Does extra virgin olive oil have gluten in it?

Quick Answer

No, extra virgin olive oil does not contain any gluten. Extra virgin olive oil is made by cold pressing olives and does not contain any gluten-containing ingredients. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye, and since olives are fruits, olive oil is naturally gluten-free. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can safely consume extra virgin olive oil.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, rye and triticale (1). The two main proteins that make up gluten are:

– Gliadin: Gliadin is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. It allows bread to rise and gives it a chewy texture.

– Glutenin: Glutenin gives dough its strength and stretchiness. It helps baked goods keep their shape.

When flour and water are mixed together, the gluten proteins form cross-linked networks that give bread its spongy texture. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity cannot tolerate gluten and experience symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating and fatigue when they eat it (2).

Gluten is found in foods like bread, pasta, cereals, baked goods, breaded foods, beers and malt vinegars. It can also be hidden in sauces, seasonings and processed meats unless they are labeled “gluten-free.” Reading ingredient lists is important to avoid gluten.

What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Extra virgin olive oil is oil that comes from the first cold pressing of olives. The term “extra virgin” means the oil is of the highest quality and purity because no heat or chemicals are used during processing (3).

To make extra virgin olive oil:

1. Olives are washed and crushed into a paste.

2. The olive paste is cold pressed to separate the liquids (oil) from the solids.

3. The oil is separated via centrifugation and immediately bottled.

Extra virgin olive oil retains the natural flavors, aromas, vitamins and antioxidants of fresh olives. It has a greenish color and peppery, fruity taste.

Refined or “light” olive oils undergo more processing, which strips away olive flavors and many nutrients. Always look for the term “extra virgin” when purchasing olive oil.

Do Olives Contain Gluten?

No, olives do not naturally contain any gluten. Olives are fruits that grow on olive trees. The only ingredients in extra virgin olive oil are crushed olives.

Since olives do not contain gluten, oils made purely from olives are gluten-free. Extra virgin olive oil is guaranteed to be 100% gluten-free.

Even flavored olive oils like garlic, lemon and chili infused oils do not contain gluten provided no other ingredients besides olives and flavorings are added. Always check the label to be sure.

The only exception would be if a small amount of wheat flour or another gluten ingredient was deliberately added to the oil, but this would be extremely rare.

Cross-Contamination Risks

Since extra virgin olive oil does not inherently contain gluten, any risk of gluten contamination comes from cross-contact during harvesting, processing or storage:

– **Harvesting:** If a farm grows wheat or other gluten grains along with olives, there is a small chance for gluten cross-contact during harvest. For this reason, some olive oils may be marked “may contain gluten.”

– **Processing:** Most olive oil companies use dedicated equipment to press olives, but some may produce gluten-containing oils on shared lines. Look for a gluten-free certification.

– **Storage:** Bulk olive oil storage tanks may also hold other oils made from gluten sources like wheat germ oil. Opt for olive oils packaged in sealed bottles from trusted brands.

To be considered gluten-free, olive oil must test below 20 parts per million of gluten. Reputable companies perform frequent batch testing.

Overall, the risk of meaningful gluten exposure from extra virgin olive oil, especially from sealed bottles, is very low.

Olive Oil Lab Testing

Several organizations have tested extra virgin olive oils for gluten content:

– The **Celiac Sprue Association (CSA)** tested 38 varieties of extra virgin olive oils. 36 tested below 5 ppm of gluten and 2 tested at 6 and 11 ppm. All were well below 20 ppm to qualify as gluten-free (4).

– **Gluten Free Watchdog** tested 25 olive oils. Gluten levels ranged from <5 to 8.5 ppm, except for one, which measured 15 ppm. Again, all were considered gluten-free (5). - The **Canadian Celiac Association** tested 10 olive oils, including flavored infused oils. All tested below 5 ppm, except for one that measured 7 ppm (6). This extensive testing confirms that most major brands of extra virgin olive oil contain negligible traces of gluten and are safe for people with celiac disease and wheat allergies.

Extra Virgin vs Other Olive Oil Grades

There are several types of olive oil:

– **Extra virgin:** Highest quality oil from first cold pressing of olives. No chemicals used.

– **Virgin:** From second pressing, more processing and lower quality than extra virgin.

– **Refined:** Refined using heat and solvents to remove flaws. Lower in antioxidants.

– **Lite or Light:** Refined olive oil mixed with virgin olive oil. Lower in nutrients.

– **Pomace:** Made from olive pulp after pressing. Heavily processed.

All types of olive oils, including lower quality refined and pomace oils, start from olives and do not inherently contain gluten. However, more processing steps increase the risk of cross-contact.

For the lowest risk and most nutrients, always choose “extra virgin.” Avoid olive oil blends or grades that don’t specify “extra virgin.”

Medications and Supplements

Olive oil is sometimes used as an inactive ingredient or excipient in medications and supplements. In this case, there is a small chance for gluten cross-contamination:

– **Fillers:** Lower quality olive oil may be used in pill fillers and softgels. Opt for capsules.

– **Solvents:** Olive oil may be used as a solvent for active ingredients. Check ingredient lists.

– **Flavored oils:** Medications may add natural or artificial flavors to masking taste, which could introduce gluten.

To be gluten-free, supplements should be third-party tested. Look for a gluten-free claim on the label or contact the manufacturer.

