Why is peanut butter not gluten-free?

Peanut butter is a popular spread made primarily from ground peanuts. It’s a staple in many homes and used in various recipes. Peanut butter is rich in protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients. With its smooth, creamy texture and delicious nutty flavor, peanut butter can be enjoyed in sandwiches, baked goods, smoothies, and more.

Many people assume peanut butter is gluten-free. After all, peanuts don’t contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity cannot tolerate gluten and must follow a strict gluten-free diet. But despite being made from peanuts, most conventional peanut butter brands are not gluten-free.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (gliadin and glutelin), barley (horedin), rye (secalin), and all their species and hybrids (such as spelt, kamut, and triticale).(1) Gluten provides elasticity and helps foods maintain their shape. It gives bread the ability to rise and achieve a chewy texture.(2)

For individuals with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the immune system reacts to gluten and causes damage to the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, headaches, fatigue, and more. Those with celiac disease must adhere to a strict lifelong gluten-free diet to manage the condition.

Gluten in Peanut Butter

While peanuts themselves do not contain gluten, many peanut butter brands add ingredients that do contain gluten. This can make reading the label very important for those avoiding gluten. Here are some potential sources of gluten typically found in peanut butter:


Maltodextrin is a food additive used as a thickener or filler in many processed foods. It is derived from corn, rice, potato starch, or wheat. If the maltodextrin is derived from wheat, then it contains gluten. Most brands do not specify the source on the label, so maltodextrin is generally considered unsafe for celiacs and those avoiding gluten.(3)

Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is a food additive that contains amino acids produced from the chemical breakdown of plant sources. The plant sources are often soybeans, corn, or wheat. If the source is wheat, then HVP contains gluten. Again, most brands do not indicate the exact source. So HVP is another potentially gluten-containing additive.(4)

Flavorings or Barley Malt

Some peanut butter brands add flavorings, such as vanilla extract or molasses. The ingredients for these flavorings can vary and may come from gluten sources. Barley malt is another ingredient used in some peanut butters to add color, flavor, and sweetness. Since barley contains gluten, barley malt is not gluten-free.(5)


Stabilizers help maintain a homogenous consistency in peanut butter. Some common stabilizers added include guar gum, cellulose gum, and xanthan gum. These are gluten-free, but can be cross-contaminated if processed alongside wheat-based ingredients. Some brands also use wheat-derived ingredients like wheat germ or wheat starch as stabilizers. These contain gluten and are not safe for celiacs.(6)


Even if the ingredients look gluten-free, cross-contamination is still possible in facilities that also process gluten-containing foods. Many major peanut butter brands produce various nut butters and spreads on shared equipment. Traces of gluten can get into the product this way. Those with celiac disease or wheat allergy are often sensitive to these small amounts.(7)

Gluten-Free Options

So while conventional peanut butter often contains traces of gluten or gluten ingredients, there are still plenty of safe, gluten-free options:

Look for Gluten-Free Labeling

More and more brands now voluntarily label gluten-free foods to make it easier for consumers. Be sure to look for a “gluten-free” stamp on the peanut butter label for added assurance.(8)

Choose Organic Brands

Organic peanut butter is less likely to contain questionable additives like maltodextrin, HVP, or hydrolyzed wheat protein. Stick to brands with minimal, simple ingredients.(9)

Buy from Dedicated Gluten-Free Companies

There are peanut butter companies that cater specifically to the gluten-free market and take steps to avoid cross-contamination. These include brands like Crazy Richard’s, Yumbutter, and Nuts ‘N More.(10)

Make Your Own

Homemade peanut butter only contains one ingredient – peanuts! Use a food processor to grind roasted peanuts into butter. Then customize with gluten-free mix-ins if desired.

Try Alternative Spreads

Beyond peanut butter, there are other nut and seed butters like almond butter, sunflower seed butter, and cashew butter that provide a naturally gluten-free alternative.

Understanding Peanut Butter Labeling

Reading the ingredient list on peanut butter can uncover potential sources of gluten. But the labeling can still be confusing. Here are some tips for deciphering peanut butter labels:

Avoid Ambiguous Ingredients

Watch out for broad terms like “natural flavors,” “vegetable protein,” “spice” or “stabilizers.” The specific source is unclear. Call the manufacturer for details or avoid the product to be safe.

