No, barley is not gluten-free.
There are three grains that cannot be eaten on a gluten-free diet: wheat, barley and rye. These three grains contain the protein gluten, which triggers the autoimmune response seen in people with celiac disease. Barley can be included in many foods, but it's not required to be listed on a food label. In fact, only the "top 8 allergens" must be declared on a food label in products regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These top 8 allergens are:
- Tree nuts
Of the gluten-containing grains, only wheat must be put on the food label of a product regulated by the FDA.
Products Made from Barley
Products made with barley or with an ingredient derived from barley are not gluten-free. This includes a variety of common ingredients.
Are Barley Malt and Barley Malt Extract Gluten-Free?
Barley malt and barley malt extract are also not gluten-free. The word "malt" on a food label usually indicates that there is gluten in the product. Examples include malt vinegar, malted milk, malted beverages (like beer) and malted syrup.
A note about beer: "Gluten-removed" beers are becoming increasingly popular. Testing of these products has not been scientifically validated, so researchers don't know for sure if the removal process is really eliminating gluten and the hazard for people living with celiac disease. Until more is known, Beyond Celiac strongly recommends avoiding gluten-removed beer and sticking to beers made from naturally gluten-free grains, like sorghum. You can learn more about the issue here*.
Is Barley Flour Gluten-Free?
Barley flour is simply the barley grain grinded down to a fine powder. This means that barley flour does have gluten and is not safe for people with celiac disease.
Is Pearl Barley Gluten-Free?
No, pearl barley is not gluten-free. Pearl barley (or pearled barley) refers to a barley grain that has had its bran and hull removed, while hulled barley still has its husk and bran layers. Generally speaking, hulled barley has more nutrients than pearl barley because it still contains its husk and bran layers. Regardless, hulled barley isn't gluten-free and neither is pearl barley.
Is Barley Grass Gluten-Free?
Sometimes, barley grass is gluten-free. However, it is still considered an extremely high risk ingredient for people with celiac disease. Many experts advise that people on the gluten-free diet avoid barley grass completely.
Barley grass can be gluten-free but only if the plants are picked before sprouting and producing seeds. Since some barley grass can have early sprouts, there is still a risk of it having gluten. The tests used to check for gluten may sometimes either overestimate or underestimate the amount of barley in a food product depending on the test that is used.
Some celiac disease experts recommend that people contact the manufacturer when considering purchasing a gluten-free product that contains barley grass. Ask the manufacturer about their policy for testing for gluten in both the ingredients and the final product, including the testing protocols used to determine the gluten-free status. For more information on barley grass, visit the Gluten-Free Dietitian, a website run by celiac disease expert Tricia Thompson, MS, RD.
*At the time this article on gluten-removed beer was written, Beyond Celiac was known as the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
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