Finding what is gluten free and easy is tough – and tacos are one of the things that fit nicely into that category. They are put together from a bunch of whole ingredients. But are there things to be aware of still?
Tacos made using hard shell corn tortillas are usually gluten free. Check the ingredients on the shells, cheese, taco meat, and other ingredients to ensure they are gluten free. Tacos advertised as crispy or fried are not typically gluten free as they are made with a flour tortilla.
There are many different pieces to a taco and many different places that gluten can come into play. I’ve outlined many parts of a taco and different forms of tacos below to understand better what is gluten free and what is not.
Are Taco Shells Gluten Free?
Taco shells are corn tortillas that have been formed and baked to maintain a shape. These are sold in grocery stores and are used in restaurants, fast food, and street food.
Most taco shells are gluten free. Check the ingredients to ensure they do not contain gluten and are not made on the same equipment as gluten products.
If the taco shells are made with flour tortillas instead of corn tortillas, they are not gluten free. Flour tortillas are made with wheat-based flour unless marked as gluten free.
Are Tortillas Gluten Free?
There are many different kinds of tortillas, and not all of them are gluten free.
Some tortillas are gluten free. Ones sold as flour tortillas, soft tortillas, or other names such as low carb tortillas are not gluten free unless otherwise marked. If they are not specifically sold as gluten free tortillas, they are not gluten free. Corn tortillas are usually gluten free but should still be marked.
There are many different tortillas on the shelves at the grocery store or available at restaurants and other markets. It is vital only to eat tortillas marked as gluten free if this is a dietary concern.
Some corn tortillas can even have added flour, so look for that gluten free label or read the ingredients to know they contain. Traditional corn tortillas will only contain masa, water, and salt.
Are Corn Tortillas Gluten free?
Of all the kinds of tortillas out there, corn tortillas are the safest option when eating gluten free.
Corn tortillas are gluten free. Corn tortillas traditionally contain masa, water, and salt. Masa is flour made from corn and is naturally gluten free. Look at the ingredients on the package to ensure that there is no other type of flour or ingredients added.
Corn tortillas advertised as anything more, such as soft corn, need to inspect the label before ensuring they are gluten free. Different combinations of water and masa can result in different textures, and some soft corn tortillas are gluten free.
Most brands that sell gluten free corn tortillas will have it on the label, and most will even be certified gluten free.
Are Crunchy Tacos Gluten Free?
Crispy tacos, hard shell tacos, and more are very common on Mexican restaurant or fast food menus.
Crunchy taco shells are synonymous with hard shell tacos, where the corn tortilla is baked until stiff. Most corn tortillas are gluten free, but not all. It is important to check the ingredients and ensure they are not crispy tacos rather than crunchy, flour tortillas fried in oil.
The differences between these can be difficult. But in general, when something is advertised as a tortilla, you need to check the ingredients to ensure it is made with gluten free ingredients.
It is also important to check on the ingredients of the fillings of the taco to be sure that it is gluten free.
Are Crispy Tacos Gluten free?
Crunchy tacos and crispy tacos often get confused, which is understandable! This is something that needs to be checked on closely when ordering.
Crispy tacos are not gluten free. Crispy taco shells are made with a flour tortilla that has been formed and deep-fried. Flour tortillas are made from wheat flour or flour derived from wheat, such as all-purpose flour. Unless they are specifically marked gluten free, they are not.
The confusion between crispy and crunchy tacos can be extremely frustrating and confusing. When looking at either term on a menu, I highly recommend checking on the ingredients in the taco shell or skipping it altogether.
Are Tortilla Chips Gluten Free?
Tortilla chips are a bit different than the section above on tortillas specifically.
Most tortilla chips are made with corn tortillas and are gluten free. Be sure they are marked as gluten free by the manufacturer and were not made in shared oil or on shared lines with gluten products. Check they are not made with flour tortillas, especially if they look different than a typical yellow corn tortilla chip.
