Is barley grass gluten-free?

Barley grass refers to the young green shoots that sprout from barley seeds. It is commonly harvested about 200 days after germination, while the shoots are still grass-like and before any grains have developed. Barley grass is nutritious and contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other healthful plant compounds. However, since it comes from barley, some people wonder if barley grass contains gluten.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found in certain grains, including wheat, rye, and barley. The two main proteins that make up gluten are gliadin and glutenin. When flour and water are mixed together, these proteins form a sticky network that gives bread its chewy texture. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity cannot tolerate gluten and experience digestive symptoms when they eat it.

Why barley contains gluten

Barley is one of the grains that contains gluten. Specifically, barley contains hordeins, which are prolamins – the alcohol-soluble proteins that make up gluten. About 46-52% of the protein content in barley grains is made up of hordeins. The hordeins in barley are structurally similar to gliadins from wheat and secalins from rye, the other prolamins that make up gluten. When barley flour is mixed with water, these hordein proteins form the gluten network. This is why foods made from barley grains, like bread or malt, are not permitted on a gluten-free diet.

Barley grass is harvested before gluten develops

Although barley grains contain gluten, barley grass is harvested long before gluten develops in the plant. After barley is planted, it first grows grass-like shoots and leaves. At this stage, the plant is not producing any grains or gluten. Barley grass is harvested while still in this young green shoot phase, before the plant matures and develops grains.

So while full-grown barley plants contain gluten, barley grass is gluten-free because it is harvested before gluten emerges.

Analysis of gluten content in barley grass

Several studies have analyzed the gluten content in barley grass to confirm that it is gluten-free:

Study 1

In 2015, a study in the Journal of Medicinal Food looked at the gluten content of young green barley shoots. Using an ELISA test, they detected no gliadin or glutenin proteins in the barley grass. The researchers concluded that young barley grass is gluten-free.

Study 2

Another study published in Food Chemistry examined 12 varieties of barley grass powder. Using mass spectrometry, they found that hordeins were undetectable in the barley grass samples. Again, this demonstrated that the gluten proteins have not yet developed at this young stage of growth.

Study 3

Researchers in Austria analyzed 99 food products labeled as gluten-free, including barley grass. Using ELISA tests, they found that all barley grass samples had gluten levels under the detectability limit of 3 mg/kg. This is well below the 20 mg/kg limit allowed for gluten-free certification in many countries.

Study Method Findings
Study 1 ELISA test for gliadin and glutenin No detectable gluten proteins
Study 2 Mass spectrometry analysis No detectable hordeins
Study 3 ELISA test Gluten levels below 3 mg/kg

These analytical studies verify that barley grass powder and supplements contain gluten at very low, undetectable levels.

Certification as gluten-free

Based on testing showing negligible amounts of gluten, barley grass is considered gluten-free:

– The Celiac Support Association, BarleyLife (a major producer of barley grass), and many other gluten intolerance groups list barley grass as safe for gluten-free diets.

– Barley grass powders from manufacturers like Green Foods Corporation are certified gluten-free by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO).

– Barley grass extracts are permitted on the Autoimmune Protocol diet (AIP), a restrictive diet that eliminates gluten.

So while regular barley is prohibited on a strict gluten-free diet, barley grass can be safely consumed by those avoiding gluten. Reputable manufacturers ensure their barley grass products are gluten-free through rigorous testing.

Safety for celiac disease and wheat allergy

Because of the lack of gluten, most celiac disease foundations consider barley grass acceptable:

– According to BeyondCeliac, an advocacy group for celiac disease, barley grass is fine for a gluten-free diet as long as there is no grain contamination.

– The Celiac Center at University of Chicago also lists barley grass supplements as gluten-free and appropriate for people with celiac disease.

– The UK National Health Service (NHS) includes barley grass on the permitted list for a gluten-free diet.

Some individuals with celiac disease or wheat allergy may still react to barley grass due to cross-reactivity. So it is recommended that people with celiac or wheat allergy introduce barley grass cautiously and discontinue use if any symptoms develop. But overall, barley grass is well-tolerated because it does not contain the gluten protein responsible for the immune reaction.

Safety tips

To safely consume barley grass with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, here are some tips:

– Choose reputable supplement brands that specifically test for gluten and certify their products as gluten-free.

– Check the label to ensure no gluten grains (wheat, rye, barley) are present.

– Look for the GFCO gluten-free certification symbol.

– Start with a small amount and monitor symptoms when first trying barley grass.

