Confusing Ingredients

The following are current thoughts as of 3/09 on ingredients that can be confusing in the gluten-free diet.

Alcohol Caramel Color MSG
Barley Extracts/Enzymes Cheeses Oats
Blue Cheese Dextrin Seasonings/Flavorings/Extracts
Brown Rice Syrup Guar and Xantham Gums Vinegar
Buckwheat Maltitol Vitamin E and Wheatgerm Oil
Canola Oil Wheat Grass & Barley Grass
  Meats Wheat Sprouts
Modified Food Starch Yeast


RMJ's note: It is not required by law for manufacturere's of alcoholic beverages to declare their ingredients, let alone gluten or wheat. But the following information should help.

Distilled alcohol is considered gluten-free. Scientists all agree that the gluten molecules are too large to pass through in the distillation process. You do need to check with manufacturers, however, for flavored alcohol. If the flavoring is added after distillation it may or may not be gluten-free.

Beer is not gluten-free as it is made from malt (barley) or wheat. However, there are specialty beers on the market that are made with alternative grains and are labeled gluten-free.

Bourbon may not be distilled, and therefore may not be gluten-free.

Wine is naturally gluten-free. Some persons, however, are concerned with what the wine is stored in during the fermenting/aging process. You would need to contact individual manufacturers about this. If the wine is fortified, a check with the manufacturer should also be done. Many persons have trouble with the sulfites that are in many wines, but this is not a gluten issue.

Pre-made mixed alcoholic beverages may or may not be GF depending on the ingredients. Contact each manufacturer if you have a question.

There is a website that is dedicated to GF alcoholic drinks at

Barley Malt Extracts/Barley Enzymes
The FDA reconfirmed that any product that lists barley extract as an ingredient cannot label that food gluten-free. Tricia Thompson, the "Gluten-Free Dietition", has written an article about this. Read about barley enzymes in food products on the same blog, different date.

Blue Cheese
All Blue Cheese is now considered fine on a gluten-free diet.

Reported in the Gluten Intolerance Group Magazine in 2008: "Based on the most sensitive tests currently available on the market and our understanding of the minute amounts of mold spores used in the making of the cheese, we may conclude that blue cheese is safe for consumption as part of the gluten-free diet."

Reported by Shelley Case, R.D., in July 2009: "The Canadian Celiac Association [CCA] has recently investigated a variety of blue cheese on the market and found that very few are made using bread mold, and when they are, the test results completed by Health Canada found no detectable levels of gluten in the final product. The new CCA Acceptability of Food and Food Ingredients for the Gluten-Free Diet pocket dictionary lists blue cheese as allowed on a gluten-free diet."

More of a discussion of this can be seen in Tricia Thompson's ("the Gluten-Free Dietician") newsletter at

Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup is a sweetener made by fermenting brown rice with enzymes. Barley enzymes, which are often used, make brown rice syrup that is not gluten free. However, if fungal enzymes are used, then the brown rice syrup is gluten free. Several brands are labeled GF, including Lundberg Farms' Sweet Dream and Nature's Flavors' Organic Rice Syrup. If you see brown rice syrup on a mainstream label and the source is not listed, you must check with the food maker. (Information taken from Gluten-Free Living magazine, March 2008.) 11/08

Buckwheat has an unfortunate name, as it has nothing to do with wheat. It is related to rhubarb, and is not a grain, although it is treated as one. It is definitely gluten free, and a good source of nutrients, especially protein. It is also high in antioxidants and minerals, especially magnesium.

Canola oil
From Lisa Campbell, Program Manager, Canola Utilization in Canada:
"There should be no concerns about the presence of gluten in canola oil. It is true that canola is grown in rotation with wheat. However, when canola seed is delivered to the crushing plant, it is extensively cleaned before processing. Due to the massive difference in seed size between a wheat kernel and a canola seed, if there was any contamination, it would be removed at this stage. Furthermore, after canola is crushed and refined, repeated testing has proven that there are no detectable levels of protein in refined canola oil when it goes out to the supermarket shelves."

Caramel color
Tricia Thompson, the Gluten-Free Dietician reports in an article about Caramel Color "It is exceedingly rare to come across food products in the U.S. that contain caramel color derived from wheat. In my opinion, caramel color, even if derived from wheat, is not an ingredient that individuals on a gluten-free diet should worry about--including me!"

In the Gluten Free Living magazine, 1/2011 edition, they state "In nearly 20 years of following the gluten-free diet, we do not know of a single instance of a caramel color being made from a gluten-containing ingredient." This is despite the fact that the FDA permits caramel color to be made out of a starch, which could theoretically be wheat starch. Evidently no one uses the wheat starch because corn makes a better product.

It is not known for sure if the above is also the case for products made in other countries besides the U.S.

Almost all cheese is gluten free, including Blue Cheese. To be absolutely certain, read the label. Shredded cheeses could possibly (but rarely) use wheat to keep shredded cheese from sticking together, but this would be clearly labeled. The most likely instance would be Mexican flavored cheeses.