Flour tortillas are rarely used to make tortilla chips. When they are, the chips are much puffier and tend to be lighter than the standard yellow corn tortilla chips.
However, color may not be the best indicator because white corn is also used to make tortilla chips. Read the ingredients and check for a gluten free label from the manufacturer to be sure.
Some corn tortillas can contain gluten, so even if they are corn tortillas, check to make sure. Traditionally, corn tortillas contain no wheat, rye, barley, or derivatives. So if they are made in the standard way, they should be safely gluten free.
Is Taco Pizza Gluten Free?
Taco pizza is this interesting mesh between Mexican and Italian food that evokes strong feelings on either side of the debate. But the question here is whether it is gluten free.
Taco pizza is not gluten free if it uses a pizza crust like a traditional pizza. It can be gluten free if done using a tostada tortilla, the hard, flat corn tortilla. Check on the other ingredients like the refried beans and taco meat to be sure that it is. Most taco pizzas are made using a dough crust like a traditional Italian pizza, not gluten free.
Taco pizzas may also be made using a deep-fried flour tortilla laid flat with the toppings piled on top. This is also not gluten free.
A fried flour tortilla is also not the same as a tostada as they are made with corn tortillas.
Are Tamales Gluten Free?
Tamales are made from the same corn flour, masa, that corn tortillas are made from, but much different.
Tamales ingredients are naturally gluten free. Some may add gluten flour to help bind and give it structure, so it is important to check the ingredients and not assume all tamales are gluten free. The fillings may also contain gluten. Always check for a gluten free label and any statements about the manufacturing of a product.
Tamales are generally a safe option for someone on a gluten free diet. It is important to always check the labels before purchasing a product, even if it has been purchased before. Some manufacturers will change ingredients and keep the same labels except for changing the ingredients list.
Tamales made in a restaurant, food cart, or other environments should be considered high risk for cross-contamination if the kitchen is not completely gluten free.
Is Taco Meat Gluten Free?
Taco meat is the most contested of the ingredients of a taco besides the tortilla itself.
Taco meat is gluten free as long as the seasonings are free from gluten, wheat, rye, and barley products. Seasonings can contain anti-caking ingredients that contain gluten. Always check the ingredients and read the label for a gluten free statement by the manufacturer.
The meat itself is gluten free. Even if the animal eats gluten products (such as wheat, grass, or hay), the meat from the animal is gluten free. The real risk is in the seasoning and how the meat is treated.
Sometimes wheat products can be used as fillers to make it appear that there is more meat than there actually is. And statements regarding meat can be intentionally misleading as well.
Here are some questions to ask regarding taco meat. What ingredients do you use in your taco meat? Are your seasonings gluten free? Do you cook the taco meat separately or next to items that contain gluten?
This is especially vital on a food cart. As a previous food cart owner, I can testify to how little space there is to cook and prep, even in the most organized mobile kitchen. It is effortless to cross-contaminate between foods, even with the best of intentions. Most food carts do not have a larger grill than 24 inches for all the foods they cook on it.
Are Taco Seasonings Gluten Free?
Taco seasonings can be one of the main sources of gluten contamination in tacos. For the most part, they are easy gluten free such as lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, salsa, and corn tortillas. But the seasonings that are used on the meat or other fillings can be an issue.
Taco seasonings can contain gluten. Check the label to be certain of the ingredients and look for a gluten free certification. El Paso taco seasoning is gluten free and McCormick has labeled their taco seasoning as gluten free, but it does not contain a certification. Source
There are many recipes to make your own taco seasoning. Just make sure that the spices you are using are labeled gluten free and don’t contain gluten themselves, or you are no better off.
Gluten is mainly found in the anti-caking agents of spices, mostly due to the availability and price of the ingredients. Wheat is very inexpensive and an attractive filler. If you want to look more into wheat and the ideas that shape gluten free attitudes, you can follow this link to the article I wrote on it.
