Individuals with celiac disease have long worried about ingredients that are sometimes (rarely in the US) made from wheat starch, including wheat-based caramel color, wheat-based glucose syrup, wheat-based maltodextrin, and wheat-based dextrin. Under proposed FDA regulations for labeling food gluten free, wheat starch and ingredients made from wheat starch can be included in labeled gluten-free foods as long as the final food product contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
But what about foods not labeled gluten free that contain these ingredients? For example, if wheat-based maltodextrin is the only “suspect” ingredient in a food product not labeled gluten free is it okay to eat? While many (and I know not all!) dietitians and people following gluten-free diets have moved the ingredients caramel, glucose syrup, and maltodextrin into the “safe” column regardless of what they are made from, wheat-based dextrin (in foods not labeled gluten free) remains in the “unsafe” category. The question is whether this is necessary.
Wheat starch is not wheat grain and it is not wheat protein. It is not intended to contain any gluten. Nonetheless it is difficult to completely separate the starch and protein components of wheat and small amounts of gluten remain.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has investigated wheat starch hydrolysates (e.g., wheat-based glucose syrup, wheat-based maltodextrin) as part of its allergen labeling program. According to the EFSA, testing done on wheat starch using the R5 ELISA found gluten in amounts up to 279 ppm. Wheat starch hydrolysates undergo many purification steps designed to remove protein. While wheat starch hydrolysates were found to contain intact gliadin and gluten peptides, the amounts were very low (< 5 ppm gluten for maltodextrin and up to 25 ppm in the glucose/dextrose samples).
In 2007, As a result of these findings along with a commitment from the starch industry that wheat starch hydrolysates would be purified to a maximum level of 20 parts per million of gluten, these ingredients were given permanent exemption from allergen labeling in the European Union (this is not the case in the US—in the US, under FALCPA, if any ingredient in a packaged food product regulated by the FDA contains wheat protein, the word “wheat” must be included in the ingredients list or Contains statement). Wheat starch and modified wheat starch were not exempted from allergen labeling in the European Union.
Okay, So What about Dextrin?
Dextrin also may be derived from wheat starch and if so would be considered a wheat starch hydrolysate. As many of you know, Benefiber sold in the United States uses wheat dextrin as its fiber source. Nonetheless, the product is labeled gluten free and product packaging states that it is tested to below 20 parts per million of gluten. This is the only information on the gluten content of dextrin I have been able to find. This ingredient does not appear to have been tested by EFSA.
Based on a subscriber request, Benefiber was recently tested by Gluten Free Watchdog, LLC (www.glutenfreewatchdog.org). The product was analyzed for gluten using both the sandwich and competitive R5 ELISAs. The competitive ELISA was used to detect any gluten peptide fragments in the product that might not be measured using the sandwich ELISA. Results of this testing indicate that wheat dextrin, especially when it is one of many ingredients in a food product, would be exceedingly unlikely to cause an otherwise gluten-free product to contain 20 parts per million or more gluten. Granted this is limited testing but it was done on a product containing one ingredient; 100% wheat dextrin.
Just a little food for thought…