Taco night is a great way to make a dinner that pleases a crowd, with minimal effort.
Whip up some filling, grab your favorite dips, shred some lettuce (and some cheese) and everyone can create a taco that suits them.
For a truly customizable experience, you can put out a range of tortillas. From soft floury wraps, to crispy and crunchy taco shells.
If you’re following a gluten-free diet, “help yourself” style taco nights might not always be the easy weeknight dinner you were hoping for.
Instead, your hand might hover over the tortillas and taco shells, as you wonder just what you can take.
A gluten-free diet doesn’t mean you have to avoid your favorite Mexican foods. Many of the most delicious Mexican foods use corn flour as a base, which comes from ground corn kernels.
This flour is free from gluten, and makes for flavorful tortillas and tacos.
Hard taco shells are typically made from corn flour tortillas, and are often gluten-free. If you can’t find them ready made, they’re easy to put together at home.
In this guide, we’ve explored exactly what goes into a taco shell, and how to be sure your Taco Tuesday is gluten-free.
All About Taco Shells
There are two types of taco: hard tacos, sometimes known as crispy tacos, and soft tacos. Soft tacos are made using flexible flour tortillas, which can bend and wrap around your filling.
Crispy tacos use hard taco shells, which are cooked into the classic folded shape, with a pocket for adding your favorite fillings.
Both taco options are delicious, and you can make hard taco shells from soft tacos! If you have soft corn tortillas, they can be really easily transformed into hard shells.
Simply heat the corn tortillas in the microwave until they become pliable, and lightly coat them in oil.
Then, fold the tortilla over the bars of your oven shelf. Bake until the tortillas are crunchy, and you have a hard taco shell!
In America, pre-baked taco shells are readily available, so you can whip up your favorite Tex-Mex meal in minutes. Traditionally, however, hard taco shells would be made using the soft tortillas.
What Ingredients Are Taco Shells Made From?
Taco shells are typically made from corn tortillas, which have been coated in oil and baked or fried.
Corn tortillas are made using masa harina, which is a type of corn flour. It’s created using dried corn which has been soaked in calcium hydroxide, ground, and then dehydrated.
If you can get your hands on masa harina, you can make your own tortillas really easily at home, because you simply add water to make a dough!
Most corn tortillas are made using masa harina, water, and salt. The majority of corn tortillas use yellow corn, but you can get white corn tortillas, and sometimes even blue corn tortillas.
The ingredients list for hard taco shells is pretty similar: masa harina, water, salt, and oil or fat.
The basic recipe creates corn tortillas, which are coated in oil or fat, and then baked or fried to create the crisp finish.
Of course, this is the recipe you might use at home. For the most part, brands do follow this same simple ingredients list.
However, some brands might add some extra ingredients, to better ensure longevity, taste, texture, etc.
Why Is Gluten In So Many Foods?
Gluten is a very common protein, and it’s found in many types of grain. It helps the foods to bind together, giving dough that stretchy quality that helps it stay together, and form a springy texture.
Gluten is a natural substance, and a lot of grains contain gluten. Because gluten has that stretchy quality, many gluten-free grains don’t have the same bounce or flexibility as their counterparts.
Does Corn Contain Gluten?
Corn is a naturally gluten-free grain! Corn flour is made from corn kernels, which are dried and very finely ground until you have a flour.
Different types of corn can be ground to different levels of powder, to create flours that can be used in cooking and baking.
Think of eating corn on the cob — it’s a delicious and nutritious food for those who follow a gluten-free diet. In its purest form, corn flour essentially comes from these corn kernels (although, they have to go through several processes to become flour).
This doesn’t mean that everything containing corn flour is also gluten-free. Corn flour is sometimes used as part of a flour mix.
For example, cornbread is made from corn flour and all-purpose flour, so it isn’t gluten free.
Corn flour can also be used as a thickener, in dishes such as soups and stews. Again, the other ingredients might contain gluten (as gluten is in a lot of foods) so be sure to check the label.
Are Hard Taco Shells Gluten-Free?
For the most part, hard taco shells are gluten-free! They’re typically made using a simple ingredient list: masa harina, water, oil, and seasoning. Masa harina is a type of corn flour, and it doesn’t contain gluten.
Soft tortillas can be made from both regular flour and corn flour.
However, flour tortillas don’t bake or fry to the same crisp finish as corn tortillas. So, they are very rarely used to make hard taco shells. Flour tortillas are typically not gluten-free.
While most hard taco shells are gluten-free, it isn’t true across the board. Some brands will put other ingredients into the tacos for various reasons (longevity, taste, texture etc.), and these ingredients can potentially contain gluten.
There’s also a risk of contamination. Many manufacturers will make both corn and flour tortillas in the same factory, so there is a slight risk of cross contamination.
Overall, you can expect hard taco shells to be gluten-free, but it’s important to check the packaging for confirmation.
To help you make the right choice for your favorite Mexican dishes, we’ve put together a list of gluten-free tacos below.
The Best Gluten-Free Taco Shells
One of the brilliant things about tacos is just how quick and easy they are to throw together. Get some beans, salsa, and your favorite protein, and you have a meal ready in minutes!
So, the last thing you want to do is waste hours at the store trying to find gluten-free tacos.
Below, we’ve listed some of our favorite gluten-free tacos. We haven’t covered every brand, but we hope this guide acts as a good starting point for your next Taco Tuesday.
As with any food, it’s best to check the ingredients list before buying. Although these brands are generally gluten-free, the recipe can change from time to time.
