It’s a well-known fact that tucking into a spicy curry can cause tummy trouble. However, for some individuals, gluten can cause severe problems. If you are looking to go out for an Indian, you may be wondering does curry have gluten. Fear not, friends. The answer is here. Today I discuss why curry could be a great option if you are looking to go gluten-free, what triggers gluten reactions, and things you need to watch out for! Let’s jump right in.
Does Curry Have Gluten? | The Quick Answer
Provided your curry is prepared in a traditional style, without modifications, it is unlikely to contain gluten. The meat and vegetables used in curry are generally gluten-free. However, you must ensure that ‘additions’ aren’t made, which could introduce gluten to your dish.
Additions? Like what?
Well, thickening agents for a start. These often contain elements of wheat flour.
Occasionally, you will also find that certain recipes will call for other ingredients that contain gluten. In tandem with this, while your curry might not contain gluten, the things accompanying it could!
Before we discuss how gluten might sneak into your curry, let’s quickly look at what gluten is and why you probably don’t want it in your curry.
What is Gluten and Why to Avoid it in Curry?
Gluten is a protein that is found in certain types of cereal. Yeah, but which types of cereal?
To name but a few…
Gluten, a water-soluble protein, gives bread that soft, almost ‘chewy’ texture. When mixed into the dough, the protein strands can form a lattice, giving bread its structure. It is also used as a thickening agent, as it is highly absorbent.
While this protein adds unique properties to foods, it isn’t for everyone.
Around 1% of people are affected by a condition called Celiac Disease. This condition is an autoimmune disease that makes the body respond badly to gluten.
When gluten is ingested, the body will perceive this as a threat, causing intestinal trouble that can cause permanent damage and even long-term health issues.
Some people may not have Celiac disease but can still be gluten intolerant. Eating something containing gluten will face severe intestinal discomfort, bloating, gas, and diarrhoea! For gluten-sensitive people, it may be enough to trigger bouts of irritable bowel syndrome.
It is also possible that a certain section of the population may have a full-blown wheat allergy. As with many allergies, reactions can be severe. This can include any of the following: -
- Shortness of Breath
- Swelling of the airways
- Hot flushes
A combination of any of the above!
Whether you only have a mild reaction to gluten or a more serious condition, you’ll want to avoid it in your curry.
Here’s what you need to know…
Does Curry Contain Gluten | No, But Here’s Why it Might
As a general rule, curry doesn’t contain gluten. The beauty of Indian cooking, especially BIR style Indian, is that every single curry is prepared from scratch using raw ingredients. Because it is prepared in this manner, it is very easy to identify (and remove) ingredients that may contain gluten.
It is important, especially if you have a severe condition that there is absolutely no gluten in your food whatsoever. There are a few ways gluten might make its way into your curry.
Spices could be a likely candidate.
While it is pretty rare, some spice manufacturers may seek to ‘pad out’ their spices by mixing them with wheat-based flours. There can occasionally be anti-caking agents included too that may contain glutinous elements. These are designed to keep the spices as a powder and prevent ‘clumping’.
With the best will in the world, gluten might make its way into your food, amongst other ingredients.
Want a great example?
If you’ve read my article on chicken tikka masala, you’ll already know that the recipe often includes canned tomato soup. Many soup companies will add gluten to their cans to make the soup somewhat thicker. So you might find that while a curry dish doesn’t, on the face of it, contain gluten, within might lurk a nasty surprise!
While this will vary depending on the recipe and restaurant, what we can do is identify some common foods found in Indian cuisine that will almost certainly contain gluten. By avoiding them, you reduce the risk considerably.
Let’s take a look…
Gluten and Indian Curry | 10 Things to Watch Out For
A few ‘usual suspects’ at your local Indian takeaway could contain gluten in one form or another, even if it isn’t immediately obvious.
If you are looking for gluten-free Indian food, you’ll want to avoid the following: -
1. Bombay Mix
Crunchy, savoury and really moreish. Bombay mix is synonymous as an Indian snack. However, while it is traditionally made with gram flour, it could also contain wheat flour as part of the recipe.
In fact, have a read of the ingredients list here. At first glance, it can be gluten-free, but on closer inspection, it contains wheat flour.
Your best bet?
Poppadoms are crunchy, deep-fried treats that go really well with various dips and curries.
You may need to be careful.
Again, poppadoms are traditionally made with chickpea or lentil flour.
Remember how we talked about gluten ‘sneaking in’ in different ways. While the poppadoms themselves may not contain gluten, the oil in which they are cooked may have been used to cook other gluten-laden foods.
It is unusual that Indian kitchens will have a dedicated ‘gluten-free’ frier, so you will want to give the poppadoms a miss.
3. Naan Bread
Remember how I said above that gluten features heavily in bread. Naan bread and even roti and chapati are full of gluten. Most Indian kitchens will make the dough with wheat flour, meaning this is a real no-no if you are trying to avoid gluten in your curry.
4. Coconut Milks
Coconut and coconut milk do not contain gluten.
However, some coconut milk will contain an emulsifier (a thickening agent) that could contain gluten. There are actually plenty of curries that contain coconut milk, so keep a good lookout!
5. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is occasionally used in Indian cooking to add a rich and salty umami taste to dishes.
It is also made of things other than the humble soya bean. While you can get gluten-free soy sauce, many will contain wheat flour!
Pastry? In an Indian?
Yep, you bet!
Samosas, while commonly served as filo pastry ‘spring roll’ style appetizers, are traditionally made by wrapping meat or vegetable filling in a chapati before deep-frying it.
This represents double trouble.
Well, chapatis may contain wheat flour. Also, as samosas are deep-fried, you risk cross-contamination with other gluten-containing dishes. This means that even if the pastry is gluten-free, the oil might not be.
