Finding gluten-free food options when traveling or visiting popular tourist destinations like the historic French Quarter in New Orleans can be challenging for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. With so many iconic New Orleans foods containing wheat, barley, or rye, is it possible to enjoy gluten-free beignets and other pastries in the French Quarter? Let’s take a closer look at the gluten-free dining options available in one of America’s most unique foodie destinations.
What are Beignets?
For visitors unfamiliar with the delicacies of New Orleans cuisine, beignets are a signature sweet treat that no trip to the French Quarter is complete without. These fried pastry fritters are covered in powdered sugar and have a soft, pillowy interior with a crispy, deep-fried exterior. Traditional beignets are made from a yeasted dough containing wheat flour, milk, eggs, butter, sugar, and salt. The dough is rolled out, cut into squares, fried, and generously dusted with powdered sugar.
Beignets have a long history in New Orleans. The early French settlers who established the city in the 18th century brought their recipes for beignets with them. At the time, beignets were called “French doughnuts” and were likely made with wheat flour. The beignet became a popular breakfast food served with cafe au lait. To this day, the classic pairing of beignets and cafe au lait is a quintessential New Orleans breakfast experience.
In the 19th century, beignets were commonly sold by street vendors called beignetiers. The famous Cafe Du Monde opened in 1862 and has been serving fresh beignets with cafe au lait around the clock ever since. Lines often form outside Cafe Du Monde as tourists and locals alike queue up to enjoy the classic French Quarter treats.
Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease
For people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), consuming gluten triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that interferes with the absorption of nutrients. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity causes symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and fatigue when gluten is eaten. The only treatment for both conditions is maintaining a strict gluten-free diet by avoiding foods and ingredients containing wheat, barley, rye, and often oats.
Approximately 1 in 100 people worldwide have celiac disease. However, some experts estimate that 83% of people with celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. There are no precise statistics on how many people have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but some estimates range between 0.5% to 13% of the population.
The number of people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity appears to be rising. Some possible reasons for this include the increased use of wheat-based ingredients and additives in food processing. There is also greater awareness of gluten-related disorders today compared to in the past.
For people with celiac disease or NCGS, ingesting small amounts of gluten from cross-contact can be enough to cause issues. When baking traditional beignets, there is the potential for cross-contact with wheat flour in shared fryers and powdered sugar mixtures. Even a facility that uses entirely separate fryers and serves gluten-free beignets could risk airborne particles if wheat flour is used nearby.
Some individuals are so sensitive that they react strongly to traces of gluten. For this reason, many people with celiac disease or NCGS prefer to avoid restaurants serving gluten-containing foods even if they offer some gluten-free menu options. The risks of cross-contact via shared kitchen equipment and preparation areas can be too great.
Gluten-Free Beignet Options in the French Quarter
Luckily, some locations in the French Quarter take steps to offer gluten-free beignets and other pastries. Here are a few spots to consider if you need a gluten-free beignet fix during your New Orleans travels:
Cafe Beignet is located on Royal Street and offers traditional New Orleans cuisine, including beignets fried in dedicated gluten-free fryers. Their gluten-free beignets use a rice flour batter and are topped with powdered sugar that does not contain any wheat starch. The cafe has a gluten-free and vegan menu and handles gluten-free orders with extra care to avoid cross-contact.
Cafe Du Monde
The iconic Cafe Du Monde serves gluten-free beignets dusted with powdered sugar on dedicated days and times. The powdered sugar used on their gluten-free beignets contains no wheat starch. Contact the cafe in advance to confirm their current gluten-free schedule if you plan to visit.
New Orleans Famous Beignets
This take-out beignet spot uses rice flour and chickpea flour to create gluten-free beignets. They fry them in a separate gluten-free fryer. The powdered sugar topping is also gluten-free. Some online reviewers have praised New Orleans Famous Beignets for accommodating gluten-free diets.
Loretta’s Authentic Pralines
In addition to pralines, Loretta’s sells gluten-free beignets containing no wheat, rye, barley, or oats. They use a fryer designated only for gluten-free frying. Loretta’s is located on Decatur Street near the farmer’s market.
Other Gluten-Free French Quarter Foods
Beyond beignets, the French Quarter offers additional gluten-free options to enjoy. Here are some other gluten-free foods to try while exploring this historic New Orleans neighborhood:
- Pralines – Many shops sell gluten-free pralines made with pecans, sugar, cream, and butter.
- Crawfish – Boiled shellfish like crawfish, shrimp, and crab are naturally gluten-free.
