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Is Butter Gluten-Free?

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Is butter gluten-free? Yes, butter is naturally gluten-free and butter is celiac safe. Unfortunately, gluten-filled bread crumbs often find their way to sticks of butter. This is known as cross-contamination!

While flavorful and versatile, butter may not be the healthiest or safest spread for everyone. 

Keep reading for tips on how to ensure your butter is gluten-free and for more information about other gluten-free and dairy-free butter alternatives.

What is Butter?

Butter is a dairy product that comes from the milk of animals such as cows, sheep, goats, and buffalo. You can use butter as a spread, melted in your pan for sauteing, in sauces, or added to many baked goods.

Check out our quick and easy, buttery, Gluten-Free Garlic Bread Recipe!

Butter Ingredients 

Butter is made of one simple ingredient: cream (the fatty part of milk) (1). Naturally, milk is gluten-free, thank you cows! 

The primary ingredient of butter is whole fat milk which contains:

  • Water 
  • Fat (most important)
  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates (sugars)
  • Minerals (calcium, phosphorus)
  • Vitamins (Vit A, E, B12)

The ingredients most commonly found on a butter label are salt, pasteurized cream, or unpasteurized cream.

Pasteurized Cream 

Pasteurized cream is heated to high temperatures (145° F – 212° F) for anywhere from 0.1 seconds to 30 minutes to destroy harmful bacteria (2).

Pasteurization increases the shelf life of butter and decreases the risk of food poisoning (3). Thus, pasteurized butter is the safer option for individuals who are immunocompromised (people with cancer, individuals who are pregnant, those with diabetes, children, older adults, etc.)

Unpasteurized Cream

Why would someone eat unpasteurized butter? Unpasteurized butter has a more rich buttery flavor.

Many people believe that unpasteurized dairy products such as butter carry more nutritional value. 

Research comparing pasteurized and unpasteurized milk supports no significant change in the nutrition content of the raw unpasteurized milk vs the heat-treated pasteurized milk (4).

 It is up to you whether or not you want to risk a higher chance of foodborne illness aka “food poisoning” for a little more flavor. 

Cross Contamination

Image of cross contamination, someone spreading gluten free butter on toast.

Cross-contamination happens when a gluten-free product like butter is directly or indirectly touched by gluten.

Usually, it plays out something like this, the person you live with makes some gluten-filled bread and is taking a butter knife to the stick of butter and spreading it on a gluten-filled piece of toast.

After that, they want more butter, so they go back with the same knife they just spread butter on gluten toast and scrape more butter off the stick with the same knife. *GASP*  Now your stick of butter has been contaminated with gluten and is no longer gluten-free.

Cross Contamination at Restaurants 

Unfortunately, this cross-contamination fiasco can occur when you are dining out. Imagine, you go to a restaurant that has gluten-free bread prepared in a dedicated gluten-free area (we love places like this!). But, oh no, the cook pats butter on the toast from the community, gluten-filled butter stick.

Well, now you are going to unknowingly ingest gluten! At restaurants, ask if they keep the butter free and away from gluten. Thankfully, you can typically request a small packaged butter on the side to ensure you will be free of cross-contamination.

How to Keep Your Butter Gluten-Free at Home

Image of a gluten-free labeled butter dish

Is your butter gluten-free? Here are some ideas to keep your butter free of gluten:

  • Buy a separate gluten-free only butter dish
  • Cut a stick of butter in half and keep it in separate containers
  • Tell everyone in your house, your rules “No gluten-eaters allowed here!

All jokes aside, it is important to advocate for your gluten-free needs. Communicate with your family and friends to ensure you feel safe eating from home. 

Is Butter Dairy-Free?

Lactose intolerance often occurs in individuals who have celiac disease due to previous damage to the gut (5).

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the intestinal lining when a person with the disease consumes gluten. This damage to the intestines can limit the production of an enzyme called lactase.

Lactase breaks down lactose, the carbohydrate found in dairy products such as yogurt, ice cream, and even butter. Fortunately, butter is low in lactose so many with lactose intolerance can tolerate butter (6).

Not Safe For Milk Protein Allergy 

Butter is not safe to consume for individuals with a milk protein allergy (7).

Someone with lactose intolerance has difficulty tolerating the carbohydrate lactose. With a milk protein allergy, an individual cannot tolerate the protein in the milk or the trace amounts of milk protein in butter

A milk protein allergy leads to severe allergic reactions if dairy is consumed. Consuming dairy can lead to medical emergencies that can turn fatal such as anaphylaxis (the reason people carry EpiPens). 

Is Ghee Gluten-Free? 

Yes! Ghee is gluten-free and lower in lactose than butter. 

Ghee also known as “clarified butter” is butter simmered over low heat to remove all water and milk fats.

What is the difference between Ghee and Butter?

Both ghee and butter are gluten-free and dairy products unsafe for those with a milk protein allergy. 

Ghee and butter have similar nutrition profiles, with ghee having a slightly higher concentration of fat, a higher smoke point, and a more rich flavor. A higher smoke point is better for frying, sauteing, and searing. 

Graphic summarizing the differences between ghee and butter.

Is Margarine Gluten-Free? 

Margarine is a butter substitute spread made from plant oils, colorings, salt, and natural or artificial flavorings. Given that margarine is made from vegetable oils, it is typically gluten-free. Although, we recommend sticking with brands with gluten-free labels

Is Margarine dairy-free?

Many automatically assume that margarine is dairy-free; however, some companies add whey or buttermilk ingredients. 

While margarine is often gluten-free and some margarine brands are dairy-free we recommend always reading the label before consuming. 

Great things to look for when reading the margarine label:

  • Gluten-free claim
  • Dairy-free claim

Margarine, Ghee, or Butter? 

Nonetheless, butter, ghee, and margarine are typically free of gluten and celiac safe. When picking which spread or butter you would like to use keep in mind the following. 

  1. Butter and Ghee are naturally gluten-free
  2. Ghee is lower in lactose than butter
  3. Some margarine brands are gluten-free and dairy-free (always check the label)
  4. Keep your ghee, butter, or margarine separate, far away from gluten 

Ultimately, fat is flavor! Adding butter, ghee, or margarine to any dish will make the dish more calorically dense and can help you to feel more satisfied after the meal. 

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