A question commonly asked by those just starting out on a gluten-free diet. And the answer, in a word, is yes.
While that initial, one-worded answer is straightforward, there are some finer points that make it worth discussing at greater length. The ingredients in popcorn tend to be fairly limited (i.e. corn and oil), and neither one of those fundamental ingredients contains gluten. So, in theory, popcorn is gluten-free.
In practice, there are many variables that may lead to gluten-containing popcorn. Cross-contamination is always a possibility for popcorn from companies that don’t explicitly label their product as “gluten-free.” Many companies may process popcorn in a facility that also processes gluten-containing products, leading to a risk of the popcorn being contaminated.
Flavoring is another thing to watch out for with popcorn. Sometimes, different spices and seasonings can contain gluten, making popcorn unsafe for Celiacs. Make sure to read ingredient labels to be sure they are safe to eat. Whether you’re eating microwaveable popcorn, pre-popped popcorn, or making your own the hard way, make sure everything that’s been added to the popcorn for flavoring is gluten-free.
The Essential Gluten-Free Grocery Guide lists 28 brands whose popcorn is gluten-free. It also lists gluten-free popcorn in a variety of flavors, including butter, kettle corn, caramel corn, caramel apple corn, and white cheddar. And then there are the fun gluten-free flavors from America’s old-fashioned family favorite, Jolly Time, which include KettleMania, Mallow Magic, Sassy Salsa, and The Big Cheez, among others. (Please be advised that not every flavor from every brand is gluten-free. Check the Guide to match flavors with brands, and remember to double check labels.)
Orville Redenbacher’s makes some of the most popular gluten-free microwave popcorn. Most flavors are gluten-free, and the company reports that it is easy to tell from the ingredients list which ones these are. Smartfood, owned by FritoLay, makes pre-popped bags of popcorn that all my friends rave about. (“You don’t know what Smartfood is?” they’ve accused me, incredulously.) Act II, owned by the same parent brand as Orville Redenbacher’s, also carries a few flavors of popcorn that are gluten-free.
If you’re looking for gourmet gluten-free popcorn, try L&J Popcorn (www.landjpopcorn.com), which shows up on many Celiac websites and at many gluten-free events. These guys pride themselves on making all flavors gluten-free, including cheddar, caramel, and kettle corn. Their products can be purchased in bags and in mixed tins that make excellent gifts for your gluten-free friends!
So that’s the deal with popcorn. Yes, it’s gluten-free. Unless, of course, it’s not. Simple enough, right?
What’s your favorite brand of gluten-free popcorn? Do share!