Are tacos usually gluten-free?

Tacos are a popular Mexican dish that have become beloved all over the world. They typically consist of a corn or flour tortilla filled with meat, vegetables, cheese, and other toppings. With so many different ingredients involved, questions often arise around whether tacos are usually gluten-free or not.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. It acts as a “glue” that helps food maintain its shape and texture. For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue, headache and more. The only treatment is a strict lifelong gluten-free diet.

Are Corn Tortillas Gluten-Free?

Yes, corn tortillas are naturally gluten-free. They are made from masa, which is a dough made from specially treated corn. To create masa, dried corn kernels are cooked in limewater, which helps separate the hull from the kernel. The kernels are then ground into masa flour. This process removes any traces of gluten that may have been present. As long as corn tortillas are made without any wheat flour added, they will be gluten-free.

Are Flour Tortillas Gluten-Free?

No, flour tortillas are not gluten-free because they are typically made from wheat flour. Wheat flour contains gluten, so flour tortillas will contain gluten. There are some specialty gluten-free flour blends made from ingredients like rice flour, tapioca flour, chickpea flour and potato starch that can be used to make gluten-free flour tortillas. But regular flour tortillas made with wheat flour contain gluten.

Fillings and Toppings

In addition to the type of tortilla, you also need to consider the taco fillings and toppings. Many taco fillings, such as meat, beans, veggies, and cheese, are naturally gluten-free. However, some common taco toppings do contain gluten:


Most salsas are gluten-free, but check for any thickening agents like wheat flour.


Most cheeses are gluten-free, just check labeling on shredded cheese blends.

Sour Cream

Plain sour cream is gluten-free. Flavored sour cream may contain gluten.


Fresh guacamole made from avocados, lime juice, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and salt is gluten-free. Be aware of pre-made guacamole with mix-ins that may contain gluten.


Plain lettuce of any kind is gluten-free. Avoid salad mixes with croutons or wheat-based dressing.

Corn Tortilla Tacos

Corn tortilla tacos filled with gluten-free ingredients are gluten-free. Try making tacos with corn tortillas and fillings like:

– Seasoned ground beef or turkey
– Shredded pork carnitas
– Grilled chicken
– Refried beans
– Shredded lettuce
– Diced tomatoes
– Shredded cheese
– Salsa
– Guacamole

As long as the additional taco fillings and toppings you choose are gluten-free, corn tortilla tacos will be a gluten-free option.

Flour Tortilla Tacos

Since traditional flour tortillas contain gluten, tacos made with regular flour tortillas are not gluten-free. However, there are a few different options for gluten-free flour tortilla tacos:

Gluten-Free Flour Tortillas

Specialty gluten-free flour blends made from grains like rice, tapioca, chickpea and sorghum flours can be used to make flour tortillas that are gluten-free. Brands like Siete Foods, La Tortilla Factory, and Rudi’s offer gluten-free flour tortillas. Just confirm the packaging states the tortillas are certified gluten-free.

Lettuce Wraps

Using lettuce leaves like romaine or iceberg in place of tortillas allows you to enjoy taco fillings wrapped up sans gluten.

Taco Salads

Rather than wrapping fillings in tortillas, you can create a taco salad by piling all the fixings over a bed of shredded lettuce. Top with sliced avocado, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and cheese for a delicious gluten-free taco-inspired salad.

Homemade vs. Restaurant Tacos

Generally, homemade tacos will be safer than restaurant tacos when eating gluten-free. That’s because you can control all the ingredients when you make tacos at home. But with care, you can also eat gluten-free tacos from restaurants. Here are some tips:

Homemade Tacos

– Use certified gluten-free corn or gluten-free flour tortillas
– Prepare fillings from scratch so you know all ingredients
– Check labels on toppings like salsa, sauce, cheese, etc.

Restaurant Tacos

– Ask if they have certified gluten-free tortillas
– Verify fillings don’t contain thickening agents with gluten
– Request corn over flour tortillas
– Skip tortillas and do taco salad or lettuce wraps
– Ask about preparation methods and risk of cross-contamination

The more questions you ask, the safer restaurant tacos will be for a gluten-free diet.

Should Tacos Be Corn or Flour?