- Gumbo and jambalaya – Look for gluten-free roux and rice-flour thickening.
- Red beans and rice – Ensure beans weren’t cooked with wheat-based ingredients.
- Po’ boys – Select gluten-free bread or rolls and gluten-free fillings.
- Muffuletta sandwiches – Made on gluten-free bread with gluten-free deli meats, cheese, and olive salad.
Some restaurants in the French Quarter like Murial’s Creole Kitchen have gluten-free menus offering po’ boys, jambalaya, gumbo, and more. Do your research beforehand by calling restaurants to inquire about their gluten-free options.
Tips for Gluten-Free Dining in the French Quarter
If you’re visiting the French Quarter with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, keep these tips in mind to stay safe while enjoying some of New Orleans’ most iconic cuisines:
- Research restaurant options thoroughly and call ahead to confirm gluten-free menu items. Ask about their training and protocols to avoid cross-contact.
- Carry a gluten “allergen” card in your wallet that restaurant staff can view.
- Ask lots of questions about food preparation and ingredients.
- Stick to basic whole foods like grilled chicken, seafood, vegetables, fruit, and gluten-free grains like rice.
- Be aware that wheat flour is used heavily in New Orleans cooking. It’s in roux, gumbos, gravies, sauces, battered and fried foods.
- Avoid busy hot dog stands, pizza places, bakeries, beer halls, and other high gluten-risk environments.
- Research nearby grocery stores to buy gluten-free snacks, bread, and treats to keep in your hotel.
- Wash your hands often before eating and consider wearing a face mask in crowded areas.
Are Gluten-Free Beignets Hard to Find in the French Quarter?
Gluten-free dining options are more widely available today compared to decades ago thanks to greater awareness of celiac disease and NCGS. However, in a food destination like the French Quarter that’s known for its wheat-heavy classics, safely finding gluten-free foods requires effort.
Only a handful of spots currently offer gluten-free beignets in the French Quarter. Visitors need to research carefully, ask the right questions, and exercise caution eating out. There is also the possibility that a restaurant’s protocols could slip up. Assuming kitchen staff perfectly understand cross-contact risks and food allergies is an unsafe bet.
The limited choices and need for extreme care make enjoying gluten-free beignets and other pastries challenging in the French Quarter. Some individuals feel it’s not worth the risk given the potential for cross-contact. For others, the ability to finally try a gluten-free beignet makes navigating the French Quarter more exciting and inclusive.
Gluten-Free Beignet Mixes
If seeking out gluten-free beignets in the French Quarter itself feels too stressful, another option is making them yourself. Here are some highly-rated gluten-free beignet mix brands to consider baking at home:
Namaste Foods Beignet Mix
This popular gluten-free beignet mix contains rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, xanthan gum, and powdered sugar. The baking mix allows you to quickly prepare gluten-free beignets by just adding water, an egg, oil, and milk. Namaste Foods is a dedicated gluten-free facility.
Krusteaz Gluten Free Beignet Mix
Krusteaz is a widely available brand that makes a gluten-free beignet mix containing rice flour, potato starch, and xanthan gum. User reviews praise how easily these mixes create pillowy beignets. Krusteaz does process wheat in their facilities, but follows protocols to avoid cross-contact.
Miss Roben’s Gluten-Free Beignet Mix
This gluten-free beignet baking mix includes sorghum flour, tapioca starch, chickpea flour, and xanthan gum. Just add milk, butter, egg, and oil. Miss Roben’s is produced in a dedicated gluten-free bakery that does not process wheat. The brand has earned praise for its flavorful gluten-free mixes.
Making gluten-free beignets at home lets you control the ingredients and avoid cross-contact concerns. While the end result may not perfectly mimic cafe beignets, these mixes help recreate the classic flavors and textures.
The Bottom Line
For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, enjoying traditional gluten-heavy New Orleans specialties like beignets poses challenges. However, with proper research and caution, finding gluten-free beignets in the French Quarter is possible on a limited basis.
Calling establishments ahead, asking questions about preparation, and understanding risks are key to safely enjoying gluten-free beignets from vendors who offer them. Cross-contact is still a concern given the prevalence of wheat flour in French Quarter kitchens.
Some individuals opt to skip trying gluten-free beignets from restaurants and instead make them at home using dedicated gluten-free mixes. While the choices are still narrow, the excitement of savoring a gluten-free taste of an iconic New Orleans treat makes the effort worthwhile for many gluten-free travelers.