Gluten is a type of protein found in grains including, but not limited to, wheat, rye, and barley, as well as items that have been contaminated with gluten by growing beside these grains. Typically, french fries are made from sliced potatoes, which are a type of starchy vegetable. The sliced potatoes are fried in oil, which is also a gluten-free ingredient. In their unaltered, whole food state, all varieties of potatoes are indeed gluten free. Therefore, individuals who are gluten intolerant, including those with celiac disease, can safely enjoy french fries that come from potatoes and do not have any gluten-containing ingredients added to them (check out this handy ingredient list).
When are french fries not gluten free?
To ensure your french fries are indeed gluten free, verify that there are no batters that contain gluten (this is a common concern), additives, preservatives, seasonings, sauces, gravies, or toppings (such as toppings on poutine) added to them that may contain gluten. Many fast food restaurants and other dining establishments add a wheat-based batter to make their french fries crispier. Always read food labels and ask the person who prepares your food questions when dining out.
Aside from avoiding ingredients that contain gluten, there is one important caveat to consider: cross contact (also known as cross contamination). Cross contact takes place when gluten-free food makes direct contact with food that contains gluten. Cross-contamination can happen at home, as well as at food manufacturing and dining establishments. Although manufacturing processes are out of our control, there are things we can do when we are at home or in someone else’s home.
Ten tips to avoid cross-contamination of your french fries
Here are some tips to help you prevent cross-contamination of your french fries:
- At home: Clean your cooking surfaces, cooking equipment, and utensils very thoroughly before preparing gluten-free food. You can even dedicate an area of your counter as “the gluten-free spot.”
- Grocery shopping: When shopping for packaged french fries, look for a trusted gluten-free symbol. This will verify the product does not contain ingredients that contain gluten and that it has not come into contact with gluten in the manufacturing process.
- At home: Try to use a separate set of cooking and baking equipment and utensils (including a separate fryer or pan for your french fries). Consider labeling your gluten-free cooking equipment.
- At home and dining out: Do not fry gluten-free food in the same oil used for frying non-gluten-free food. In dining establishments, ask whether non-breaded foods are fried in the same oil as breaded foods. The same principle applies to pasta — find out if your gluten-free pasta has been boiled in the same pot or water as the non-gluten-free pasta.Research suggests that cross contact may occur when gluten-free foods are cooked in shared fryers that contained gluten and that those who are gluten intolerant should avoid foods cooked in shared fryers. You won’t know how much gluten is in the oil of any given fryer, nor how much gluten may end up in your order of french fries. This study suggests “shared holding trays, scoops, and fryer baskets also are sources of potential cross contact.”
- Grocery shopping: Avoid purchasing flours and starches in bulk in order to batter your french fries. Gluten-free flours at bulk markets can become cross-contaminated from the scoops. It is better to purchase these products in package form with a trusted gluten-free symbol.
- At home and dining out: Have your own condiments, gravies, and toppings labeled gluten-free. When dining out, request prepackaged condiments and verify their safety.
- Dining out: Choose where you eat wisely and ask questions. Food prepared in any kitchen that is not 100% dedicated gluten-free is at risk of cross-contamination. For example, if the equipment is not cleaned properly after preparing gluten-containing food, there is a safety risk.
- Dining out: When in doubt dining out, use paper plates and plastic cutlery.
- At home: Make your own gluten-free french fries, poutine versions, and gravies. Experiment with different recipes. Try using different types of potatoes (including sweet potatoes) and batter to coat your french fries.
- Everywhere: Keep informed and ask lots of questions. When in doubt, just don’t (eat it)!
Want to learn if other common foods are gluten free? Visit our Diet section.