First of all, we have to distinguish between “black” tea (including green tea, white tea, red tea and variations) and herbal tea.
Black Tea and Gluten
Black tea is made from the leaf of the tea plant (Latin name: Camellia sinensis). All tea, be it black tea, green tea, Oolong tea and Pu-erh tea, to name the most well known, are made from the same plant. The only difference is how they are prepared, that is the curing and drying process.
Tea is gluten-free, since it is made from the leaf, and in any case, the plant is not a grain, specifically wheat, barely, oats or rye. Tea, if just made form tea leaves, is gluten-free. Tea is often made with milk and sugar added. It is still gluten-free, as long as no malt-based sweetener is added, since this is derived from barely. Other than flavored teas (see below), the chances are that cane sugar or maybe honey have been used to sweeten the tea, but as always on such a restrictive diet, assuming you have a gluten allergy or celiac disease, always ask unless you are making it yourself.
Iced Tea and Gluten Free
The most obvious way to make iced tea is to make regular tea and cool it down, however that’s not the way most people make it, especially at restaurants. Instead, they buy powdered iced tea. Hmmm, we’d better take a more careful look.
It is quite possible that powdered iced tea has had malted barely added as a sweetener and flavor. People have told me that this is especially bad at restaurants. You can always ask to see the package the tea was made from and check the ingredients. If unavailable, avoid iced tea. As always, check ingredients.
Flavored Teas and Gluten
Some types of black tea have other ingredients added to flavor it. Earle Grey is one example; it is flavored with oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fragrant citrus fruit. This is perfectly safe for a gluten-free diet. However, other flavored teas may contain wheat or barely ingredients. Yes, you have to check the ingredients, even on tea.
Herbal Teas and Avoiding Gluten
Herbal teas could be made from any mixture of leaves, flowers, other exotic ingredients and flavors. The simplest are made from a single type of leave, for example most mint tea. Others are made from quite a mixture of different things, and may even have roasted grain such as barely or rice added. Rice is OK, but not barely if you’re on a gluten-free diet! As always, check ingredients.
What is your experience with tea and the gluten free diet? Please leave a comment.