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Is Falafel Gluten-Free or Not? Get the Straight Facts Now!

is falafel gluten free

It is no surprise many fans of Middle Eastern cuisine would wonder – is falafel gluten-free. The exotic flavours of Middle Eastern dishes have appealed to an array of followers. Middle Eastern food is packed full of flavor. Think turmeric, nutmeg, cardamom – all mixed to produce a seductive aroma of spices. No wonder falafel is such a popular item. Be it in restaurants or as a comforting street food from Israel to Jordan to Egypt. 

In Arab countries, falafel is usually eaten during the fasting month of Ramadan. Falafel usually can be found as part of the iftar meal when Muslims break fast. Falafel is also a popular dish during the Lent period when Christians avoid eating meat. The reason for the popularity of falafel is quite clear too. The chickpeas and fava beans are packed with protein and nutrients. This means that it is suitable for the whole family, young or old, to enjoy falafel. 

What is Falafel?

Traditionally, falafel is deep-fried balls or patties made with chickpeas or fava beans or a combination of both. What differentiates the falafel from stall to stall is the type of herbs and spices used within. The spices are also plentiful. They could be cumin, cayenne, parsley, dill, cilantro, or anything else you could think of. 

The resulting balls or patties will yield a nutty or grainy taste, and depending on the concoction of ingredients used inside, a burst of different flavours of aromatic spices. With the endless variations of falafel recipes, it is important for those following a gluten-free diet to know whether this dish is safe to eat. 

See Also: Is Miso Soup Gluten Free?

Is Falafel Gluten-Free? 

In the most basic sense, yes, falafel is gluten-free. After all, it’s just chickpeas and fava beans (both of which are gluten-free and one of my favourite sources of protein!) with herbs and spices. Chickpeas are naturally gluten-free as it is a type of bean or legume. Chickpeas are otherwise known as garbanzo beans. So, if you see the latter listed as an ingredient in the ingredient list, you can rest assured that yes, they are usually safe to eat for people with celiac disease.

Additionally, fava beans – some know them as broad beans – are also gluten-free. This is a legume with the outer skin removed, and it provides a very earthy texture and flavour in falafels which contain fava beans. The recipe for falafel can also include baking powder to create that soft and fluffy bouncy texture and some olive oil and gluten-free flour to bind all the ingredients together. And thankfully, all of these are naturally gluten-free. 

However, in reality, falafel can be or can be not gluten-free. This is because some falafel recipes call for wheat flour as a binder, which contains gluten. This is the case for some store-bought falafel patties or pre-mix, so keep your eyes peeled for gluten-containing ingredients such as wheat or wheat flour. In addition, falafel at your favorite Lebanese restaurant is often deep-fried in the same oil as wheat products. Deep-fried foods, even if the ingredients are gluten-free, are ripe for cross-contamination.

Gluten-Free brands of Falafel

Thankfully, to cater to the growing demand of gluten-free individuals, there are many store-bought falafels which are gluten-free. Here are some variations which you can consider: 

●     Trader Joe’s Falafel MixThis Mediterranean recipe consists of a combination of chickpeas and fava beans, and it also has cumin and coriander in it to add a layer of spice and fragrance. It’s vegan, kosher and gluten-free, making it a wonderful choice for people with a variety of dietary requirements. 

●     Afia Traditional FalafelAfia’s falafel is made with a traditional recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation in Syria. With the simplest ingredients, this wholesome falafel recipe produces a fresh, refreshing flavour from the blend of spices and herbs and hence goes well as a main dish or as an accompaniment.

●     Fifya Gluten-Free FalafelAvailable in Woolworth’s, Fifya’s falafel includes polenta, which adds a layer of creaminess to the falafel, perfect for those who are looking for a slightly creamier and softer texture. 

Homemade Falafel

But of course, for extra peace of mind, falafels can be easily made at home. The ingredients are easily available from supermarkets and there is no exotic, far-flung ingredient that requires you to import from the Middle East. Furthermore, with your recipe, you can easily switch out one ingredient for the other. No parsley? You can use basil or cilantro. If you can’t find cardamom on the shelves, you can easily substitute it with cinnamon or nutmeg. And that is the beauty of falafel. 

Here are some simple base recipes for falafel that you can use and further modify to your liking. 

●     Classic Vegan Falafel 

●     Easily Falafel Recipe

Eating Out with Falafel – Is Falafel Gluten-Free

Falafel is usually found in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines and is typically served with other dishes. One of my favourite ways to eat falafels is to eat them with gluten-free sandwich pita pockets, topped with cucumber, red onion, tomato and the oh-so-yummy hummus. They’re easy to prepare, they’re super nutritious and they’re extremely healthy. 

Falafel pita sandwiches are therefore extremely popular in restaurant menus. However, this means that one has to be careful when eating falafel with other stuff, because these other accompaniments may not be gluten-free. Falafel with wheat pita is not gluten-free. Falafel with hummus may not be gluten-free, since some store-bought hummus contain flour as a binder. 

Falafel with tahini sauce could be gluten-free, only if there’s no gluten-containing ingredient that acts as a thickening agent to bind the sesame seeds. 

Your best bet is to double-check with the restaurant on whether the falafel served is gluten-free, and if they are, try to request any dressings or dips to be served on the side. 

Conclusion: Is Falafel Gluten-Free?

So yes, falafel itself by definition is supposedly gluten-free. But do look out for hidden allergens, especially wheat, in the ingredient list. Keep an eye out for cross-contamination, and avoid falafel served in wheat. If you’re up for it, why not try making your falafel recipe? The fact that it’s super simple to make means that you can easily whip out a dish of falafel in less time than you would expect. Also, being able to make your falafel gives you the opportunity to twist things up a little. Spicy, tangy, baked, fried, grainy, herbaceous, garlicky – the possibilities are endless. 

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