Did you know…the phrase ‘are oats gluten free’ is Googled over 8,000 times each month!

With so much conflicting and confusing information out there on the internet we put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard to be more exact) to shine some much needed clarification on this tricky subject to help people who suffer from gluten intolerances.

So, do oats contain gluten?

Oats are naturally gluten free (this means they do not contain the proteins gliadin and glutenin**) BUT very often become contaminated as the majority of oats are processed in the same facilities with grains that contain gluten and wheat.

To guarantee oats are gluten free, they must be processed in facilities that DO NOT process other grains such as wheat and be analysed and declared as less than 20ppm gluten. When buying gluten free oats, be sure to look for accreditation on the packaging – Coeliac UK accreditation (CUK number) is the most trusted. This means the product complies with the AOECS standard for gluten absence, which is ridiculously strict.

If you suffer from Coeliac Disease, you may still observe an inflammatory response even when eating ‘gluten-free’ oats – this will most likely be caused by an intolerance to avenin, a protein in oats.

** Gluten is made up of hundreds of proteins but they fall into two classes of protein – gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin proteins are responsible for the rise during baking. Glutenin proteins are responsible for the elasticity.

CUK gluten free badge icon

Cross contamination in oats – what does this mean?

While oats are gluten free in nature they may contain gluten due to cross contamination with other crops such as wheat that do contain gluten. Naturally free oats can become contaminated during the harvesting process, transportation, processing and grinding, or packing stages where they may come into contact with crops that do contain gluten. There is also a chance of contamination from crop harvest as again machinery has often been used to harvest glutinous grains. Cross contamination is very high in oats and therefore if you suffer from gluten intolerances or Coeliac Disease only oats with gluten free accreditation on the packaging should be consumed for your safety.

How can I check if oats are gluten free?

The ‘gluten free’ label can only be given to oats that are analysed and declared as less than 20ppm gluten**. To ensure oats stay naturally gluten free they must be processed in specialist facilities that DO NOT process other grains such as wheat. When buying oats that are packaged as ‘gluten free’, look for the correct accreditations – labelling terms such as ‘100% oats or ‘organic oats’ does not mean a product is gluten free. By far the most trusted accreditation is by Coeliac UK – you should be able to clearly see and check the Coeliac UK registration number which means the product complies with the AOECS standard for gluten absence. This is a ridiculously strict set of standards that ensure that produce is manufactured without the chance of gluten contamination occurring – from ‘goods in’ all the way to shipping.

** The risk of contamination in oats is significant for a coeliac sufferer as they cannot tolerate gluten as low as 20ppm. Some people who suffer from Coeliac Disease may even experience reactions with less than 20ppm gluten. Our founder has a response at 5ppm, which is very much the detection limit of most intolerance tests.

What about rolled oats – are they naturally gluten free too?

Yes, just like standard oats, rolled oats are naturally gluten free BUT again have a very high risk of cross contamination from coming into contact with grains that do contain gluten and wheat during the harvesting, manufacturing and processing stages where the oats are pressed and rolled. If you are gluten intolerant, just like with standard oats, be sure to only buy rolled oats that are correctly labeled with ‘gluten free’ accreditations. Rolled oats give a coarser texture upon cooking and are perfect for baking gluten-free recipes such as crumbles as they give a delicious chewy texture.

gluten free porridge bowl

How to make gluten free porridge

Porridge is made of oats that have been finely ground so that it cooks relatively quickly and gives a smooth texture when mixed with dairy milk or other non-dairy alternatives. To make gluten free porridge, you MUST use accredited gluten free oats.

If you make porridge using standard oats, there is a very high chance the oats will be contaminated as they may have come into contact with grains that contain wheat and gluten during the harvesting, grinding and packing stages. Although, in theory, porridge is naturally gluten free, making it with accredited ‘gluten free’ oats is the only way to guarantee porridge will be gluten free – this means the oats are analysed and declared as less than 20ppm gluten.

Can I eat oats if I suffer from Coeliac Disease?

Yes, BUT only if the oats are certified gluten free and you do not respond to avenin, which is a protein naturally found in oats.

What does it mean if I react to a protein called avenin in oats?

It means that your body suffers an immune response to a protein other than gluten but one that is very similar in chemical structure to a reaction with gluten.

What other foods can I replace oats with?

If you’re looking for an alternative to oats, try using buckwheat flour, it’s the best alternative we’ve found. It behaves like porridge in that it has a natural ‘glue-like’ consistency. Although it is bland and very very smooth in texture though, so try to add flavours such as raisins, cinnamon and seeds for texture.

gluten free fruit crumble

Things to think about before cooking and baking with oats

# Check and double check the ‘gluten-free’ accreditation – before cooking with gluten free oats check you are happy with the accreditation on show. As mentioned, the most trusted accreditation is by Coeliac UK which highlights the product has passed strict AOECS requirements. If you’re in any doubt that the oats might be contaminated, do not use them in your cooking or baking activities.

On a side note: Quaker oats have a proprietary technology that promises their oats are gluten free. They claim to use a type of filtration that ensures any glutinous stragglers are caught during the manufacturing process. We’ve noticed they are not accredited by Coeliac UK and so DO NOT comply with the strict AOECS requirements. However, by law, they must be less than 20ppm gluten if they claim ‘gluten-free’ and they do declare they rigorously test to ensure this.

# Shop around but always buy the best quality you can – prices of gluten free oats seem to vary hugely depending on where you shop. Although there is not often the choice of oats (i.e steel cut or Irish oats) for gluten-free diets, it is important to buy the best quality you can. Before you buy, make sure you understand what you want the oats to do in your cooking or baking. For example, when baking muffins, try adding a little gram flour to the oat blend to replicate the texture you are looking for.

Did you know? Grass Roots Bakery make award-winning gluten free mixes.

Let your home fill with the heavenly smell of delicious home cooked bread or fluffy chocolate muffins. We promise our gluten free white, brown and seeded bread mixes taste like ‘proper’ bread. Simply mix, prove and bake to create tasty gluten-free bread rolls or loaves that taste just as good as they should. Oh, and our gluten free pizza base mix creates delightfully thin pizza bases too!

Cover photo by Andrea Tummons | Porridge photo by Monika Grabkowska | Fruit crumble photo by Duncan Kidd