Italy—beware you might just find yourself at the center of a gluten storm. The gluten free diet is a diet that eliminates gluten from your diet. Gluten is a protein found in most grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. Both celiac disease and non celiac gluten sensitivity are caused by gluten causing damage to the small intestine.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat. Gluten is also found in some forms of barley and rye that may be found in foods like breads, pastas, and cereal. Gluten is not a good thing if you have Celiac Disease, but many people are sensitive or allergic to it and so it can be a problem.
Gluten-free diets are becoming more popular. Most people think of gluten as a protein that causes wheat allergies and/or celiac disease. While it’s true that gluten is used in the production of “wheat”, most people are unaware that it can also be found in barley, rye, and spelt, as well as oats. Recently, the word “gluten-free” has been gaining popularity due to its popularity with the health conscious. Consumers are looking for products and foods that do not contain gluten, which is an allergen that can cause an autoimmune response in some people. (It’s something to note that in countries where wheat is not the primary grain, the gluten-
I went to my closest friend’s house in Montreal for supper when I was initially diagnosed with celiac disease. Her beautiful family was accustomed to serving me spaghetti since she is Italian. When I told her parents about my illness, her father was shocked. “Jodi, this is a destiny worse than death,” he remarked solemnly and slowly.
While many celiacs have similar feelings after learning of their diagnosis, the truth is that the world is a safer place for our stomachs than it has ever been. And there are lots of delicious, naturally gluten-free grains out there to try.
However, given his response, I was concerned about my vacation to Italy. I wasn’t sure whether there would be food for me or if I’d have to bring my own snacks. I was astonished to discover that my concerns were completely unfounded.
As a celiac, Italy was one of the easiest locations to eat.
THE LAST TIME IT WAS UPDATED WAS IN MAY OF 2023.
Do you already have a gluten-free translation card in mind? You may purchase my Italian card, as well as cards from Japan, Greece, Spain, and other countries, here!
Overview of Celiac Disease in Italy
I waxed lyrical about how much I could eat when I returned from Italy. Every single person’s first response was the same: “Oh, Italy must be welcoming its visitors!” This is not the case. It was clear that the dietary modifications had nothing to do with tourism. Even small communities were aware of the illness and had been sufficiently exposed to it to make changes in their offerings.
I reached out to Letizia Mattiacci, who runs a B&B with a cooking school in Italy. Letizia responded quickly :
I remember reading a research from the Netherlands claiming that contemporary wheat types contain more harmful gluten than older wheat kinds. There’s also the issue of overexposure. Wheat and modified starch are ubiquitous, therefore Italians are more exposed than others since we consume a lot of spaghetti and bread. Celiac disease affects approximately 1% of Italians, according to the Italian Celiac Association. As a result, it’s hardly surprising that gluten-free alternatives abound in Italy. We even have a gluten-free restaurant in Perugia, and a Gluten-Free Festival is planned for the beginning of June.
The Italian government stated in a 2019 study that celiac disease diagnoses rose by 57,899 from 2012 to 2017, with an average of 10,000 new cases identified each year.
The knowledge and care goes much deeper than that. Children are routinely screened for celiac disease in Italy once they begin to show any symptoms that may be correlatable, something doctors missed for me when I was a child. I spent many years sick to my stomach with no suggestions to screen for celiac. As with some other countries, in Italy celiacs also receive a government subsidy to compensate them for the higher cost of gluten-free foods.
Furthermore, according to Maria Ann Roglier, author of The Gluten-Free Guide to Italy, gluten-free food must be accessible in schools, hospitals, and public spaces in Italy. And you may get a master’s degree in celiac disease, from diagnosis to treatment.
But there was one nagging issue: the nation didn’t simply know about celiac disease; it embraced it. They accepted that this was a problem and worked around it to fit their meals in, and they did it with zeal. When I questioned Letizia about it, she thoughtfully said that Italians are highly aware of the link between health and diet.
There’s also the fact that food is at the heart of Italian culture and community. According to a New York Times article on celiac disease in Italy,
In Italy, not being able to eat wheat is more than a fad diet or an inconvenience.
“It’s a disaster for Italians,” Susanna Neuhold, the AiC’s food program manager, said. “In Italy, food is at the heart of social life and interpersonal connections. It’s a huge psychological and social issue for someone who can’t go out with their pals or to a business meeting at a restaurant.”
This connection has resulted in a level of institutional empathy that may surprise Americans.
In addition, alternative flours are prevalent in Italy as well. Chickpea and chestnut flours have been part of Italian cuisine for centuries. In the nineteenth century, an Italian agronomist noted about Tuscany that “the fruit of the chestnut tree is practically the sole subsistence of our highlanders” (Targioni-Tozzetti, pub. 1802, Volume 3: 154). And in the twentieth century, Adam Maurizio, who wrote a seminal book on the history of edible vegetables in 1932 (called L’histoire de l’alimentation végétale depuis la préhistoire jusqu’à nos jours, for those inclined) discussed chestnut trees as being available not just for the fruit of the tree, but also for making into bread when grinding that fruit into flour.
