Does matzo ball soup contain gluten?

Matzo ball soup, also known as Jewish penicillin, is a classic Jewish comfort food often served during Passover. It typically consists of matzo balls (dumplings made from matzo meal) simmered in chicken broth with carrots, onions, and celery. But with matzo being one of the key unleavened breads eaten on Passover when Jews avoid leavened grains, an important question arises – does matzo ball soup contain gluten?

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. When flour from these grains is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form elastic strands that allow the dough to rise when baked. This gives breads and other baked goods their chewy texture. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity experience digestive and other health issues when they eat gluten.

For people who need to avoid gluten, identifying gluten-containing ingredients is very important. In addition to the obvious breads, pastas, and baked goods made from wheat flour, gluten can also be found in less obvious foods. It’s often used as an additive to provide texture and binding. People with celiac disease have to be very careful when eating processed foods to check all ingredients on the label for gluten-containing components.

What is Matzo?

Matzo is an unleavened flatbread that’s eaten by Jews during Passover. It substitutes for leavened breads which are avoided during the holiday. Traditional matzo is made solely from flour and water. The flour can be wheat flour, spelt flour, or oat flour. During Passover, observant Jews eat matzo made from wheat or spelt. The wheat flour is usually whole grain, not processed white flour.

Matzo is quickly mixed together and baked before the flour and water have time to rise. The end result is a cracker-like flatbread. Matzo bread has a simple ingredient list – just flour and water, and sometimes salt. Good quality matzo should only contain those 3 or 4 ingredients.

Does Matzo Contain Gluten?

Yes, matzo contains gluten. Since it’s made from wheat flour, which contains the gluten protein, matzo is not gluten-free.

However, some brands of matzo offer gluten-free options made from oat, spelt, or other non-wheat flours that don’t contain gluten. But traditional Passover matzo eaten during the holiday contains gluten from wheat flour.

So wheat-based matzo consumed during Passover is not safe for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. There are some gluten-free matzo options made from oats, spelt, and other ancient grains that are safe for gluten-free diets. But most mainstream brands of traditional matzo are not gluten-free.

What are Matzo Balls Made Of?

Matzo balls, also known as kneidelach in Yiddish, are dumplings made from ground matzo meal mixed with eggs and oil or chicken fat. The matzo meal gives them their distinctive flavor and dense, chewy texture when cooked.

The matzo meal used to make matzo balls can be wheat-based or gluten-free. Matzo meal is simply ground up matzo bread into a flour. To make traditional Passover matzo balls, wheat-based matzo is used. But some brands make gluten-free matzo balls using oat, spelt, or other gluten-free matzo meal.

Be sure to read the ingredients when purchasing matzo ball soup or mix. Most traditional matzo ball mixes and frozen matzo balls contain wheat-based matzo meal, so they are not gluten-free. But gluten-free options are available made with gluten-free matzo meal and other minor ingredient substitutions.

Does Matzo Ball Soup Contain Gluten?

Traditional matzo ball soup made with wheat-based matzo balls contains gluten. The matzo balls are what contribute the gluten protein, since they are made with wheat flour.

However, gluten-free matzo ball soup is also available. This contains matzo balls made from gluten-free matzo meal, using oats or other allowed grains. When prepared from certified gluten-free ingredients, gluten-free matzo ball soup can be safe for gluten-free diets.

Additionally, the broth is an important factor. Many broths and stocks contain gluten as an additive. So when choosing gluten-free matzo ball soup, look for a gluten-free certified broth as well.

With both gluten-free matzo balls and a gluten-free broth, it’s possible to enjoy gluten-free matzo ball soup. But traditional recipes contain gluten from regular wheat-based matzo balls and possibly the broth too.

Is Chicken Soup Gluten-Free?

Plain homemade chicken soup is naturally gluten-free. The main ingredients – chicken, carrots, onions, and celery – don’t contain gluten. However, many canned and packaged chicken soups or stocks often contain additions like barley, noodles, or wheat-based thickeners that do contain gluten.

