Millions of people worldwide suffer from gluten intolerance. As tea is known to be second most consumed beverage, it’s good to know whether it fits in your gluten free diet.
So does tea have gluten? Luckily all teas made from the Camellia Sinensis tea plant are gluten free. So the general answer is: No.
If you’re just following a gluten free diet for general health or following the footsteps of Novac Djokovic’ diet for physical performance, then you’re probably ok with this answer. However, if you’re allergic to wheat then you’ll need some more details.
Tea versus Tisane
What we first need to make clear is that with ‘tea’ we only mean a steeped beverage from the Camellia Sinenses tea plant. Any other infused drinks from other ingredients should correctly be referred to as a ’tisane’ including blends.
So is there a difference between green, black, white, oolong and pu erh tea? The answer is ‘no’. They’re all made from the tea plant, and what makes them different is the processing method applied.
So given this, 100% pure leaf teas from the tea plant are gluten free. For tisanes, it’s harder to draw a conclusion as there’s such a large diversity of drinks out there. For blends it’s even harder, let alone blends with any artificial flavoring and coloring.
The most conservative approach would be to stick to pure leaf teas.
There’s one exception which is Fuzhuan tea. This is one of the few Chinese teas that can contain wheat or barley as mentioned in ‘The Art and Craft of Tea’ by Joseph Wesley. Sometimes rice flour is used instead, which doesn’t contain gluten. Make sure to check with the vendor if you’re considering Fuzhuan tea.
The most referred to study in the academic world is the recent publication called “Survey of tea for the presence of gluten“, published in the Journal of Food Protection. Here’s the conclusion that can be found in the abstract:
“Based on the requirement for concurrence between the RIDASCREEN gliadin (R5) enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and the Morinaga Institutes of Biological Science (MIoBS) wheat protein ELISA, none of the 20 products included in the survey tested positive for wheat, rye, barley, or gluten.”
This result also shows that there’s generally not much to worry about when it comes to possible contamination in tea.
One note that we want to make is that some tea companies that makes tea bags can contain gluten. It’s not that there’s any wheat in the tea itself, but when you dip the tea bag in hot water, the glue can melt slightly releasing a very small amount of gluten. Given current regulation, they however can still be labelled as ‘gluten-free’ as they still contain by far less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. Thus, generally there’s not much reason for worry.
Raw leaves versus Steeped Tea
Even if your tea contains a tiny bit of gluten, it’s good to know that only a tiny part of that will end up in your cup. The fact is that wheat/gluten is not all that soluble in water. It will mostly stay in your tea bag, or filtered from the tea leaves using an infuser.