Is there gluten in malt extract?

Quick Answer

Malt extract is derived from barley, which contains gluten. Therefore, malt extract is not gluten-free and is unsafe for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

What is Malt Extract?

Malt extract is a sweet, sticky syrup made from sprouted barley that has been malted, or partially germinated. The malting process converts the starch in barley into soluble sugars and proteins. Malt extract contains about 70-80% carbohydrates, mainly maltose and maltotriose, as well as some glucose and fructose. It also contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids and gluten proteins.

Uses of Malt Extract

Malt extract has several culinary and industrial uses:

– Baking – Malt extract adds sweetness, moisture and texture to baked goods like breads, bagels and pretzels. It promotes yeast activity for leavening.

– Beer brewing – Malt extract provides fermentable sugars, color, body and flavor to beer. It is used in the mashing process to extract sugars from barley malts.

– Confectionery – Malt extract is used as a flavoring and binding agent in candies, chocolate and other sweets.

– Processed foods – Malt extract can be found in some breakfast cereals, nutrition bars and malted milk drinks as a source of carbohydrates and nutrients.

– Distilling – Malt extract is used to distill malt whiskey and other liquors, providing sugars for fermentation.

– Natural sweetener – In some cases, malt extract can be used as an alternative to sucrose or corn syrup in foods. It has a mild, malty-sweet taste.

Gluten Content of Malt Extract

Malt extract contains gluten because it is made from barley, which is a gluten-containing grain. Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale.

During the malting process, barley kernels are soaked and allowed to germinate. This activates enzymes that break down starches into fermentable sugars and proteins. Some of these proteins are gluten.

Malt extract production involves further processing like filtration and concentration. However, the gluten proteins remain present in the final syrup because they are soluble proteins, not removed by these processes.

Therefore, malt extract is not considered gluten-free. Most experts advise that people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid malt extract.

Gluten testing

Many malt extract products do not contain detectable levels of gluten when tested. However, negative test results do not guarantee the product is 100% gluten-free. Reasons may include:

– Testing methods have limitations for detecting gluten, especially at low levels.

– Gluten levels can vary between batches and brands.

– Cross-contamination may occur during growing, harvesting and processing.

So even with undetectable gluten, there is no way to ensure malt extract is completely gluten-free. People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance should not rely on gluten testing alone to determine if a product is safe to consume.

Malt Extract Substitutes

For people avoiding gluten, there are several substitutes that can be used in place of malt extract:

– Molasses – Adds similar moisture, sweetness and color. Often used in baking recipes.

– Brown rice syrup – Made from cultured rice, provides sweetness without gluten.

– Sorghum syrup – Sweet, thick syrup made from sorghum grain.

– Corn syrup – Derived from corn starch, available in different viscosities.

– Honey – Natural option that contributes sweetness, moisture and nutrients.

– Maple syrup – Has caramel notes and trace minerals.

– Date syrup – Made from boiled dates, nutrient-rich with mild caramel flavor.

– Coconut sugar – Evaporated coconut sap, effective as a 1:1 substitute.

– Fruit purees – Applesauce and other fruit purees add moisture and natural sweetness.

– Brewers’ clintose – A gluten-free form of maltose made by enzymatic conversion of tapioca syrup.

The best substitute depends on the application, flavor profile and nutritional needs. Combinations of sweeteners may be needed to achieve the ideal texture and taste.

Gluten-Free Beer

Since conventional beer is brewed with barley malt containing gluten, people with celiac disease generally cannot tolerate beer. However, there are specialty gluten-free beers available:

– Sorghum beer – Brewed using sorghum grain instead of barley malt. Examples are Redbridge and St. Peter’s Sorghum Beers.

– Gluten-removed beer – Regular beer that has had gluten proteins removed using special enzymes leaving less than 20ppm gluten. Examples are Omission, Stone and Green’s.

– Gluten-reduced beer – Specially crafted to reduce gluten content to below 100ppm. Example brands are Brunehaut and Holgate Brewhouse.

– Ancient grain beer – Varieties brewed from ancient gluten-free grains like millet, buckwheat or quinoa. Example is Mongozo Buckwheat Beer.

– Cider and wine – Ciders and wine are gluten-free alternatives, since they are made from fruits. But check labels for gluten-containing additives.

Be sure to check the labels carefully for any gluten-containing ingredients. Those highly sensitive should contact the brewer to confirm gluten levels in ‘gluten-removed’ styles. Moderation is also advised as these beers are not nutritionally equivalent to conventional gluten-containing varieties.

Is Barley Malt Extract Gluten-Free?

No, barley malt extract is not gluten-free. Since it is derived from barley, it contains gluten proteins from the barley grain. Barley malt extract should be avoided by anyone following a gluten-free diet.

