Did You Know? Standardizing Gluten Content in Fermented Beverages

By Van Waffle

AACC International’s validation of R5 competitive ELISA, as mentioned in this column, may provide another step toward certifying gluten-free beer in the United States. However, the means of measuring gluten in fermented beverages remains controversial. Fermentation breaks gluten proteins down into pieces, a process called hydrolysis. Beer producers extract the protein later to make a gluten-free claim. But these smaller fragments are hard to measure and extraction may be incomplete. Mass spectrometry can still detect gluten in the liquid but cannot quantify it. So the arguments continue about how many fragments remain, how to measure them, and whether they are toxic to people with celiac disease. European legislators have accepted the R5 competitive ELISA as a valid test to approve gluten-free beer. In Australia any gluten content, no matter how small, is unacceptable for a gluten free claim in any food. Elsewhere gluten must not exceed 20 parts per million, but United States lawmakers have not yet accepted a test for measuring gluten content in fermented beverages. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau requires calibration of the R5 competitive ELISA using fermented gluten, which is not yet available. Despite AACC’s research, the Food and Drug Administration does not accept R5 competitive ELISA as a suitable test for approving gluten-free beer. Until a consensus is reached, beer lovers on the gluten-free diet must rely on products not made from wheat or barley.