Are Eggs Gluten-Free?
Posted on: September 29th 2021
More people are pivoting to a gluten-free diet than ever before. The most recent data shows that as of 2017, an estimated 3.1 million individuals in the United States adhere to a gluten-free diet — approximately triple the number in 2013. While the options for gluten-free eating have increased exponentially in the past few years, it can still be a challenge to figure out which foods are truly gluten-free.
Whether you’re just curious about gluten, starting a new diet or even fairly experienced in scouting out appropriate foods, you may be wondering: Are eggs gluten-free? The short answer is yes, with some qualifications.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a storage protein in wheat grains, as well as barley, rye, and several other grains. Gluten comes from the endosperm, which is a type of tissue present in the grain seeds ground to produce flour for our consumption.
Gluten is an amalgamation of hundreds of different proteins that are related, but unique. Gluten is heat-stable and helps bread expand while it’s rising in dough form. The specific protein responsible for bread rising before and during baking is called gliadin. It’s also what causes a loaf to hold its shape while baking and after it’s cooled.
The protein glutenin produces both the elasticity of dough and the chewy texture of bread, which is why it’s challenging to find the right combination of alternative flours if you’re attempting to make gluten-free bread.
Why People Adopt a Gluten-Free Diet
Some people choose the gluten-free lifestyle, but others must adopt it to control a condition called celiac disease. This autoimmune disease can strike people with a genetic predisposition for it, causing damage in the small intestine when they consume gluten. Worldwide, about one in every 100 people is affected. Health experts estimate 2.5 million Americans have celiac disease but are undiagnosed, placing them at risk for severe health complications.
Celiac disease causes the body to launch an immune response to gluten that attacks and damages the small intestine, blocking its ability to properly absorb nutrients. Celiac is dangerous because it leads to a variety of other health problems.
Even people without celiac disease can benefit from a gluten-free diet. Gluten may have adverse effects for those with irritable bowel syndrome, for example. Other people may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which comes with much of the digestive upset, joint pain, and fatigue that characterize celiac disease without showing intestinal damage.
The majority of people who start a gluten-free diet are doing it for perceived health benefits, and are generally called “people who avoid gluten” (PWAG) for scientific research. Research from 2014 showed that 72% of people who adhered to a gluten-free diet were classified as PWAG rather than having celiac disease.
What Does a Gluten-Free Diet Look Like?
Despite the growing popularity of this diet, it’s not easy to stick to. A gluten-free diet completely excludes the gluten protein, found in wheat, barley, rye, and the wheat-rye hybrid known as triticale. The first and most significant challenge in a gluten-free diet is usually eliminating bread and pasta.
It’s vital to integrate healthy fresh foods into your diet to maintain your nutrition. These naturally gluten-free foods are a good foundation on which to start:
- Fruits and veggies
- Meat and poultry
- Fish and seafood
- Beans, legumes, and nuts
There are also plenty of grains you can turn to besides wheat, barley, and rye. They include:
It’s possible to mill many of these foods into flour and use them in most of the situations you’d use wheat flour. If you are looking to bake, you’ll find gluten-free recipes tend to use multiple types of flour in the pursuit of the perfect texture.
What “Gluten-Free” Means on Packaged Food
While a diet composed only of fresh foods would be ideal, it is not practical for most people. People on a gluten-free diet need quick, convenient snacks and meals too, and that’s a good reason experts have forecast the global gluten-free food market will reach a valuation of almost $7.6 billion in the United States by 2020.
The definition of gluten-free espoused by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is more complicated than you might expect. For food manufacturers to be able to label their product gluten-free, it must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. This figure is equivalent to 0.002% gluten, which is a minuscule amount, but may still cause a reaction in people with severe celiac disease.
There is also the fact that this label is voluntary and the FDA does not inspect manufacturers to ensure they are adhering to the 20 ppm rule. If you have a high-level sensitivity to gluten, you can look for certified gluten-free products. These products come from manufacturers that have volunteered to undergo inspections by one of three different certification bodies. Each of these organizations has different thresholds for how much gluten a certified product can have.
