The top level is gluten-free ice cream: a product that is made with the celiac or gluten allergy sufferer in mind. This is not common, but does exist.
The next level is ice cream with no gluten or wheat added. While nominally gluten free and probably relatively safe, it could be cross-contaminated by other gluten-containing products made in the same factory.
The final level is ice cream with gluten or wheat added.
Why Gluten is Added to Ice Cream
Some of the cheapest brands of ice cream may have wheat added to prevent ice forming, according to some sources. I believe this is rare, but as with any product you buy, check ingredients. Look for wheat, flour, or wheat flour on the list of ingredients.
Malt, derived from barely, may be added as a flavor to some ice cream.
Watch for flavors with names including words like cake, dough or cookies in them, like party cake ice cream for example. This is a big clue that wheat products (e.g. cake) has been added to the ice cream.
Ice Cream Cross Contaminated With Gluten
If you call an ice cream manufacturer and ask about cross contamination with gluten, they are likely to be hesitant to recommend that you eat their ice cream.
If they make any flavors with wheat added, there is always a chance that this will cross-contaminate with other flavors that do not have gluten added. Generally speaking, the equipment is likely washed between runs to prevent flavors from one run from mixing with the next. This may well be enough to reduce gluten cross contamination risks to a reasonable level, then again it may not. Don’t expect the manufacturer to clear this up for you. They are terrified of being sued, and would prefer you simply don’t eat any of their ice cream, avoiding legal issues. Ultimately, the risk assessment is up to you. If you are on a very strict gluten free diet, some brands may be risky, especially for celiacs.
Gluten Free Ice Cream
Ultimately, ice cream labeled gluten free is the safest and most reliable source. Few make ice cream labeled gluten free. Chapman’s makes a variety of gluten free ice cream, with a gluten-free symbol on the package. Note that some of their products do contain gluten, so double-check packaging first.
Ice cream can be suitable for someone with a gluten allergy or celiac disease, but you have to be careful. Watch out for flavors with gluten added, or cheap brands with wheat flour added to all flavors.
Cross contamination is an issue, you will have to decide if you want to take this risk. Some brands offer ice cream with no chance of cross contamination, providing a safe and worry-free alternative.
What is your experience with the gluten free diet and ice cream? Which brands do you trust, which do you avoid? Please leave a comment.