Does coconut shrimp contain gluten?

Coconut shrimp is a popular appetizer or main dish made by coating shrimp in coconut flakes or coconut flour and then deep frying it. But an important question for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is: does coconut shrimp contain gluten?

The short answer is: it depends. Gluten refers to the proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. Some coconut shrimp recipes do contain gluten, especially if they use wheat-based breadcrumbs or batter to coat the shrimp before frying. However, coconut shrimp can also be made gluten-free by using certified gluten-free coconut flour and avoiding other gluten-containing ingredients.

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at the ingredients typically used in coconut shrimp, which ones may contain gluten, and how to modify recipes to make safe gluten-free coconut shrimp.

Common ingredients in coconut shrimp

Coconut shrimp is made by dipping shrimp in a liquid mixture referred to as a “batter”, then rolling the coated shrimp in some kind of coconut flake or coconut flour mixture. The shrimp is then fried until golden brown.

Here are some of the most common ingredients used in coconut shrimp recipes:

  • Shrimp – The protein! Fresh, thawed, or cooked shrimp are used.
  • Flour – For the batter. All-purpose (wheat) flour is most common.
  • Eggs and milk – Also common batter ingredients.
  • Breadcrumbs – Used to coat the shrimp before the coconut.
  • Coconut flakes or coconut flour – To give the signature coconut flavor and crunchy exterior.
  • Salt, spices, seasonings
  • Oil for frying – Vegetable oil, canola oil, etc.

Of these ingredients, the main ones that could potentially contain gluten are:

  • Wheat flour
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Seasonings or spice mixes with gluten-containing ingredients

Do breadcrumbs contain gluten?

Many coconut shrimp recipes instruct you to coat the battered shrimp with breadcrumbs before rolling them in the coconut coating. But do breadcrumbs contain gluten?

Traditional breadcrumbs are made from bread, which contains gluten from wheat flour. So regular store-bought breadcrumbs (like Panko) are not gluten-free.

However, you can find gluten-free breadcrumbs made from grains like rice, quinoa, or gluten-free oats. These specialty gluten-free breadcrumbs can be used to make coconut shrimp safely.

You can also make DIY gluten-free breadcrumbs at home by pulsing gluten-free bread, crackers or cereal into fine crumbs. Gluten-free bread options include those made with rice flour, tapioca flour, millet flour, almond flour, or other gluten-free flours.

Is all-purpose flour gluten-free?

The next ingredient to look at is the flour used for the batter. Many coconut shrimp batter recipes call for all-purpose flour.

All-purpose flour is NOT gluten-free. The most common types of all-purpose flour are made from wheat. Since wheat contains gluten, these flours are off-limits on a gluten-free diet.

Instead, you’ll need to use an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend. There are many brands that make these blends using ingredients like rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch and xanthan gum.

Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur Baking Company, Cup4Cup and Better Batter are some examples of brands that sell all-purpose gluten-free flour mixes.

You can also make your own gluten-free flour blend at home. Mixing different gluten-free flours and starches can create an all-purpose flour substitute suitable for batters and breading.

Gluten-free flour blend recipe

To make 1 cup of gluten-free all-purpose flour, mix together:

  • 1⁄2 cup (60g) rice flour
  • 1⁄4 cup (40g) potato starch
  • 1⁄4 cup (35g) tapioca flour/starch
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional, helps replicate gluten)

Use this as a simple substitute for 1 cup of all-purpose wheat flour in your coconut shrimp recipe.

Are the coconut flakes gluten-free?

The coconut flakes or coconut flour coating is what gives this dish its name. Fortunately, coconut is naturally gluten-free.

Plain unsweetened coconut flakes contain only coconut. Be sure to check the label to make sure no gluten-containing ingredients have been added, such as wheat-based flavorings or preservatives.

Coconut flour is made from dried, ground coconut meat. Pure coconut flour without any additives is also gluten-free. Again, read the label to confirm the product is 100% coconut.

Sweetened coconut flakes are also fine for a gluten-free diet as long as no questionable ingredients have been added. Common sweeteners like sugar and honey do not contain gluten.

Avoiding hidden gluten in seasoning blends

Some coconut shrimp recipes add Cajun seasoning or other spice blends to the batter or breading mixture. Store-bought seasoning blends can sometimes contain gluten as part of the ingredient list.

For example, a “Cajun seasoning” spice blend may include wheat flour, wheat starch, maltodextrin made from wheat, or other gluten sources.

To avoid this issue, read the label carefully and check that the seasoning mix does not contain any gluten ingredients. Or make your own gluten-free Cajun or Creole seasoning blend at home with ingredients like smoked paprika, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and oregano.

