Do gingerbread houses have gluten?

Gingerbread houses are a fun holiday tradition for many families. The decorative houses are made out of gingerbread, which gives them their signature spicy flavor. However, gingerbread contains ingredients like wheat flour that include gluten. So do gingerbread houses actually have gluten?

Quick Answer: Yes, gingerbread houses contain gluten

Gingerbread is made from ingredients like wheat flour, which contains gluten. Since gingerbread houses are constructed from gingerbread, this means they also contain gluten. Individuals who need to avoid gluten for health reasons should be aware that standard gingerbread houses are not gluten-free.

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 foods maintain their shape, acting as a structural component. Gluten helps bread rise properly and gives elasticity to dough. It also gives foods a chewy texture.

There are two main proteins that form gluten:

  • Gliadin
  • Glutenin

When flour and water are combined and kneaded, these two proteins link together and form the elastic substance gluten. This stretchy gluten network allows dough to trap carbon dioxide produced by yeast during fermentation. As the dough proofs, the carbon dioxide gas causes it to rise. Gluten provides strength and structure to baked goods.

Which foods contain gluten?

Gluten is naturally found in grains like:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)

Any grains or products derived from these gluten-containing grains will also contain gluten. This includes foods like:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Crackers
  • Cookies
  • Cereal
  • Beer

Unless a food is specifically labeled “gluten-free,” it likely contains gluten if it is made with wheat, barley, rye or triticale ingredients.

Why do some people need to avoid gluten?

For most people, gluten does not cause any problems. However, for some individuals gluten can trigger serious health issues:

  • Celiac disease: An autoimmune disorder where gluten damages the small intestine. It affects around 1% of the population.
  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: Gluten triggers symptoms like pain, bloating, diarrhea and fatigue in sensitive individuals. Affects up to 13% of the population.
  • Wheat allergy: An allergic reaction to wheat proteins. Occurs in around 0.5% of children.
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis: An itchy skin rash caused by gluten exposure. Affects around 0.04% of the population.

For people with these conditions, consuming gluten can cause severe adverse reactions. The only treatment is following a strict lifelong gluten-free diet by avoiding all foods and products that contain gluten.

Do gingerbread houses contain gluten?

Standard gingerbread recipes call for ingredients like:

  • All-purpose flour (contains wheat flour)
  • Baking soda
  • Ground ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Molasses
  • Brown sugar
  • Butter
  • Eggs

The key ingredient is all-purpose flour, which contains wheat. Wheat flour naturally contains the gluten proteins gliadin and glutenin.

Therefore, gingerbread made from standard recipes does contain gluten. When these gluten-containing gingerbread pieces are used to construct little houses, the finished gingerbread houses will also contain gluten.

Amount of gluten in gingerbread

The exact amount of gluten in gingerbread can vary based on the specific recipe used. However, as a rough estimate:

  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour contains about 13g of gluten
  • Most gingerbread recipes call for 2.5-3.5 cups of flour
  • So one batch of gingerbread likely contains around 32-46g of gluten

Even tiny crumbs or traces of gingerbread could be an issue for those who are highly sensitive. For example, individuals with celiac disease must avoid consuming more than 10-20mg of gluten per day.

Can gingerbread be made gluten-free?

Yes, it is possible to prepare gluten-free gingerbread by swapping the wheat flour for gluten-free flour in recipes. Some options include:

  • Gluten-free all-purpose baking mix
  • Sorghum flour
  • Brown rice flour
  • Almond flour

Xanthan gum or guar gum may need to be added to provide elasticity in the absence of gluten. The taste, texture and appearance of gluten-free gingerbread will be a bit different from traditional versions. But it allows people with gluten intolerance to enjoy gingerbread houses.

Are decorations on gingerbread houses gluten-free?

While the gingerbread pieces themselves contain gluten, some decorations and candy used to decorate gingerbread houses may actually be gluten-free, such as:

  • Gumdrops
  • Peppermints
  • Skittles
  • M&Ms
  • Lifesavers
  • Starburst
  • Sprinkles
  • Dots

However, other popular decorations do contain gluten, including:

  • Frosting made with wheat flour
  • Pretzels
  • Candy canes

So while the decorative candy may be gluten-free, anytime it contacts the gingerbread there is potential for cross-contamination with gluten.

Risk of cross-contamination

Even if some decorations are gluten-free, they still pose a risk for those highly sensitive to gluten due to cross-contamination. Any decorations touching the gingerbread can pick up traces of gluten. Tools used to apply frosting or assemble the houses can also transfer gluten between surfaces.

