Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. For people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, eating gluten triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine. This can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, fatigue and more.
Many people who need to avoid gluten want to know if pre-made foods like salsas contain gluten. The answer depends on the specific ingredients used to make the salsa.
Here are quick answers to common questions about gluten in store-bought salsa:
- Most mass-produced, pre-made salsas are gluten-free because they are made with ingredients like tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, lime juice, etc. These ingredients do not naturally contain gluten.
- Some salsas may contain thickening agents like wheat flour or ingredients that could be contaminated with gluten. Always check the label for gluten-containing ingredients.
- Labels that say “gluten-free” indicate the product has been tested to verify it meets the FDA’s requirements for gluten-free labeling (less than 20 ppm of gluten).
- Salsas made fresh in-store at grocery deli counters or restaurants may be higher risk since ingredients are not always fully disclosed or regulated.
- Corn tortilla chips are gluten-free, so salsas paired with corn chips are safer than those with flour-containing tortilla chips.
Gluten-Containing Ingredients to Avoid
When purchasing pre-made salsa, it’s important to read the ingredient list carefully to watch out for any ingredients that contain gluten. Here are some common ones to avoid:
- Wheat – May be listed as wheat flour, enriched wheat flour, etc.
- Barley – Includes pearl barley, barley malt, etc.
- Rye – Including rye flour.
- Malt extract – Often derived from barley.
- Soy sauce – Contains wheat unless marked gluten-free.
- Beer – Made from gluten-containing grains.
- Flour tortillas – Contain wheat flour.
- Hydrolyzed wheat protein – Derived from wheat gluten.
- Natural flavor – May be derived from gluten sources.
Any salsa containing an ingredient made with wheat, barley or rye should be avoided if you are sensitive to gluten. Oats are naturally gluten-free but may contain traces of gluten from cross-contact during growing and processing.
Most Pre-Made Salsas Are Gluten-Free
The good news is that most major brands of pre-made salsa sold in grocery stores are gluten-free. They are produced in facilities that make them safe for people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Here are some of the most common gluten-free, nationally-available salsas:
- Newman’s Own
- Mrs. Renfro’s
- Desert Pepper Trading Company
- On The Border
- Trader Joe’s
These brands make traditional tomato-based salsas, along with fruit salsas and types flavored with peppers like chipotle. They use ingredients like tomatoes, onion, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, pineapple, mango, peach, jalapeno and salt.
Since the base ingredients do not naturally contain gluten, these salsas are formulated to be gluten-free when produced in facilities that avoid cross-contamination.
Why Are Most Salsas Gluten-Free?
There are a few key reasons why most jarred salsas are safely gluten-free:
- The main ingredients (tomatoes, peppers, onions, etc.) do not naturally contain gluten.
- Manufacturers don’t typically add thickening agents like wheat flour.
- Reputable brands use dedicated equipment and facilities to avoid cross-contamination.
- Brands will label salsas “gluten-free” if they contain less than 20 ppm gluten.
Companies that produce gluten-free salsas follow strict protocols in their facilities. Ingredients are stored separately, equipment is thoroughly cleaned and they adhere to high standards for testing and quality control procedures.
Risk of Gluten in Fresh Salsa
While most major pre-made salsa brands are safely gluten-free, fresh salsas made in-store or at restaurants may pose a higher risk of gluten cross-contamination.
For example, salsas found in the deli section or prepared at a restaurant or food truck could potentially contain problematic ingredients like wheat flour. Restaurants may also use shared equipment and prep areas where gluten cross-contact is more likely.
If you need to avoid gluten strictly, it’s important to ask questions about how fresh salsas are prepared, like:
- What ingredients are used?
- Is any thickening agent like flour added?
- Are dedicated utensils used to avoid cross-contact?
Unless the restaurant or store has clear protocols in place and can provide complete ingredient information, fresh salsas may be risky for the gluten-free diet compared to regulated, pre-made versions.
How to Find Gluten-Free Salsa
Here are some tips for finding gluten-free salsa options:
- Check mainstream brands – Most major salsa brands sold at grocery stores are formulated to be gluten-free.
- Look for “gluten-free” label – This indicates less than 20 ppm gluten.
- Read the ingredients – Avoid salsas listing wheat, barley, rye or questionable ingredients.
- Call the manufacturer – If unsure, you can call and ask about gluten-free status.
- Ask restaurants about ingredients – Inquire about potential use of thickening agents in fresh salsas.
Sticking with reputable brands that label products “gluten-free” is the safest bet. If opting for fresh restaurant salsa, be sure to ask questions to assess the risk of gluten cross-contact.
If you can’t find a pre-made salsa option that you feel comfortable with, or want to control the ingredients, you can make homemade salsa fairly easily. This lets you use all gluten-free ingredients.