- Allergen Control Group/Canadian Celiac Association: Less than 20 ppm
- Gluten-Free Certification Organization: Less than 10 ppm
- National Celiac Association: Less than 5 ppm
One confusing label is “no gluten ingredients.” Ostensibly, this should mean the products are gluten-free, but in many cases, they do not meet gluten-free standards due to cross-contamination in the manufacturing process. If a food that is gluten-free on its own comes down a production line that also processes gluten-containing foods, the result may be harmful to those with celiac disease.
Someone with a mild sensitivity or who has chosen a gluten-free diet for other reasons can often consume foods with a “no gluten ingredients” label without experiencing adverse side effects, but there are no guarantees, and the level of gluten will vary by manufacturer and individual product.
Can I Still Eat Eggs?
Yes. In their natural state, eggs are completely gluten-free. You can boil, poach, and fry eggs to your heart’s content while still keeping to your gluten-free diet. If you’re experiencing reactions to eggs on a gluten-free diet, one of two culprits is the cause.
You may have a sensitivity to eggs themselves. Eggs are one of the eight major food allergens that make up the bulk of allergy reactions in the United States, and part of your symptom set might be due to the eggs that are frequently an ingredient in foods like bread, rather than gluten itself.
How Eggs Improve Gluten-Free Foods
Not only are eggs themselves gluten-free, they’re instrumental in many of the packaged and homemade foods you will be able to eat on your diet. The things people often miss most on a gluten-free diet are bread and other baked goods like muffins or cookies, and eggs can drastically improve a recipe that might otherwise turn out dry and crumbly.
In a traditional bread product based on wheat flour, gluten works to trap air bubbles and hold them in place. The leavening agent, usually yeast, makes the network of bubbles expand, and the bubbles then set as a result of heat. The combination of expansion and elasticity then set into a more rigid form, creating the chewiness that characterizes bread.
Manufacturers and home bakers have to find a way to replicate the texture as closely as possible, and egg proteins can help. Upon exposure to heat, the protein strands become denatured, so they trap air as well as moisture when they come back together again. In combination with the right combination of flours, eggs can make gluten-free bread alternatives highly palatable. Here are some further ways in which eggs can elevate gluten-free foods.
- Better batter: The protein from egg whites can help batter or breading stick to fried foods, allowing you to indulge in favorites like fish and chips in gluten-free format.
- Improved pasta: Egg proteins help bind pasta together for easier cutting at home or machining on a production line, and it creates a chewier texture closer to traditional pasta.
- Stronger binding: Foods like fillings for pasta or meatballs require something to bind them if you want to retain a palatable structure. You can also use egg ingredients as a substitute for small amounts of flour in some recipes.
- Richer mouthfeel: Egg proteins can be an excellent thickener in sauces and gravies, and also create a richer smoothness in a variety of sweet foods.
Whether you plan to cook or bake homemade gluten-free dishes or go for pre-packaged foods, eggs will almost certainly play a significant role in your diet.
When Eggs Might Not Be Gluten-Free
While eggs are a cornerstone in a healthy gluten-free diet, there are some cases in which they may not be completely gluten-free. For those who adopt this diet primarily out of choice, it may not be a big deal. But for someone with celiac disease, it’s critical to know exactly what might make eggs cause a reaction.
When considering eggs cooked by themselves, cross-contamination is the biggest culprit. If you were to cook some pancakes for your family and then proceed to fry an egg in the same pan, the gluten remaining in the pan could be enough to set off a reaction in a highly sensitive individual. A good rule of thumb is to avoid the possibility of cross-contamination by using separate utensils, pots, and pans for your eggs when cooking for gluten-tolerant and gluten-free people at the same meal.
You also need to be careful about what you cook your eggs with. It’s common to cook eggs with breakfast sausage, for example. But some sausage brands use wheat gluten to enhance texture, and depending on the brand, that may be enough to trigger a reaction when you cook the meat in contact with or in the same pan as your fried or scrambled eggs. Always choose foods labeled gluten-free, or take the time to inspect the ingredients list of what you’re cooking to make sure they don’t contain any surprise gluten.
