Is malt vinegar gluten free?

Is malt vinegar gluten free?

The short answer is that malt vinegar may be safe for some with gluten intolerance, because the gluten proteins have been broken down by multiple fermentation cycles, but it’s currently unclear how to correctly test gluten levels in hydrolyzed products. Because of this, celiacs should avoid malt vinegar until hydrolyzed product testing improves.

Malt vinegar is one of those foods that most people with celiac disease write off, but it’s gluten content is more debated than I realized! In fact, Coeliac UK listed malt vinegar as gluten free until 2020, which conflicted with the official stance in the US. Coeliac UK has since updated their official labeling to exclude malt vinegar, because it’s made from gluten-containing grains and also because proper testing cannot yet be completed for fermented products that have not been distilled.

Malt vinegar is made by brewing malted barley into beer. Then it’s inoculated with a vinegar mother culture and completes a second round of fermentation to become vinegar. Distilled vinegar is made the same way, but with an important additional step: distillation. Distilling removes proteins, which renders distilled vinegar gluten free, no matter the grain used. The same goes for distilled alcohol. Malt vinegar isn’t distilled, so any gluten proteins that haven’t been broken down by the double fermentation would remain in the finished product.

Because of the double fermentation process, it’s possible that there are few intact gluten proteins remaining in the end product, but there isn’t a good way to test for this as of now. Certain people with gluten intolerance may feel comfortable taking their chances with malt vinegar, but try at your own risk! As a celiac, I’ll personally be skipping it for now.

Gluten Free Malt Vinegar Substitutes

In the meantime, there are a couple relatively good subs for malt vinegar that are confirmed to be gluten free. There’s even one company making their own gluten free malt vinegar with alternative grains! You could also attempt to make malt vinegar at home from a subpar batch of gluten free homebrewed beer, if you enjoy experimenting with fermentation.

malt vinegar

Malted grains from Amit Lahav via Unsplash

* Title image courtesy of SPICEography.

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