Gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more people opting to avoid gluten for medical or lifestyle reasons. For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, eating gluten can cause serious health issues, so having access to gluten-free versions of popular foods is extremely important.
One of the most iconic snack foods around is Oreos – the classic chocolate sandwich cookies with creme filling. In 2012, Oreo released a gluten-free version of their famous cookies, providing a gluten-free alternative for consumers. However, there has been some skepticism about whether these gluten-free Oreos are really free of gluten.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at gluten-free Oreos to try to determine if they really are gluten-free or not. We’ll examine how they’re made, what testing has revealed about gluten content, and whether there are any risks for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to consume them. Getting the facts is crucial for making an informed decision about whether these cookies are suitable for a gluten-free diet.
What Makes a Food Gluten-Free?
Before diving into the specifics on gluten-free Oreos, it’s helpful to understand what criteria a food needs to meet to be considered gluten-free.
For a food to be labeled as gluten-free in the United States, it must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. This threshold was determined based on research showing that the majority of people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can tolerate these trace amounts without reacting.
Therefore, for Oreos or any other food to be legitimately marketed as gluten-free, any detectable gluten from wheat, barley, rye or their derivatives must be under 20 ppm. Anything above this level is not considered gluten-free.
Some key things to know about the gluten-free label standard:
- The 20 ppm threshold applies to all foods labeled as “gluten-free,” “free of gluten,” “without gluten,” “no gluten” or similar claims.
- The standard applies to raw ingredients as well as final food products.
- Gluten levels can be tested using validated scientific methods, like ELISA testing.
- The labeling regulation is enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This 20 ppm cutoff is a critical component in evaluating whether gluten-free Oreos contain gluten or not. All ingredients and the final cookies need to be below this level in order to comply with the gluten-free labeling standard.
How Are Gluten-Free Oreos Made?
To understand if gluten-free Oreos really are gluten-free, it’s important to look at what goes into making them. Here is an overview of the ingredients and production process:
According to the product packaging, gluten-free Oreos contain the following ingredients:
- Rice flour
- Chocolate liquor processed with alkali
- High oleic canola and/or palm and/or coconut oil
- Leavening (baking soda and/or calcium phosphate)
- Soy lecithin
The main flour used is rice flour rather than the wheat flour typically used in regular Oreos. The other ingredients – like sugar, oils, cocoa, leavening agents, and flavors – are inherently gluten-free.
According to Oreo’s parent company Mondelez International, gluten-free Oreos are produced in a dedicated gluten-free bakery in Mexico. They use a combination of testing and sanitation procedures to prevent gluten cross-contact:
- Gluten-free ingredients are used and all equipment is thoroughly cleaned before production.
- Finished cookies are tested to verify gluten levels are below 10 ppm.
- The facility conducts additional sanitation and testing procedures daily.
Additionally, gluten-free Oreos are produced on equipment used only for gluten-free items, not shared with products containing gluten. They also undergo separate handling and storage procedures to prevent contact with gluten prior to packaging.
So in theory, based on the ingredients list and manufacturing practices, gluten-free Oreos should live up to their name and be gluten-free products. But is that truly the case in reality?
Third-Party Gluten Testing
To corroborate that gluten-free Oreos contain less than 20 ppm of gluten, consumer groups and gluten-free certification organizations have conducted additional third-party testing on the cookies.
Here are the results of some independent gluten tests:
Gluten Free Watchdog
Gluten Free Watchdog, led by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, is a trusted authority often turned to by consumers for analysis of gluten-free claims. They purchased boxes of gluten-free Oreos from three different store locations and lot codes.
Testing via ELISA methodology detected:
- No gluten in one sample (below 5 ppm)
- 7.5 ppm of gluten in another sample
- 6.8 ppm of gluten in the third sample
All results were below the 20 ppm cutoff for gluten-free labeling. Based on their third-party testing, Gluten Free Watchdog verified that the gluten-free Oreo samples contained very low levels of gluten – under 8 ppm.
Consumer Reports performed ELISA testing on two samples of gluten-free Oreos purchased from separate stores. The results showed:
- Sample 1 contained less than 5 ppm of gluten
- Sample 2 contained about 10 ppm of gluten
Again, the gluten levels were confirmed to be below 20 ppm and meeting the requirements for gluten-free labeling.
