Burritos are a popular Tex-Mex food consisting of a flour or corn tortilla wrapped around a filling. Common burrito fillings include rice, beans, meat, cheese, and assorted vegetables. With so many different ingredients involved, a common question regarding burritos is whether they contain gluten.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an autoimmune response in the body that damages the small intestine. This damage can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain. The only treatment for celiac disease is strictly following a lifelong gluten-free diet by avoiding foods containing gluten.
Why are people concerned about gluten in burritos?
There are two main reasons why people may be concerned about gluten in burritos:
1. The tortilla: Traditional flour tortillas are made from wheat flour, which contains gluten. Corn tortillas are naturally gluten-free.
2. Cross-contamination: Even if the tortilla itself is gluten-free, fillings containing gluten (like soy sauce or wheat-based meat substitutes) could contaminate the burrito during preparation. Likewise, cooking burritos on the same surface as gluten-containing foods introduces cross-contact.
So the primary gluten concerns with burritos relate to the type of tortilla and potential for cross-contamination during cooking and preparation.
Do Corn Tortilla Burritos Contain Gluten?
Corn tortillas are naturally gluten-free, as corn does not contain gluten. So plain corn tortilla burritos without any questionable fillings are gluten-free. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Look for certified gluten-free corn tortillas
Make sure to use certified gluten-free corn tortillas that are produced in a gluten-free facility. Some brands of corn tortillas contain gluten-based additives like wheat flour or wheat starch. Read ingredient lists carefully and look for a certified gluten-free label.
Avoid flour tortilla contamination
If the restaurant or food provider also makes flour tortilla burritos, there could be cross-contamination of corn tortillas through shared preparation surfaces, fryer oil, utensils, etc. Inquire about dedicated gluten-free preparation procedures.
Fillings should be gluten-free
Double check that any meats, beans, rice, vegetables, and other fillings in the burrito are gluten-free. For example, some rice dishes contain soy sauce (which typically contains gluten). Beans could be cooked in a broth containing gluten. And meat substitutes like seitan are very high in gluten. So all components need to be verified gluten-free.
As long as a certified gluten-free corn tortilla is used with verified gluten-free fillings, and there is no risk of cross-contamination, corn tortilla burritos can be considered gluten-free. But precautions need to be taken to ensure no gluten exposure through ingredients or preparation.
Do Flour Tortilla Burritos Contain Gluten?
Yes, traditional flour tortillas contain gluten since they are made from wheat flour. So burritos using regular white or wheat flour tortillas are not gluten-free.
However, there are some exceptions:
Gluten-free flour blends
Some brands make gluten-free flour tortillas using a blend of gluten-free flours like rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, and sorghum flour. As long as these tortillas are certified gluten-free, they can be used to make gluten-free burritos. But cross-contamination risks still need to be avoided.
100% corn flour tortillas
A few brands make tortillas using just corn flour, rather than a blend with wheat flour. As long as these corn flour tortillas are certified gluten-free, they can be used for gluten-free burritos. The same precautions need to be taken in terms of gluten-free fillings and avoiding cross-contamination.
So in summary, traditional white or wheat flour tortillas always contain gluten. But alternative gluten-free flour blends or 100% corn flour can be used to make gluten-free tortillas suitable for burritos.
Should You Request Gluten-Free Burritos at Restaurants?
Ordering “gluten-free” burritos at restaurants, especially fast food chains, is risky because the chances of cross-contamination are very high. Here are some tips on requesting gluten-free burritos while dining out:
Inquire about dedicated gluten-free preparation
Ask the restaurant if they have dedicated gluten-free preparation procedures in place to avoid cross-contamination. This includes designated work spaces, utensils, fryer oil, etc. Most fast food restaurants do not have robust gluten-free protocols.
Avoid flour tortillas
Insist on a certified gluten-free corn tortilla. Flour tortillas, even if labelled “gluten-free,” often get contaminated at restaurants lacking strong controls.
Verify all ingredients
Beyond the tortilla, the restaurant needs to confirm that all fillings, toppings, and sauces are gluten-free. Don’t assume anything.
