Over the Holidays you may have come across the Health Day article entitled, “Some Gluten-Free Beers Really Aren’t: Study.” This is an unfortunate title that has led to some confusion. The article is available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_120196.html
The study behind the article
Colgrave ML, Goswami H, Howitt CA, Tanner GJ. What is in a beer? Proteomic characterization and relative quantification of hordein (gluten) in beer. J Proteome Research. October 2011. The study is available at: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/suppl/10.1021/pr2008434
Study authors tested three types of beer: regular beer made with barley malt; gluten-free beer made without barley malt; and what the study authors call low gluten beer. This last type of beer, which the authors state is classified as containing less than 10 parts per million of gluten, is made with barley malt using proprietary methods that reportedly reduce the level of hordein (the problematic protein in barley).
Investigators found that of the beers included in the study, all regular varieties made with barley malt contained hordein; none of the gluten-free varieties made without barley malt contained hordein; and both of the so-called low gluten beers contained hordein.
This study was conducted in Australia which may explain some of the word choices that led to confusion. In the United States, beer containing barley malt is regulated by the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). In January 2011, I was told by the TTB that, “the Bureau considers labels that declare a product to be “gluten free” or lead to the impression that a product is safe for those who suffer from celiac disease as making health claims, which are prohibited.” In other words, what the study calls “low gluten beers,” meaning those beers made using barley malt but reportedly processed to reduce gluten content, can not be labeled gluten-free in the US.
Note: Many of you are probably aware of a Spanish import made using barley malt with packaging that inferred (maybe still infers) gluten-free status (gluten-free neck tag, bottle cap with a crossed out stalk of wheat). Sometimes products slip through the cracks. Undoubtedly, this also is contributing to the confusion.
What those of us in the gluten-free community generally refer to as “gluten-free beer” does not contain barley malt. Therefore it is not considered a malt beverage under TTB regulations and instead is regulated by the FDA. “Beer” regulated by the FDA can be labeled gluten-free but it can not contain barley malt.
Hopefully this all makes sense. It can be rather confusing when there are two regulatory agencies involved!
©Copyright 2012 by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without the prior written permission of Tricia Thompson.