When preparing your own chicken soup at home, choose simple gluten-free ingredients. Opt for boneless chicken rather than parts with small bones that could potentially harbor traces of gluten from processed feed. Use fresh veggies or verified gluten-free frozen or canned. And use a gluten-free broth, not one made from a bouillon cube or sauce base which likely contains gluten.

With simple whole food ingredients, homemade chicken soup can easily be made gluten-free. But it’s important to check commercial canned chicken soups, which often have gluten-containing additives. Look for brands marked gluten-free if following a gluten-free diet.

What About Other Soup Additions Like Noodles?

Adding other ingredients like noodles or dumplings to chicken soup will also affect the gluten content. Plain egg noodles and wheat-flour dumplings contain gluten. There are gluten-free egg noodle options made from rice flour, tapioca, or other gluten-free starches for gluten-free chicken noodle soup. And rice flour or almond flour dumplings can provide a gluten-free alternative.

Substituting gluten-free pasta or dumplings allows you to make gluten-free chicken soup. But if you add regular wheat-based noodles, dumplings, or matzo balls, that will introduce gluten into a otherwise gluten-free soup.

What About Thickeners Like Flour?

Many soup recipes call for a sprinkle of flour to thicken and add body to the broth at the end. Regular wheat flour contains gluten, so this would add gluten to the finished soup.

There are a few options for thickening gluten-free soups instead:

  • Rice flour – Substitute rice flour 1:1 for wheat flour as a thickener
  • Cornstarch – Adds thickening power without affecting flavor
  • Pureed Vegetables – Blend some of the cooked veggies into the soup
  • Potato Flakes – Whisk in potato flakes to thicken broth

With a few easy substitutions, you can thicken gluten-free soups without theneed for wheat flour.

What About Barley in Soup?

Barley is an ingredient sometimes added to soups like beef barley soup or mushroom barley soup. Barley contains gluten, so soups with barley are not gluten-free.

There are a few gluten-free alternatives that can be substituted if you want to make a gluten-free version:

– Rice – For a neutral flavor that won’t dominate
– Quinoa – Adds protein and a nutty flavor
– Buckwheat – Has an earthy, wheat-like flavor
– GF Oats – Use certified gluten-free oats only

Substituting any of these gluten-free grains for barley lets you replicate the texture with a gluten-free option. Just keep in mind the different flavors each will impart.

Are Soup Mix Packets Gluten-Free?

Soup mixes are dried soup ingredients that you rehydrate with hot water or broth. Many popular soup mix brands contain gluten sources, like:

– Wheat flour
– Barley
– Pasta/noodles
– Hydrolyzed wheat protein
– Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)

You’ll need to read the ingredients carefully since soup mix packets often contain hidden sources of gluten used as thickeners, flavorings or add-ins.

Some brands do offer certified gluten-free soup mixes, which will be labeled clearly as gluten-free. But don’t assume soup packets are gluten-free without checking first, as many mainstream brands contain gluten.

What About Bouillon Cubes or Broths?

Many bouillon cubes, soup bases, and canned or boxed broths contain gluten additives. Ingredients like maltodextrin, soy sauce, hydrolyzed wheat protein, and autolyzed yeast extract introduce gluten. Always check the ingredients and look for a gluten-free certification when choosing broths and soup bases.

Homemade broth is the safest option. When buying, look for brands marked certified gluten-free to avoid hidden gluten. Make sure the broth matches the gluten-free status of the other ingredients being added.


In summary, traditional matzo balls, matzo ball soup, and chicken soup often contain gluten. But with the right substitutions, it’s possible to make gluten-free versions:

– Use gluten-free matzo meal for the matzo balls
– Choose a gluten-free broth
– Substitute gluten-free noodles/dumplings if adding
– Thicken with rice flour instead of wheat flour
– Avoid barley or use a gluten-free grain instead
– Check all packaged ingredients for gluten

With some simple adjustments, people who are gluten-free can still enjoy delicious matzo ball soup and other classic chicken soups. Just be sure to check all the ingredients and use reliable gluten-free alternatives when needed.

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