Does Béchamel sauce contain gluten?

Béchamel sauce, also known as white sauce, is a classic French white sauce made with milk, butter, and flour. It serves as the base for many dishes like lasagna, croque monsieur, and soufflés. With the rise in gluten intolerance and celiac disease, many people wonder if this common ingredient contains gluten 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 most people, gluten does not cause any issues or adverse health effects. However, for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten can trigger a range of unpleasant symptoms and health problems.

Those with celiac disease have an autoimmune reaction to gluten that damages the small intestine. Even small amounts of gluten can cause issues for those with celiac. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a milder condition that still involves intestinal distress and other symptoms when gluten is consumed.

For people with celiac disease or NCGS, following a strict gluten-free diet is crucial to manage symptoms and prevent further damage. This means reading labels carefully and avoiding foods that contain wheat, rye, barley and oats (unless certified gluten-free).

Sources of Gluten

Gluten is naturally found in grains like:

  • Wheat – including wheatberries, durum, semolina, spelt, farro, einkorn
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Triticale – a cross between wheat and rye

Any grains or products derived from these contain gluten. This includes things like:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Cereal
  • Baked goods
  • Malt vinegar
  • Beer

Oats are naturally gluten-free but are often cross-contaminated with wheat during growing and processing. Some people with celiac disease may also react to the protein avenin found in oats.

Does Béchamel Sauce Contain Gluten?

Classic béchamel sauce is made with just a few simple ingredients – butter, flour, milk, and seasoning. The potential source of gluten comes from the flour.

Traditional recipes for béchamel call for all-purpose (AP) flour, which contains gluten since it is made from wheat. So generally, standard homemade and prepackaged béchamel sauces do contain gluten.

Gluten-Free Substitutions

However, there are ways to prepare gluten-free béchamel sauce at home. These substitutions can be used:

  • Rice Flour – Rice flour makes an effective thickener and gluten-free substitute for AP flour in white sauces.
  • Cornstarch – Cornstarch is another popular choice that can help thicken and stabilize béchamel without gluten.
  • Arrowroot – Arrowroot is a starchy root powder that acts similarly to cornstarch as a thickening agent.

There are also some prepackaged, gluten-free béchamel sauce options available from specialty brands. When buying premade béchamel sauce, be sure to check the label to confirm it is certified gluten-free.

Determining if Béchamel Sauce is Gluten-Free

When béchamel sauce is served at a restaurant or in a prepared food product, take the following steps to determine if it is gluten-free:

  • Check the menu or product description for allergy information. Reputable establishments will clearly list ingredients.
  • Ask your server or contact the manufacturer directly if allergen information is not provided.
  • If homemade, ask if rice flour, cornstarch or another gluten-free thickener was used instead of wheat flour.
  • If concerned about cross-contamination, check that separate pots/utensils were used to prepare it.
  • When in doubt, avoid it or bring your own gluten-free béchamel to add to a dish.

Cooking with Gluten-Free Béchamel

Gluten-free béchamel sauce makes a tasty, versatile base for all kinds of recipes. Here are some recipe ideas:

Savory Dishes

  • Vegetable gratin
  • Chicken pot pie
  • Seafood casserole
  • Lasagna
  • Croque monsieur
  • Onion soup


  • Eggs florentine
  • Breakfast casserole
  • Crêpes
  • Waffles
  • Pancakes


  • Pudding
  • Custard
  • Cheesecake
  • Soufflés
  • Mousse

Gluten-free béchamel is a handy staple to keep on hand for quick weekday meals, entertaining, and more. It can be prepared in advance and stored in the fridge for 4-5 days.

Gluten-Free Substitutions for Common Béchamel Dishes

For many traditional recipes that call for wheat-thickened béchamel, gluten-free substitutions can easily be made as shown below:

Dish Gluten-Free Substitution
Lasagna Use gluten-free lasagna noodles and prepare béchamel with cornstarch or rice flour
Soufflés Make béchamel base with rice flour or arrowroot starch
Croque monsieur Use gluten-free bread and thickened béchamel
Casseroles Thicken béchamel with arrowroot or cornstarch
Pot pies Prepare filling with gluten-free flour; use gluten-free phyllo dough or pie crust
Quiche Make gluten-free pie crust; thicken fillilng with cornstarch or rice flour

With simple ingredient swaps, you can enjoy your favorite béchamel sauce dishes gluten-free.

Precautions When Cooking Gluten-Free

When cooking for someone with celiac disease or NCGS, safety measures are important to avoid cross-contamination with gluten:

  • Wash hands thoroughly before prepping gluten-free dishes.
  • Use separate pots, pans, utensils.
  • Clean cooking surfaces thoroughly.
  • Avoid spreading flour in the air when measuring.
  • Store gluten-free ingredients separately.
  • Use separate condiments like butter, jam, mayo.
  • Use fresh oil, water to prevent cross-contact from previous dishes.

Being aware of cross-contamination risks and using dedicated gluten-free cooking tools ensure gluten-free dishes stay safe for gluten-sensitive individuals.

Gluten Sensitivity and Béchamel Sauce

For those with celiac disease or NCGS, consuming béchamel sauce made in the traditional manner with AP flour would cause issues. The gluten protein found in wheat would trigger the immune response and resulting symptoms.

Some common symptoms of gluten intake for those with sensitivities include:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rashes
  • Joint pain

In those with celiac disease, consuming gluten also leads to intestinal damage over time, resulting in impaired nutrient absorption and associated complications like anemia, osteoporosis, infertility, and even lymphoma in some cases.

Following a strictly gluten-free diet is the only treatment for gluten disorders. So for people with celiac disease and NCGS, it is essential to avoid dishes made with wheat-based ingredients, including regular béchamel sauce.

Testing for Gluten Sensitivity

People with suspected gluten sensitivity should get tested before eliminating gluten entirely from the diet. This allows for an accurate diagnosis:

  • Celiac disease blood tests – Checks for elevated antibodies associated with celiac.
  • Endoscopy – Takes a biopsy of the small intestine to check for damage.
  • Elimination diet – Removes gluten temporarily to see if symptoms improve.

Being tested while still consuming gluten allows doctors to definitively diagnose celiac disease or NCGS. Self-diagnosis is not recommended.

Importance of a Gluten-Free Diet

Going gluten-free is challenging but vital for managing symptoms and healing the gut in celiac disease. It involves vigilance reading ingredient labels, asking questions when dining out, and learning to cook without gluten.

For the best health outcomes, those with celiac disease need to be very strict about being 100% gluten-free. Even tiny traces of gluten can trigger issues.

A dietician knowledgeable about celiac disease can provide tremendous guidance when transitioning to this new way of eating. Support groups can also help provide motivation, ideas, and resources.

The Takeaway on Béchamel and Gluten

Here are the key points on béchamel sauce and gluten:

  • Béchamel sauce made traditionally with wheat flour contains gluten and is not safe for celiacs.
  • Gluten-free béchamel can be made using rice flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot as a thickener.
  • When dining out or buying premade béchamel, check for gluten-free labels or allergen information.
  • People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid dishes made with regular béchamel.
  • Gluten-free substitutions like rice noodles and alternative thickeners make it possible to enjoy béchamel favorites.

While traditional béchamel does contain gluten, gluten-free versions open up options for those with celiac disease and gluten disorders. With some simple ingredient swaps and precautions, virtually any recipe calling for béchamel sauce can be enjoyed gluten-free.

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