Egg Dishes That Aren’t Gluten-Free
Because eggs are a part of so many foods, you’re bound to encounter a dish you didn’t expect to feature gluten. These dishes are ones you need to look out for when you’re out at restaurants or sampling some of the fare at a gathering like a potluck.
Eggs Benedict is a staple of many brunch menus. The most obvious issue here is that the ham or bacon, poached egg, and hollandaise sauce traditionally get served on an English muffin. In many cases, you can remedy this issue by ordering the dish sans muffin on a bed of greens or a similar alternative.
However, one component many people overlook is the hollandaise sauce. The traditional preparation contains only egg yolk, melted butter, and lemon juice, but it’s also notoriously difficult to stabilize. For that reason, and in some cases, a desire to lighten up the recipe by eliminating some butter, restaurants and home cooks will sometimes use white flour in their recipe. Be sure to ask the restaurant or cook if their hollandaise is gluten-free.
Like eggs Benedict, the crux of the issue with quiche is the foundation — in this case, the crust. The great thing about quiche crust is that you want it to be crumbly and flaky to some extent, so it’s easier to create with fewer hard-to-find ingredients than an English muffin would be.
Alternatively, you can capture the rich, eggy goodness of a quiche without worrying about a crust at all. If you want, you can repurpose your favorite quiche recipe to bake without a crust, and end up with quiche’s close relation: the frittata.
A pan of baked eggs is a great way to feed a table of hungry guests, and it can be entirely gluten-free. However, it’s quite common for baked eggs to be more of a casserole, and that can involve bread. When there are big pieces of bread in a dish like this, they are often easy to see. However, they may be mostly at the bottom, or the cook might have used breadcrumbs instead.
In some cases, you might see a creamy or cheesy sauce on a dish like this, such as bechamel. This French sauce begins with a roux, a mixture of flour and butter, so you certainly want to ensure that’s not part of the dish.
Delicious Gluten-Free Egg Recipes
Looking for some new egg recipes to incorporate into your collection? Here are five simple gluten-free recipes that feature eggs.
1. Crab-and-Asparagus Frittata
This recipe will deliver the tender and fluffy texture of a quiche, without the crust to worry about. It’s a low-effort dish that can thoroughly impress guests or make for an indulgent solo meal you can take to work for lunch.
- 1 cup of fresh asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup of sliced mushrooms
- 1/2 cup of chopped green onions
- 1/2 cup of small red pepper chunks
- 1/2 cup of flaked crab meat
- 1/2 cup of shredded part-skim mozzarella
- 1/4 cup of water
- 1 tbsp grated or shredded Parmesan
- 1 tbsp cream
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 8 eggs
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and coat a 10-inch nonstick, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat on the stove.
- Once the pan is hot, add the asparagus, mushrooms, onions, and bell pepper. Saute until tender-crisp, about five minutes. Remove from heat, add crab, and mix well until you have achieved an even distribution of ingredients.
- Beat eggs with water, cream, and Italian seasoning until incorporated, then stir in mozzarella. Pour over the crab/vegetable mixture in the skillet, and cook over medium heat for five to eight minutes until the eggs have set at the edges.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan and bake eight to 10 minutes until the top is lightly browned.
- Remove from the oven, let cool for several minutes, and cut into wedges.
2. Portobello-Grilled Eggs
This simple grilling recipe will bring out the best in a hearty portobello mushroom. If you don’t like mushrooms, you can use a small to medium-sized red pepper cut in half vertically.
- 4 large portobello mushrooms
- 4 eggs
- 4 tbsp Parmesan
- Salt and pepper
- Seasoning of choice (optional)
- Olive oil
- Preheat your grill to medium, about 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Remove the stems and clean mushroom caps with a dry paper towel.
- Scrape out the black gills of the mushrooms, being careful not to break the edges of the caps.
- Lightly brush caps with oil and place them on the grill cap side down.
- Crack an egg into each cap, adding salt and any other desired seasonings. Close the grill and cook until the mushrooms are tender and the eggs have cooked to your liking, about 12 to 15 minutes.