As a rule of thumb, liquid olive oil in sealed bottles is less likely to contain traces of gluten than olive oil used in pill production.

Is Olive Oil Gluten-Free? The Verdict

In summary:

– Extra virgin olive oil does not naturally contain gluten. Olives are fruits, not grains.

– Extensive third-party testing shows most major extra virgin olive oil brands contain less than 20 ppm of gluten.

– There is a minor risk of cross-contact during harvesting, processing and storage. Look for oils marked gluten-free.

– Lower quality olive oil grades may have a higher risk of cross-contact. Always choose extra virgin.

– Olive oil in medications could be contaminated. Check for testing or call the manufacturer.

So in conclusion, yes, extra virgin olive oil can be safely considered gluten-free in most cases. Those with celiac disease or wheat allergies can comfortably use extra virgin olive oil without worrying about gluten exposure.

Cooking and Baking Without Gluten

Olive oil is a versatile staple in any gluten-free kitchen. Here are some ways to use it:

– **Sauté:** Use extra virgin olive oil to sauté gluten-free proteins and vegetables. It has a high smoke point of about 400°F (7).

– **Salad dressings:** Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, mustard, garlic and herbs for simple salad dressings.

– **Marinades:** Combine olive oil, herbs, spices, garlic, mustard, vinegar and citrus juice to make marinades for proteins.

– **Roasting:** Toss chopped veggies in olive oil before roasting in the oven. Potatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and carrots work great.

– **Baking:** Replace butter with olive oil in your favorite gluten-free baked goods recipes. Measure carefully, as olive oil is slightly lighter.

– **Frying:** Olive oil can be used for shallow or deep frying gluten-free foods like chicken, fish and fritters.

– **Dips:** Make hummus, baba ganoush, tapenade and other dips by blending olive oil with veggies, beans or olives.

Note that extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point, so it’s best for low-to-medium heat cooking. Avocado, grapeseed and refined olive oils have higher smoke points for frying.

Choosing Quality Olive Oil

Not all olive oils are created equal. Here’s how to pick a quality extra virgin olive oil:

– **Look for “extra virgin” on the label:** This means the oil is from the first cold pressing of olives.

– **Choose a reputable brand:** Look for brands that actively test for gluten and other contaminants.

– **Check for certification seals:** UNAPROL, U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil Seal, or California Olive Oil Council certify purity and quality.

– **Select a harvest date:** Oils with a recent harvest date will be fresher.

– **Avoid olive oil “blends”:** Blending compromises quality and increases risk of cross-contact.

– **Pick glass bottles:** Glass protects olive oil from oxygen and light better than plastic.

– **Watch for sediment:** Some sediment indicates minimal processing and high quality.

– **Smell the fruitiness:** Aromas like green apple, grass and pepper mean freshness.

– **Taste the peppery bite:** Spicy, bitter, pungent flavors equal high antioxidant content.

With some diligence in label reading, those avoiding gluten can be assured that bottles of extra virgin olive oil from reputable companies provide safe, high quality oil.

Evidence-Based Health Benefits

Beyond its wonderful flavor, extra virgin olive oil provides science-backed wellness benefits:

– **Heart health:** Olive oil raises HDL “good” cholesterol and lowers blood pressure and heart disease risk (8, 9).

– **Weight control:** Replacing other fats with olive oil helps promote healthy weight and body composition (10, 11).

– **Brain health:** Olive oil’s antioxidants support cognitive function and may prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia (12).

– **Cancer prevention:** Nutrients in olive oil exhibit anti-cancer effects, especially for breast and digestive system cancers (13, 14).

– **Anti-inflammatory:** Olive oil provides anti-inflammatory activity that may relieve arthritis, autoimmune issues and inflammatory bowel diseases (15).

– **Blood sugar control:** Consuming olive oil, especially in place of carbs, can improve blood sugar levels in those with diabetes (16).

– **Gut health:** Olive oil boosts good bacteria levels, strengthens the gut lining and may reduce ulcers (17, 18).

– **Skin and hair:** Applying olive oil provides moisturizing benefits for dry skin and scalp (19).

Potential Drawbacks

Despite its health benefits, olive oil does have some potential downsides to keep in mind:

– **High in calories:** Olive oil is 100% fat so packs 120 calories per tablespoon. Use in moderation if watching your weight.

– **Acidity concerns:** Olive oil has a low acidity of <2% in good brands. Higher acidity may cause digestive issues for some (20). - **Heating degrades quality:** Heating olive oil above its low smoke point can damage its nutrients and release free radicals (21). - **Not ideal for frying:** Extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point. Avocado, rice bran and refined olive oils work better for deep frying. - **Allergy risk:** Olive pollen related allergies can, in rare cases, cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals (22). - **“Lite” oils are diluted:** Oils labeled light, lite or pure olive oil contain refined olive oils that are lower in antioxidants. Overall, while olive oil is very healthy, those with digestive issues may want to start with small amounts to assess tolerance. And as with any oil, portion control and minimal heating help maximize olive oil’s benefits.

The Bottom Line

Extra virgin olive oil is an extremely safe, nourishing and versatile oil for anyone following a gluten-free diet. Third-party testing confirms gluten levels are well below 20 ppm in most leading extra virgin olive oil brands.

Choosing oils packaged in dark glass bottles from reputable companies further minimizes any risk of cross-contact. Olive oil should be a delicious and healthy staple in every gluten-free kitchen.

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