IKEA’s plant-based meatballs have become increasingly popular in recent years as more people adopt vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian diets. However, for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, an important question remains: are IKEA’s plant-based meatballs gluten-free?
In this comprehensive article, we will examine everything you need to know about the gluten content of IKEA’s plant-based meatballs. We will cover the ingredients, manufacturing process, and certification to help you determine if IKEA’s plant-based meatballs are safe to eat on a gluten-free diet.
What Are IKEA’s Plant-Based Meatballs?
IKEA’s plant-based meatballs, dubbed “plant balls,” are designed to mimic the taste and texture of traditional Swedish meatballs without using any animal products. The plant balls are made from pea protein, oats, potatoes, onion, and apple.
IKEA launched their plant-based meatballs in 2015 after working for years to develop a recipe that had the same meaty, juicy qualities as the original. The plant balls are now sold in IKEA stores worldwide as part of their Food Market section.
Are Meatballs Traditionally Gluten-Free?
Traditional Swedish meatballs are typically made from ground beef or pork and binders like breadcrumbs or flour. So, while meat is naturally gluten-free, traditional meatballs often contain gluten due to the use of wheat-based binders.
The binders help hold the meatballs together and provide texture. However, for people avoiding gluten, meatballs made with breadcrumbs or flour would not be safe to consume.
Key Factors in Assessing Gluten Content
When assessing if a food product contains gluten, there are three key factors to consider:
Looking at the list of ingredients is the first step in identifying sources of gluten. Specific ingredients to watch out for include wheat, barley, rye, malt, and oats that are not certified gluten-free.
Even if the ingredients look gluten-free, cross-contamination can occur during manufacturing processes. The same equipment used for wheat-based foods may be used for other items, introducing gluten.
Third Party Certification
Many gluten-free products display certification from groups like the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO). This indicates the food has been tested to verify low levels of gluten, under 20 parts per million.
Examining IKEA’s Plant Ball Ingredients
So let’s start by looking at the ingredients listed for IKEA’s plant-based meatballs:
|Pea protein (16%)|
|Barley malt extract|
|Natural colors (beetroot, safflower)|
|Herbs and spices|
At first glance, the ingredients list appears gluten-free. However, there are two concerning ingredients: wheat flour and barley malt extract.
Wheat flour obviously contains gluten. Barley malt extract is derived from barley, which contains gluten. This means IKEA’s plant balls are not inherently gluten-free based on the ingredients alone.
Assessing Cross-Contamination Risk
Since the ingredients contain gluten, we need to consider the potential for cross-contamination during manufacturing and handling.
IKEA states that their plant balls are produced in a facility that also processes milk, egg, mustard, sesame seeds, soy, nuts, and wheat. Equipment and storage areas may be shared across these different foods.
While IKEA likely has strict allergen protocols in place, there is still some risk of cross-contact with wheat flour occurring during production. The plant balls themselves contain wheat as an intentional ingredient as well, further increasing this risk.
Is There Third Party Gluten-Free Certification?
IKEA’s website and product packaging do not indicate any gluten-free or sensitive certification for the plant-based meatballs.
There are no certifications from organizations like the GFCO, the Celiac Support Association, or the Gluten Intolerance Group that test and verify items to be under 20 parts per million of gluten.
The lack of third party gluten-free certification means consumers need to rely on the ingredient list and allergen warnings alone to assess gluten content.
What IKEA Says About Gluten Content
Since the plant balls contain gluten-based ingredients but lack certification, examining IKEA’s own statements can provide more clues.
On the IKEA website, the company writes:
“IKEA meatballs and other food products are not gluten-free.”
And on the product package:
“May contain wheat. Produced in a facility that processes milk, egg, mustard, sesame seeds, soy, nuts and wheat.”
Based on these statements, IKEA does not consider or advertise their plant balls as gluten-free. The inclusion of wheat flour combined with the lack of certification supports this.
Should You Assume the Plant Balls Are Gluten-Free?
