Are Maltose, Maltodextrin, Glucose Syrup, Yeast Extracts, and Wheat Starch Gluten-Free?
Published April, 2021
Did you know there are some substances used in food products that you may think contain gluten, but they don’t? Maybe the name is confusing or you heard it was an off-limits ingredient, but that may not be the case after all.
Avoiding gluten is the cornerstone of living gluten-free, but doing so can be confusing at times. Sometimes, even assessing ingredients is necessary in addition to reading an ingredients list on a product label if it doesn’t clearly reveal the presence of gluten.
Let’s take a closer look at a few ingredients found in many different packaged foods that you may be thinking contain gluten but don’t: maltose, maltodextrin, and glucose syrup. We also delve a little more into yeast extracts and wheat starch which can be gluten-free, but are not always.
Maltose and maltodextrin
Seeing “malt” in both maltose and maltodextrin can cause confusion about whether or not this ingredient is gluten-free. Malt usually comes from barley, and barley is not a gluten-free grain. “Malt” in an ingredients list means the product is not gluten-free.
Both maltose and maltodextrin are gluten-free.
Maltose is a type of sugar, and maltodextrin is a thickener, flavor enhancer, or filler that can be derived from a variety of starches from vegetables, fruits and grains including corn, potato, rice, and wheat.
Maltose can be used as a replacement for high-fructose corn syrup. Maltose is made through a process known as “enzymatic hydrolysis” using water and enzymes to break down starch derived from various food sources. Even when maltose is derived from barley malt it can be considered gluten-free because the malt has been processed to remove gluten and the resulting maltose meets gluten-free standards.
Maltodextrin is also made through enzymatic hydrolysis using water, enzymes, and acids to break down the starch in the source vegetable or grain. The resulting product is a white powder made up of chains of sugar molecules and no gluten proteins, even when derived from gluten-containing grains. You might find maltodextrin in instant puddings and gelatin desserts, sauces, salad dressings, canned fruits, and powdered drinks.
Maltose and maltodextrin are common food additives in packaged foods. They are highly purified substances made from starches and sugars, and are intentionally processed to remove all proteins, such as gluten.
Glucose syrup is a highly processed substance used to make processed foods sweeter or thicker or to retain more moisture. Glucose syrup is commonly derived from corn, potatoes, barley, cassava, or wheat. You might find glucose syrup in candy, canned or premade baked goods, and even beer.
Although glucose syrup can be derived from gluten-containing grains like wheat and barley, it is a highly purified sugar fraction that is processed to remove all proteins, such as gluten.
Yeasts are single-celled fungi, related to mushrooms, that are used in food fermentation or leavening, most commonly in bread, cheese, and beer. Certain types of yeast can also be consumed for its nutritional value as a source of protein or as a flavoring. Yeast can be grown from wheat or barley, calling into question its safety as a gluten-free food additive. Because yeasts are microorganisms that actively degrades gluten in a product, detecting gluten content when yeasts are present can be challenging.
Yeast can also be grown on beet molasses, cane sugar molasses, or other non-gluten sources. Powdered yeast extracts used as ﬂavoring are often grown on gluten-free substrates. Brewer’s yeast is likely to be sourced from beer during the brewing process and contain wheat or barley gluten so, to be safe, should be avoided. Paste yeast like Marmite and Vegemite use yeast derived from brewing beer so can contain higher levels of gluten.
Look for yeast extracts and products that are labeled or third-party certified as gluten-free. If yeast extract is on the ingredients list of a food or drink product, make sure that product is labeled or third-party certified as well.
Wheat starch is a white powder derived from the endosperm, inside the seed of wheat grains after fertilization. Wheat starch comes from wheat, created by the separation of the starch and protein components of the grain. Whether or not wheat starch is gluten-free depends on how extensively the wheat starch is processed. To be made gluten-free, wheat starch must go through an additional process to remove gluten proteins to essentially “wash” out gluten to trace levels.
The FDA allows products containing wheat starch to be labeled gluten-free if the finished product contains less than 20 ppm of gluten. A product can be GFCO certified gluten-free if the GFCO standard of no more than 10 ppm gluten is met.
While wheat starch can be processed to remove gluten to a level that can be safely gluten-free, it is still wheat so “wheat” will appear on the ingredients list, and if the product also carries a gluten-free claim, the FDA requires the inclusion of the following statement: “The wheat has been processed to allow this food to meet the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for gluten-free foods.”
Food items with maltose, maltodextrin, and glucose syrup in the ingredient list can be gluten-free, with yeast, yeast extract, or wheat starch depending on how it is sourced or processed. Check the gluten-free status of a product or ingredient to see if it either labeled gluten-free in accordance with the FDA’s regulations or a third–party gluten-free certification. We can only vouch for GFCO-certified products as being thoroughly tested for gluten and containing 10 ppm or less of gluten.
See our article on the various wheat statements that you might see on a label and what they mean. You may also find our article, 3 Tips for Gluten-Free Label Reading, helpful to better understand what is in the products you buy.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.
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