Is malted barley extract gluten free? It’s a good question. After all, barley malt is the basis for many beers around the world today, and if you’re watching your gluten intake, you’ll need to know if your beer has gluten in it. The safest and simplest answer is yes. Traditional beer has gluten because traditional grains have gluten, and beers are traditionally made from grains. But let’s look at the more complicated answer, which dives into how to best navigate this gluten heavy world.
What Is Malted Barley Extract?
To begin, malted barley extract, also known as LME, which is liquid malt extract, or DME, which is dried malt extract, is a condensed form of barley malt extract. Malt is the word we use for germinated or sprouted grains or seeds. Barley malt, then, is barley grain that has been germinated by soaking it in water. The process is then halted by drying out the grains, which has come to be known as malting.
Historically and today, grains are malted because when we sprout or germinate seeds by soaking them in water and then we dry them out, we unlock an enzymatic process in the seeds that converts the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars.
In brewing, this process is ideal as the grains are then ground and steeped in water, which is then called wort.
The sugary sweet wort then attracts yeast to consume the sugars inside and convert those sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
This sweetness also serves a purpose in baking and the production of any other grain product. You get the benefit of the milled product for flour and the sugars for the yeast to feed on, which allows the bread to rise.
Malted barley extract is a product offered to brewers, bakers, and even candy makers who don’t want to go through the process of germinating their own seeds, making their own wort, and condensing that wort down to a syrupy liquid or dried powder.
You can skip all those steps and simply add the extract as a sweetener to any product that calls for it.
How Is Malted Barley Extract Made?
To make malted barley extract, the sprouted grains are milled and steeped just like in brewing. The difference is that the steeping process does not stop at wort, which is usually around 45 minutes. Instead, you would continue to heat the grain water in the water until you get what is called “mort.” This liquid is much thicker, and it is then evaporated, or boiled down further, to remove 80% of the water. The result is syrup, or the aforementioned LME.
To produce DME, the LME is dried out and turned into powder.
The liquid or powder can now be stored for long periods of time and shipped for use as a sweetener, a thickener, or both.
Do Malts Have Gluten?
One of the factors in LME, DME, or barley malt in general that makes them great thickeners is gluten. Barley, wheat, rye, and a grain called triticale all contain this protein, gluten, that allows the products we make with them to maintain their shape. It is the reason that when you see pizzas, pastries, and other baked goods made with gluten free flour, they tend to be flatter and less capable of holding their shape.
For this same reason, if you have ever attempted to bake with gluten free flour, you will find it difficult to shape cookies and breads.
Indeed, while some people think rice has gluten because of how well sushi holds up, the reality is that rice does not innately have gluten. Gluten is added to sushi rice to help it hold its shape.
So, the long answer to whether malts have gluten is yes. Most malts have gluten as most malts are made from grains that have gluten.
It is however possible to find malts and flours that do not have gluten. You just have to take care to look at the ingredients.
Corn, flax, quinoa, soy, buckwheat, and millet are all grains that are naturally gluten free, and you can find many more.
However, it is important first to look at why you are seeking gluten free grains, flours, and malts.
The Gluten Issue
Many people in the United States are certain they have a gluten intolerance because they feel ill every time they eat foods with gluten.
The reality is that while celiac disease, the condition that makes someone sick when gluten is introduced to the system, is real and serious, it is also rare. Most numbers show that less than 1% of the population has celiac disease. Still, many more suffer.
Theories have been put forth that, rather than a gluten intolerance, what people actually have is a gut issue that has been caused by the chemicals in our foods. The United States allows for a tremendous amount of chemicals to be sprayed on our non-organic crops, and many people seem to have developed a conditioned called “leaky gut” as a result.
Then, each time you consume wheat or barley products, which have the most chemicals sprayed on them of all, you experience gut pain.
For many, the answer has been to switch to organic foods, and especially organic wheat and barley products.
It is certainly worth looking into as it will be much easier to find organic foods that you enjoy than to find gluten free foods that you enjoy.
Is Malt Barley Extract Gluten Free?
In the end, malt barley extract cannot be gluten free because barley is not gluten free. Therefore, any product that comes from barley will have gluten in it.
This reality does not mean you don’t have options. You have plenty. Look for gluten-free malts, organic malts, and explore your options when it comes to getting rid of the issues caused by chemical laden gluten products.
There is a reason many people have reported being able to eat gluten products in France, a country where a fraction of the chemicals is sprayed on crops, with no problem. The United States would do well to follow the lead of our Francophone cousins.
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