Is there gluten in pizza sauce?

Pizza is a beloved food for many people, but for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, navigating pizza safety can be challenging. One of the biggest questions is whether pizza sauce contains gluten. Here is a comprehensive look at the gluten content of various pizza sauces and some helpful tips for choosing safe pizza sauces.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It acts as a glue that helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a binding agent. For most people, gluten does not cause any problems. However, for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine.

When people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity consume gluten, it causes inflammation and damage to the villi in the small intestine. The villi are the small, finger-like projections that line the small intestine and absorb nutrients from food. Damaged villi lead to malabsorption of nutrients, causing a variety of gastrointestinal and other symptoms.

Following a strict gluten-free diet is currently the only treatment for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. This means avoiding foods and ingredients that contain gluten, including many breads, baked goods, pastas, cereals, beers, and other products made from wheat, barley, or rye.

Gluten content of pizza sauce

Pizza sauce is generally made from tomatoes, herbs, olive oil or vegetable oil, spices, and sometimes onion, garlic, and sugar. None of these ingredients naturally contain gluten. So plain pizza sauce made with tomato puree, herbs, oil, and spices should be gluten-free.

However, there are a few ways that gluten can make its way into pizza sauce:

  • Flour or wheat starch added as a thickening agent
  • Malt vinegar containing gluten-based grains
  • Cross-contact from gluten-containing ingredients used on shared equipment

Some pizza sauces also include Parmesan cheese, which may contain gluten if steps are not taken to use gluten-free cheese. Overall, a basic pizza sauce made with tomatoes, herbs, and oil should not contain gluten ingredients.

Reading labels

When purchasing pre-made pizza sauce, it is essential to read the label carefully to evaluate if the product is gluten-free. Here are some things to look for:

  • Avoid ingredients like wheat, barley, rye, malt, and malt vinegar
  • Look for a “gluten-free” statement
  • Check for certification labels like GFCO or Crossed Grain, indicating third-party testing
  • Call the manufacturer if any questionable ingredients are listed

Ideally, the product will be labeled “gluten-free” and free of any gluten-containing ingredients. Even if the label says wheat-free, it could still contain barley or rye. Confirming gluten-free certification is the most reliable way to identify a gluten-free product.

Risk of cross-contact

Even if a pizza sauce is made without gluten-containing ingredients, there is still a risk of cross-contact if it is produced on shared equipment alongside gluten-containing products. Some manufacturers take steps to prevent cross-contact by:

  • Producing gluten-free items first after equipment cleaning
  • Using dedicated machinery just for gluten-free production
  • Testing products to verify less than 20ppm of gluten

If you have celiac disease or are highly sensitive, it is safest to choose brands that actively take measures to avoid cross-contact. Calling the manufacturer to inquire about their protocols can help in determining the risk level.

Homemade pizza sauce

Making pizza sauce at home is a great way to control the ingredients and avoid gluten. Simple pizza sauce can be made by pureeing canned tomatoes with olive oil, herbs, garlic, and seasoning.

Be sure to use certified gluten-free tomatoes without additives. Some tomato products may contain malt vinegar or wheat starch. Beyond that, the remaining ingredients are naturally gluten-free.

Making your own pizza sauce is also the best way to avoid cross-contact concerns. Just be sure to thoroughly clean cooking equipment and surfaces first.

Homemade Pizza Sauce Recipe

This easy recipe for homemade gluten-free pizza sauce uses basic pantry ingredients:

Ingredient Amount
Canned tomatoes 1 (28 oz) can
Extra virgin olive oil 2 Tbsp
Onion, finely diced 1/2 cup
Garlic, minced 2 cloves
Fresh basil, chopped 1/4 cup
Oregano 1 tsp
Salt & pepper To taste
  1. Pour tomatoes into blender or food processor. Add remaining ingredients except salt and pepper.
  2. Blend until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.
  3. Use immediately or refrigerate up to one week.

