Is makgeolli gluten free?

Is makgeolli gluten free?

Makgeolli (막걸리) is a delicious Korean beer that’s brewed from rice. It’s also called takju (탁주; 濁酒) or nongju (농주; 農酒). It’s sweet, milky, lightly sparkling, and a little bit tangy. The catch is that it’s only sometimes gluten free. Below we’ll dig into why this is the case and let you know which popular brand is gluten free.

Makgeolli Ingredients

The ingredients used to brew makgeolli are rice, nuruk starter culture, yeast, and water. For gluten free folks, the trouble is with the nuruk. It’s not clearly labeled in Asian grocery stores, but nuruk is usually made from wheat or barley and rice. Nuruk is basically a dehydrated sourdough starter that’s been innoculated with the right cultures for makgeolli brewing. Because the starter contains wheat or barley in most cases and this drink is not distilled or even heavily filtered, the end product will contain at least a small amount of gluten. Unless you can find a product made with rice-only nuruk, or one that’s been tested to confirm gluten levels that are acceptable for your diet, it’s best to skip this drink. Luckily, there’s one major brand of makgeolli that confirms their gluten levels are below 5 ppm!

Makgeolli is also a surprisingly easy and cheap drink to make at home, so many people have experimented with making gluten free makgeolli with good results. In a future article we’ll take a deep dive into gluten free makgeolli brewing so you can try making it yourself.

Makgeolli Background


Image from Time Out

Makgeolli is the oldest traditional alcoholic beverage in Korea. It was originally made with leftover rice from harvest and consumed by farmers for energy while working the fields. It was seen as less refined than cheongju (청주; 淸酒), makgeolli’s more heavily filtered cousin, which is what the polished upper class drank instead. Makgeolli is only lightly filtered and traditionally unpasteurized. This is was leads to it’s yogurt-like taste and fizziness. It’s full of probiotics because it isn’t heat-treated after brewing, and the protein from the rice is left intact rather than filtered out like it is for soju and sake. It’s has a lower alcohol (around 8%) because it’s diluted with water and has a short brewing process of about 10 days or so.

Because of the milkiness, sweetness, and slight astringency of makgeolli, it makes an excellent companion to many salty, spicy Korean dishes. Common accompaniments are fried buchimgae (부침개), which are savory pancakes, and fried yangnyeom chicken (양념 치킨). It’s a Korean custom to eat savory fried pancakes and drink makgeolli on rainy days.

Gluten Free Makgeolli Brands


Image from Forbes

Màkku is the only brand we’ve found so far that clearly confirms their gluten levels. They do use a traditional nuruk that is made from a mixture of wheat and rice, but they’ve tested their final product and the gluten levels are <5 ppm.

If you know of any other makgeolli that provide test results for their gluten content, please let us know!

* Title image courtesy of Wikimedia.

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