Is there a gluten free elbow macaroni?

Gluten free diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, both for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and for those simply looking to cut down on gluten for health reasons. For those following a strict gluten free diet, finding suitable replacements for foods containing wheat and other gluten sources can be challenging. One such food that often contains gluten is traditional elbow macaroni. Fortunately, there are several brands of gluten free elbow macaroni available for purchase. In this article, we will explore what exactly gluten free elbow macaroni is, where to find it, how it compares to traditional elbow macaroni, and some tips for preparing and serving gluten free elbow macaroni.

What is Gluten Free Elbow Macaroni?

Elbow macaroni is the curved, tubular pasta shape that is commonly used in macaroni and cheese dishes. Traditional elbow macaroni is typically made from wheat flour, which contains gluten. Gluten free elbow macaroni swaps out the wheat flour for other gluten free flours and starches like rice flour, corn flour, quinoa flour, and potato starch. It comes in the exact same curved tubular shape and is used in recipes just like traditional elbow macaroni. The only difference is that it does not contain any gluten.

Common Gluten Free Flours Used

Here are some of the most common gluten free flours and starches used to make gluten free elbow macaroni:

  • Rice Flour – Ground flour made from rice. Provides structure.
  • Corn Flour – Ground flour made from corn. Adds flavor and texture.
  • Quinoa Flour – Ground flour made from quinoa grains. High in protein.
  • Potato Starch – Starch extracted from potatoes. Helps bind and add structure.
  • Tapioca Flour – Ground flour from the cassava root. Used to improve texture.
  • Xanthan Gum – Added to help mimic the properties of gluten.

Using a combination of these flours and starches enables the pasta to hold its shape once cooked.

Ensuring the Pasta is Gluten Free

Reputable gluten free brands have facilities and equipment dedicated entirely to gluten free production. They test their products to verify they have gluten levels below 20ppm, the requirement to be labeled gluten free. It’s important to check for a certified gluten free label when purchasing gluten free elbow macaroni.

Where to Find Gluten Free Elbow Macaroni

Gluten free elbow macaroni can be found in the gluten free section of grocery stores or ordered online. Here are some places to find it:

Grocery Stores

Most major grocery store chains like Kroger, Safeway, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s have gluten free sections where you can find gluten free pasta varieties. Look for well-known gluten free brands like Barilla, Ronzoni, or Jovial.

Natural Food Stores

Health food stores like Sprouts or Whole Foods have large selections of gluten free products including pasta. Smaller natural food stores in your area may also carry gluten free macaroni.

Online Stores

Amazon, Vitacost, Thrive Market, and gluten free specialty sites like Gluten Free Palace all offer online ordering of gluten free elbows shipped right to your door. This is a convenient option if stores near you have limited selection.

Direct from Manufacturers

Some gluten free pasta companies sell their products directly from their websites. Look for a “Shop” section on the brand’s website to buy online.

How Does Gluten Free Elbow Macaroni Compare to Traditional?

There are a few key differences between traditional elbow macaroni made with wheat and gluten free varieties:


Gluten free pasta often has a slightly different texture than traditional wheat pasta. It may be a little bit more delicate or prone to crumbling when cooked al dente. Taking care not to overcook it helps maintain its structure.


While wheat pasta has a classic wheat flour flavor, gluten free elbows made with alternative flours have slightly different tastes depending on ingredients. Corn flour gives it a hint of corn, while quinoa flour adds a nuttier flavor.

Cooking Time

The cooking time for gluten free pasta varies across brands. Always follow package directions, as gluten free elbows usually cook faster than traditional wheat pasta.


Unfortunately, most gluten free pasta comes at a higher price point than traditional pasta due to special gluten free processing. Expect to pay anywhere from $1-3 more per box.


Since they are made without wheat, gluten free elbow macaroni has a different nutrition profile. They often contain more fiber, protein, and micronutrients than refined wheat pasta. Check labels for details.

Allergy Safety

For those with celiac disease, gluten free elbows eliminate the risk of an allergic reaction. But always verify the pasta is certified gluten free.

Tips for Cooking and Serving

Here are some useful tips for working with gluten free elbow macaroni:

Get the Right Pasta to Sauce Ratio

Gluten free pasta absorbs more liquid than traditional pasta. Use a bit more sauce and fewer noodles.

Undercook Slightly

Take the pasta off heat just before reaching package time for a firm al dente texture.

Rinse After Cooking

Rinsing gluten free pasta in cold water prevents sticking. Drain well before adding sauce.