Given the likelihood of cross-contamination, the entire gingerbread house should be considered unsafe for those who need to strictly avoid gluten exposure. Taking off decorations or selectively avoiding parts that touched the gingerbread does not eliminate risk.

Should you make gluten-free gingerbread houses?

Gluten-free gingerbread houses may be the best option for those who need to or want to avoid gluten. However, there are some additional considerations:

  • Gluten-free gingerbread has a different texture and taste compared to traditional recipes.
  • It may be more likely to break or crumble, making construction more difficult.
  • Home kitchen surfaces and tools should be thoroughly cleaned to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Gluten-free candy, frosting and decorations should be used.
  • Guests or family members with celiac disease may feel left out if they cannot safely eat the gingerbread houses.

Making accommodations to allow gluten-sensitive individuals to participate is ideal for inclusion. But there are challenges to making fully gluten-free gingerbread houses that meet safety standards.

Are pre-made gingerbread houses gluten-free?

Gingerbread houses that are pre-assembled or kits containing ready-to-assemble houses may not be safe for those avoiding gluten. Key considerations:

  • Most standard gingerbread recipes contain wheat flour and are not gluten-free.
  • Even companies labeling products “gluten-free” can have trace amounts due to manufacturing processes.
  • High risk of cross-contact with gluten during production and packaging.
  • Lack of gluten-free certification and testing by most brands.

Those with celiac disease or wheat allergies should exercise extreme caution with pre-made gingerbread houses. Unless certified gluten-free, they likely contain unsafe levels of gluten from trace ingredients or cross-contamination.

Checking labels

If purchasing a pre-assembled gingerbread house, carefully check the product labeling for any mention of gluten-containing grains like wheat. Terms including:

  • Wheat flour
  • All-purpose flour
  • Grain flour
  • Malt
  • Barley malt

Likely indicate the presence of gluten. Claims of being “gluten-free” should also be verified by looking for official certification symbols from organizations like the Celiac Support Association, Celiac Sprue Association or Gluten-Free Certification Organization.

Where gluten can hide

In addition to the gingerbread itself, decorations and candy may also contain sources of hidden gluten, including:

  • Icing or frosting mixes with wheat flour
  • Grain-based candy canes
  • Malt flavoring or barley malt extract
  • Oats, if not certified gluten-free due to cross-contact with wheat

Contacting the manufacturer and asking specifically about gluten content is advised for those with celiac concerns. Do not assume a pre-made gingerbread house is gluten-free without verifying.

Are gingerbread cookies gluten-free?

Just like gingerbread houses, traditional gingerbread cookies made from wheat flour contain gluten. However, there are gluten-free gingerbread cookie options:

  • Recipes using gluten-free oat flour, almond flour or coconut flour instead of wheat flour
  • Store-bought gingerbread cookies certified gluten-free

Gluten-free gingerbread cookies tend to be crumbly. Binders like xanthan gum can help mimic the effects of gluten and hold the cookies together. Molasses, brown sugar, ginger and cinnamon give gluten-free gingerbread cookies the classic flavor.

Avoiding cross-contamination

When preparing gluten-free gingerbread cookies, steps should be taken to avoid cross-contamination, including:

  • Thoroughly cleaning baking sheets, bowls and utensils before use
  • Using ingredients confirmed to be gluten-free
  • Not allowing gluten-containing cookies to touch surfaces or baking sheets
  • Storing gluten-free cookies away from regular cookies

Proper labeling and separation from potential gluten sources is key. Those with celiac disease should use extreme caution regarding gluten-free cookies prepared in shared kitchens.

Can you eat the decorations on gluten-free gingerbread houses?

For gluten-free gingerbread houses made with certified gluten-free materials, the gingerbread itself should be safe to eat for those avoiding gluten. However, the decorations may still present concerns:

  • Candy, sprinkles and icing must all be confirmed gluten-free.
  • Look for gluten-free labels and avoid malt-based ingredients.
  • Cross-contamination can still occur if decorations touch regular gluten-containing gingerbread.

Your safest bet is to use decorations specifically produced in certified gluten-free facilities and package them separately. Avoid anything that contacts uncertified gingerbread. Only use decorations you are confident do not contain traces of gluten.


Gingerbread houses are a beloved holiday tradition but commonly contain gluten due to the wheat flour in gingerbread. While the decorations may be gluten-free, cross-contamination with the gingerbread can be an issue. Making adjustments using gluten-free ingredients allows those with gluten intolerance to participate. However, caution is still required to prevent exposure from decorations and tools. Pre-made gingerbread houses likely contain unsafe levels of gluten for those with celiac disease unless certified gluten-free. Overall, traditional gingerbread houses contain gluten and should be avoided by anyone following a strict gluten-free diet.

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