The tea aisle is my favorite one in the whole grocery store. It makes me happy that in a world filled with constant change, people still consume a beverage that’s thousands of years old (same thing applies to beer and wine). But then things like this happen.
The simple answer is no. Tea does not have gluten in it. Well, it’s not supposed to.
After a little research, I discovered that tea companies have used paste products to close tea bags that may have trace amounts of gluten. Is this a big deal? If you have a gluten allergy, it’s certainly important to know, though whether or not trace amounts of gluten are harmful likely varies from person to person.
The real question is whether or not those labels on the tea are there to inform or to sell tea?
I’ll take the latter.
I don’t really fault Fairway for creating a cute pink label to show off the gluten free. I can however, fault them for obsessively placing them where they aren’t needed. That’s right, the world doesn’t need to know that tea is gluten free. It doesn’t even need to know that the packaging is gluten free.
Why? Because the 1-5% (five being on the extreme end) of the world who actually have to check all the food they eat because they are allergic to gluten and not part of a trendy diet know this already. If they’re really thorough, they know which companies have the gluten paste on their tea bags.
Now you might have noticed that there are some weird teas in that picture. Is the common consumer supposed to know that Tension Tamer is gluten free? Probably not.
Does that excuse the excessive amount of labels? No. Celestial Seasonings website admits that some of its tea contains roasted barley, which has gluten in it. So tea can have gluten, especially the herbal kind. Maybe that validates those pink labels?
Maybe. I checked every tea box in my cupboard and found that none of them had the words gluten free on them. That includes Twinings, Celestial Seasonings, Tazo, Bigelow, and Trader Joe’s.
With the exception of Trader Joe’s, each of these companies have extensive information of their websites regarding gluten in their products (Trader Joe’s does have a similar page, but there was no mention of tea leading one to think that they also do not care to state the obvious). It makes sense considering the amount of people who voluntarily embrace a gluten free diet and serves to show that these companies don’t look to cut corners with that somewhat sketchy gluten paste. But it’s also worth noting that while these companies dedicated portions of their websites to this information, they didn’t care to clutter their boxes with obvious information.
So the question becomes, who do this labels serve to benefit? There’s really only two possibilities. People who are casually on a gluten free diet and Fairway itself, which is looking to capitalize on the trend. If someone really cared to look for gluten in tea, a few clicks of an iPhone could tell them all they needed to see without having to look at obtrusive labels everywhere. It actually would take you less time to look that up on your phone than the current system which forces you to lift up each label to see the tea like you’re at a children’s museum.
A gluten free diet has its benefits, but it’s not something you should casually dive into. If you can’t take the time to look up basic information that would tell you that there’s no gluten in tea, maybe you shouldn’t be on the diet. When marketing overrides common sense, madness ensues. And something as peaceful as a tea section in a grocery store was bastardized by pink labels. Not cool Fairway.