Is Cranberry Sauce Gluten-Free?

gluten-free cranberry sauce
How to find gluten-free cranberry sauce. Renee Cornet/Getty Images

Question: Is cranberry sauce gluten-free?

Answer:

In many cases, yes, cranberry sauce is gluten-free, making it one of the easier ingredients to source for a holiday meal. In fact, there are multiple store-bought options and great recipes for gluten-free cranberry sauce.

Fresh cranberries — the kind you find in the produce section around holiday time — don't contain any gluten unless they've been subjected to gluten cross-contamination in processing or handling (unlikely, in this case).

Therefore, it's pretty simple to make a really excellent homemade gluten-free cranberry sauce using these fresh berries, plus other safe ingredients.

In addition, some store-bought cranberry sauces — especially "pure" ones with no added ingredients beyond cranberries and sugar — are considered gluten-free. If you don't have time (or inclination) to make your own cranberry sauce, these brands can represent a safe fallback for your holiday meal.

List of Gluten-Free Cranberry Sauce Brands

Although most cranberry sauces appear gluten-free by ingredients, there are relatively few that appear on stores' gluten-free lists. That doesn't mean the sauces in question actually contain gluten; instead, they may be processed on shared equipment or in a shared facility.

It's quite possible, too, that the cranberry sauce for sale under your local store brand is perfectly safe — check ingredients carefully, and if in doubt, call the toll-free number for the store's customer service.

Here's a list of gluten-free cranberry sauce brands available in the U.S:

  • Ocean Spray. When many people think of cranberry sauce, they think of Ocean Spray. The company makes two different types of cranberry sauce: whole berry and jellied. Both are considered gluten-free to less than 20 parts per million, according to Ocean Spray's Frequently Asked Questions. Since Ocean Spray products are readily available nationally, especially around holiday time, I frequently advise people following the gluten-free diet to plan on purchasing Ocean Spray when they need safe cranberry sauce and don't want to make it themselves.
  • Safeway cranberry sauce. This store brand, found at Safeway stores along with sister grocery store chains Carrs, Dominick's, Genuardi's, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb, and Vons, appears on Safeway's gluten-free list.
  • Publix whole cranberry sauce. Publix, a grocery store chain prevalent in the southeast U.S., has an extensive gluten-free list, and that list includes the Publix store brand whole cranberry sauce.

Note that cranberry sauce does not appear on Trader Joe's gluten-free list or on Whole Foods' gluten-free list for the 365 house brand, so in each case, I'd choose another option.

Homemade Cranberry Sauce Recipe

Although our family tradition generally calls for a can of Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce, I really enjoy homemade sauce ... and it's pretty easy to make, too. Here is a great recipe: 

  • Sugar-Free Cranberry Sauce Recipe. If you follow a low-carb diet in addition to eating gluten-free, you might want to check out this recipe from About.com's Expert on Low-Carb Diets.

With cranberry sauce, your biggest risk is a homemade sauce ...

not one you make in your own gluten-free kitchen, but one a friend or relative makes in their not-so-gluten-free kitchen. No matter how certain they are that the ingredients themselves are gluten-free, I strongly advise you not to eat it.

The cross-contamination is likely to come from the sugar — if the bin of sugar used for the cranberry sauce also was used in baking, it quite likely has been contaminated (think: spoon shared between flour and sugar). The sauce also can get cross-contaminated from plastic bowls, teflon pots, wooden spoons and other cooking supplies and utensils previously used with gluten-containing foods.

Believe it or not, you're also at risk for a glutening from canned sauce served in someone else's kitchen — there, the potential problem is a cross-contaminated can opener.

Regardless of the source of that possible gluten, it's just not worth the risk, especially on a holiday. For more on why you shouldn't take chances on other peoples' dishes, check out Should I Eat 'Gluten-Free' Food Prepared by Friends or Relatives?

And, for the details on how you can make a completely safe holiday meal, take a look at my rundown in Traditional Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Menu.

Happy holidays!

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