Gluten-Free Vinegar: What You Need to Know

The Safest Types of Gluten-Free Vinegar

What Type of Vinegar Is Gluten-Free?


Some types of vinegar—including red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and cane vinegar—are gluten-free. Other types of vinegar—for example, non-distilled vinegars made from the gluten grains wheat, barley, and rye, and malt vinegar made from barley—are not gluten-free. Some experts differ on whether distilled vinegar that's made from gluten grains (wheat is a common source of white vinegar) is safe for everyone on the gluten-free diet.

Vinegar and Gluten

Distilled vinegar is a controversial subject in the gluten-free community. Many experts consider distilled vinegar to be safe, because the vinegar distillation process breaks down and eliminates the gluten protein fragments. But other experts question the safety of anything that starts out its life as gluten grains, noting that the available testing technology for gluten doesn't always pick up smaller fragments of the protein that may nonetheless cause people to react.

And finally, you've got people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity who suffer a gluten grain reaction when they consume vinegar derived from gluten grains, regardless of what either group of experts says.

Vinegar tests well below the less than 20 parts per million gluten threshold that is considered "gluten-free" in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe. So those who say vinegar is gluten-free are correct; it qualifies for that distinction based on testing results.

But those who say they react to gluten grain-based vinegar are not imagining their reactions, either. A substantial minority of people with celiac and gluten sensitivity react both to distilled vinegar and distilled alcohol that are originally derived from gluten, regardless of test results.

It's not clear what percentage of people this involves—there haven't been any studies on it—but it's enough that those who are newly diagnosed should proceed carefully when dealing with those types of alcohol and vinegar until they can determine for themselves whether they react or not.

Different Types of Vinegar

Here's a rundown of the different types of vinegar and whether each is safe to consume on the gluten-free diet:

  • Apple cider vinegar. Since this vinegar is based on apple cider, not gluten grains, it should be safe on the gluten-free diet.
  • Balsamic vinegar. Balsamic vinegar starts out as grapes and is aged in casks made from wood. There's a very small possibility that the paste used to seal those casks (generally wheat or rye flour) could contaminate a batch of balsamic vinegar, but only those most sensitive to trace gluten would notice (I'm talking far less than 1 percent of everyone who reacts to gluten). Otherwise, balsamic vinegar should be safe on the gluten-free diet.
  • Distilled white vinegar. White vinegar is the controversial one, as it can be made from almost any starch source or combination of sources, including gluten grains. If you react to distilled alcohol that's crafted from gluten grains, you're at risk for reacting to distilled white vinegar, as well. Proceed with caution.
  • Cane vinegar. Cane vinegar is made from sugar cane and is considered gluten-free—in fact, one small manufacturer of certified gluten-free products uses cane vinegar in a variety of condiments.
  • Flavored vinegar. In this case, check the ingredients—many of these are safe, but some are not. For example, Heinz Tarragon Vinegar contains barley.
  • Malt vinegar. This is the only vinegar that everyone agrees is strictly off-limits on the gluten-free diet—it's made from barley-based ale that's not distilled, so it definitely contains gluten. Avoid.
  • Rice vinegar. This type of vinegar—commonly used in Japanese cooking—is OK for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to consume as long as it doesn't contain any other types of grains. Be wary of this though, I had a horrible reaction once from "rice vinegar" I had on a salad at a Japanese restaurant that turned out to also contain barley malt. The labeling on these Asian-sourced vinegars may not disclose potential gluten ingredients so proceed with caution.
  • Wine vinegar. Like apple cider vinegar, vinegar made from either red or white wine should be OK to consume.

Safety Tips and Facts

Here are a few more facts about vinegar and gluten:

  • In many countries, malt from barley is used to make most distilled white vinegar, but in the U.S., corn is the most commonly used substance. Heinz, for example, uses corn as the source for its distilled white vinegar, making most Heinz condiments safe (we use Heinz ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise without issue).
  • Manufacturers do not need to disclose the presence of wheat (one of the top allergens) as a starting ingredient in distilled white vinegar because distillation is considered to break down and remove all the allergenic proteins. Therefore, you can't depend on the label to warn you about wheat-based vinegar—you'll need to call the manufacturer to be sure.
  • The rice used to make sushi usually contains some vinegar—it's generally rice vinegar, but you may want to check the ingredients. (Ever since my bad experience with "rice vinegar" in a Japanese restaurant, I've asked sushi places to make my order with plain rice.)
  • When vinegar is used in condiments such as mustard, ketchup, and relish, the manufacturer does not need to specify what type of vinegar the condiment contains.

A Word from Verywell

A very few people who are extremely sensitive to trace gluten seem to react to almost all vinegar, including the ones listed above as safe. In that case, the culprit could be gluten cross-contamination in the manufacturing facility or possibly trace gluten contamination in the ingredients used to make the vinegar itself. It's also possible that the person is reacting to something else in the vinegar, and that gluten isn't the problem at all.

The vast majority of people don't need to worry about this. But if you can't seem to find a vinegar that doesn't cause you to react, you might want to try making your own.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Celiac Disease Foundation. Gluten-Free Foods.

  2. Celiac Disease Foundation. Sources of Gluten.

  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Gluten and Food Labeling. Updated July 16, 2018.

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.