Italians have been utilizing ground maize, chestnuts, and chickpeas as replacements for hundreds of years, unlike in North America, where these new flours are fashionable but not firmly woven into our past.
A Gluten-Free Restaurant Card Customized for Italy
This gluten-free card, like the others in the series, was written in English and then translated into Italian by local speakers. It comprises not just wheat, barley, and rye, but also additional gluten-containing grains such as kamut and farro, which are often used in Italian cuisine. It also seeks to assist celiacs in traveling securely and with the assurance that their requirements will be communicated to native Italian speakers, even if they do not know the language.
Note: You may buy the card from a reputable 3rd party site that utilizes https, so you can be certain that your information is secure. I am not collecting emails or personal information from those who purchase the card.
What makes this card unique?
On my trips, I tried many different translation cards and still felt sick. I’m probably more sensitive than other celiacs, but even a little quantity of tainted frying oil or soy sauce in the meal may make me sick for days. Not to mention the joint discomfort later in the week!
This card stands out for the following reasons:
- It not only utilizes all of the local cuisine names to tell you what to eat and what to avoid, but it also includes a glossary of terms.
- makes a point of mentioning the dangers of cross-contamination, and
- To guarantee accuracy, it has gone through TWO translations.
On the purchasing page, you may get an English version of the card so you know exactly what you’re getting.
Thank you very much to Alanna Tyler and Letizia Mattiacci for assisting with the translation of this card.
Gluten-Free Dining in Italy: Dishes and Snacks
Corn pasta that is gluten-free. I WANT YOU TO GET IN MY BELLY.
The following recommendations are mostly for you to be able to go into restaurants that aren’t explicitly gluten-free but offer gluten-free choices on the menu.
I find it much more gratifying to eat safely where I can, rather than isolate myself in GF restaurants all of the time, as I do with the previous gluten-free guidelines I’ve published. Yes, knowing that foods are safe to eat in those specialized GF kitchens is comforting, but the purpose of travel is to interact with other people and learn about their culture and cuisine, which I believe is best accomplished in regular restaurants to the degree feasible.
Italian Gluten-Free Dishes
- Gluten-free pizza is typically made using maize, chickpea, or rice flour. Confirm that shared pizza pans will not be a problem, and that this dough will not be prepared on the same surface as the floured doughs – pizza businesses often have a lot of flour thrown about!
- Gluten-free pastas are improving all the time, much like gluten-free pizza crusts!
- arrosticini, as well as grilled meat and seafood (meat skewers from Abruzzo, typically sheep). Before cooking, make sure the fish isn’t coated or dredged in flour.
- Confirm that the broth is gluten-free before making risotto or risi e bisi. Risotto is a creamy rice dish that comes in a variety of flavors, the most of which are based on butter, wine, and onion. Risi e bisi is a risotto variant prepared with diced pork and fresh peas (usually prosciutto or pancetta, but sometimes bacon or ham is used). Both recipes should be OK, but double-check the gluten-free broth.
- Rice in its purest form.
- Caprese Salad is a simple and tasty tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella slice salad.
- Farinata, cecina, and panelle are all regional variants of a flatbread made from chickpea flour. A farinata will be thicker than a cecina, and a panelle will be fried while the other two will be baked. All of them should be okay, but be sure they’re made entirely with chickpea flour.
- Ragu is a meat-based spaghetti sauce, with Bolognese being the most popular variation.
- Pesto and pesto alla Genovese are pesto pastes prepared with fresh basil and olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, salt, and a hard cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino.
- Sausages. Storebought sausages may contain flour in the casing, but if you confirm they’re gluten free, Italy provides some delicious options! Salsiccia fresca is a popular fresh pork sausage seasoned with fennel seeds. Mortadella ham is a large pork sausage often eaten as lunch meat that has little cubes of pork fat throughout it; Bologna sausage is similar. Bresaola is an aged, cured beef usually served in papery slices, while Prosciutto, sometimes called Parma ham, is cured ham served in a similar fashion.
- Stracciatella soup is similar to an egg drop soup in Italy. This soup, which is often prepared with a meat-based broth and a gradual drizzle of eggs, parmesan, and spices, should be acceptable provided the stock is gluten-free and no flour, pasta, or breadcrumbs are used.
- If not breaded, porkchetta (savory, tender pork roasts) should be acceptable.
- Beans and lentils — make sure the broth is gluten-free and that no flour, pasta, or breadcrumbs are used.
- Polenta is a boiling cornmeal that is eaten hot as porridge or cooled into a loaf before being sliced, baked, or fried and used in various recipes.
- Caponata is a sweet and sour eggplant dish that is gluten-free if the cooking oil isn’t contaminated.
