Is malt gluten free?

We wrote about malt flavoring recently but decided to revisit the question because it still seems to confuse many who follow the gluten-free diet. Malt is usually made from barley and is not gluten free. It can be made from corn, but that is rare.

Most malt comes from barley grain that has been soaked, germinated and dried. Ingredients made from malt include malt flavoring, malt syrup and malt extract, none of which are currently considered gluten free.

Malt flavoring is found in a wide variety of products. It is very common in cereals, including those that do not have any other gluten-containing ingredients. Still these cereals are not considered gluten free.

In fact, General Mills recently replaced the malt flavoring in Rice Chex with molasses in order to be able to label the cereal gluten free.

There have been some questions about ingredients made from malt and whether they might be considered gluten free if a proposed definition for the gluten-free label is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The proposed definition sets a standard of less than 20 parts per million for products labeled gluten free.

In the document outlining the proposed definition, the FDA pointed to a study that found cases where some foods, including breakfast cereal, made with malt extract contained less than 20 ppms. But there is also a study that found that the amount of gluten in malt syrup and malt extract ranged from 1,800 to 2,000 ppm.

The proposed definition would allow an ingredient made from wheat, barley, or rye that has been processed to remove gluten to be used in a product labeled gluten free if it does not cause the finished food to contain 20 ppm. If ingredients made from malt met that requirement, they could be used in a product labeled gluten free.

Joe Hickenbottom, vice president of sales and marketing for Malt Products Corp., said the malt extract and malt syrup made by the company is tested and has less than 20 ppm of gluten. He said gluten protein is removed during the processing.

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