcorn is naturally gluten-free and suitable for most people with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.
Still, some individuals who react to gluten may also be sensitive to certain proteins in corn.
What’s more, some commercial products may be cross-contaminated with gluten or include glutenous ingredients.
A good first step is to look for popcorn that is labeled certified gluten-free or make a homemade batch in the comfort of your own kitchen.
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