The question of whether vinegar is safe to include in a gluten-free diet is being asked again.

Vinegar was recently addressed in the Dietitians in Gluten Intolerance Diseases Corner column (volume 28, no. #3, winter 2009) I write for Medical Nutrition Matters, a newsletter for the Medical Nutrition Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association. I thought it would be helpful to share some of the information from that column with you. The article has been adapted with permission. Information was jointly compiled by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, Cynthia Kupper, RD, Melinda Dennis, MS, RD, LD, Mary K Sharrett, MS, RD, LD, CNSD, Anne Lee, MSEd, RD, LD, and Pam Cureton, RD, LDN.

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act there are no standards of identity for vinegar. Among other things, standards of identity define what ingredients must or may be used in the manufacture of food. There is, however, a Compliance Policy Guide (CPG 7109.22, Section 525.825) for vinegar that includes definitions for various types of vinegars, some of which are included below. These definitions remain FDA policy for labeling purposes.

Vinegar, Cider Vinegar, Apple Vinegar: The product made by the alcoholic and subsequent acetous fermentations of the juice of apples.

Wine Vinegar, Grape Vinegar: The product made by the alcoholic and subsequent acetous fermentations of the juice of grapes.

Malt Vinegar: The product made by the alcoholic and subsequent acetous fermentations, without distillation, of the infusion of barley malt or cereals whose starch has been converted to malt.

Spirit Vinegar, Distilled Vinegar, Grain Vinegar: The product made by the acetous fermentation of dilute distilled alcohol.

Historically, there have been four areas of concern surrounding the use of vinegar in gluten-free diets:

1. Is distilled vinegar gluten free? Yes, 100% distilled vinegar is made from distilled alcohol and all “pure” distilled alcohol is gluten free. This is true even if the starting material is wheat, barley, or rye. During distillation the liquid from fermented grain mash is boiled and the resulting vapor is captured and cooled. This causes the vapor to become liquid again. Because protein doesn’t vaporize there are no proteins in the cooled liquid.

2. Is all non-distilled vinegar gluten free? Almost, but read ingredient lists carefully. According to The Vinegar Institute, the most commonly used starting materials for vinegar are apple, grape, corn, and rice. If non-distilled vinegar uses wheat, barley, or rye as a starting material the vinegar is not gluten free. Malt vinegar is not gluten free because it contains malt which contains barley. The starting material for malt vinegar can include barley, rye, or wheat. Because these vinegars are made from alcohol that has been fermented and not distilled they are not gluten free.

3. Is flavored vinegar gluten free? Probably, but read ingredient lists carefully. Some flavored vinegars are not gluten free because they contain malt vinegar. If malt vinegar is an ingredient in flavored vinegar it will be included in the ingredient list.

4. What does the single word “vinegar” mean in an ingredient list? For the purposes of food labeling, the FDA views the term “vinegar” to be the same as “cider vinegar” or “apple vinegar.” All of these are defined as made from the juice of apples. Vinegar, cider vinegar, and apple vinegar are gluten free.

Other issues to keep in mind

If vinegar contains protein from wheat (which may be the case in some Asian black rice vinegars), wheat will be declared on the food label either in the ingredient list or “Contains” statement. If vinegar contains barley protein it is most likely in the form of malt and this generally will be included on the label.

Malt vinegars can be made from rye but appear to be labeled as “rye vinegar.” If vinegar containing multiple ingredients (e.g., flavored vinegar) is used in another processed food product, such as mustard, salsa, etc., all of the vinegar ingredients must be included on the food label of the mustard, salsa, etc. In other words, vinegar ingredients will not be “hidden.”

Bottom line

Pure distilled vinegar is gluten free, malt vinegar is not. Flavored and seasoned vinegars may contain gluten, most typically in the form of malt, so ingredient lists should be carefully read. If wheat protein is contained in vinegar, the label will say so. The single word “vinegar” on a food label implies cider/apple vinegar and is gluten free.

Special note

If you are a dietitian who counsels persons with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity please consider joining ADA’s Medical Nutrition Practice Group Dietitians in Gluten Intolerance Diseases so that you can keep abreast of the latest developments pertaining to the gluten-free diet. The website of the DPG is If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity ask your dietitian if they are a member of this group.

Copyright © by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD

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