For gluten-free diets, corn tortillas are the best option for tacos. They don’t naturally contain gluten like wheat flour tortillas do. However, if you follow a gluten-free diet, you can still enjoy flour tortilla tacos using one of the special gluten-free flour blends. Or stick with corn tortillas to be extra safe.

Here is a comparison of corn vs. flour tortillas for tacos when eating gluten-free:

Factor Corn Tortillas Flour Tortillas
Naturally Gluten-Free Yes No
Gluten-Free Options Available Yes Yes, with specialty gluten-free flour
Nutrition Fewer calories and carbs
More fiber
Higher in calories and carbs
Less fiber
Flavor Full corn flavor Milder flavor
Texture Crumbles more easily More flexible

So while both corn and specialty gluten-free flour tortillas can work for gluten-free diets, corn tortillas are the naturally gluten-free choice.

Most Common Tacos Are Not Gluten-Free

The most commonly available tacos made with regular flour tortillas do contain gluten. So traditional tacos from restaurants like Taco Bell or other Mexican restaurants are generally not gluten-free. Special ordering with corn tortillas or lettuce wraps is needed to make menu items gluten-free.

Some taco kits and frozen tacos may also contain gluten sources. Always thoroughly read labels and ingredients lists, which should clearly state “gluten-free” on certified products. Don’t make assumptions about tacos being gluten-free without verifying first.

Kid-Friendly Gluten-Free Tacos

Tacos are a favorite meal for many kids. Luckily, there are several easy ways to make gluten-free tacos that kids will love:

– Use corn tortillas or lettuce leaves for the wrap
– Stick with simple, kid-friendly fillings like ground beef or turkey, rice, beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato
– Set up a taco bar with lots of fun gluten-free toppings
– Bake tortillas into taco shells or strips for a crunchy texture
– Experiment with gluten-free pizza dough cut into strips and baked into taco “shells”

Some other creative ideas include:

– Breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs, cheese, bacon or sausage
– Hawaiian tacos with grilled chicken, pineapple salsa, mango
– Greek tacos with ground lamb, feta cheese, cucumber yogurt sauce
– Sweet potato tacos with black bean salsa, avocado

Kids can even help assemble their own tacos with their choice of gluten-free ingredients. Making gluten-free tacos fun and interactive encourages kids to enjoy these Mexican favorites.

Gluten-Free Tortillas and Wraps

Finding high-quality gluten-free tortillas and wraps makes following a gluten-free diet much easier. Here are some recommended brands of gluten-free tortillas to look for:

Corn Tortillas

– Food For Life: organic yellow and white corn tortillas
– Mission: yellow and white corn tortillas
– Calidad: non-GMO white corn tortillas
– La Tortilla Factory: organic yellow, white, blue corn tortillas
– Trader Joe’s: yellow and white corn tortillas

Gluten-Free Flour Tortillas

– Siete Foods: cassava & coconut flour tortillas
– Rudi’s: gluten-free flour tortillas
– La Tortilla Factory: multigrain or teff flour tortillas
– Toufayan: gluten-free wraps
– Canyon Bakehouse: 7-grain and white gluten-free tortillas
– Ole Mexican: gluten-free yellow corn and flour tortillas

There are also many other gluten-free bread options that can work great for tacos like hamburger buns, flatbreads, and crusty rolls. And lettuce leaves or cabbage are easy veggie “wraps”.

With all these gluten-free tortilla and wrap alternatives, you can definitely still enjoy tacos while avoiding gluten.

Are Hard Taco Shells Gluten-Free?

Hard taco shells often contain wheat flour, so they typically are not gluten-free. However, there are some brands of gluten-free hard taco shells available, usually made from corn. Here are some gluten-free hard taco shell options:

– Calidad Corn Taco Shells
– Mission Gluten Free Yellow Corn Taco Shells
– Nature’s Bounty Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips
– Food For Life Supergrain Tortilla Chips
– Siete Grain Free Tortilla Chips
– Trader Joe’s Baked Crunchy White Corn Tortilla Chips

You can also make DIY gluten-free hard taco shells at home by baking corn or gluten-free flour tortillas into taco shapes. Just drape tortillas over a rack or rolling pin to form the u-shape.

Hard taco shells add fun crispy texture to tacos, so there are still gluten-free options out there. Just be sure to double check the ingredients when buying pre-made taco shells.

