FDA Sets Gluten Labeling, Celebrate with a Gluten-Free Beer
It took more than half a decade, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally established what it should mean when it says “gluten free” on a food label. For the estimated 3 million Americans who have celiac disease and the many others who have irritable bowel syndrome or who choose to follow a gluten-free diet, the announcement is cause to celebrate with a gluten-free beer.
What is gluten-free beer?
According to the new rules established by the FDA, any product labeled gluten-free must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. Gluten is a protein found naturally in wheat and similar grains and cereals such as barley, bulgur, durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, rye, semolina, spelt, and triticale.
In addition to meeting the less than 20 ppm requirement, the FDA has stated that manufacturers can label a product as gluten-free if the food does not contain any of the following:
- Any type of wheat, barley, rye, or crossbreeds of these items
- Any ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to take the gluten out
- Any ingredient derived from these grains and processed to take out the gluten if the resulting product contains 20 ppm or more gluten
Foods and beverages that inherently do not contain gluten, such as bottled water, fruits, and vegetables can be labeled “gluten-free”
Before you have that beer, however, you should know that food and beverage makers have one year to comply with the new ruling. Note that both Canada and the European Union also set 20 ppm as the requirement on their gluten-free products.
If you want to know exactly how much gluten is in a current product that says gluten-free, read the label, check out the manufacturer's website, or contact the producer. In the meantime, you can also investigate the gluten-free beers. Dozens of options are available, including brews such as Celia Saison, Green’s, Dogfish Head, Glutenator, Sprecher, and others.
If you have never tried a gluten-free beer, be prepared for a slightly different experience, as the brew is lighter and provides what some describe as a cider-like beer. Ales, lagers, and low-calorie versions of gluten-free beers are also available.
Beer is made with four basic ingredients (water, barley, hops, and yeast), and gluten-free brews substitute other grains or cereals for the barley. Among those choices are buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, rice, and sorghum.
As a barley malt alternative, brewers may use sorghum syrup, honey, molasses, or roasted buckwheat, and many add other ingredients to create a different taste experience, such as apples, oranges, strawberries, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, licorice, and more. While gluten-free beer may not taste like “regular” beer, the manufacturers strive for unique flavors that more than make up for the difference.
Be aware that there are some beers on the market that use low-protein barley with added enzymes that are supposed to break down the gluten proteins. Such beers must meet the new requirements if they are to be labeled as gluten-free.
Complete avoidance of gluten is critical for people who have celiac disease, who are unable to digest the protein. People with celiac who eat gluten produce antibodies that target and damage the lining of the small intestine, which causes gastrointestinal problems, fatigue, weakness, and nutritional deficiencies and can lead to poor growth, infertility, cancers of the intestinal tract, osteoporosis, and other health problems.
If you have celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or have other reasons for avoiding gluten, the new FDA rule for gluten labeling is good news. You may want to raise a glass of gluten-free beer to celebrate!
Food and Drug Administration