Is Popcorn Gluten Free and Is It OK for Celiacs?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 11/4/2022

Are popcorn kernels gluten-free?   

Popcorn itself is naturally gluten-free, but cross-contact can add traces of gluten. Most people with celiac disease can safely eat gluten-free popcorn kernels.
Popcorn itself is naturally gluten-free, but cross-contact can add traces of gluten. Most people with celiac disease can safely eat gluten-free popcorn kernels.

Popcorn itself is naturally gluten-free, but cross-contact can add traces of gluten. Gluten-free popcorn brands now offer a variety of flavors; look for packaging specifically labeled "gluten-free." For a fun and safe snack, make popcorn with an air-popper or cook it the old-fashioned way over a stove or campfire. 

Popcorn is a type of corn, and all corn is naturally gluten-free. Most people with gluten intolerance can eat popcorn popped from plain kernels. Some people are very sensitive to gluten and have to watch for cross-contact. For people with celiac disease, even a tiny amount of gluten can cause damage to their small intestines. Cross-contact is when food that has gluten in it comes into contact with food that would otherwise be gluten-free. This contamination can happen if two foods are grown close together or prepared or packaged in the same factory.

If you need to avoid cross-contact, choose gluten-free popcorn kernels. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that foods labeled "gluten-free" have no more than 20 parts per million of gluten. That is the lowest level that testing can reliably measure. At that level, most people with celiac disease can safely eat the food.

If cross-contact is an issue for you, do not buy popcorn kernels — or other foods — from bulk bins. You may have found the scoop in the popcorn bin, but someone may have used it in the wheat germ bin earlier in the day.

Is movie theater popcorn gluten-free?

Call to check with the theater before you go to the movies. Some theaters claim their popcorn is gluten-free with the buttery topping. Others say that the popcorn is gluten-free, but the buttery topping is not. Ask about all ingredients, including the ingredients in any salts, seasonings, or oils used to prepare the popcorn.

Is microwave popcorn gluten-free?

For the safest option, choose microwave popcorn labeled "gluten-free" on the package. If that's not an option or you feel comfortable trying a new brand, check the ingredients. Microwave popcorn may have gluten in the flavoring. The following ingredients are sometimes found in microwave popcorn and might contain gluten:

  • Malt 
  • Meat substitutes, including imitation bacon
  • Natural flavors 
  • Rice syrup
  • Soy sauce
  • Spice blends

What about pre-popped popcorn?

Gluten-free brands of pre-popped popcorn are available in snack-size bags and larger sharing-size bags. If you buy pre-popped popcorn that is not labeled gluten-free, read the ingredients carefully. If there is any confusion about whether there is gluten in one of the ingredients, call the company and ask them about it before eating the popcorn.

3 ways to make homemade gluten-free popcorn

Popping your popcorn at home is fun, fast, and delicious. It's often cheaper than a microwave or pre-popped popcorn, and it's usually easy to find gluten-free popcorn kernels at the store.

Popcorn popper

The easiest way to make popcorn at home is by using a small popcorn machine. Air poppers are cheap, and you don't need anything but popcorn kernels. Some people like the poppers that use oil or butter for popping the kernels. Either way, be sure to follow the instructions carefully.

Stovetop or campfire

  1. Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and three popcorn kernels in a large, deep pot. 
  2. Cover and heat over medium heat until those kernels pop. Heating may take a few minutes.
  3. Add 1/3 cup more kernels, cover the pot again, and shake it back and forth to spread the popcorn kernels evenly across the bottom. Use potholders!
  4. When the kernels start popping, tilt the lid a little to let steam escape.
  5. Jiggle the pot often to keep the popcorn on the bottom from burning. Remove the pot from the heat as soon as the popping slows.


  1. Mix 1 tsp vegetable oil and 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels in a small bowl.
  2. Pour this mixture into a brown paper lunch sack. Sprinkle with salt. Fold the top of the bag over twice.
  3. Microwave at full power for 2 1/2 minutes. The steam will be hot, so open the bag carefully.

Gluten-free popcorn seasoning 

Some popcorn seasoning mixes at the store may contain gluten, but many are gluten-free. As usual, check the labels. Also, double-check the ingredients on the spices in the list below. Possible options for gluten-free popcorn toppings include:

  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Cinnamon and sugar
  • Cocoa powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Chili powder

Corn allergies are possible but rare

Corn, including popcorn, is safe for almost everyone with celiac disease. Rarely a person with celiac disease will also react to corn. If you continue to experience symptoms even while following a strict gluten-free diet, talk with your doctor about whether or not you should try eliminating corn from your diet as well. Symptoms of a corn allergy are similar to symptoms of gluten intolerance or celiac disease: nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Your doctor can help you find if your symptoms are from accidentally getting some gluten in your diet, a corn allergy, or something else.


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Medically Reviewed on 11/4/2022

Beyond Celiac: "Is Corn Gluten-Free?"

Celiac Disease Foundation: "Gluten-Free Foods," "Sources of Gluten."

FDA: "Gluten and Food Labeling."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Celiac Disease."

Stanford Children's Health: "Celiac Disease Resource Guide for a Gluten-Free Diet."