Try this simple gluten-free salsa recipe:
Gluten-Free Homemade Salsa Recipe
- 2 lbs ripe tomatoes, diced
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
- 1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- Juice of 1 lime
- Salt to taste
- In a large bowl, combine the chopped tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro and lime juice.
- Add salt to taste.
- Let flavors combine for at least 15 minutes before serving.
For a milder version, use reduced jalapeno. You can also add 1/4 cup of diced mango, peach or pineapple for a fruit salsa. Adjust herbs and seasoning to your tastes.
Homemade salsa only takes about 10 minutes of prep time. It allows you to customize the ingredients to be gluten-free and avoid potential issues with store-bought brands.
Are Corn Chips Gluten-Free?
Traditional corn tortilla chips are gluten-free, making them a great pairing for salsa.
Corn tortillas only contain ground corn, water and occasionally salt. There is no wheat or gluten-containing ingredients.
However, some seasoned tortilla chip varieties may include ingredients like wheat flour or malt vinegar. Be sure to check labels carefully if choosing flavored chips.
Blue corn, white corn and yellow corn tortilla chips are all naturally gluten-free options. Major brands of plain corn tortilla chips, including:
- On The Border
- Food Should Taste Good
- Garden of Eatin’
You can enjoy these gluten-free chips with confidence when pairing them with salsa.
Should Tortilla Chips be Avoided?
While corn tortilla chips are gluten-free, some gluten-free dieters also choose to avoid them. This is because corn chips are often produced on shared equipment that also processes flour-containing foods.
For people with celiac disease or who are highly sensitive, shared equipment can increase the risk of cross-contact with gluten.
Some chip brands labeled “gluten-free” test their finished products to verify there is no gluten cross-contact. However, some extra-sensitive individuals still prefer to avoid corn chips and other processed snacks, opting for whole foods instead to remove uncertainty.
What About Flour Tortillas?
Flour tortillas and tortilla chips are not gluten-free. Flour tortillas are made from wheat flour, which contains the proteins that can trigger issues for those with gluten sensitivities.
Some types of flour tortillas include:
- Plain wheat flour tortillas
- Flavored wheat flour tortillas
- Spinach wheat flour tortillas
- Tomato and basil flour tortillas
Any tortilla made with regular or enriched wheat flour contains gluten and should be avoided. This also includes any tortilla chips made from sliced flour tortillas.
Some brands may offer gluten-free flour tortillas made from grains like rice flour and sorghum flour. But standard flour tortillas always contain gluten.
In addition to being gluten-free, most salsas are also dairy-free or can easily be made dairy-free.
Dairy products like milk, cream, cheese, sour cream and yogurt are not common ingredients in salsa recipes. So lactose intolerance or vegan diets are typically not a concern.
Just check that any pre-made salsas do not contain added milk products. Some rare varieties add ingredients like cheese or sour cream for flavor and texture.
If avoiding dairy, also pair salsas with dairy-free dippers. Instead of cheese or sour cream tortilla chips, opt for plain corn chips. Swap dairy-based dips for guacamole, bean dip or hummus.
With simple substitutions, salsa can easily be incorporated into vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free diets.
Is salsa usually gluten-free?
Yes, the vast majority of pre-made salsas sold at grocery stores are gluten-free. Popular salsa brands use ingredients that don’t naturally contain gluten like tomatoes, peppers, onions and seasonings.
Does salsa have wheat in it?
Most major salsa brands do not contain wheat or wheat flour. However, some thicker salsa varieties may add wheat flour as a thickening agent. Check the ingredients list and look for a “gluten-free” label when purchasing.
What brands of salsa are gluten free?
Some of the most popular gluten-free salsa brands include Pace, Tostitos, Mrs. Renfro’s, Desert Pepper, Frontera, Chi-Chi’s, Newman’s Own, On The Border and Trader Joe’s. There are many other safe options – just read labels.
Can you buy gluten-free salsa?
Yes, there are many clearly labeled gluten-free salsas available at grocery stores. Major brands make their salsas gluten-free to appeal to a wide range of consumers. Look for a “gluten-free” label for guaranteed safety.
Is restaurant salsa gluten-free?
Salsas at restaurants may have a higher risk of containing gluten compared to regulated, pre-made brands. Ask about ingredients and preparation processes to assess potential for cross-contact. Fresh salsas pose more uncertainty than bottled brands.
The Bottom Line
- Most pre-made salsas are formulated to be gluten-free, not containing wheat, barley or rye ingredients.
- Check labels carefully and avoid salsas with fillers like wheat flour or malt vinegar.
- Look for a “gluten-free” label for assurance that salsa contains less than 20 ppm gluten.
- Fresh restaurant salsas may have a higher chance of containing gluten. Ask questions before eating.
- Making your own salsa allows you to control all ingredients to be 100% gluten-free.
With so many gluten-free options, both pre-made and homemade, salsa can safely be enjoyed on a gluten-free diet. Just take care to check labels and ingredients.