Butter Is Usually Gluten-Free, But There's A Catch

The word "gluten" has received an unwanted reputation in recent years, but it is the name for the proteins in wheat. They are important, because these building blocks hold the food together. Nevertheless, for some, the body interprets gluten as a toxin and reacts negatively. 

Such negative reactions can range from bloating and diarrhea to weight loss and intestinal damage, and so, many have welcomed an influx of gluten-free alternatives to supermarkets with open arms. While some still simply associate gluten with bread, it can be found in a variety of foods, ranging from baked goods and breakfast staples to candy and snacks like potato chips.

Then there's the unique case of butter, typically safe for people who cannot eat gluten. It is made by agitating the fat found in milk cream, causing membranes to break open and the fat clumping together. While butter contains milk protein, it does not naturally contain any type of wheat protein — however, there are still instances when butter might not be gluten-free after all.

When could butter contain gluten?

While plain butter, as well as margarine, fresh milk, and cream, are fairly safe food options for individuals on a gluten-free diet, there should be concern if these food items are not labeled as plain or gluten-free. For example, a spread could contain additives that include gluten. Also, some flavors are made by using wheat protein.

To be absolutely certain there is no gluten in butter, just read the label. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act is very strict about FDA-regulated food products being properly labeled. If wheat, barley, rye, or malt are not listed as ingredients, wheat protein should not be in your butter.

However, just because the butter you buy contains no gluten in the ingredients, that doesn't protect you from accidental cross-contamination that may occur at home. This can happen when someone cuts a slice of bread, then uses the same knife in the butter. So, care must be taken at all times to protect people who are sensitive to wheat protein.