Some tortilla chips do contain gluten, but not all of them. It depends on what the tortilla chips are made from and how they were handled during processing. Even if you’re certain that your favorite type of tortilla chip is gluten-free, you’ll still need to be wary when you go out to eat. Cross-contamination in the kitchen happens quickly and can add trace amounts of gluten to your entree, ultimately making you sick if you’re sensitive to gluten.
Gluten from Ingredients
Since gluten comes from barley, rye, wheat and certain cross-breeds of these grains, read through the ingredients list thoroughly to watch for these types of grains. For example, if you select a brand of regular flour tortilla chips, it’s most likely made with wheat flour, making it a gluten-containing product that you’ll need to avoid. Multigrain tortilla chips are also something you'll want to avoid -- they contain gluten.
Opt for tortilla chips that are made with corn tortillas, rather than wheat flour-based tortillas. Corn, such as blue or yellow corn, is naturally gluten-free, making it safe for you to eat. Often you can find chips, taco shells and even tostada shells made from 100 percent corn flour. Chips made with rice flour, chickpea flour or dried lentils are some other crispy gluten-free alternatives to wheat-flour tortilla chips.
Even if a bag of tortilla chips seems to contain all gluten-free ingredients, always look for terms such as “free of gluten,” “no gluten” or “gluten-free” on the label. Sometimes flavorings or other additions can add gluten to the chips. Foods that are labeled “gluten-free” must have less than 20 parts per million of gluten, as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This minuscule amount of gluten is unlikely to cause problems related to gluten sensitivity.
Just because a bag of chips is labeled “gluten-free” doesn’t mean the final dish will be free of gluten. Cross-contamination can add gluten to your food. For instance, if the cook handling your plate of nachos didn’t change his gloves after making a pizza, gluten from the pizza dough could wind up on your chips. Always alert your server of your food allergies or intolerances to be safe. Cross-contamination happens in the manufacturing plant, too. If the food processor makes corn tortilla chips in the same vicinity as flour tortilla chips, it must put a disclaimer on the label warning you that the food may have come into contact with the allergen.