Malt extract in gluten-free food

Michael Jones, an astute gluten-free consumer, just told us that he found new gluten-free Cinnamon French Toast Sticks and Pancakes made by Van’s. The company has produced gluten-free waffles for a long time.The interesting thing about the new products is that they contain malt extract made from barley.Barley malt extract has long been prohibited on the gluten-free diet. So Michael quickly contacted Van’s to see what was up.

Here’s what the company told him:

“While the malt extract in these two products is derived from barely, it is tested and meets the gluten-free standard as the gluten protein found in barley is removed during the malt extraction process. “

Van’s said processing includes steeping, germination, drying, grinding, mashing and evaporation, all of which remove gluten from the barley. Also, the company says the French toast sticks contain less than 1 percent of the malt extract and the pancakes less than 2 percent. Van’s tests both the raw materials and the finished products to make sure they meet the Food and Drug
Administration’s proposed standard of less than 20 parts per million.

“We understand the concern regarding the use of malt extract in gluten-free products. (We want) to assure you that these new products meet the same standards as all other Van’s Wheat-Free products,” the company wrote in an email to Michael.
There are ingredients made from wheat that are so highly processed that all the gluten is removed, including glucose syrup, maltodextrin, and citric acid, so it does not surprise me that the same thing is being said about barley malt extract.
Still, it is hard for those who follow the gluten-free diet to accept that information even when food scientists say the proof is in the testing. Maybe that’s because for so many years, the only thing gluten-free consumers had to go by were lists of ingredients that were allowed and prohibited. These ingredients and the products they are in were rarely, if ever, tested. That meant no one knew how much gluten protein they actually contained, only that there was a risk they contained some.
But things are changing, mainly spurred by the FDA’s move to come up with the first definition for exactly what “gluten-free” means when it appears on a food label. The definition, which sets a standard of less than 20 parts per million of gluten in foods labeled gluten free and requires testing to prove the standard is met, does not yet have final approval. An international group that sets standards for gluten-free foods, CODEX, recently adopted the less than 20 ppm threshold.
It appears more food companies are testing their gluten-free products, and they are confident they can meet the standard when they use highly processed ingredients that previously were prohibited.
These changes can be very confusing to gluten-free consumers. But we are entering a new era e of figuring out what is gluten-free and what isn’t. The best thing you can do is learn the facts and apply them to your gluten-free life. At Gluten-Free Living, our goal has always been to dig out those facts and we will continue to do so.
  • Interesting information. I’ve always wondered if extracts and highly processed foods with glutinous origins are okay. It sounds like testing will make our lives a little easier as time goes on. What I want is a portable test kit to bring to the restaurant with me!

  • OH, Gina, I’m with you! I’ve often thought that a litmus type strip would be very helpful in the current climate where the “Corporately Gluten Free” restaurants do not train their chefs and servers adequately. Just because a restaurant has a Gluten Free Menu doesn’t mean their food is safe. Just ask my gut!

    Now that my daughter has been newly diagnosed, I am redoubling my efforts to find a variety of Safe Gluten Free food and am not sure if I am happy trusting the testing of the food to those who have an interest in finding it safe. Just ask the folks who died from the tainted peanuts!

    I would feel much safer if we could do the testing ourselves! Anyone know a genius chemist?

  • interesting to read about the process of germination, drying, grinding and evaporation etc that makes it gluten-free. I have problems with all alcohol made of wheat, but according to this it should be also glutenfree by destilation process, or?

  • No, the proof is in the eating. Testing for gluten can only detect up to 5ppm of gluten in food. In other words even if no detectable gluten is present, there may still be traces.

    Some coeliacs are so sensitive, trace amounts can cause symptoms. And even if you don’t get any symptoms after eating something with barley malt, doesn’t mean it isn’t doing damage.

    If you are a true celiac, I wouldn’t trust even “food scientists”, if it came from wheat or barley there’s a chance some gluten may still be present. Any amount of gluten can set off the immune system. Scientists have been wrong before with coeliac disease (what can and can’t be eaten), and should always err on the side of caution.

    Eat at your own risk, in other words.

  • In Canada they have the testing down to 3ppm as Health Canada is considering 5ppm as the standard for labeling an item GF.
    As for the comments about portable test kits and test strips – they are available – just look on the internet for them – they are very costly though.
    Lastly, there is a whole different reaction and reason why people die of peanuts than of Celiac Disease which is NOT an allergy (I am not referencing a gluten allergy here). Peanuts generally create an anaphalatic allergy response where CD is an autoimmune response – two very different body responses IgE and IgA and the IgE which is the allergic response is the one with the risk of death depending on the allergen.