Is Malt Gluten-Free? Unraveling the Mystery

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Before we jump into the topic, it’s essential to establish what exactly malt is.

What is Malt?

Malt is a grain product that undergoes a process known as malting, typically involving barley.

The grains are soaked in water, allowed to germinate, and finally, they are heated to stop the germination process.

This treatment produces enzymes that break down starches in the grain into sugars, a process vital in brewing, distilling, and creating a range of food products.

The origin of the malt is crucial when determining if it’s safe for those on a gluten-free diet.

Malted barley, a common variant, contains gluten, a protein harmful to those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Is Malt Gluten Free? An In-depth Look

The Relationship Between Barley Malt and Gluten

The crux of our discussion lies in the relationship between malt and gluten.

As stated earlier, most malt, especially barley malt, contains gluten.

This gluten presence stems from the malt source: barley. Barley is one of the primary gluten grains alongside wheat and rye.

Therefore, any product containing barley malt, like malt vinegar, malted barley, malt extract, malt syrup, or roasted barley malt flavoring, is unsafe for a gluten-free diet.

The barley malt extract, for instance, is a concentrated syrup made from sprouted barley and a rich gluten source.

The same applies to barley malt syrup and barley malt flour derived from gluten-containing barley.

Malt in Food Products

Many food products might contain malt as an ingredient, making it challenging for those on a gluten-free diet.

Some breakfast cereals, for instance, contain malt flavoring, a derivative of barley, thus containing gluten.

Other products like snack foods, fermented foods, and most products with malt ingredients also have gluten.

A classic example is Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. Despite being a rice-based cereal, it contains malt flavoring derived from barley, making it unsuitable for a gluten-free diet.

On the other hand, Rice Chex, another popular cereal, has been reformulated to exclude barley malt, earning its gluten-free status.

Food manufacturers sometimes use barley malt extract as a natural sweetener in processed foods.

Malted milk powder, often used in confectioneries and baked goods, contains barley malt and wheat flour, both sources of gluten.

Malt and Beverages

In the brewing industry, malted barley is a popular choice due to its enzyme content necessary for the brewing process.

Barley malt extract is used in producing beers and malted beverages, meaning these drinks are unsafe for those on a gluten-free diet.

However, it’s worth noting that some breweries produce gluten-free beer.

These beverages use gluten-free grains like sorghum or millet instead of barley.

Also, there’s gluten-removed beer, where the brewing process includes an enzyme that breaks down gluten.

These products undergo rigorous testing to ensure gluten levels are below the required 20 parts per million (ppm) as per Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.

Malt and Condiments

Malt vinegar, a popular condiment, is made by malting barley, creating a malt extract that is then fermented into alcohol and finally fermented into vinegar.

The barley in the malt vinegar means that it is not suitable for a gluten-free diet.

Soy sauce, another common condiment, often contains wheat and is fermented.

But gluten-free soy sauces are available, typically fermented with rice instead of wheat.

Gluten-Free: Going Beyond the Label

While labeling gluten-free products has become more common, gluten is only sometimes apparent at a glance, especially when it comes to malt.

The Debate Over Labeling

Labeling a product gluten-free requires that it must inherently be gluten-free or has been processed to remove gluten, with final gluten levels not exceeding 20ppm.

Therefore, foods labeled gluten-free should be safe for individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

But, a product labeled gluten-free could still contain barley malt if the final product contains less than 20ppm of gluten.

However, the gluten-free community, backed by organizations like Gluten Free Watchdog, argues that barley-based ingredients, regardless of the final gluten content, should not be present in products labeled gluten-free.

They argue that testing for gluten in products containing barley malt is not always reliable.

The sandwich ELISA test, for example, struggles to detect gluten in hydrolyzed or fermented foods.

The shortcomings in testing mean that a product containing barley malt could pass as gluten-free, potentially leading to harmful exposure for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Certification and Trust

In light of the issues with labeling, certification from a third party can add an extra layer of confidence.

Organizations like the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) offer such services, setting the bar higher than the FDA with a threshold of 10 ppm.

Certified gluten-free products, especially for foods containing barley malt, offer an additional safety level. Always look for the certification logo on the packaging.

Tips for Navigating the Gluten-Free Dieting

With the intricacies surrounding malt and gluten, here are some tips to help those on a gluten-free diet navigate this complex landscape.

  • Be vigilant about reading food labels. Watch out for any terms related to barley, such as malt extract, malt syrup, or malt flavoring. These are indicators of gluten.
  • Choose certified gluten-free products. Certified products meet stringent standards, offering extra confidence in their gluten-free claim.
  • Reach out to manufacturers. If a product’s gluten-free status is unclear, contact the manufacturer to clarify.
  • Opt for inherently gluten-free grains and products. Foods like fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, along with grains like rice, quinoa, and corn, are inherently gluten-free.
  • Utilize resources. Use tools from trustworthy organizations like Gluten Free Watchdog and Coeliac UK for guidance on safe foods and updated research.


The intersection of malt and a gluten-free diet is complex, with the primary concern being malt’s typical source, barley, a gluten-containing grain.

The presence of barley in ingredients like malt vinegar, malted barley, malt extract, and barley malt syrup means these items contain gluten and aren’t suitable for a gluten-free diet.

However, products that are processed to remove gluten, like some beers and other gluten-free foods, might be safe for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

The critical factor is the final gluten content, with the threshold being 20 ppm.

Despite the challenges in identifying gluten in malted products, resources are available.

Individuals on a gluten-free diet can navigate the landscape safely and confidently by reading food labels, choosing certified labelled gluten-free products, and utilizing organizations like Gluten Free Watchdog.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can celiacs have malt?

Celiacs generally should avoid malt, as it's most commonly derived from barley, a gluten-containing grain. Consuming malt can trigger an immune response in individuals with celiac disease. However, certain malt ingredients, such as maltodextrin, are typically safe for celiacs as they undergo a process that removes the gluten protein.

Is 100% malt beer gluten free?

No, 100% malt beer is not gluten-free. Traditional beers are typically brewed using barley, which contains gluten. Therefore, those adhering to a gluten-free diet should avoid malt beers unless they are specifically labeled gluten-free and use alternative grains like sorghum, buckwheat, corn, or rice.

Does malted milk have gluten?

Yes, malted milk typically contains gluten. It is made from a mixture of malted barley, wheat flour, and whole milk, which are all dried together to form a powder. Both barley and wheat are gluten-containing grains. Therefore, individuals with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should avoid malted milk and products containing malted milk.