How to make gluten-free coconut shrimp

Here are some tips for modifying recipes to make safe gluten-free coconut shrimp:

  • Use certified gluten-free breadcrumbs or make your own with gluten-free bread
  • Substitute all-purpose wheat flour with an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend
  • Verify coconut flakes/flour is 100% pure coconut
  • Use gluten-free spice blends or check seasoning labels for gluten ingredients
  • Use corn starch, tapioca flour, chickpea flour, rice flour for dredging
  • Fry the shrimp in dedicated gluten-free oil

Taking these precautions helps minimize the risk of gluten cross-contact. Be sure to also clean cooking surfaces and equipment thoroughly before preparing the gluten-free dish.

Gluten-free coconut shrimp recipe

Here is a sample gluten-free coconut shrimp recipe:


  • 1 pound peeled, deveined shrimp
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1⁄2 cup canned full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
  • 1⁄2 cup coconut flour
  • 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, gluten-free
  • Oil for frying


  1. Make the batter: Whisk together the rice flour, eggs, and coconut milk in a bowl until smooth and slightly thickened.
  2. Place the breadcrumbs and coconut flour in two separate shallow bowls. Mix the Cajun seasoning into the coconut flour until well combined.
  3. Dip each shrimp into the gluten-free batter until fully coated. Lift and let any excess drip off.
  4. Roll the battered shrimp in the breadcrumbs until evenly coated on all sides.
  5. Dip the breaded shrimp into the coconut flour mixture and turn to coat. Gently shake off any excess.
  6. In a skillet or pot, heat 2 to 3 inches of oil over medium heat to 350°F. Working in batches, fry the coconut shrimp for 2-3 minutes until golden brown, flipping once.
  7. Transfer the fried coconut shrimp to a paper towel-lined plate. Season with extra salt if desired. Enjoy while hot!

Are there gluten-free coconut shrimp options at restaurants?

Those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should use caution when ordering coconut shrimp at restaurants. Cross-contamination with gluten ingredients can easily occur in restaurant kitchens.

Some tips for ordering safely:

  • Ask if the restaurant has a dedicated gluten-free menu and fryer for gluten-free items
  • Inquire about the ingredients used to coat the shrimp
  • Request that the dish be prepared with fresh, uncontaminated oil
  • Ask for adaptations if needed, like using cornstarch instead of wheat flour for dredging

Chains like Red Lobster claim their coconut shrimp recipes are gluten-free. However, it’s still worth verifying with the chef before ordering. Some locations may prepare or serve food slightly differently.

Are there any medication concerns with coconut shrimp?

Most people can safely eat coconut shrimp without any medication-related concerns. However, as with any food, there are a few things those taking certain medications may need to keep in mind.

Blood thinners

The vitamin K content in coconut shrimp may impact the effectiveness of blood thinning medications like warfarin (Coumadin). Significant increases or decreases in vitamin K intake can change the way these medications work.

It’s best to keep your vitamin K intake consistent if you take blood thinners. Check with your doctor about any dietary changes.


Coconut contains tyramine, which can cause dangerous interactions with MAO inhibitor antidepressants like phenelzine and tranylcypromine. Those taking MAOIs should confirm with a pharmacist whether coconut shrimp is contraindicated.

Diabetes medications

The carbohydrates in coconut shrimp can impact blood sugar levels. Individuals taking diabetes medications may need to adjust insulin dosing and monitor glucose closely when eating this dish.

Consult your doctor or pharmacist about appropriate mealtime insulin for your carbohydrate intake from coconut shrimp.

Nutrition facts for coconut shrimp

The nutrition content of coconut shrimp can vary based on the specific ingredients and recipe. But in general, a 3 oz (85g) serving of fried coconut shrimp contains:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 220
Fat 12 g
Carbs 11 g
Protein 12 g
Vitamin A 8% DV
Vitamin C 2% DV
Iron 6% DV
Calcium 4% DV

The breaded coating increases the carbohydrate amount compared to plain shrimp. The dish also provides vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium, but is high in calories and fat because it is fried.

Healthier coconut shrimp alternatives

Fried coconut shrimp is a high calorie appetizer. Some healthier cooking alternatives include:

  • Baking instead of frying
  • Using whole wheat or gluten-free flour in the batter
  • Coating with panko breadcrumbs instead of coconut flakes for less fat
  • Serving with fresh vegetable sides instead of heavy dipping sauces

Be sure to adjust batter and breading ingredients to keep the dish gluten-free if necessary.


Coconut shrimp can be made gluten-free by using pure coconut products, gluten-free breadcrumbs, and an all-purpose flour replacement. Check labels to ensure coatings and seasoning mixes are free of gluten-containing ingredients. When dining out, carefully ask about preparation methods to avoid cross-contact. With some simple modifications, coconut shrimp can be enjoyed safely on a gluten-free diet.

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