Omission beer is a popular brand of beer that is marketed as gluten-free. However, there has been some debate over whether Omission beer is truly gluten-free or simply gluten-reduced. In this comprehensive guide, we will examine the ingredients, production process, testing standards, and regulations around Omission beer to help you understand if it can be safely consumed on a gluten-free diet.
What is Omission Beer?
Omission beer is produced by Widmer Brothers Brewery, which is owned by Craft Brew Alliance. Widmer Brothers Brewery introduced Omission beer in 2012 as a gluten-free beer option using a brewing process that removes gluten.
Omission has several different styles of beer available, including a Pale Ale, IPA, and Lager. Omission beer is made from traditional beer ingredients like malted barley, hops, water, and yeast. However, the process used to make Omission beer aims to remove gluten from the finished product.
Omission’s Gluten Removal Process
Unlike many true gluten-free beers made from alternate grains like sorghum or buckwheat, Omission starts with traditional malted barley which contains gluten. Omission then uses an enzymatic process to break down and filter out the gluten from the malt during brewing.
Specifically, Omission adds a protease enzyme called Brewers Clarex during the mashing stage of brewing when the malt starches are converted to fermentable sugars. This enzyme breaks down the proteins in gluten, making them too small to trigger an immune reaction in those sensitive to gluten. The liquid is then filtered to remove these broken down gluten fragments.
Omission states that this proprietary enzymatic process removes more than 20ppm of gluten, which is the international standard for a gluten-free food product.
Gluten Testing Standards
Omission beer is tested at two independent third-party laboratories to verify it meets standards for gluten-free products. The testing confirms that each batch of Omission contains less than 20ppm of gluten.
20ppm is the maximum threshold allowed for foods to be labelled as gluten-free in many countries around the world, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and the European Union. This standard comes from the Codex Alimentarius international food standards code and means there is less than 20mg of gluten per 1kg of food.
Foods that test below 20ppm are believed to be safe for the majority of those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. However, some experts believe an even lower threshold of under 10ppm should be used for highly sensitive individuals.
Gluten Testing Controversy
While Omission beer tests below 20ppm of gluten, there has been some controversy around the accuracy of gluten testing itself. The main methods used to test for gluten – ELISA and R5 antibody tests – rely on detecting intact gluten proteins. However, the enzyme process Omission uses breaks the gluten proteins into smaller fragments. Some experts believe these testing methods may underestimate the total gluten content if some of these fragmented proteins go undetected.
There is also concern that the process may not break down 100% of the gluten and trace amounts could remain. One study found evidence of small gluten peptides still present in Omission beer using a more sensitive specific mass spectrometry device rather than an ELISA test.
Due to these testing limitations, some argue that Omission can not be definitively classified as gluten-free from a scientific viewpoint. However, many individuals who follow a gluten-free diet are able to drink Omission without any symptoms or adverse reactions.
Regulations on Labeling
Within the United States, the labeling of Omission beer follows regulations set by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which is a federal agency responsible for regulating beer labeling.
The TTB initially prohibited Omission beer from making any gluten-free claims on its labeling in 2012. At that time, the TTB stated that independent third-party validation was required to claim a product does not contain a certain ingredient like gluten. Since Omission could test below 20ppm but not be definitively gluten-free, the TTB denied a gluten-free claim.
However, after a lengthy process, the TTB reversed its decision in 2019 and allowed Omission beer to make a “gluten-free” statement on its packaging. This change came after the TTB received a ruling from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that Omission could use a gluten-free statement if it also included an additional disclaimer stating the product was “processed to remove gluten.”
So while the label says it is “gluten-free”, Omission must also state that it has been “processed to remove gluten.” Some argue that this ambiguous disclaimer still gives consumers the impression it has been produced to stringent gluten-free standards.
Labeling Outside the US
In Canada, Omission beer bottles are labeled as “gluten-free” without any additional statements. However, there has been some controversy around this labeling. In 2015, the Canadian Celiac Association issued a position statement advising those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities to avoid Omission beer due to uncertainty over the residual gluten levels.
In other international markets like the United Kingdom and Australia where 20ppm is the gluten-free standard, Omission beer is generally labeled as “gluten-reduced” rather than making a “gluten-free” claim. These jurisdictions take a more conservative approach to labeling given the technical limitations of accurately detecting traces of gluten.
Is Omission Safe for a Gluten Free Diet?
Whether Omission beer is truly safe for those on a strict gluten-free diet remains a point of debate. Here is a summary of the key considerations:
- Omission is made from gluten-containing ingredients (malted barley) that goes through a process intended to break down and filter out gluten proteins.