Choosing gluten-free pizza crust

In addition to safe pizza sauce, you also need an appropriate gluten-free crust when making pizza. There are several options:

  • Pre-made crusts: Many brands like Udi’s, Against the Grain, and Calise & Sons sell shelf-stable or frozen gluten-free pizza crusts.
  • Store-bought dough: Some pizzerias sell their gluten-free dough for home use. This requires some shaping and stretching at home.
  • Homemade dough: Making your own gluten-free pizza dough allows maximum control. Dough can be made from scratch or using a gluten-free flour blend.
  • Cauliflower crust: For a vegetable-based option, thin slices of cauliflower are baked into a pizza crust.
  • Grain-free crust: Base options like almond flour or coconut flour allow a grain-free pizza crust.

Any of these can work, depending on your diet needs and preferences. Be sure to thoroughly read labels and check certifications when purchasing pre-made crusts. Homemade crust gives you control over ingredients.

Topping your gluten-free pizza

With safe gluten-free sauce and crust options, the remaining consideration for pizza toppings is choosing cheese and other toppings that fit your diet needs:

  • Cheese: Use shredded cheeses labeled gluten-free, being mindful of potential cross-contact.
  • Veggies: Fresh veggies like peppers, onions, mushrooms, spinach, etc. are naturally gluten-free.
  • Meats: Cooked meats like pepperoni, sausage, and bacon are typically gluten-free, but check labels.
  • Other toppings: Olives, pineapple, etc. are gluten-free. Be wary of pre-made meats and other items with questionable ingredients.

Again, read all labels carefully and contact companies if uncertain about specific ingredients. Make sure you understand their protocols for avoiding cross-contact as well.

Eating out

Clearly, making your own gluten-free pizza at home allows you to control all the ingredients and avoid cross-contact. But dining out and ordering pizza should still be an option for those avoiding gluten.

Some tips for eating pizza safely at restaurants:

  • Choose pizzerias that offer gluten-free crust and advertise gluten-free options.
  • Check that they use dedicated pans and cutters for gluten-free pizzas.
  • Ask about their sauce ingredients and cross-contact avoidance practices.
  • Stick to basic sauce and cheese toppings without risky processed meats.
  • Request that your pizza be prepped away from flour and on disinfected surfaces.
  • Ask about the ingredients in salad dressings, garlic knots, and other accompanying menu items as well.

With good communication and vigilance, you can safely enjoy pizza out. Some pizzerias even undergo training and certification programs to ensure proper gluten-free preparation techniques.

Is leftover or reheated pizza safe?

Leftover gluten-free pizza should be safe if it was safe when originally prepared. However, here are some tips for storage:

  • Store pizza leftovers wrapped tightly in aluminum foil or an airtight container.
  • Use labels like “gluten-free” on the exterior wrapping.
  • Place in the refrigerator if eating within 3-4 days.
  • For longer storage, place wrapped leftovers in freezer.
  • When reheating, use the microwave with a paper towel or toaster oven to prevent cross-contact.
  • Do not eat gluten-free pizza that has gotten dried out or lost its labeling.

Properly stored leftovers that retain labels should be safe for gluten-free diets. Take care to prevent cross-contact when reheating.Consume leftovers within 3-5 days and don’t risk eating anything that seems questionable.

Key takeaways

To summarize the key points about potential gluten in pizza sauce:

  • Plain pizza sauce is often gluten-free, but some brands may contain questionable thickeners.
  • Carefully read labels and check certifications to verify gluten-free status.
  • Call manufacturers to understand how cross-contact is prevented.
  • Making your own sauce at home lets you control ingredients.
  • Choose certified gluten-free crust, cheese, and toppings.
  • Dining out is possible by selecting pizzerias offering gluten-free options.
  • Store and reheat leftovers properly to avoid cross-contact.

While gluten-free pizza requires some diligence, you need not avoid it entirely. Many safe personal and restaurant options exist. With proper adherence to ingredients and food handling, pizza can still be enjoyed by those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

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