How can beer be certified as gluten free?
There are currently two ways to manufacture gluten free beer. The first is to use a malt made from cereals or pseudocereals that are naturally gluten free, for example sorghum, millet, buckwheat, rice, quinoa or maize. The second method is to produce a beer using a gluten containing malt (wheat, barley or rye), and then introduce a process to reduce the gluten content. One way of doing this is to use an enzyme at the start of the fermentation process to break down the gluten protein. An example of this is the patented product Brewers Clarex® (also used to reduce the chill haze in beer). This protease enzyme degrades the gluten to levels below the 20 ppm threshold for labelling gluten free.
Manufacturers can only label their beer gluten free if it meets the necessary standard with a level of gluten that is less than 20 ppm. The current CODEX recommended laboratory test to assess the amount of gluten in a product or drink is the R5 ELISA method (both Sandwich and Competitive methods are used depending on the product). The R5 ELISA Competitive method is a more effective method of gluten testing in hydrolysed or fermented products such as beer and this is the one our certification scheme insists upon.
Other analytical techniques, such as mass spectrometry are being explored but at the moment, we don’t have the full picture. The approved method for testing gluten in beers is currently the R5 ELISA Competitive method but the charity and producers are keeping an eye on new global research developments. In the meantime you can identify gluten free beers made with barley as by law the label must state ‘CONTAINS BARLEY.’
Current official government US standards also state that products labelling themselves as ‘gluten free’ must meet the final rule of being within the 20ppm limit and this includes beers derived from barley. See below:
“3. Will fermented, hydrolyzed, or distilled foods labeled as “gluten free” still have to meet the requirements of the gluten free food labeling final rule?
Yes. Hydrolyzed, fermented, or distilled foods voluntarily bearing the “gluten free” claim will also still have to meet the requirements of the gluten free food labeling final rule, including the definition of “gluten free,” which means that they are either inherently gluten free or they do not include any of the following:
- ingredients that are gluten containing grains
- ingredients derived from a gluten containing grain that have not been processed to remove gluten
- ingredients derived from a gluten containing grain that have been processed to remove gluten if use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food, in either case, any unavoidable presence of gluten must be less than 20 ppm.”
We will keep our members updated on our further investigations and provide further guidance as required.