Some people confuse barley malt extract with maltodextrin, which is sometimes made from barley. But unlike the full malt extract, maltodextrin does not contain gluten because gluten proteins are removed during extensive processing. So maltodextrin can be tolerated by most people with celiac disease, while barley malt extract cannot.

There are also malt extracts made from gluten-free grains like rice or sorghum that are produced using a similar malting process. For example, rice malt extract would be gluten-free and safe for a gluten-free diet. But barley malt extract always contains gluten.

What About Malt Vinegar?

Malt vinegar is made from barley malt extract that has been fermented and converted to vinegar. During this process, the gluten proteins in the malt extract are broken down by acids, enzymes and yeasts until they are no longer intact or detectable.

Because of this, most malt vinegars are considered very low gluten or gluten-free, defined as containing less than 20ppm gluten. However, some experts still recommend caution or avoidance since manufacturing processes can vary.

There are distilled vinegars, wine vinegars and rice vinegars that provide gluten-free alternatives to malt vinegar. As always, check labels carefully and contact manufacturers if concerned about malt vinegar and gluten content.

Is Maltodextrin Gluten-Free?

Maltodextrin is a food additive derived from starches like corn, rice, potato or wheat. When made from wheat, maltodextrin contains gluten and is not gluten-free. However, maltodextrin is most often made from corn starch today, which does not contain gluten.

The FDA labeling laws also allow maltodextrin derived from wheat to be simply labeled as ‘maltodextrin’ without indicating the source. So checking the source with the manufacturer may be necessary to confirm gluten-free status, especially for those highly sensitive.

Maltodextrin from corn, rice, potato and tapioca starch is considered gluten-free and safe for celiac disease. But some with gluten intolerances report reacting to corn-derived maltodextrin, possibly due to cross-reactivity or gluten contamination risks in facilities that also process wheat. So individual tolerance should guide personal choices around maltodextrin.


– Malt extract contains gluten because it is made from sprouted barley grains. It is unsafe for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

– Gluten testing alone cannot guarantee malt extract is gluten-free due to limitations of testing methods.

– Substitutes like molasses, honey, fruit purees and coconut sugar can provide gluten-free alternatives in recipes calling for malt extract.

– Gluten-free specialty beers exist but care must be taken to choose validated gluten-free brands and styles.

– Barley malt extract always contains gluten while maltodextrin only contains gluten if made from wheat. Checking manufacturing processes and sourcing is important.

– Most malt vinegars are very low gluten but some avoidance is still recommended for those highly sensitive.

So in summary, while the gluten content of related products like maltodextrin and vinegar may be ambiguous in some cases, malt extract itself clearly contains gluten and should be avoided on a strict gluten-free diet. Thorough label reading and direct contact with manufacturers is recommended to clarify gluten status whenever malt-derived ingredients are involved.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is malt extract high in gluten?

Malt extract can contain significant amounts of gluten since it is directly produced from barley grain containing gluten-forming proteins. Levels can be comparable to other gluten-rich grains like wheat.

Can malt extract cause a false positive on a celiac blood test?

Yes, malt extract may cause a false positive result on the common celiac blood tests since it contains gluten. People should avoid malt extract for 1-2 weeks prior to being tested for celiac disease to prevent false positives.

Is malt extract Keto friendly?

Malt extract is not generally considered keto-friendly or compatible with a ketogenic diet, which requires very low carbohydrate intake. Malt extract is high in carbohydrates at about 70-80% by weight. The carbs are mainly maltose, maltotriose and glucose which can rapidly raise blood sugar.

Is malt extract healthier than sugar?

Malt extract contains more nutrients than plain white sugar since it is less refined and closer to a whole food. It provides trace vitamins, minerals and proteins. But it is still considered a form of added sugar. Consumed regularly, the high maltose content can spike blood sugar. For improved health, it is better to limit malt extract and meet carbohydrate needs through whole, minimally processed foods.

Can you substitute malt extract for molasses?

Yes, molasses can be substituted for malt extract in most recipes. Blackstrap molasses provides the closest flavor and color profile to malt extract. Replace malt extract with an equal amount of molasses by volume. The texture may be slightly thinner, so molasses is typically best substituted for malt extract in baked goods rather than beverages. Reduce oven temperature by 25°F to prevent excess browning.


Malt extract, made from sprouted barley, contains gluten and is not suitable for a gluten-free diet or celiac disease. Safer alternatives include fruit syrups, rice malt extract, molasses and other gluten-free options. While related products like maltodextrin and malt vinegar derived from barley may be low gluten, malt extract itself should always be assumed to contain gluten unless labelled gluten-free. Carefully reviewing ingredient lists and labels for malt extract, as well as contacting manufacturers about sourcing and processing, can help make informed gluten-free choices.

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