- Remove from the grill, and sprinkle with pepper and Parmesan before serving.
3. Egg-Crust Breakfast Pizza
This filling breakfast recipe is great for those who have a hard time getting their family on board with gluten-free meals. It’s fun, simple, and perfect for persuading picky eaters. This recipe serves one, but you can easily multiply it to suit your needs.
- 2 eggs, beaten well
- 4 to 5 grape tomatoes, chopped or thinly sliced
- 6 pepperoni slices, cut in half
- 5 to 8 black olives, sliced
- 1 oz. mozzarella, shredded
- Salt and pepper
- Italian seasoning to taste
- Preheat your broiler to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Break the eggs into a bowl and beat with a whisk.
- Add olive oil to an eight-inch oven-proof, nonstick pan and heat to medium.
- Add beaten eggs to the pan, then add salt and pepper along with Italian seasoning. Cook until the eggs are beginning to set on the bottom, about two minutes.
- Add half of the tomatoes, pepperoni and olives, then a layer of cheese. Repeat and cover the pan until the eggs are mostly set.
- Finish off the pizza under the broiler for about two to three minutes or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Serve hot.
4. Bird’s-Nest Breakfast Cups
These breakfast cups, made in a cupcake or muffin tin, are a great way to feed a crowd with their hearty mixture of potatoes, eggs, cheese, and bacon. They’re highly versatile, and you can fill them with nearly any combination of ingredients you can think of.
- 1 30-oz. package of frozen shredded hash brown potatoes, thawed
- 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, divided into 1/3 cup and 2/3 cup portions
- 8 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled or chopped
- 2 1/2 tbsp of olive oil
- 2 tbsp of milk
- 2 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of pepper
- 12 eggs
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and grease your muffin tin.
- Mix the potatoes, salt, pepper, olive oil, and 2/3 cup of shredded cheese in a large bowl.
- Divide the mixture among the muffin cups, shaping the potato mixture into hollow “nests” with your fingers.
- Bake the potato nests until they have browned on the edges and the cheese has melted, about 15 to 18 minutes. Remove the nests and reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Beat eggs and milk in a bowl until incorporated, adding salt and pepper to taste. Pour the egg mixture into each nest, sprinkling with bacon crumbs and equal amounts of the remaining shredded cheddar.
- Bake until the eggs have set, about 13 to 16 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow about five to 10 minutes for cooling. Remove the nests by sliding a butter knife between the potato crust and the muffin tin.
5. Egg Custard Cups
This twist on baked eggs has an incredibly silky texture and an extra helping of protein thanks to cottage cheese, making it a surprisingly decadent, yet relatively healthy, breakfast or snack. This recipe makes six servings and can easily scale to serve a crowd. Experiment with different cheeses and fillings to create a unique flavor. You’ll need a blender and muffin tin liners for this recipe.
- 6 eggs
- 1/2 cup of cottage cheese
- 3/4 cup of sharp cheddar or gruyere, shredded
- 2 slices of cooked bacon, chopped or crumbled
- 2 tbsp of green onions, chopped
- 2 tbsp of caramelized onions, chopped (optional)
- 1 tbsp of cream
- 1 tsp of salt
- Pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill an oven-safe baking dish with water and place it on the bottom rack to create steam for more tender eggs.
- Add eggs, cottage cheese, shredded cheese, cream, salt, and pepper to a blender. Blend on high for at least 20 seconds.
- Place paper liners in a muffin tin. Distribute bacon, green onions, and caramelized onions evenly among six liners. Divide and pour egg and cheese mixture among all six liners.
- Bake for 40 minutes, or until the egg mixture has set. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing individual cups.
Elevate Recipes With Sauder’s Eggs
Sticking to a gluten-free diet is much easier when you embrace all the possibilities of eggs. To make the tastiest and most nutritious dishes, you need the best eggs — and Sauder’s is proud to supply them. Our unique process yields a variety of egg products you can incorporate into a wide range of gluten-free recipes. If you’re interested in seeing the Sauder’s difference for yourself, we invite you to locate our eggs at the store nearest you.