As you discover foods that are gluten free and therefore safe to eat, you’ll start to wonder whether some of your favorite treats, such as popcorn, are okay. If you have a gluten intolerance, you know that even the tiniest bit of gluten can trigger a multitude of symptoms including headaches, digestive problems and fatigue.
Corn and especially popcorn can be confusing because technically they are a grain, and various grains contain the gluten protein you want to stay away from. Long answer short to the question is popcorn gluten free, yes, it is, but there are several factors you should take into account before you consume it.
Some background on the gluten zein
Corn contains a form of prolamine protein, known as “zein,” and it is typically processed into a corn gluten meal. This particular gluten is not harmful to those that experience gluten intolerance. In fact, the Celiac Sprue Association writes that even those who suffer from Celiac disease can tolerate zein. This protein is often used in place of wheat gluten to create foods including corn tortillas, crackers and breads.
Checking the label
Popcorn and other corn products support a gluten-free lifestyle, but you should always check the package label to be sure. You want to make sure that the product doesn’t have any added ingredients that contain gluten. For example, the popcorn topping may contain a butter that includes gluten, while the popcorn itself is safe. Imitation butter flavor and artificial colors or flavors are common toppings that have traces of gluten.
In addition to any additives, you don’t want to consume a product that is processed in the same facility as wheat. The package label usually states this information, but if you don’t see this statement, do not eat the popcorn.
Your best options
Major brands of popcorn offer gluten free versions that enable you to enjoy it without the fear of triggering painful symptoms. Some safe brands include Newman’s Own, Orville Redenbacher, Act II, L&J Popcorn and Jolly Time. As always, check the package to look for the “gluten free” label.
One trick I use to make delicious, organic popcorn is to buy strawberry corn from a health food store or farmer’s market and then pop it in the microwave. Strawberry corn is a small, red ear of corn that has a strawberry shape. When you use this corn to make popcorn and then add your own toppings, you can be sure that you aren’t consuming anything other than the vegetable.
Before you pop strawberry corn, leave the corn out on the counter for about a week. Put the ear in a brown paper sack, fold over the top and place it in the microwave set on high for 3 minutes. As with packaged popcorn, wait for the kernels to stop popping and then pull it out. You can add sea salt and any other gluten-safe toppings you prefer.
Major grocery store chains are now starting to carry gluten-free products, but you can also find a much larger variety of popcorn products by shopping at natural food stores, such as Whole Foods, and other health food markets. You’ll have a larger choice of flavors too.