Barley malt ingredients continue to pop up in foods labeled gluten free. There seems to be confusion among some manufacturers regarding the use of these ingredients. Hopefully the following information will be of help to both consumers and manufacturers. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Some issues to be aware of…

Manufactures should consider the following before making the decision to include barley malt ingredients in their labeled gluten-free products:

1. In the United States, individuals with celiac disease are advised to avoid products containing the ingredients “malt,” “malt extract” and “malt flavoring.”  Based on the FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations these ingredients are derived from barley unless another source is listed.

2. In the FDA’s proposed rule for labeling of food as gluten free, malt ingredients are included among those ingredients that can not be included in labeled gluten-free foods. It doesn’t matter if the final food product contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

Please keep in mind that the FDA has not finalized the rule on labeling of foods as gluten free. Facets of the final rule may be different from the proposed rule.

3. It is a bit tricky to accurately test for barley hordein in food. One assay, the sandwich omega-gliadin ELISA, severely underestimates gluten from barley, having a cross-reactivity of only 4 to 8%. Another assay, the sandwich R5 ELISA, overestimates gluten from barley by a factor of 2.

When it comes to testing for gluten in a highly hydrolyzed product, such as barley malt, the test that usually overestimates barley contamination (i.e., the sandwich R5 ELISA) may now underestimate it. There is an assay available for testing hydrolyzed ingredients–the competitive R5 ELISA—but the unit of measure for this assay is gluten peptides versus gluten. Unfortunately, it is somewhat difficult to evaluate peptide concentration in terms of parts per million of gluten.

Thomas Grace, CEO of Bia Diagnostics, a food testing facility in Burlington, Vermont, says the following concerning the use of barley malt and barley malt extract in gluten-free foods:

“In my opinion until there is a reliable method that can detect all hydrolyzed hordeins (the harmful protein in barley) in these malts and extracts and correlate them with minimal reactive thresholds, manufacturers might want to stay away from barley malt and barley malt extract in gluten free labeled products. We might find that some barley malts and barley malt extracts are fine for persons with celiac disease, but until we know that for sure and have a reliable method for verification one should proceed on the side of caution.”

© 2010 by Tricia Thompson

Please click on the link below to continue reading this post. Scroll down to, “A few (many!) words about testing” to continue reading from where you are leaving off.

Please note: barley enzyme (e.g., amylase) is not the same as the ingredients “malt,” “malt extract,” and “malt flavoring.” For more information on barley enzymes see

Barley malt ingredients in labeled gluten-free foods
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