Dextrin can be made from corn, potato, arrowroot, rice, tapioca and wheat, but is usually made from corn. It is not a highly processed ingredient, and therefore should be avoided if made from wheat. If made from wheat, it must be labeled, except . . . The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) who governs the meat, poultry, and egg industry, does not require manufacturers to label wheat, so potentially dextrin might not be gluten-free, and should be checked.

Guar and Xantham Gums
See an explanation of these two baking substances in the March '10 NFCA newsletter (scan down for article).

The publication Gluten-Free Living reports that the ingredient maltitol is usually made from corn, but can also be made from wheat. "However," they state, "maltitol falls into the category of ingredients so highly refined that even if made from wheat no gluten protein remains.

Maltodextrin can be made from a variety of starches, but is safe for the gluten-free diet. The Gluten Free Living website states that ". . . the source does not matter because maltodextrin is such a highly processed ingredient that the protein is removed, rendering it gluten free. If wheat is used to make maltodextrin, "wheat" will be appear on the label. Even in this case, the maltodextrin would be gluten free."

On the Wikipedia website it states: "Maltodextrin can be derived from any starch. In the US, this starch is usually rice, corn or potato; elsewhere, such as in Europe, it is commonly wheat."

The U. S. Department of Agriculture (regulator of meat, poultry and egg products) does not have mandatory allergen labeling at this time. However, they estimate that "approximately 80 to 90 percent of all meat, poultry and egg product labels bear statements that highlight the presence of ingredients of public health concern". See discussion of this on Tricia Thompson's (the Gluten Free Dietician) website. RMJ's note: Bottom line - you must verify a meat product is GF if it lists any questionable ingredients, such as "malt" and "modified food starch", dextrin, etc.

Modified food starch
Modified food starch can be made from a variety of starches. It is gluten-free unless it is made from wheat, and then it would be declared on the ingredient label. It is most often made from corn.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a commonly used flavor enhancer (like salt, Accent, etc.). It is most commonly used in Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats. MSG is gluten-free, but some people (both celiacs and non-celiacs) have problems with it.

Tricia Thompson, the "Gluten Free Dietitian" wrote on her blog in 2010 "There may be other reasons to avoid MSG, but gluten is not one of them." Read more about what MSG is comprised of, and why there was confusion about it in the past.

Experts now say that adults with celiac disease can safely consume 1/2 to 3/4 cups of dry rolled oats per day. Children can consume 1/4 cup per day. However, be sure these are pure, uncontaminated oats. Most commercial products use oats that have been cross-contaminated with wheat, barley and/or tye, which occurs in harvesting, milling and transporting. Look for packages labeled "gluten free". Those that are non-celiac gluten intolerant may be able to consume all oats without a problem.

Wheat is sometimes used as an ingredient to help the seasonings not stick together (an anti-caking agent). Wheat has to be declared on the ingredient label if it has been used. Otherwise, if all ingredients are gluten free, then the seasoning is gluten free.

The GF status of flavorings and extracts is discussed by Tricia Thompson, the Gluten-Free Dietician. Flavorings and Extracts

All vinegar is gluten free except for malt vinegar, which is derived from barley. Scientists agree that the gluten molecules are too large to pass through in the distillation process of producing vinegar.

More info: Tricia Thompson MS RD, The Gluten-Free Dietitian, wrote an article on her "Living Gluten Free" blog: Vinegar - When is it Gluten-Free? in June 2009. Further, Tricia emailed Elisa Technologies in June 2006, and here is their response: "There has been no detectable gluten in any vinegar sample we have tested using the EZ gluten or HAVen High Sensitivity gluten ELISA, when the tests were performed and interpreted following the kit instructions."

Vitamin E and Wheat Germ Oil
Tricia Thompson MS RD, "The Gluten-Free Dietitian" discusses their GF status at

Wheat and Barley Grass
These are tricky, as they can be gluten-free, but often aren't. The new FDA GF food labeling regulations allow these ingredients in products labeled gluten-free if the food containing them does not contain 20ppm or more of gluten. Tricia Thompson, the Gluten Free Dietician, warns to never eat or drink products with these ingredients unless they are labeled "Gluten free" and have been tested for gluten using the R5 ELISA test. Read more.

Wheat Sprouts
In a " Gluten Free Watchdog report", Tricia Thompson states "Wheat sprouts with the germinating seed still attached should not be eaten by people with gluten-related disorders, including celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. While sprouting starts the process of breaking down gluten, harmful gluten peptides may still reman."

Brewer's yeast extract is NOT gluten-free, as it is made from a beer making process. In addition, Tricia Thompson, an RD specializing in gluten-free, recommends contacting the food manufacturer if an ingredient is listed as "yeast extract" or "autolyzed yeast extract". Ask whether spent yeast from beer manufacturing is the source. Read more. 2/7


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