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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Is Annatto Color Safe for People with Celiac Disease?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      So, is annatto color gluten-free? Is it safe for people with celiac disease?


    Caption: Annatto color is derived from the seeds of the Achiote. Photo: CC--Ton Rulkens

    Celiac.com 02/03/2018 - People with celiac disease need to avoid consuming products that contain gluten, including those made with wheat, rye and barley.

    So, what about Annatto color? You may know annatto color as one of those common ingredients in food. Annatto color is used to color yellow or orange cheese. To make matters more confusing, annatto color still appears on some old, outdated lists as not gluten-free, and unsafe. Many of these listings of supposedly problematic ingredients were based "solely on guesses and suspicions." As such, they commonly promoted incorrect or incomplete information.

    Annatto color is derived from the seeds of the Achiote, also known as the Lipstick tree (Bixa orellana), it is often used in cheese, but also in many other orange-colored foods. Achiote seeds do not contain gluten.

    Annatto color is gluten-free and generally safe for people with celiac disease on a gluten-free diet. Some people with celiac disease do claim sensitivity to annatto color, but they are likely not reacting to gluten.

    Annatto color appears on Celiac.com's list of safe and gluten-free foods.

    Here's a helpful bit by a member Celiac.com's gluten-free forum, named Richard: "Annatto is gluten-free. Without question. I suspect your info came from CSA/USA, which for years put out bad information about ingredients based solely on guesses and suspicions."

    For years, some celiac organizations warned members that annatto might cause gluten-like reactions. They cited concerns about the "processing of the seed into a colorant that causes concern as it appears to use alcohol in the process. There is also suspicion that caramel color may be included in the annatto colorant. Anecdotal evidence has some celiacs reacting to foods with annatto color in them but this may be a non-celiac reaction to the annatto itself."

    So, the shorthand is that annatto coloring is gluten-free and generally safe for people with celiac disease. Folks who cannot tolerate annatto coloring are not reacting to gluten, but to something else.


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    I'm tired of all the hysteria that targets non-gluten food as being dangerous for celiacs. It is bad enough without the scare tactics (e.g., don't drink spirits made from a wheat or barley grain; don't eat blue cheese because in ancient history it was mold from bread).

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    Before going gluten-free ten years ago, I used to get a very predictable "hot/cold + clammy" sensatoin that was absolutely triggered every time I ate a cheese (or other product) that I later found out contained annatto. After going gluten-free, I still exhibited those symptoms for about 3 or 4 months... and then it stopped. So, FWIW... there may be some sort of symbiotic relationship between annatto and gluten sensitivity that remains to be explained.

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    Before going gluten-free ten years ago, I used to get a very predictable "hot/cold + clammy" sensatoin that was absolutely triggered every time I ate a cheese (or other product) that I later found out contained annatto. After going gluten-free, I still exhibited those symptoms for about 3 or 4 months... and then it stopped. So, FWIW... there may be some sort of symbiotic relationship between annatto and gluten sensitivity that remains to be explained.

    Agreed, but it would not be due to gluten.

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    Before going gluten-free ten years ago, I used to get a very predictable "hot/cold + clammy" sensatoin that was absolutely triggered every time I ate a cheese (or other product) that I later found out contained annatto. After going gluten-free, I still exhibited those symptoms for about 3 or 4 months... and then it stopped. So, FWIW... there may be some sort of symbiotic relationship between annatto and gluten sensitivity that remains to be explained.

    It's always good to listed to your gut, and to avoid foods that upset your stomach or cause unwanted symptoms. That said, your reaction to annatto color is not due to wheat or gluten.

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    I'm tired of all the hysteria that targets non-gluten food as being dangerous for celiacs. It is bad enough without the scare tactics (e.g., don't drink spirits made from a wheat or barley grain; don't eat blue cheese because in ancient history it was mold from bread).

    Blue cheeses are traditionally made with mold from bread. However, nearly all commercial cheeses use an isolated strain or strains to produce blue cheese. These isolated strains contain no gluten. As such, nearly all commercial blue cheeses are gluten-free and safe for people with celiac disease.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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