Given the presence of wheat flour in the listed ingredients, we do not recommend assuming IKEA’s plant-based meatballs are gluten-free.
Wheat flour clearly contains gluten and introduces a high risk of gluten exposure. Even though the plant balls are made from vegetables, the addition of wheat flour means they cannot be considered safe for gluten-free diets.
It would be possible to pick out visible pieces of wheat flour, but you cannot separate out gluten protein that has dissolved into the entire dish. One would likely ingest some level of gluten when consuming IKEA’s plant balls.
What If You Have Celiac Disease or Are Highly Sensitive?
For those with celiac disease or who are highly sensitive, consuming IKEA’s plant-based meatballs would not be worth the risk. Even tiny amounts of gluten can trigger symptoms and intestinal damage.
With the intentional addition of wheat flour, there is no way for highly sensitive individuals to determine if a “safe” threshold of gluten could be consumed. It is best for those with celiac disease to avoid IKEA’s plant balls completely.
Is Trace Gluten Okay on a Gluten-Free Diet?
For those simply avoiding gluten or following a gluten-free diet by choice, the trace amounts of gluten in IKEA’s plant balls may be acceptable.
The FDA allows foods labeled “gluten-free” to contain up to 20 parts per million of gluten. At this trace level, many people do fine consuming the food without reacting.
However, it depends on your personal sensitivity and comfort level with possible cross-contact. The only way to know for sure is to try a small serving and monitor how you feel in the following days.
Precautions to Take If Consuming
If you decide to eat IKEA’s plant-based meatballs and monitor for symptoms, there are precautions you can take to minimize risk:
Check Each Batch
Inspect the ingredients list carefully as formulations can change over time. Do not assume the wheat flour is always included.
Separate From Wheat Dishes
When cooking the plant balls, keep them away from wheat-based dishes to prevent further cross-contamination. Use separate pans and utensils.
Ensure the plant balls are cooked to 160°F internally, as undercooked gluten can be harder to digest.
Isolate Serving Dishes
Once cooked, transfer the plant balls to a clean plate, not one that touched bread or other wheat items.
Safer Gluten-Free Options at IKEA
If you want to steer clear of the risks completely, there are other gluten-free dishes you can enjoy at IKEA:
Salmon and potatoes
This dish contains salmon, potatoes, asparagus, and a creamy sauce. Avoid the variation with pasta or wheat-based crackers on the side.
Meatballs with mashed potatoes
IKEA’s traditional Swedish meatballs made with beef and pork are gluten-free. Pair them with mashed potatoes for a filling meal.
The chicken salad with lettuce, cabbage, and vinaigrette dressing is another gluten-free possibility. Check that the salad is made without wheat-based croutons.
Fruit and cheeses
From the Deli, gluten-free options include fresh fruit cups and hard cheeses like cheddar and gouda. These make a nice gluten-free snack.
Are IKEA’s Plant Balls Vegan?
For vegans, IKEA’s plant-based meatballs provide an appealing meat-free option. However, the inclusion of egg in the ingredients means they are not considered fully vegan.
While the plant balls do not contain any animal flesh, the use of egg products means individuals following a vegan diet would need to avoid consuming them.
The Bottom Line
Based on the ingredients and lack of certification, IKEA’s plant-based meatballs cannot be considered gluten-free. They contain wheat flour as an intentional ingredient.
The only way to avoid gluten completely is to steer clear of these plant balls and opt for certified gluten-free dishes instead when eating at IKEA. Individuals with celiac disease need to be especially cautious and avoid the plant balls due to the risks involved.
While the plant balls are not gluten-free, they do offer an appealing meatless option for those simply avoiding meat or following a vegetarian diet. Just be aware that they do contain egg products, so they are not suitable for vegans.
Carefully inspect the ingredients and use precautions like isolating cooking and serving dishes from other wheat items if you decide to consume IKEA’s plant balls. But for those who are extremely gluten-sensitive or have celiac disease, it is safest to consume other certified gluten-free menu items instead.