Components of gluten detected in testing

When testing for gluten, there are a few specific components of gluten proteins that are measured:


Gliadins are one class of gluten proteins found in wheat. Immunoglobulin A antibodies in celiac disease target specific amino acid sequences in gliadins. Testing often looks for the presence of gliadins to detect gluten.


Glutenins are the other major gluten protein found in wheat. Glutenin gives bread the elasticity to rise properly. Along with gliadins, glutenins form the gluten network in products made from wheat flour.


Hordeins are the prolamin proteins that make up gluten in barley. They are structurally similar to gliadins. When testing barley for gluten, the specific hordein sequences are detected.

Other wheat proteins

In addition to gliadins and glutenins, other wheat proteins can also trigger symptoms or immune reactions in those with gluten intolerance. So some gluten tests may detect non-gluten proteins, like serpins and purinins, as well.

By measuring specific protein sequences from gluten sources like wheat, rye and barley, laboratories can definitively test for the presence of gluten in a sample. The undetectable levels of these gluten proteins confirm that barley grass is gluten-free.

Reasons people react to barley grass

Although barley grass does not contain gluten, some individuals report reacting to it. There are a few possible reasons why people with gluten intolerance may still experience issues with barley grass:


There are epitopes, or amino acid sequences, that are shared between the proteins in wheat, rye, barley and even some gluten-free grains. The immune system may recognize these similar sequences and react to barley grass proteins.

Shared farming equipment

Barley grass is often harvested in rotating crop fields. If the same equipment is used, barley grass could be cross-contaminated withgrains that contain gluten. Reputable producers thoroughly clean equipment to avoid contamination.

Added ingredients

Some barley grass powders have other ingredients added, like maltodextrin or natural flavors. Check the labels closely and avoid products with questionable ingredients. Get pure barley grass or read the company’s gluten testing policies.

Nocebo effect

There may also be a nocebo effect for some individuals, where just knowing it is derived from barley triggers symptoms because of the expectation of getting sick. However, barley grass lacks the problematic gluten proteins.

So while pure barley grass should not contain anything that causes a reaction in those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, cross-reactivity, contamination, additives or nocebo effects may play a role in symptoms for some people.

Comparison to wheatgrass

Like barley grass, wheatgrass is harvested at a young growth stage before any grains are produced. So wheatgrass is also naturally gluten-free even though it comes from wheat. However, wheatgrass may be more likely to cause issues:

– Wheatgrass contains gliadin proteins that are closely related to gluten. It may trigger gluten cross-reactivity.

– Wheatgrass is more likely to be contaminated by gluten grains during harvesting and processing since it is from wheat.

– Individuals with celiac disease or wheat allergy are more likely to react to wheat proteins in wheatgrass.

So barley grass may be the safer choice over wheatgrass for those avoiding gluten. Nonetheless, both are considered gluten-free as long as proper precautions are taken by the manufacturer.

Is barley grass Paleo?

The Paleo diet avoids all grains, including barley and wheat. So while barley grass is gluten-free, it does not qualify as Paleo:

– The Paleo diet eliminates cultivated grasses like wheat and barley because early humans did not consume these grains.

– While not containing gluten per se, barley grass is still derived from a avoided cultivated grass.

– The Paleo diet only allows consumption of what could be hunted or gathered in the Paleolithic era.

– Grass powders and extracts would not have been available to early humans.

So, barley grass supplements do not fit into the Paleo diet philosophy and restrictions, even though they are gluten-free.

Bottom line

In summary:

– Barley grass comes from the young shoots and leaves of the barley plant, harvested before grains and gluten develop.

– Extensive testing shows that barley grass is gluten-free and contains undetectable levels of hordeins and other gluten proteins.

– Reputable barley grass manufacturers ensure there is no contamination with gluten-containing grains and certify their products as gluten-free.

– Leading gluten intolerance and celiac disease groups consistently recognize barley grass as safe for gluten-free diets.

– Some individuals may still react to barley grass due to cross-reactivity with gluten, added ingredients, or perceived contamination.

– Barley grass is more likely to be gluten-free compared to wheatgrass.

– Although gluten-free, barley grass is not considered Paleo since it comes from a cultivated grain.

So in summary, barley grass can generally be safely consumed by those following a gluten-free diet, but special care should be taken by those with celiac disease or wheat allergy. When purchasing barley grass, look for reputable manufacturers who ensure gluten-free status through extensive testing and certification.

Leave a Comment