- Desserts such as panna cotta and semifreddo Panna cotta is a rich dessert made from milk and sugar that has been thickened with gelatin and flavored in a variety of ways. Semifreddo refers to any semi-frozen dish, the majority of which are prepared with eggs, cream, and sugar. If it’s verified that no flour was used, these snacks should be acceptable.
- Caprese Torta – a flourless chocolate cake
- Zabaglione is an egg yolk, sugar, and sweet wine dish that is occasionally offered as a drink; simply ask for it without the cookies.
- Fruit drinks made with granita
- If you’re looking for gluten-free gelato, keep in mind that many varieties include gluten.
- HUZZAH! Almost all cheeses (including parmesan and ricotta) —
Fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, are always available!
Most restaurants will offer a basic meal of steamed veggies served with lemon, even if it isn’t on the menu. If you can’t locate a side dish that suits your stomach, the chef will nearly always accommodate you. The kind of veggies may change depending on the season, but they have always tasted better than at home in my experience.
Many of my lunchtime meals consisted of a variation of whatever meat they had on hand that day, along with excellent steamed veggies and a salad.
Tomatoes with pesto and extra virgin olive oil You can’t go wrong with this.
In Italy, what isn’t gluten-free?
Gluten is a major component of Italian cuisine, and although there are some excellent gluten-free choices — as well as some great celiac-friendly adaptations — the truth is that much of the food contains something we can’t consume.
I wanted to create a list of a few of those dishes simply to make sure you remember them when you go.
- Pasta (most of the 600+ kinds, including ravioli, gnocchi (potato dumplings, but usually prepared with wheat flour), tortellini, passatelli, and Pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta that also includes wheat).
- Pizza and pizza variations such as the folded calzone option, unless explicitly labeled gluten free.
- Cotoletta (veal cutlet) and cacciatore are examples of breaded meats.
- Vegetables that have been breaded and fried.
- Fish or calamari that has been battered or breaded (squid).
- Arancini are breadcrumb-coated rice balls.
- Salami is a cured sausage that often contains wheat. Although some store-bought salamis are labeled gluten-free, the traditional method of preparation includes gluten.
- Meatballs and sausages, such as cotechino, are popular (a pork sausage similar to salami).
- Involtini (also known as braciole in the United States) is a method of pan-frying meat with a breadcrumb and cheese covering.
- Osso buco is a stew/casserole made with veal (meat is dredged in flour during preparation)
- Minestrone, pasta e fagioli, and acquacotta are examples of soups (bread soup). Ribollita, a Tuscan soup, may be prepared without wheat on rare occasions.
- Panzanella is a kind of bread salad.
- A Sicilian dessert is cannoli.
- Crostata is a kind of baked tart.
- Pandoro, panettone, panforte, and Zuppa Inglese are all cake/sponge sweets that are unfortunately forbidden.
- Tiramisu is a traditional Italian dessert (SO SADS)
- Piadina (flatbread) and pastries such as Sfogliatella are among the most common kinds of bread.
- I would avoid most kinds of gelato unless it was explicitly labelled as gluten-free.
The Italian Celiac Association’s “Perfect App for Celiacs in Italy”
The official app of the AIC (Associazione Italiana Celiachia) was not accessible when I first published this guide, but it is now available and is a must-have for shorter-term travelers.
It costs $2.99 USD for two weeks, and you may only use it twice before being asked to join the AIC if you want more. This is a fantastic choice for short-term travelers. If you don’t wish to join the AIC in the long run, use the gluten-free translation card in Italian. When you pay for access to the app, you may search a database of certified eateries.
Here is the link to their official app page.
The app’s Apple version may be found here. Here’s the link to the Google Play version.
Gluten-Free Dining in Rome, Florence, Venice, and Other Italian Cities
I didn’t put up a lengthy list like my previous celiac guides since there are so many places worth seeing that are completely safe for celiacs. However, some individuals on the internet have taken the effort to do so, and I wanted to send you in their direction!
Additional reading for celiacs visiting Italy
1) Maria Ann Roglieri’s Gluten-Free Guide to Italy (paperback guidebook)
2) The Italian Celiac Association and the Umbrian Celiac Association (both in English).
3) A searchable directory of gluten-free restaurants in Italy, organized by area.
4) Mr. Free Pizza Point, Schär’s adorable website that helps you discover “the finest locations for the best gluten-free quality.” Don’t be misled by the term; the site only lists restaurants where the staff has been educated by Schär and the Italian Coeliac Association and where gluten-free dough is assured. Pizza connoisseurs, rejoice!
5) For those who want to cook Italian at home, here are two excellent cookbooks:
Hand-drawn food maps of Italy are now available in the Legal Nomads Shop!
Totes, posters, t-shirts, and more are available.
Eat well and safely!
I’ve spent the last year researching and experiencing the best gluten-free restaurants in Italy, and I’m ready to share my findings. I’ve had to travel to the farthest corners of the country to discover hidden gems, but I’ve now compiled a list of the very best places to dine gluten- free in Italy.. Read more about is italian flour gluten-free and let us know what you think.
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