Keep Sauce Loose

Thin out cheese or cream based sauces with milk or broth to evenly coat noodles.

Prevent Sogginess

Avoid mixing the pasta with sauce until ready to eat. Store them separately.

Consider Alternative Shapes

If you don’t like the texture of elbows, try rice pasta spirals or chickpea penne for heartier noodles.

Gluten Free Elbow Macaroni Recipe Ideas

Gluten free elbows work great in all your favorite pasta recipes. Get inspired with these tasty meal ideas:

Classic Mac and Cheese

Make a comforting gluten free version with rice flour elbows, creamy cheese sauce, and gluten free breadcrumbs.

Pasta Salad

Toss cooked elbows with fresh chopped vegetables, olive oil, vinegar, and Italian seasoning for a portable salad.

Pasta Primavera

Sauté spring vegetables like asparagus, peas, and zucchini. Toss with gluten free elbows and Parmesan.

Baked Ziti

Layer gluten free elbow macaroni with marinara sauce, Ricotta, and Mozzarella for a hearty casserole.

Macaroni and Beans

Mix elbow macaroni with your favorite beans, salsa, corn, and seasonings for a Tex-Mex twist.

Mac and Cheese Casserole

Make mac and cheese as the base, then add cooked chicken, broccoli, or Buffalo chicken for a casserole.

Types of Gluten Free Elbow Macaroni

There are a diverse range of gluten free elbow pasta options on the market. Here are some of the most common types available:

Rice Flour

  • Tends to be very mild tasting and absorbent
  • Can become mushy if overcooked
  • Works well in pasta salads
  • Brands like Lundberg, Tinkyada, La Veneziane

Corn Flour

  • Adds a subtle corn flavor
  • Holds its shape nicely when cooked al dente
  • Pairs well with cheese sauces
  • Brands like DeLallo, Orgran

Quinoa Flour

  • Nuttier flavor from quinoa flour
  • High protein content
  • Can have a gritty texture
  • Brands like Ancient Harvest, Tolerant

Chickpea Flour

  • Vegetable protein boost from chickpeas
  • Denser texture but still tender
  • Earthy, nutty flavor
  • Brands like Banza, Jovial, Barilla

Mixed Flours

  • Combination of flours like rice, corn, potato
  • Can produce more traditional pasta-like texture
  • Varying flavors depending on flour mix
  • Brands like Barilla, Ronzoni, DeLallo

Are There Any Drawbacks to Gluten Free Elbows?

While gluten free elbow macaroni enables those with gluten intolerance to enjoy a classic pasta shape, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider:

Higher Price Point

Specialty gluten free pasta comes at a premium cost compared to traditional wheat pasta. Expect to pay at least $1-2 more per box.

Differing Texture

Some gluten free pastas have a more delicate texture. Overcooking can lead to mushiness.

Shorter Shelf Life

The alternative flours in gluten free pasta mean it spoils more quickly than refined wheat pasta.

Limited Availability

Not all stores carry gluten free options, so online ordering is sometimes necessary.

Allergy Risk

Despite being gluten free, pasta made in shared facilities could contain traces of gluten.

Nutritional Value

While often higher in nutrients than wheat pasta, gluten free pasta can be lower in fiber or protein in some cases.

Key Takeaways on Gluten Free Elbow Macaroni

  • Gluten free elbow macaroni swaps wheat flour for gluten free flours like rice, corn, or quinoa.
  • It can be found in major grocery stores, health food stores, online, and directly from manufacturers.
  • Gluten free pasta cooks faster and has a more delicate texture than wheat pasta.
  • Add extra sauce to gluten free elbows to prevent dryness.
  • Gluten free elbows work in any recipe, from mac and cheese to pasta salads.
  • There are many types, including rice flour, corn, quinoa, chickpea, and mixed flour.
  • Benefits include accommodation of gluten free diets. Drawbacks are cost and differing texture.

The Bottom Line

Thanks to the rise of gluten free diets, elbow macaroni lovers who need to avoid gluten can still enjoy this classic pasta shape. Swapping traditional wheat flour for alternative gluten free flours like rice, corn, or quinoa gives you the same curved tube pasta without the gluten. Look for gluten free brands at grocery stores, health food markets, or online retailers to find gluten free elbow macaroni. Handle the pasta gently when cooking and add extra sauce to account for its more delicate texture. With the right preparations, gluten free elbow macaroni can be used to make all the cheesy, saucy pasta dishes you love gluten free. So for those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, you can definitely still have your macaroni and eat it too by going for a gluten free elbow macaroni.

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