Reader Question: vinegar

Q: I still see recipes that ask for gluten-free vanilla and I’m still confused about food products containing vinegar and whether they are safe.

A: Vinegar still causes a lot of confusion. Most vinegar, including distilled vinegar, cider vinegar, wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar is gluten free. Malt vinegar is not gluten free and some flavored vinegars may not be gluten free (this is not because of the vinegar but because of other ingredients in the product).

According to policy guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration, the single word “vinegar” on a food label should mean cider vinegar or apple vinegar (in other words, vinegar made from the juice of apples).

One of the reasons distilled vinegar has caused confusion is that it is made from distilled alcohol which may be made from a gluten-containing grain. However, distilled alcohol (and hence distilled vinegar) is gluten free. The process of distillation prevents any protein from remaining in the alcohol. When an alcoholic substance is distilled it is first boiled. A portion of this substance changes from liquid form to vapor (steam) form. This vapor becomes liquid again when it is cooled. This resulting liquid is known as the final distillate. Protein doesn’t vaporize so distilled alcohol doesn’t contain any protein (and hence no gluten).

Malt vinegar is not gluten free because it is made using barley malt and it is a fermented rather than a distilled product.

Regarding vanilla flavoring, confusion here also stems from the alcohol in the flavoring. The alcohol is distilled and is gluten free.