Are you trying to figure out whether polenta is gluten free? In this article we discuss everything you need to know in order to determine whether a polenta dish is gluten free. We talk about what polenta is made of, how it is made, how it might get contaminated with gluten, and more. We also provide recommendations for our favorite gluten free polenta brands.
What is polenta?
What is polenta? Technically speaking, the term polenta refers to a dish or a cooking style rather than an ingredient. The term polenta refers to an Italian preparation of grains by which the grains are cooked for a long time until they develop a thick, porridge-like consistency.1 That being said, the grains that are most commonly used to make polenta are often sold at the grocery store and labeled as polenta.
Since the term polenta can be used to describe both the prepared dish and the ingredient that is used to make the dish, we will use different terminology to signal whether we are talking about the prepared dish or the ingredient. Here is the terminology we will use.
- Cooked polenta. When we are talking about the dish that has been fully cooked and is ready to eat, we will use the term cooked polenta.
- Dried polenta. Dried polenta refers to the dried grains that are used to make cooked polenta. Dried polenta usually comes in the form of a coarsely ground meal.
- Pre-cooked polenta. Pre-cooked polenta is dried polenta that has been pre-cooked in water until tender then packaged up to sell. Pre-cooked polenta generally comes in a long, thin tube. A tube of pre-cooked polenta is generally thought of as an ingredient that is used in a recipe rather than a fully prepared dish.
What is polenta made of?
What is polenta made of? Cooked polenta is usually made of a coarsely ground cornmeal that has been cooked for a long time at a low temperature. That means that the dried polenta that you see at the grocery store store is usually made entirely of corn. Traditionally, the cornmeal that is used to make dried polenta is made from a specific variety of corn that is native to Italy.
Is polenta gluten free?
Is polenta gluten free? The short answer to this question is yes – polenta is traditionally made entirely from corn and is therefore gluten free. That being said, there are a few different ways that gluten can be introduced into both cooked polenta and dried polenta. We will discuss the ways in which gluten may be introduced into each type of polenta in the following section.
Is dried polenta gluten free?
Is dried polenta gluten free? Dried polenta is generally a type of cornmeal that is made with a specific variety of corn that is native to Italy. Corn is gluten free, so in most cases dried polenta is gluten free. There are, however, a few ways that gluten can be introduced into dried polenta. We recommend looking for a brand that is explicitly labeled as gluten free.
Here are the ways that gluten may be introduced into dried polenta.
- Gluten containing grains may be added to dried polenta. Even if a brand of dried polenta is mostly made with cornmeal, a company may add small amounts of gluten containing grains to the cornmeal. This might help to reduce the cost of producing the polenta or lengthen the shelf life.
- Dried polenta may be made on shared machinery with gluten containing grains. This is the more common issue that you should look out for. Even entirely corn-based polenta may be made on machinery that is all used to process wheat or other gluten containing grains. If this is the case, then the polenta might contain small amounts of wheat.
Is pre-cooked polenta gluten free?
Is pre-cooked polenta gluten free? Just like dried polenta, tubes of pre-cooked polenta are generally made entirely from corn and therefore are often gluten free. However there are a few ways that gluten can be introduced into tubes of pre-cooked polenta. As with dried polenta, we recommend sticking with brands of pre-cooked polenta that are explicitly labeled as gluten free.
Here are the most common ways that gluten can sneak into tubes of pre-cooked polenta.
- Made with dried polenta that was not entirely gluten free. The tubes of pre-cooked polenta that you see at the grocery store were originally made from dried polenta. That means that pre-cooked polenta is susceptible to all of the potential issues that dried polenta is susceptible to.
- Gluten containing ingredients added during cooking. It is also possible that additives that contain gluten were added to the polenta during the cooking process.
Is cooked polenta gluten free?
Is cooked polenta gluten free? It is most common for cooked polenta to be made from corn-based ingredients. As long as the cooked polenta is made from gluten free dried polenta and no gluten containing ingredients were added during the cooking process then the cooked polenta should be gluten free.
Here are the most common ways that gluten can sneak its way into cooked polenta.
- Made with dried polenta that was not entirely gluten free. Just as with pre-cooked polenta, cooked polenta is only as safe as the ingredients that it was made with. If the cooked polenta is made from a brand of dried polenta that contains gluten then the cooked polenta will also contain gluten.
- Not made with cornmeal at all. As we stated earlier in this article, the word polenta technically refers to a dish or a cooking style – not an ingredient. That meals that, while polenta is most commonly made with a type of cornmeal, it can also be made with a wide variety of other grains. Some of these grains may contain gluten.
- Gluten-based flavorings added during cooking. It is not uncommon for flavorings to be added to polenta while it cooks. It is possible that some of the flavorings that were added to the polenta during the cooking process contain gluten. Soy sauce is a common culprit here.
- Made with contaminated pots or utensils. Another way that gluten might be introduced into cooked polenta is through the pots and utensils that were used to make the polenta. If the polenta was made in a pot that was previously used to boil wheat based pasta and the pot was not cleaned well before being used to cook the polenta, then cooked polenta may not be safe for those with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
Is restaurant polenta gluten free?
Are you wondering whether a polenta dish at a restaurant is gluten free? If you are wondering whether a specific dish at a restaurant is safe for someone with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease then you really need to ask someone in the kitchen whether the dish is gluten free.
Cooked polenta that is made at a restaurant is susceptible to all the traps that are listed in the previous section. The potential for cross contamination and the introduction of gluten into a meal through unwashed utensils is particularly high in restaurants.