Common Foods That Contain Gluten

When following a gluten-free diet, there are many common foods and ingredients that typically contain gluten that you need to watch out for:


Most bread is made from wheat flour, so it contains gluten. This includes bread slices, buns, rolls, bagels and more.


Traditional pasta made from wheat flour has gluten. But there are many gluten-free pasta options made from rice, quinoa, chickpeas, etc.


Many popular cereals contain wheat, barley or rye and are not gluten-free. Oats can also be cross-contaminated with gluten. Gluten-free oats or oat alternatives are safest.


Beer is typically made from gluten-containing grains like barley or wheat. There are some gluten-free beers made from sorghum, buckwheat or gluten-free grains.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is normally brewed with wheat, making it not gluten-free. Tamari is a wheat-free option. Always check labels.

Salad Dressings & Sauces

Many bottled dressings and sauces add wheat flour, malt vinegar or other gluten sources as thickeners and stabilizers. Always read labels.

Soup Bases & Broths

Soup bases, broths, and bouillon cubes often contain gluten from ingredients like wheat, barley, malt, and flour. Opt for gluten-free broths.

Being aware of these common foods with gluten makes identifying gluten-free options much easier. Stick to naturally gluten-free whole foods as much as possible when in doubt.

Is Corn Gluten-Free?

Yes, corn is naturally gluten-free. Corn or maize is a cereal grain that does not contain the proteins glutenin and gliadin that make up gluten. So all forms of corn and corn-based products are gluten-free, including:

– Whole corn kernels
– Corn tortillas
– Cornbread
– Corn flour
– Cornmeal
– Popcorn
– Corn chips
– Corn pasta
– Corn tortilla chips
– Polenta
– Corn syrup

Corn is a versatile gluten-free grain. It can be ground into cornmeal and corn flour to make a variety of gluten-free baked goods. Overall, corn is a great gluten-free option to incorporate into a healthy diet.

Is Rice Gluten-Free?

Yes, all types of rice are naturally gluten-free. Rice is a grain that does not contain the proteins glutenin and gliadin that form gluten. This includes varieties like:

– Long grain white rice
– Brown rice
– Jasmine rice
– Basmati rice
– Arborio rice (risotto)
– Black rice
– Red rice
– Wild rice
– Rice flour

Rice is commonly used as an alternative to wheat flour in gluten-free cooking and baking. Rice noodles, crackers, cereals, and other products are also gluten-free. Just be aware that some rice dishes at restaurants may be made with sauces thickened with wheat flour. Check ingredients anytime you are unsure. But plain rice itself is a gluten-free food.

Is Quinoa Gluten-Free?

Yes, quinoa is gluten-free. Quinoa is a naturally gluten-free seed that offers protein, fiber, and key micronutrients. Most quinoa is grown at high altitudes in countries like Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

While quinoa is not technically a grain, its texture and cooking method make it a popular gluten-free substitute for dishes like pilafs, salads, and fried “rice”. There are different varieties of quinoa available in white, red, and black colors. They are all gluten-free.

However, always check packaging, as quinoa is sometimes processed in facilities that also handle wheat. Opt for quinoa that is certified gluten-free if you are highly sensitive. Overall, quinoa is an nutritious gluten-free addition to any diet.

Is Oatmeal Gluten-Free?

Pure oats are naturally gluten-free, but because of how oats are grown and processed, they are often contaminated with gluten grains. So oat-based products like oatmeal, oat flour, and oat milk could contain traces of gluten and be unsafe depending on one’s sensitivity.

The highest quality gluten-free oats are certified gluten-free and grown and milled in dedicated gluten-free facilities. Brands specifically labeled “gluten-free oats/oatmeal” are the safest choice. Cooked plain oats may also be tolerated depending on individual sensitivity.

But in general, most mainstream oat-based foods that are not specifically labeled gluten-free could be cross-contaminated and should be avoided on a strict gluten-free diet.


Tacos can certainly be part of a gluten-free diet. Corn tortillas are the best option, being naturally gluten-free. For flour tortillas, look for brands using specialty gluten-free flours like rice, tapioca, and chickpea flour. Fillings are usually gluten-free too, but watch out for sauces thickened with wheat flour. Hard corn taco shells or baked tortilla strips can add crunchy texture. With so many gluten-free tortillas, wraps, and creative fillings, you can definitely still enjoy tasty tacos while avoiding gluten.

Leave a Comment