Beware of hidden gluten
Double check for hidden sources of gluten like soy sauce in rice, broths in beans or meats, thickening agents in sauces, and meat substitutes.
High risk of getting glutened
Be aware that the chances of cross-contamination are extremely high at most restaurants, especially busy fast food chains churning out lots of flour tortillas. Getting “glutened” by a restaurant burrito is very likely.
Only eat at dedicated gluten-free restaurants
Your safest bet is choosing a restaurant that specializes in gluten-free offerings and has strong protocols in place. Call ahead to vet their processes. Avoid regular restaurants with gluten-containing menus unless you know they can follow proper precautions.
The bottom line is think twice before ordering a “gluten-free” burrito out, unless you are confident the restaurant can offer it safely. The risk of getting sick from cross-contamination is usually very high.
Tips for Making Safe Gluten-Free Burritos at Home
Making burritos with gluten-free tortillas at home allows you to control all the ingredients and prevent cross-contamination. Here are some tips:
Use certified gluten-free tortillas
Purchase corn or gluten-free flour tortillas that are certified gluten-free. Check labels carefully and look for reputable gluten-free brands. Store tortillas separately to avoid contamination.
Designate gluten-free work zones
Keep a portion of the counter, cookware, appliances, utensils, and ingredients exclusively gluten-free. Wash hands thoroughly before prep.
Cook fillings separately
Fillings like ground meat, rice, beans, etc. should be prepared separately from any gluten-containing foods to prevent airborne particles landing in the burrito components.
Verify all ingredients
Double check labels on all burrito fillings like seasoning mixes, sauces, plant-based meat substitutes, etc. Call brands if uncertain about their gluten status.
Once assembled, make sure finished burritos don’t touch any work surfaces used for gluten-containing foods. Store burritos separately.
Use foil to heat burritos
At home, wrap burritos in foil rather than putting directly on shared baking sheets. For heating at restaurants, transfer the burrito to a clean plate rather than eating it right off a shared surface.
With certified gluten-free ingredients and vigilant avoidance of cross-contact at home, you can safely make your own gluten-free burritos.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about gluten and burritos:
Can flour tortillas be gluten-free?
Yes, flour tortillas can be gluten-free if made from a flour blend that doesn’t contain gluten. Typically a mix of rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, and/or corn flour rather than wheat flour. Gluten-free tortillas will always be labeled “gluten-free.”
Do corn tortillas have gluten?
No, corn tortillas are naturally gluten-free since corn does not contain gluten. However, some brands add wheat flour or gluten-based ingredients, so check for a gluten-free certification.
What fillings should I avoid?
Steer clear of fillings containing soy sauce, wheat-based meat substitutes like seitan, thickened sauces, seasoned rice dishes, and broths. Stick to simply prepared fresh ingredients. Read all labels carefully.
Can I order gluten-free burritos at Chipotle or Qdoba?
Technically you can request gluten-free burritos made with corn tortillas at these chains. However, the chances of cross-contamination are extremely high given the volume of flour tortillas prepared. Eat at your own risk.
Are frozen gluten-free burritos safe?
Some brands like Evol and Against the Grain make certified gluten-free frozen burritos, which are convenient options. As always, verify their gluten-free status from a trusted manufacturer.
|Beans||Yes, if no gluten-containing broth|
|Rice||Yes, if no soy sauce|
|Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, etc.||Yes|
This table summarizes common burrito fillings and their typical gluten status. Focus on naturally gluten-free whole foods.
The Bottom Line
Plain corn tortilla burritos are gluten-free by default. Flour tortillas usually contain gluten, but gluten-free versions exist. Burritos prepared at restaurants, especially flour tortilla-based fast food chains, carry a very high risk of gluten cross-contamination. Your safest bet is making your own gluten-free burritos at home with certified ingredients and clean preparation. Overall, burritos can be a delicious gluten-free option but caution is still advised depending on the restaurant situation and type of tortilla used. Read labels carefully, verify all ingredients, and when in doubt, leave it out!