People with celiac disease are oversensitive to gluten. When they consume food containing gluten they could develop intestinal complaints. Gluten is a protein that can be found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and probably also in oat. Wheat and barley are raw materials for beer, and even when only very little of these proteins remains in the final product after the brewing process, it is not to be excluded that beer still contains traces of gluten.
Prof. Dr. Martin Hiele, gastrologist UZ Leuven and spokesman of the Flemish Association of Celiac Disease:
Does beer still contain gluten?
“Beer is a subject of discussion. On the list of the Flemish Association of Celiac Disease there are many kinds of beer that are allowed. However, there are reasons to doubt the safety of beer for people with celiac disease. Most kinds of beer are made of barley. During the brewing process the barley is first germinated and then the germinated barley is fermented. As a result of the fermentation most of the carbon hydrates and proteins are split. In general the malt is removed from the beer and later on the beer will be filtered one more time. So beer certainly does not contain large lumps of protein. However, this does not alter the fact that beer can still contain traces of proteins and thus also gluten. As a matter of fact one does not know this exactly.”
Is it not possible to just measure whether or not beer contains gluten?
“That is not so obvious. Even if we dispose of good measuring methods, we have to say that they are not completely reliable. There are different kinds of protein fractions in gluten and the existing measuring methods are mainly based on the determination of one kind of protein fraction, whereas the others are not taken into consideration. That is not completely correct. When we want to trace very small quantities of gluten we have to dispose of more accurate measuring methods. In case beer contains gluten, this will in any case be in very small quantities that are probably below the standard.”
What is the standard for gluten?
“A manufacturer is allowed to call a product gluten-free when the gluten content is not beyond an internationally determined limiting value. This limiting value has been determined in the Codex Alimentarius, a bundle of guidelines concerning food stuff drawn up by a commission of the World Health Organisation. Already in 1981 it was written down in this Codex that gluten-free implies that a product contains less than 20 milligrams of protein per 100 grams of dry food. This corresponds with 20 to 30 milligrams of gliadine per 100 grams of starch. In practice this is usually expressed in p.p.m. or “parts per million”, which corresponds with milligram per kilogram. A product is per definition gluten-free when it contains no more than 200 p.p.m. of gluten.”
What is the point of view of Celiac Disease Associations concerning beer?
“Most organisations that are dealing with celiac disease put just like that that beer is not allowed in a gluten-free diet, because usually barley or wheat is used when producing beer. Others say that beer probably contains so little gluten that a beer once in a while will rarely lead to problems for a patient with celiac disease. Is there room for beer in a gluten-free diet? In scientific circles there is no consensus about this matter. Therefore you can not expect that gluten will be mentioned on the label of beer. The scientific substructure is insufficient in order to do so.”
Prof. Em. Gilbert Baetslé, University of Ghent, author of “Manual for the beer victualler; expert knowledge from the barrel to the glass”:
Which beers are gluten-free and which beers contain gluten?
“Little scientific research has been published concerning gluten in beer. In general we can say that wheat beers contain more gluten than beers that are made of barley malt that contain very little gluten. In case of barley malt the gluten are broken down to a large extent when germinating.
Beers that turned sour in a normal way (such as Rodenbach beers) contain even less gluten than beers that are made with barley malt. Particularly when they were stored for a couple of years.
Finally we can say that beers that have a secondary fermentation in the bottle contain very little gluten, because during the fermentation in the bottle those gluten that are still present are being broken down furthermore.
Especially for people with celiac disease we can say that normal lager beer is safe. Beers contain certainly not more than 200 p.p.m. gluten. But for most beers this has never been examined.”
Donald Kasarda, chemist in the “Crop Improvement and Utilisation Research Unit of the USA Departement of Agriculture”:
Does barley beer still contain gluten?
“In beer based on barley malt no gluten can be found back. Gluten from barley are broken down to smaller proteins (peptides). Whereas gluten from barley is built from a chain of about 300 amino acids, peptides that remain in beer contain at the maximum a few dozen amino acids. It is however very probable that these tiny particles do not provoke any undesired reactions among patients with celiac disease. These days, however, we do not know to what extent these peptides cause reactions among patients with celiac disease. Moreover, there are no methods available to measure this on a quantitative level.
Brewers, such as Sapporo Breweries, are right when they say that their barley beer does not contain gluten. The main problem is that today we don’t have any definite answer concerning the short peptides (the fragments of gluten) that do remain behind in beer. Are they safe for the patient with celiac disease?”
Frederik Willem Janssen, head of the chemistry department, Department of Food Inspection, Zutphen Netherlands.
Has there been any research concerning the amount of gluten in beer?
“Our department has examined about fifty kinds of beer on the presence of gluten. Most beers contain some reactive proteins between 1 and 200 p.p.m. Fifteen beers contained less than 1 p.p.m. gluten. We discovered a strong correlation between the beers made of wheat and the beers made of barley. Other research confirms that the amount of gluten in beer can vary strongly between zero and 400 p.p.m. gluten.
I wish to stress the fact that the current methods to determine gluten in beer are very unreliable. They can lead to both incorrect results on both the positive and the negative level. We ought to dispose of other and reliable measuring methods.”