Getting Spicy with the Nima Sensor
One thing I’m asked about often is whether or not spices are gluten-free.
When you read the label of a spice jar, it almost always says just the spice’s name. For example, a bottle of dried oregano says on its ingredient label, “Oregano.”
Unfortunately, very few spice companies make certified gluten-free spices. While I’m not certain why this is, I suspect that most spices come from a handful of manufacturing facilities where gluten may be present in the facility.
Manufacturing equipment may or may not be shared in the manufacturing of different spices; however, when a facility also manufacturers products containing gluten, even if it’s on different equipment in a different room, a manufacturer may be hesitant to label its spices “gluten-free.” While the spice doesn’t contain any gluten ingredients, these manufacturers fear the risk of air-borne cross contamination.
In other words, these spices are often “gluten-free,” but they are not labeled as such, and this leads to much confusion over whether or not packaged spices are safe for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities.
So, what’s a person who eats gluten-free to do? We like spices just like the rest of the world! Are they safe or not?
While I can’t tell you exactly what you should do, I can tell what I consider best practices in decoding a spice’s ingredient label.
Decoding Ingredient Labels on Spices
Always read labels before buying (or eating) anything. The ingredient label of a spice should only contain the spice name and nothing more (although some contain silicon dioxide – more on that later). Eliminate spices with disclosures such as, “May Contain Wheat” or “Manufactured on shared equipment as wheat.” There are plenty of spice brands to choose from that don’t carry either of these disclosure labels.
If you’re looking for certified gluten-free spices, you may be hard pressed to find any. Out of all the brands I tested, only two bore the “certified gluten-free” label: Spicely and Wildtree. The Edward & Son’s Not Beef bouillon cubes displayed a “gluten-free” label as well.
Every spice I tested appeared to be free of gluten according to the ingredient label. Please note that I would never test a product that disclosed it contained gluten – the Nima Sensor is for testing products for hidden gluten.
While I wish I could say I typically test every single spice with my Nima Sensor before I use it, I cannot. I have at least four dozen spices in my spice cabinet, and it would be too costly to test them all.
Instead, I’ve tested a single spice from each of the leading spice brands. While I realize this is not representative of all the different spices on the market, I am trying to give a 360-degree view of things.
Again, this is by no means a representation of all spices carried by each brand, and these results should be interpreted as informational but not authoritative. Just because the chopped onion spice from Kirkland tested gluten-free doesn’t mean all Kirkland spices are free from gluten as well.
How I Tested Spices with My Nima Sensor
Testing spices is fairly easy to do with the Nima Sensor. I simply added a small sprinkling of each spice into an individual, single-use test capsule. Because the ingredients are dry, Nima Sensor recommends you add a few drops of water to the spices before sealing the test capsule. All dry or powdery foods, such as flours, starches and spices, test more accurately in the Nima Sensor when diluted with a few drops of water.
I added a few drops of tap water into each test capsule to ensure an accurate test. I incurred no errors in my testing either.
As prior mentioned, I tested 18 brands of spices (a random sampling from different brands) for hidden gluten with the Nima Sensor.
Out of all the tests, I found gluten in only ONE of the spice brands. I repeated the test on the “Gluten Found” spice a second time, just to be certain. Again, Nima found gluten.
|SPICE BRAND||SPICE TESTED||RESULT|
|Archer Farms (Target brand)||Turmeric||No gluten found|
|Edward & Sons||Not Beef bouillon cubes||No gluten found|
|Frontier Co-op||Cumin seeds||No gluten found|
|Kirkland (Costco brand)||Chopped onion||No gluten found|
|Lawry’s||Seasoning salt||No gluten found|
|McCormick’s||Cayenne Pepper||No gluten found|
|Mrs. Dash||Original blend (salt-free)||No gluten found|
|Tajin||Classic seasoning||Gluten found|
|Old El Paso||Taco Seasoning Mix||No gluten found|
|Trader Joe’s||Everything Bagel||No gluten found|
|Private Selection (Kroger brand)||Paprika||No gluten found|
|Simply Organic||Ginger||No gluten found|
|Spice Islands||Curry powder||No gluten found|
|Spicely (certified gluten-free)||Herbs de Provence||No gluten found|
|Sprouts||Lemon Pepper||No gluten found|
|Weber||Chicago Steak seasoning||No gluten found|
|Whole Pantry (Whole Foods brand)||Cardamom||No gluten found|
|Wildtree||Chipotle Lime Rub||No gluten found|
As you can see, Tajin is the only spice to test positive for hidden gluten.
Tajin contains chili peppers, sea salt, dehydrated lime juice, and silicon dioxide (to prevent caking). As you can see, there are no red flags that scream this product contains gluten.
Many spices contain silicon dioxide (as do many shredded cheeses) because it’s an anti-caking agent, deterring the spices from clumping together. The food additive, however, is a mineral and is not made or derived from gluten as far as I can tell.
I checked the Tajin FAQ to see if it listed anything about gluten. The company says Tajin does not contain any of the top eight allergens, including wheat, and that the product does not contain gluten. The FAQ goes on to say that Tajin meets FDA regulations for “gluten-free” products. This may mean that Tajin contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, and therefore is legally considered “gluten-free.” However, I have a zero tolerance for gluten, and the Nima Sensor clearly showed me (twice) that Tajin contains some traces of hidden gluten.
Do Spices Contain Gluten?
As you can see, it’s unlikely (not impossible, but unlikely) that you’ll get glutened from spices. However, as you can see from this experiment, the Nima Sensor found gluten in the Tajin seasoning despite the Tajin website saying the product is free from gluten.
When considering which spices to purchase and use, the best advice I can offer is to:
- Always read labels. When in doubt, don’t.
- Avoid spices from bulk bins (due to cross contamination).
- If you suspect a spice is making you sick, test it with your Nima Sensor
- If you don’t have a Nima Sensor, download the Nima app and search for the spice. Chances are someone has tested it prior.
- Use only certified gluten-free brands (Spicely and Wildtree) to be extra cautious (especially if you’re hyper sensitive to even trace amounts of gluten).
I hope you found this information helpful in decoding YOUR spice cabinet… and I hope you feel a little more confident enjoying a little [gluten-free] spice in your life, too!
This article is written by Jenny Finke of Good For You Gluten Free. Jenny is a certified integrative nutrition health coach and advocate for anyone managing celiac disease, gluten sensitivities and other gluten spectrum disorders. Find her online at GoodForYouGlutenFree.com or on Instagram at @goodforyouglutenfree.