Old El Paso is a widely available brand, known for their convenient meal kits. Much of the Old El Paso range is gluten-free, but they do use flour tortillas in some of their kits.
If you plan on buying Old El Paso, double-check the type of tortilla being used.
Some gluten-free options in the Old El Paso range include:
- Stand ‘n Stuff Taco Shells
- Crunchy Taco Shells
- Stand ‘n Stuff Bold Nacho Cheese Taco Shells
- Stand ‘n Stuff Takis Fuego Taco Shells
- Extra Large Super Stuffer Taco Shells
- Tostada Shells
The main thing to be aware of when buying Old El Paso taco shells is that some kits contain both flour and corn tacos!
The corn tacos will still be made using gluten-free ingredients, but there is a risk of contamination.
If you want to try something a little different, why not give Siete a try? These aren’t your traditional taco shells, as they aren’t made from corn flour.
Instead, Siete uses cassava flour, pumpkin seed meal, and pumpkin powder, to make their delicious and colorful gluten-free tacos.
Siete tacos are both vegan and gluten-free, and the Mexican-American brand aims to make healthier food inspired by heritage.
They might not be the obvious choice for your next taco night, but they do bring something new to the table!
If you prefer a soft taco, Siete has you covered! The flour tortillas are also gluten free.
Some gluten-free options from the Siete range include:
- Grain Free Taco Shells
- Almond Flour Tortillas
- Cassava Grain Free Flour Tortillas
- Chickpea Flour Tortillas
For many of us, the meal kit is a go-to solution for busy days. But when you’re following a gluten-free diet, finding a meal kit that’s both safe to eat and delicious can be difficult.
Garden of Eatin’ makes their corn tacos using non-GMO ingredients, and certified organic corn.
Gluten-free and kosher, they contain non hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, artificial colors, or artificial preservatives.
Some gluten-free options in the Garden of Eatin’ range include:
We mentioned above that cross-contamination can be an issue when choosing taco shells. The 365 by Whole Foods taco shells are made using gluten-free ingredients.
However, because these tacos are manufactured in a facility where gluten is used, they can’t be classed as gluten-free.
For that reason, you may prefer to steer clear of the 365 by Whole Foods range. However, the tacos themselves contain no gluten ingredients. They’re also vegan, and USDA organic.
Some gluten-free options in the 365 by Whole Foods range include:
La Banderita doesn’t sell hard taco shells (currently), but they do sell gluten-free corn tortillas.
These can be easily turned into hard taco shells. All you need to do is lightly coat them in oil, and bake folded over the oven shelf.
La Banderita corn tortillas are inexpensive, and can be found in a wide range of stores. If you don’t mind putting a little extra effort into your dinner, they’re a good choice for turning into hard shell tacos.
Some gluten-free options in the La Banderita range include:
Ortega is another brand that doesn’t specifically describe itself as gluten-free. However, if you take a look at the ingredients list, you’ll notice there’s nothing on there that should contain gluten.
But Ortega also manufactures flour tortillas, so we might assume that the taco shells and tortillas are made in the same factory. Alternatively, they might not test the products to achieve gluten-free branding.
If you have a severe gluten intolerance, you might want to steer clear of Ortega, while those with milder sensitivities might be happy to enjoy the tacos.
Some gluten-free options in the Ortega range include:
- Yellow Corn Taco Shells
- Tostada Shells
- Cauliflower and Corn Taco Shells
- Yellow Corn Mini Taco Slider Shells
- Yellow Corn with Ancient Grains Taco Shells
Authentic Mexican taco shells, the La Tiara tacos are made using corn, water, lime, and vegetable shortening. The brand isn’t marked as gluten-free, but all the ingredients listed are free from gluten.
This likely indicates they’re made in a factory that uses gluten, or the brand hasn’t paid for testing.
Some gluten-free options in the La Tiara range include:
Mi Rancho doesn’t make hard taco shells, but the corn organic tortillas are easy to turn into your favorite crispy shells. Gluten-free, USDA organic, and vegan, these are a good choice for families and individuals.
Using stone ground whole kernel corn, the simple ingredients list is perfect for anyone on a gluten-free diet.
Made using a blend of white and yellow corn, the texture and flavor is just right for stuffing with your chosen filling.
Some gluten-free options in the Mi Rancho range include:
Okay, this one isn’t a taco brand, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Masa harina is the corn flour that’s used to make tacos, and it’s typically gluten-free.
Masa harina can be purchased online, but you can often pick it up in larger grocery stores. If you have a Mexican deli or food store near you, you might be able to grab a bag there!
Once you have your masa harina, it’s really easy to make your own taco shells. All you need to add is water, then you roll out your tortillas, and heat.
When the tortillas are done, coat them in oil, and bake into a taco shape.
Some gluten-free masa harina brands to try include:
If you buy masa harina, make sure that it’s intended for tortillas, and not for tamales.
A Gluten-Free Mexican Feast!
It’s surprisingly easy to eat Mexican food when you’re on a gluten-free diet! Just make sure to steer clear of standard flour tortillas, and go for corn tacos instead.
With that said, more brands are making varieties of soft tortillas with gluten-free flours such as almond, and cassava.
As the base of corn tacos is corn flour, these are generally gluten-free. If you have a severe intolerance to gluten, check the packaging for gluten-free certification.
Many brands manufacture their corn tortillas alongside the flour tortillas, so there can be some cross contamination. Some tacos do use a blend of flours, so check the packaging to know for sure what you’re getting!
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