Don’t Rely Solely on Allergen Statements

While required allergen statements help identify wheat-based ingredients, they don’t account for cross-contact with equipment. The peanut butter could still get traces of gluten from shared lines. People with celiac disease often react to amounts below 20 ppm.

Consider Added Oils

Some peanut butter contains added oils like soybean, canola, or vegetable oil. These are typically gluten-free but could be cross-contaminated. Opt for brands using expeller-pressed peanuts or non-contaminated oils.

Ask About Processing Practices

Email the brand asking about their processing and allergen protocols. Many are happy to provide information on how they segregate gluten-containing ingredients to help consumers make informed choices.

When in Doubt, Reach Out to the Company

If an ingredient seems questionable, your safest bet is to contact the brand directly. They should be able to identify if any of their ingredients contain gluten or pose a risk of cross-contact.

Health Concerns with Peanut-Free Butters

For those with a peanut allergy, peanut butter is off limits. While many alternative nut and seed butters are available, there are some health considerations:

Higher Fat Content

Peanuts contain about 16 grams of fat per serving. (11) In contrast, the same amount of almond or cashew butter provides over 20 grams of fat. The increase in fat, if eaten in excess, may negatively impact cholesterol levels.

More Calories

Ounce for ounce, almond and cashew butter pack in more calories than peanut butter due to their higher fat content. Peanut butter has about 180 calories per 2 tablespoon serving compared to 200+ calories for other nut/seed butters. (12) More calories could lead to weight gain if portion sizes are not controlled.

Lack of Protein

Peanut butter is a good source of plant-based protein at about 8 grams per serving. (13) Almond and cashew butter contain less than half that amount of protein per serving. Make sure to supplement protein when substituting.

Soy Allergy Risk

Those with peanut allergy often have sensitivity to soy too since both are legumes. Many non-peanut butters use soybean oil as an ingredient. Check labels and opt for soy-free versions.

Higher Cost

Products made from almonds, cashews, and other alternative nuts/seeds tend to be pricier than peanut butter. Check for coupons, bulk bins, and store brands to help minimize cost.

Unconventional Taste

Substitutes like sunflower or hemp seed butter have unique flavors and grainier textures than creamy peanut butter. Mixing in fruits, cocoa powder, or spices can help enhance taste.

The Bottom Line

While peanuts themselves are naturally gluten-free, most conventional peanut butter brands in the U.S. contain questionable ingredients and pose some risk of cross-contamination. People with celiac disease or wheat allergy need to read labels carefully and check for gluten-free certification to identify safe options.

Organic peanut butter, specialty gluten-free brands, and homemade versions made solely from peanuts are less likely to contain problematic ingredients. Other nut and seed butters provide peanut-free alternatives, though may be higher in fat and calories. Those avoiding gluten and peanut butter can work with a registered dietitian to find suitable substitutions to ensure nutritional needs are still met.

When shopping for peanut or alternative nut/seed butters, double check the ingredient list for gluten sources, call the manufacturer with any questions, and prioritize certified gluten-free products for maximum safety. With some careful label reading and advice from reputable brands, both peanut and non-peanut connoisseurs alike can find something satisfyingly safe and spreadable.


1. https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/what-is-celiac-disease/

2. https://www.beyondceliac.org/gluten-free-diet/what-is-gluten/

3. https://www.verywellfit.com/is-maltodextrin-gluten-free-562806

4. https://www.verywellfit.com/hydrolyzed-vegetable-protein-hvp-562809

5. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/barley-malt-syrup

6. https://www.verywellfit.com/top-peanut-butter-nut-butter-allergen-information-562820

7. https://www.beyondceliac.org/gluten-free-diet/cross-contact/

8. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/gluten-free-food-labeling

9. https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/g20481899/9-healthy-organic-peanut-butter-brands/

10. https://www.verywellfit.com/gluten-free-peanut-butter-brands-562819

11. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172470/nutrients

12. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/nut-butter#nutrition

13. https://www.acsh.org/news/2018/08/09/peanut-butter-healthy-protein-packed-fun-sandwiches-13233

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