With gluten intolerance there are certain things we become accustomed to watching out for. Breads, cakes, cookies, waffles are the “obvious” sources of gluten.
Having worked with patients for over 20 years, I find the stumbling blocks in gluten exposure often come from the unexpected.
Sometimes it’s because someone doesn’t cook and, as an example, doesn’t expect the meatballs to have bread crumbs in them. Or the concept of soy sauce having anything to do with wheat would never have dawned on them.
Growing up Scottish, with many English relatives, I knew all about malt vinegar. It was what you put on fish ‘n chips. The fish was battered (gluten) and the “chips” are what we call “French fries”. And while the chips should have been gluten- free they were fried in the same oil as the fish, hence a source of gluten contamination. The malt vinegar was probably the one thing that seemed innocuous of the trio. But, alas no.
You might wonder why I bring up malt vinegar. Obviously standard fish ‘n chips is not on anyone’s gluten-free menu. As it turns out, malt vinegar can be found in other places than as an accompaniment to this English meal.
The Trouble with Malt Vinegar
Malt Vinegar is often (not always) a “sneaky” gluten containing food that perhaps you’re unaware of. I certainly found that it was uncommon for my patients to be aware of this. What’s even “sneakier” about it is that it wears both a black hat and a white hat, meaning that sometimes it’s okay and sometimes it isn’t. Let me explain:
All vinegars (excluding the malt variety USUALLY) are safe and gluten-free because they are distilled. The distillation process removes the gluten protein, regardless of what grains it might be made from. Malt vinegar is the only exception because while it is fermented, it is often NOT distilled and the barley protein it is made from is therefore still intact – a big no no for those with gluten intolerance.
Not All Vinegar is Safe if You Have Gluten Intolerance
Recently a family member brought home a bag of potato chips. They were a malt vinegar and salt variety. They were purchased from Whole Foods, a store that we consider safe due to its awareness of gluten and the fact that labeling of gluten has improved so dramatically. And do understand that my household has been gluten-free for over 15 years and we consider ourselves pretty expert at gluten avoidance! Despite this awareness the chips were purchased with no concern or question. Fortunately I saw the bag just before it was opened and enlightened my family member before a potential gluten “accident” could take place.
Unfortunately this product did not mention that it contained gluten, it simply listed malt vinegar as an ingredient and it did not clarify if the malt vinegar was distilled or not.
This may very well be one of the few “loopholes” left in the hidden sources of gluten, at least as far as grocery shopping goes. Most others have been remedied by the labeling laws.
It’s always best to err on the side of caution and do not purchase a product with malt vinegar unless:
1. it clarifies that the malt vinegar comes exclusively from corn, some do.
2. it states that the malt vinegar is distilled.
3. better yet, the product states that it’s gluten-free.
So while plain vinegar is fine, do be alert for malt vinegar if you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease. All too often when a patient suddenly begins having trouble, we discover they’ve unwittingly introduced a new food that contains gluten. Usually it IS found on the label and they’ve simply missed it due to a long ingredient list. But in this case, there was no mention of gluten nor a gluten-free status listed as part of the ingredients.
Please let me know if this was helpful and feel free to submit any questions you have. We are here to help and love to hear from you.
HealthNOW is a Destination Clinic and we see patients from across the country as well as internationally. Your family and friends are welcome!
To your good health,
Permission is granted to re-post this article in its entirety with credit to Dr Vikki Petersen & HealthNOW Medical Center and a clickable link back to this page. Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN is founder of HealthNOW Medical Center and the author of “The Gluten Effect”. She has been featured in national magazines, international medical journals and is a frequent headlined speaker.