Great question! What is considered gluten free and what is not can sometimes be very confusing.
Wheat starch that has been processed and tested to contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten is allowed to be used as an ingredient in gluten-free products that fall under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Note that not all wheat starch is the same though. Wheat starch that is used in gluten-free products has been “separated” from the gluten protein and artificially rendered gluten free.
Products that are labeled gluten free and contain wheat starch are required to disclose this on the label per the FDA and include the following statement: "The wheat has been processed to allow this food to meet the Food and Drug Administration's requirements for gluten-free foods."
I want to note that the use of wheat starch is controversial for gluten-free foods. The FDA does not consider wheat starch a hydrolyzed or fermented food, even though hydrolysis can be part of the process, and this presents a problem to accurately test the product for gluten content as there are no tests that can reliably detect hydrolyzed or fermented gluten. So, I would proceed with caution when consuming gluten-free wheat starch, as it is a high-risk food for cross-contact with gluten.
Read more on GF Watchdog about GF wheat starch:
In terms of beer, it is fermented and as previously mentioned, currently there are no reliable tests that adequately detect gluten in fermented or hydrolyzed foods. Therefore, manufacturers have to make sure ingredients are gluten-free prior to fermentation to be able to call it gluten free.
Gluten-free beer: A beer where the starting material is gluten-free (such as sorghum) and then fermented.
Gluten-removed beer: A beer where the starting material is wheat, barley (malt), or rye that is then fermented and treated with an enzyme to break down the gluten protein into smaller parts.
As there is no test to accurately detect gluten in hydrolyzed or fermented foods, there is no way of knowing how much gluten is present in gluten-removed beer, and it is not recommended for people with celiac disease.
Read more about labeling and fermented foods here:
In terms of beer labeling, most gluten-removed beer would fall under the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). They regulate alcoholic beverages that contain over 7% alcohol, as well as any malted beverage containing both malted barley and hops. The TTB does not allow products that have gluten-containing grains as starting materials to have a gluten-free claim.
So, in summary, someone with celiac disease should not consume gluten-removed beer and should be cautious of products containing wheat starch.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Food Labeling of Gluten-Free and Fermented or Hydrolyzed Foods. FDA Website:
https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/08/13/2020-17088/food-labeling-gluten-free-labeling-of-fermented-or-hydrolyzed-foods Published August 13, 2020. Accessed July 16, 2021.
Thompson T. What the FDA has to say about wheat starch and hydrolyzed gluten. GF Watchdog Website: https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/what-the-fda-has-to-say-about-wheat-starch-and-hydrolyzed-gluten/ Published September 14, 2020. Accessed July 16, 2021.
Thompson T. Gluten-free labeling of alcohol. GF Watchdog Website: https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/gluten-free-labeling-of-alcohol/ Published May 23, 2017. Accessed July 16, 2021.
Note: This information is provided by NCA and Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN, NCA's Director of Education. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Katarina Mollo, MEd, RDN, LDN by providing this information.