Gluten Free Beer or Gluten Reduced Beer? What does it mean for the consumer?
Do you know which beers are actually gluten free and can be enjoyed safely? There are lots of beers out there being recommended in good will, but many are not actually gluten free. The beer industry has created confusion for consumers – we want to help by providing some clarity!
Beer is the only industry in Australia that has created a ‘gluten reduced’ label – every other food sector uses labels that read ‘gluten free’ OR ‘contains gluten’.
Boundaries are further blurred depending on which country you happen to be in. So let’s clear up a few facts first:
The Australian Food Standard for claims in relation to gluten labelling:
- Beer labelled as gluten free must not be made from barley, wheat, rye or oats. This is the same as the US, except they can use oats.
- Foods labelled as low gluten (or gluten reduced/friendly) must contain less than 200ppm (parts per million) of gluten according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
- Gluten Reduced/Gluten Friendly are not permitted terms/labels under the Australian Food Code.
- Barley-brewed gluten reduced beers cannot be labelled or sold as gluten free in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The UK and the EU have different rules.
More than 99.9% of breweries in Australia, and across the world, brew with barley, wheat or rye. These are grains that contain gluten. For some people, gluten can cause a reaction that can damage the stomach, intestine, or other organs when consumed.
What is gluten reduced beer?
It’s not gluten free beer for a start. Not in Australia or the US anyway. There are a few breweries in Australia that have recently advertised their beers as ‘Gluten Reduced’ and ‘Gluten Friendly’. These are beers brewed with barley, wheat or rye.
Essentially, enzymes have been added to the beer, or a separation technique has been used, so that gluten protein is broken down into smaller ‘fragments’ that are almost undetectable in testing. This doesn’t mean the gluten has been removed from the beer.
The current worldwide standard for testing for gluten in fermented products (R5 Competitive ELISA) test relies on antibodies to measure the presence of gluten proteins, known as hordeins; the type of gluten found in barley.
Professor Michelle Colgrave, CSIRO Principal Research Scientist and Professor of Food and Agriculture, says that, while there is a body of evidence that supports global food safety bodies’ endorsement of these tests, she and others are not convinced they work in fermented products.
“These fragments may or may not contain the part of the protein that the antibody recognises,” Colgrave says.
The ELISA antibody recognises a handful of antigens, but the human body recognises potentially different parts of antigen molecules to which an antibody attaches itself.
Founder of Victoria’s TWØBAYS Brewing Co Richard Jeffares, who started a facility dedicated to producing beers from non-gluten containing grains, says that there is no problem with Australia’s definition of what constitutes a gluten free product.
“We can brew great beer from grains that do not contain gluten, so why put people at risk?” he questions.
“The CSIRO has proven that the current testing cannot detect all hydrolysed gluten (the type found in beer), so there’s no need to use grains that require enzymes to reduce gluten content.”
American brewery Omission Beer which imports gluten reduced beer to Australia states on its website: “Although there is scientific evidence supporting this testing, the evidence is not conclusive”.
Another American brewery Stone states on its website: “Though we’ve harnessed modern advances to significantly reduce the amount of gluten, traces of gluten remain in Stone Delicious IPA.”
Richard Jeffares says that the US and Australia are more aligned on what is considered gluten free from a beer perspective compared to Europe. The key message around gluten reduced beer, he continues, is that there is significant potential for contamination at production facilities, and confusion at the retail end of the beer supply chain, and that’s the danger for consumers.
“Testing is expensive, and Michelle has shown in her study that one batch may differ to another in how much gluten is detected – which is why most US breweries that sell a ‘gluten reduced’ beer will test every single batch – often multiple times during the brewing process.”
“Whether a ‘gluten reduced’ or ‘gluten friendly’ beer passes the test or not, the beer was still brewed using grains that contain gluten – probably in a facility that has seen a lot of gluten – and could cause internal damage for the consumer, short term and/or long-term. As a Coeliac myself, I have been offered ‘gluten free’ beer made from barley at many venues around Australia. We just want to make sure everybody who suffers from gluten intolerance is aware of this.”
“It’s why I created a dedicated gluten free brewery – and we have many fans who have no gluten intolerance, so the beer must be good!”
TWØBAYS brews with millet, buckwheat, rice and lentils, which are all naturally gluten free grains, and these grains have been used to brew beer around the world for thousands of years. As for the rest of the ingredients, hops do not contain gluten and gluten free yeast is commonly used across all beer. TWØBAYS plans to experiment in the future with many other gluten free grains, such as quinoa and amaranth.
“There are so many naturally gluten free grains out there for us to try,” says Jeffares, “so we can brew the same range of beer styles as the other ‘barley’ breweries. And that’s what we like to do at TWØBAYS.
AUSTRALIAN BREWED GLUTEN FREE BEERS
Gluten Free Beer brewed in a dedicated Gluten Free Brewery:
Gluten Free Beer brewed in a shared brewery (not dedicated Gluten Free):
*Endorsed by Coeliac Australia