Is Shredded Cheese Gluten Free?
Just like spices, shredded cheese can have anti-caking agents that contain gluten.
Cheese and most ingredients used to make cheese are gluten free. Shredded cheese can add anti-caking agents to keep the shreds from forming a clump, and some of those anti-caking agents contain gluten. Most have started to move away from this practice and use gluten free versions instead.
Cellulose is the new anti-caking agent of choice and can be found on the ingredient list on most bags of shredded cheese.
Cellulose is gluten free.
There is some controversy over it as it is made from wood pulp. It has been shown to help extend the shelf life of cheese when used as well. Source
Are Taco Bell Tacos Gluten Free?
Taco Bell is a fast-food restaurant found all across the United States and beyond. Taco Bell is in a total of 26 countries, 300 locations are outside of the US. Source
When looking at ingredients and if they are gluten free, I am solely looking at the contents of those in the US. It is widespread to change recipes and offerings to fit the tastes of the people and cultures where new fast-food restaurants pop up.
Taco Bell’s Crunchy Taco is gluten free according to their website. However, they are not a gluten free kitchen, nor are their manufacturers’ gluten free. They do not recommend anyone with Celiac Disease eat there and cannot guarantee the absence of any allergen even if they do not have products that contain it. Source
To look at what Taco Bell recommends for gluten free customers, click here to their website (opens in a new tab).
To use their tool for filtering by allergen, click here to go to their website (opens in a new tab). This will be very useful if you are eating there and have multiple allergens.
However, Taco Bell’s statement on allergens says that they do not recommend anyone with any allergies eat at Taco Bell. They specifically state that they can accommodate a “made-without-gluten diet” and do not recommend anyone with Celiac Disease eat there.
Further than that, they also state that even allergens that are not used in the restaurant or contained in anything they serve may be present in the final product due to the manufacturing facilities. In short, anyone who has an allergy or is sensitive to any ingredient should not eat at Taco Bell.
However, if none of that bothers you or you have no choice but to eat there and try to find the best things in a bad situation, I have looked over the menu to see the best options. Note that these could change without warning on this site. You should always check with the manufacturer (Taco Bell) for the most up-to-date information.
Most of the “allergen” menu, when sorted by no gluten or wheat, is drinks, which is similar to most fast-food restaurants.
Tacos that are gluten free and wheat-free according to Taco Bell: Crunchy Taco, Crunchy Taco Supreme®, Nacho Cheese, Doritos® Locos Taco, Nacho Cheese Doritos® Locos Taco Supreme. In addition to that, they say that their Power Menu Bowl and Veggie Power Menu Bowl are also gluten free. Black Bean & Rice, Black Beans, Diablo Sauce Packet, Hot Sauce Packet, and Mild Sauce Packet are also gluten free.
I will not list the drinks that are gluten free as there is a long list.
Again, this is not a recommended place to eat for anyone who requires a gluten free diet for any health reasons as the risk of cross-contamination is great. But I include this information because sometimes we all need to make the best of a bad situation where there are no other food options.
So Are Tacos Safe For Someone With Celiac Disease Or A Severe Gluten Intolerance?
That is a lot of information to sort through for all kinds of tacos and parts of tacos. So, in the end, are tacos gluten free?
Tacos should be considered one of the best, easily accessible, and socially acceptable gluten free options. There are still things to consider, but speaking generally, they are a great option.
The most important things to consider are looking at the ingredients list, looking for gluten free certifications or statements regarding gluten from the manufacturer, and the environment in which the ingredient or end product is prepared.
If they are not prepared in a dedicated gluten free kitchen, there will be a high risk of cross-contamination.
If you are preparing food for someone who is highly sensitive to gluten or has Celiac Disease, be extra cautious on ingredients and have their food prepared in a dedicated kitchen whenever possible.
If you are making food in a kitchen that is not dedicated gluten free and are interested in learning more about doing it as safely as possible, I wrote an article about how to do this that you should check out.