- Independent lab testing shows Omission contains less than 20ppm of gluten, meeting international standards for gluten-free.
- However, there are concerns the testing methods may not detect trace amounts of fragmented gluten proteins.
- Some experts argue there is not sufficient scientific evidence to conclusively classify Omission as gluten-free.
- Many individuals who follow a gluten-free diet report being able to drink Omission without issues.
- Those with celiac disease or who are highly gluten-sensitive may wish to exercise greater caution with Omission beer.
Overall, there is no definitive consensus within the medical and gluten-free communities regarding the safety of Omission beer. Opinions remain mixed.
The Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), a leading non-profit organization in the US focused on gluten-related disorders, states that Omission passes its gluten-free standards and can be part of a gluten-free diet. However, the Canadian Celiac Association recommends individuals avoid it.
Those with celiac disease or wheat allergy should consult their healthcare provider when deciding whether to include Omission beer in their diet. Factors like individual sensitivity levels and reaction symptoms need to be considered.
For individuals who experience gastric distress or other symptoms after drinking Omission beer, it would be prudent to avoid it even if testing shows it falls below 20ppm of gluten. Listen to your own body’s reactions and your doctor or dietitian’s advice when determining if Omission beer is appropriate for your particular situation and sensitivity.
Trying an Omission Beer Challenge
Some medical practitioners may recommend a “Omission beer challenge” for patients who already follow a gluten-free diet but are uncertain about trying Omission products. This involves drinking a 12oz Omission beer on an empty stomach and monitoring symptoms for up to a week afterwards.
If no adverse reactions occur, the test may be repeated adding additional servings. This gradual Omission beer challenge conducted under medical supervision can potentially help identify if it can be safely tolerated or lead to problems for that individual.
Alternatives to Omission Beer
For those who wish to abstain from Omission products, many alternatives exist:
- Gluten-reduced beers: Other beers marketed as “gluten-reduced” may be suitable if you can tolerate low levels of gluten. Brands like Ground Breaker, New Planet, and Greenview use similar enzymatic processes as Omission to break down most gluten.
- Gluten-removed beers: Brewers like Stone Delicious IPA and Daura Damm use gluten-removal processes, like distillation, to eliminate gluten after brewing. Testing shows gluten levels below 5ppm.
- Ancient grain beers: Brands like Ramapo Valley Brewery use ancient gluten-free grains like sorghum and buckwheat. Gluten levels are below 5ppm.
- Craft gluten-free beers: Smaller craft breweries like Glutenberg, Ground Breaker, and Evasion Brewing are producing high quality, certified gluten-free beers from ingredients like millet, rice, buckwheat, and lentils.
- Imported gluten-free beers: Estrella Damm Daura and Mongozo beers are high quality gluten-free imports that use sorghum and rice in the brewing process.
Some individuals opt for certified gluten-free hard ciders, instead of beer, if they wish to avoid any uncertainty over gluten content. There are many excellent commercial gluten-free ciders available made from apples or other fruits.
Making Your Own Gluten-Free Beer
Another option is brewing your own custom gluten-free beer at home. By controlling the entire brewing process and ingredients, you can ensure there is no gluten contamination.
Many gluten-free brewing kits are now available that provide all the equipment and ingredients needed to brew 5 gallons of gluten-free beer. Pro Brewer’s Best is a popular gluten-free homebrewing kit that uses sorghum extracts, hops and brewer’s yeast to create beer recipes similar in flavor to traditional ales and lagers.
For those who want to get more advanced with gluten-free homebrewing, individual ingredients like millet malt, buckwheat malt and sorghum syrup can be purchased. Combining gluten-free grains with hops, yeast, and other add-ins allows you to customize your own brews. Always thoroughly clean equipment to avoid cross-contamination.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to Omission beer, there are convincing arguments on both sides of whether it can be safely included in a strict gluten-free diet. Omission has strong testing protocols and meets governmental regulations for making a “gluten-free” claim.
However, some experts raise valid concerns about the potential for false negative test results and argue Omission does not meet the scientific criteria to be definitively classified as gluten-free.
There is no consensus within the medical and gluten-free communities regarding the safety of Omission beer. It remains a personal decision based on individual risk tolerance and reaction symptoms.
Those who wish to exercise extra caution have many alternative beer options available, from other gluten-reduced beers to certified gluten-free brands as well as gluten-free homebrewing kits. Following a gluten-free diet requires diligence and care in choosing products that fit your comfort level around potential gluten exposure.