Steer clear of the samosas and give a guaranteed gluten-free starter a try instead!
The cornerstone of Indian cooking lies in a delicious base gravy.
This isn’t always the case, but some chefs elect to add stock (in the form of cubes) to some of their curries and gravies.
If this is the case, there is a high probability that all curries contain gluten.
Stock cubes are a well-known gluten carrier.
If you want to make sure that your curry is gluten-free, it is well worth asking which stock is used. Oxo, in particular, is one you will want to avoid if you have gluten intolerance.
Ah, a curry and a pint, what could be better?
Well, not feeling ill the next day, for starters.
While beer is one of the best drinks that go with curry, it isn’t for everyone. Beer is made using fermented oats and, as a result, is gluten packed.
It’s not ideal, but the good news is that plenty of other great drinks go really well with curry. Here’s my full list.
9. Food Colourings
For my regular readers, you’ll already know that some curries do contain food colourings. However, you’ve got to be careful.
Generally, food dyes will be gluten-free. But, most food dyes produced on an industrial scale will be made alongside other foods and ingredients that might contain gluten.
The good news.
There are plenty of curries that don’t contain food dye. In many cases, the colour comes from those naturally found in spices. Provided these are gluten-free, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but it is worth checking beforehand.
Noodles with curry?
Look, I know. But you’ll occasionally see them crop up on ‘fusion’ menus. Cross-contamination is a real issue. Egg noodles are nearly always made with wheat flour and are definitely one you won’t want to eat if you have a gluten intolerance.
Avoiding Gluten in Curry | 8 Top Tips
Want to do your best to avoid gluten? Whether you have a serious intolerance or are just trying to cut down on IBS, here are 8 great tips for avoiding gluten in curry
1. Check Labels
Preparing curry at home makes it far easier to avoid gluten. With a rise in awareness of the harmful effects of gluten, it has never been easier to avoid it.
When purchasing ingredients, be sure to check the labels to make sure no wheat-based products are present. Many supermarkets now have a ‘free from’ section that guarantees gluten-free home cooking.
2. Ask for an Ingredients List
You might not be making curry at home and are either eating out or ordering in.
Any Indian restaurant worth its salt will have customer welfare at its heart. If you are worried about gluten in your dishes, then it is well worth asking for a detailed ingredients list.
And a word to the wise…
Make sure to ask to see all of the ingredients. As my article above demonstrates, gluten may be hidden in innocuous ingredients (such as stock cubes). If the restaurant refuses to do this, go elsewhere.
3. Check Menu Information
Nowadays, you often won’t have to ask to see an ingredients list. Many restaurants and Indian takeaways will have anticipated and catered to the needs of those with intolerances.
Many menus will have a ‘key’ or ‘legend’ with little symbols. These may state whether a dish is gluten-free and, in some cases, may show that it does contain gluten.
As with the above, if there is any doubt, ask…
4. Order Something Else
Depending on the severity of your intolerance or condition, the safest course of action is often to avoid a suspect dish completely.
If you can’t be sure that the dish doesn’t contain gluten, or it can’t be verified that it is 100% gluten-free, simply order something that you know to be ‘safe’.
In extremis, if you can’t be certain of any of the dishes, it may be worth giving Indian a miss altogether.
5. Visit Great Gluten-Free Resources
Gluten intolerance may be something that has only recently become a part of your life, and you may still be learning to live with your condition.
Choosing the right foods could be tricky and slightly confusing. It is well worth noting that some excellent resources out there on the internet will make creating a gluten-free lifestyle much more achievable. You could consider visiting: -
- Gluten-free living
- Coeliac UK
- The National Health Service Website
- The Celiac Disease Foundation
And many more…
6. Pick Simple Dishes
It stands to reason that the greater the number of ingredients within a dish, the more likely that gluten may make an appearance.
Choose dishes with fewer ingredients.
Indian cooking isn’t all about curries. There is plenty to choose from. A nice plate of tandoori chops doesn’t contain gluten, but it will have everyone around the table green with envy.
7. Familiarize Yourself with Wheat Names and Things that May Contain Gluten
Avoiding gluten can be difficult even with the best will in the world.
There are so many names for gluten and wheat-based products. By familiarizing yourself with the various names, you can avoid them better.
Other names for gluten-containing ingredients could include (but aren’t limited to): -
- Cereal Protein
- Modified Starch
- Gum Base
- Food Starch
- Caramel Colour
- Cous Cous
- Barley Grass
- Artificial Flavour
- Malt Extract
As you can see, there are plenty of names and ways gluten can be included in foods. The above list isn’t exhaustive, and many are additives. Provided you stick to natural ingredients freshly prepared, many of the above won’t feature at all!
8. Consider Cross-Contamination
Sadly, not all restaurants are considerate to those with gluten intolerances. Often this isn’t through laziness, just ignorance that conditions exist and how severe they can be. When visiting a restaurant, it is often worth checking to see if they have been trained in dealing with cross-contamination and allergens.
Cross-contamination means that even though your food may be 100% gluten-free, a trace amount may make its way into your food due to touching an area where gluten has been prepared or added.
How serious a threat cross-contamination is will depend entirely on the severity of your condition. If you have doubts, you could always ask to inspect the kitchen and see for yourself.
Does Curry Have Gluten? | Final Thoughts
Generally, curry shouldn’t contain gluten as an inherent part of the recipe. However, particular care must still be taken to avoid its inclusion by other means (either as a ‘tertiary’ ingredient or via cross-contamination). Hopefully, the above guide will put you in good stead to enjoy a gluten-free curry. If you don’t trust the local takeaway, making Indian restaurant-style curry at home is easy. Check out my guides for some tasty (and gluten-free) recipes.