Gluten-free Oreos carry the GFCO (Gluten-Free Certification Organization) certification, meaning the cookies have passed GFCO’s program standards and testing protocols verifying their gluten-free status.
GFCO conducts immunoassay testing of products every quarter. Their certification provides added assurance that gluten-free Oreos consistently meet the strict standards to be considered gluten-free foods.
Are Gluten-Free Oreos Really Gluten-Free? The Verdict
Based on the ingredient list, manufacturing precautions, and third-party gluten testing results, gluten-free Oreos do appear to live up to their gluten-free claim. The various testing data consistently shows gluten levels in the cookies to be under 20 ppm – the FDA threshold for using a gluten-free labeling.
Additionally, the oversight and certification by GFCO provides further evidence that gluten-free Oreos adhere to strict standards in order to be compliant with U.S. regulations. The ingredients, production methods, and finished product testing all indicate that gluten-free Oreos are made according to current food safety protocols for gluten-free foods.
While occasional consumer complaints of reactions do exist, the objective testing strongly supports that gluten-free Oreos are in fact gluten-free according to the FDA definition and safe for gluten-free diets when consumed in moderation. Individual sensitivities can vary, but overall the gluten-free label seems to be an accurate description of these popular cookies.
Some Important Considerations
It’s also important to keep the following context in mind:
- Gluten tests have limitations. There is no test method that can guarantee absolutely zero gluten. The ELISA tests used can only detect gluten down to certain minimal levels (between 5-10 ppm).
- Products made in facilities handling gluten also handle some risk of trace exposure. Dedicated equipment and thorough protocols used by Oreo help minimize this risk.
- Oats are inherently gluten-free but often get contaminated with wheat. Oreo’s producer specifies their oats are uncontaminated, but oat supply chain issues have existed.
- Label reading for allergen warnings is still advised for those with celiac disease or wheat allergy, even with “gluten-free” labels.
So while gluten-free Oreos are considered safe for most gluten-free diets, these factors illustrate why some debate still exists around products made without gluten-containing ingredients. However, overall the evidence indicates that gluten-free Oreos contain very low, if any, traces of gluten and can be part of a gluten-free diet when consumed in moderation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some common questions about gluten-free Oreos:
Are gluten-free Oreos really dairy-free too?
No, gluten-free Oreos are not dairy-free. While they do not contain gluten from wheat, barley or rye, they do contain ingredients derived from dairy. Both regular and gluten-free Oreo recipes include whey powder, a dairy product. So those with dairy allergies or following a vegan diet should avoid Oreos and opt for a dairy-free cookie instead.
Where can I find gluten-free Oreos in grocery stores?
Gluten-free Oreos can be found in the gluten-free sections of major grocery store chains. They are typically stocked together with other gluten-free specialty products. Gluten-free Oreos may also be available for purchase online from grocery or specialty food websites.
Are gluten-free Oreos made in the same facility as regular Oreos?
No, gluten-free Oreos have their own dedicated manufacturing facility in Mexico. They are produced on separate equipment from regular Oreos containing gluten. This helps avoid any risk of cross-contamination that could occur if produced in a shared facility.
Do gluten-free Oreos taste the same as original Oreos?
Most consumers find that the taste of gluten-free Oreo cookies is very similar to original Oreos. Since the iconic chocolate cookie and sweet creme filling recipe remains largely the same, the gluten-free version offers a comparable flavor experience to the original. Of course taste is subjective, but many find gluten-free Oreos to be a good replica of the well-loved Oreo flavor.
Are there other flavors of gluten-free Oreos besides original?
Currently only the original chocolate and creme gluten-free Oreos are available. Nabisco’s specialty flavor Oreos, like Golden or Mint creme, are not labeled gluten-free at this time. So gluten-free consumers are limited to enjoying just the traditional chocolate gluten-free Oreo option for now.
The Bottom Line
When you see a “gluten-free” claim on a food product, it’s smart to examine that claim further to determine if it holds up. In the case of gluten-free Oreos, a look at the ingredients, manufacturing process, and independent testing provides strong evidence that these cookies do meet the less than 20 ppm standard to be considered gluten-free.
While no food is 100% guaranteed gluten-free, the testing results of under 10 ppm indicate gluten levels in these cookies are very low. For most people with gluten intolerance, gluten-free Oreos are considered a safe treat option without risk of a reaction when enjoying them in moderation as part of an overall healthy gluten-free diet. Just be sure to double check labels since ingredients can change over time.