There seems to be a commonly held misconception about the ingredient maltodextrin and how it will be listed on the food label. Hopefully the following information will clear up any confusion you may have. If not, feel free to email me.

Based on the Food and Drug Administration’s Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), maltodextrin is made from corn starch, rice starch, or potato starch. Because of this, it has been widely believed that if maltodextrin is made from wheat starch the maltodextrin must be labeled as “wheat maltodextrin.” Unfortunately, based on conversations and email exchanges I had recently with a consumer safety officer at FDA and a labeling and consumer staff member at USDA this is not the case.

Maltodextrin is listed in the CFR as a GRAS additive, meaning it is generally recognized as safe. GRAS additives can be affirmed GRAS by the FDA or they can be self-determined GRAS which is done by the manufacturer. Starches other than corn, rice, or potato can be used to make maltodextrin as long as the company self-determines GRAS and the resulting maltodextrin has the same chemical structure as the maltodextrins made from corn, rice, or potato as described in Food Chemicals Codex. Using wheat starch to make maltodextrin does not change the common or usual name of maltodextrin to “wheat maltodextrin.” It is still just “maltodextrin” regardless of what it is made from.

Fortunately, under the Food Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), if an FDA-regulated food product contains maltodextrin and the maltodextrin contains protein derived from wheat, the word wheat must be included on the food label (e.g., maltodextrin (wheat). If you don’t see the word wheat on an FDA-regulated product containing maltodextrin, the food product does not contain wheat protein.  However, for USDA-regulated foods, only the common or usual name is required to be listed on the food label. Therefore, maltodextrin may simply be labeled as “maltodextrin” even if it contains protein derived from wheat. USDA-regulated foods are meat products, poultry products, and egg products. Depending upon the percentage of meat or poultry in a product this can include foods such as soups.

So, what should you do if you come across a meat, poultry, or egg product containing maltodextrin? That depends on you. You could find another product that does not contain maltodextrin. You could call the company and ask what the maltodextrin in the product is derived from. Or you could decide not to worry about it.  Keep in mind, in the U.S., maltodextrin is still more likely to be made from a starch other than wheat. If it is made from wheat starch it is unclear how much intact gluten remains in the maltodextrin. Tests done in Europe indicate that the amount is very low (between 1 and 40 ppm gliadin or 2 and 80 ppm gluten).  However, keep in mind that you are not eating straight maltodextrin. This is an ingredient added in small quantities to food products. The amount of gluten in an otherwise gluten-free food product containing wheat-based maltodextrin is likely to be exceedingly low. Also keep in mind, the FDA is currently proposing to allow foods to bear a gluten-free label if they contain less than 20 ppm gluten (assuming certain other requirements are met). Hopefully, the information provided here has made you less and not more confused about maltodextrin!  

On November 28, 2007 The European Food Safety Authority permanently exempted from allergen labeling wheat-based maltodextrin, wheat-based glucose syrup, and wheat-based dextrose. In part this is based on industry agreeing to the following: “Code of Good Practiceon purification of wheat starch hydrolysates in which the industry commits to respect a maximum 20 ppm gluten/dry substance in the above-mentioned ingredients as a quality parameter.”