Today we’re going to be taking a look at malt and what it is. The most important questions we’ll be answering are, is malt flavor gluten-free and does malt flavor have gluten? Those two questions may seem the same – but the answers aren’t quite the same! We’ll be exploring that more later.
There’s a range of malts that you can come across, but most are derived from barley. Barley is one of the gluten grains and something we must absolutely avoid. That means that most malts in everyday life that you’ll come across will not be gluten-free, but there are a few exceptions.
What Is Malt?
Malt is a type of sweetener that is used more than you might think in products we eat and drink daily. For example, you may find malt in:
- Rice Krispies
- Chocolate (Lindt)
- Vinegar (Malt)
It’s in an unexpectedly large number of cereals and baked good, in particular. It’s always best to check the label, even if something appears that it should be gluten-free. Rice Krispies are essentially just rice and sugar – but malt flavoring has even wiggled it’s way in there.
If you’re wondering how it’s made, Malt Products state that:
“The cereal grain is first soaked in water to sprout and then dried with hot air to stop germination. This process causes the grain to develop certain enzymes that are required to break starches into shorter chains of sugars. Other enzymes produced during this process help break the proteins in the grain into smaller amino acids that can be used by the yeast.”
Malt tastes very sweet and nutty – it’s quite frankly delicious! I was a huge fan of malted milk biscuits before my diagnosis.
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Is Malt Flavoring Gluten-Free?
As we know, malt flavor is common use in a range of products but the labelling may be confusing. The quantity used in products is often very small and food/drinks are legally able to claim something is gluten-free if the final result contains 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten or less. It’s very rare to find an ingredients list that states how much of each ingredient the product contains, which means there’s no real way of knowing whether it’s safe for us or not. I have personally always steered clear of products containing malt flavor – even if it appears gluten-free. I’m very sensitive so it just isn’t worth the risk for me.
Just to make matters even more difficult, barley isn’t considered one of the major allergens so legally doesn’t have to be disclosed on food/drink labels. Malt can be used freely on the label and we’d be unable to tell if it was barley malt or malt that was safe for us.
So whilst some gluten-free products will contain barley malt flavoring, if the ppm is low enough, we should in theory be able to tolerate it. I, for one, do not take that risk.
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Are Any Malt Grains Gluten-Free?
The good news is – yes. Whilst it’s rare to see any other grains used besides barley because the gluten-free lifestyle is becoming increasingly more popular, the need to use other grains is far greater than it ever has been before.
Malt can actually be made from any grain – even quinoa can be made into malt! Other alternatives are maize, oats (gluten-free, of course), and buckwheat. This means that in the future, more options will certainly become available to us.
The alternatives listed above are used already in some products, such as gluten-free beer.
If you’re experimenting at home and want to make a thick, rich milkshake or try your hand at a malt loaf – let’s take a look at some malt flavoring gluten-free alternatives.
Sorghum is one of the closest alternatives you will find to barley malt flavoring. It’s even sweeter than barley malt, so don’t be too frivolous when using this one. It isn’t likely to be something you’ll find in your local grocery store, but it is readily available online.
Brown Rice Syrup
This alternative is in stark contrast to sorghum – so you will need to be frivolous with this one, as it isn’t quite as sweet as barley malt; and certainly not as sweet as sorghum. This alternative is also great if you need to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels. This option is usually available in supermarkets and health stores. The Biona Organic Brown Rice Syrup is delicious. There are only two ingredients in this one – rice and water. Plus it’s organic!
You can’t go wrong with some good ol’ fashioned honey. Almost all honeys are naturally gluten-free and we all know how deliciously sweet honey is. The best thing about this alternative is how easily accessible it is. In-store, online – you can grab this one almost anywhere. Honey would certainly be my recommendation.
To conclude, when buying products containing malt flavor, it’s a bit of a minefield. I would suggest that if you see the words “malt” or “malt extract”, and it doesn’t specify whether the malt is barley malt – I would avoid. Or you could drop the manufacturer’s an email and ask. Either way, it’s always best to double-check. Brands are usually more than happy to help with additional information, and if enough of us make a conscious effort to raise awareness – it might help us moving forward.
Guidelines are always changing, so the future may look very different. Especially as the number of gluten-intolerant individuals grows every year. Even from when I was diagnosed a few years ago, the amount of gluten-free beer, for example, has expanded massively! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Lindor makes some gluten-free milk chocolate soon. I know barley malt makes it creamier – but please?
Do you have any other malt flavor alternatives? Or any products you’d recommend that contain gluten-free malt? Let us know in the comments below!
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