Everyone has heard of gluten free food, gluten free diets and maybe has an idea of what foods they are in. But what exactly is gluten, how does it affect you and most importantly, is non alcoholic beer gluten free? If not, why not and can it be?
In general non alcohol beer is not gluten free. Beer is made from wheat, barley or rye, which contain gluten, as does the yeast used to brew beer. Non alcoholic beers have the same ingredients and are brewed with the same yeasts. There are however, new gluten free non alcoholic beers using alternative grains and gluten free yeasts.
We will look at what gluten actually is, why it’s important and how are these gluten free beers made?
For a full list of gluten free non alcoholic beers, check out my article here
What is gluten?
The simple answer is, gluten is protein found in the cereals barley, rye and wheat. Some people also react to a similar protein found in oats. In reality, gluten is actually a family of storage proteins. These used to be known as prolamins.
Many different prolamins fall under the gluten name brand. However they can be categorised on the specific grains in which they’re found.
Glutenins and gliadins are the prolamins in wheat, hordeins are in barley and secalins are in rye.
One of the main gluten benefits is the chewy texture that is characteristic of many gluten-containing foods
When you heat them, the gluten proteins form an elastic network that can stretch and trap some gas. This allows for the rising and maintenance of moisture in pasta and breads.
Who can’t eat gluten?
If you are unable to eat gluten containing food then you are said to have Celiac disease.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, where your body attacks itself. It is generally a disease where someone has a genetic predisposition. It occurs in people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.
What issues does gluten intolerance cause?
You classically think of an digestive issue and Celiac disease causing things like
- abdominal bloating and pain
- chronic diarrhoea
- weight loss
Certainly these are the main presentations and symptoms of children but as you get older the disease changes.
Adults are actually less prone to the gastrointestinal issues, with only 1/3 experiencing diarrhoea. Adults present more with things like
- unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
- bone or joint pain
- liver disorders
- tingling, numbness or pain in the hands and feet
- seizures or migraines
- missed menstrual periods
- infertility or recurrent miscarriage
- itchy skin and rashes
What food stuffs is gluten in?
So if we know gluten is in the cereals (rye, wheat and barley) then you can guess the main food stuffs that a Celiac sufferer needs to avoid.
The main groups you need to avoid in Celiac, unless they are labelled as gluten-free are…
- biscuits or crackers
- cakes and pastries
- gravies and sauces
That list is a large chunk of my food intake and that of my family so you can see how restrictive a gluten free diet may become without gluten free alternatives.
What constitutes gluten free/gluten containing?
There is an official gluten level, enshrined in law, which stipulates what can be called gluten free or not. Food and drinks that contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) can legally be labelled ‘gluten free’.
This can create some controversy. If a food or drink is not made with any gluten containing grains then it will inherently be completely gluten free. The parts per million should be zero.
For a food or drink to have a detectable gluten level, but less than 20 ppm, gluten will have had to be removed as it will have been made (or partly made) from grains.
There are many advocates of a “gluten free” label and a “gluten removed”, to fit those 2 scenarios. There may be people with a very acute sensitivity to gluten for whom the 20 ppm level is still too high. These sufferers are best advised to follow a complete wheat free, gluten free diet. They should avoid so called gluten removed, gluten free products.
This may apply to specialist gluten free products like breads, flours and crackers, including foods that contain gluten free wheat starch, as well as processed foods which are made from naturally gluten free ingredients like soups, ready meals and snacks.
The ‘gluten free’ label may also be used for uncontaminated oat products.
Research shows that this tiny amount of gluten is not toxic to people with celiac disease and they can eat unlimited amounts of products with gluten at a level of 20 ppm or less.
Does regular beer have gluten?
Classic beer is made of just 4 ingredients. These are water, hops, malted grains (generally barley) and yeast. Wheat and the brewers yeast, saccharomyces cerevisiae, contain gluten. Other beers are brewed from wheat and rye in place of barley. Similarly these also contain gluten.
In the world of craft beers and funky flavoured IPAs, there are now many other ingredients but the vast majority are still based on barley, wheat or rye.
Do non alcoholic beers have gluten?
In general, non alcoholic beers are made in the same way as regular beers then dealcoholised to remove the alcohol. That means they will contain a malted grain such as barley, wheat or rye. These contain gluten. Additionally the brewers yeast to ferment the beer contains gluten.
Are there any gluten free non alcoholic beers?
(For a full list of gluten free non alcoholic beers and my top 5, check out my article here)
In the recent past, gluten free sections at the supermarket were tiny and expensive. They are now growing as so is the gluten free beer market.
A lot of the big beer brands have a regular beer, a gluten free beer and a non alcoholic beer. Its unusual to find a big beer brand with a non alcoholic, gluten free beer. This is not the case for the new an emerging craft brewers. Some specific non alcoholic breweries have more than half their range as gluten free. And newsflash – they are amazing.
Galactic milk stout review
Brewery – Big Drop Brewing Co
Country – UK
ABV – 0.5%
Style – Stout
KCal – 27 (100ml)
Sugar content – 0.1g
Carbohydrate content – 5.4g
Tasting – A really interesting mix of that heavy stout flavour with the lighter porter feel. Who cares about ABV and alcohol free here, this is a serious beer no matter what. Im from Ireland and have drank plenty of stouts of all descriptions and this stacks up. Well played. Low sugar too.
Verdict – 8.5/10. Excellent. If you are looking for something a bit different thats packed with flavour then this is for you.
Big Drop Brewing notes
Alcohol-free Stout. Forget the notion this is a beer style that has had its day. Instead, think of it as honeycomb covered in chocolate, because that’s exactly what it tastes like: rich, unctuous and an absolutely decadent treat of a beer.
I have found that plenty of craft breweries have multiple gluten free options. There seems to be no taste issue and in fact most dedicated craft brews are so much better than the big name, tasteless global brands away. Shop local i say!
Try searching out your local independent brewers. I’ll be they have amazing non alcoholic and gluten free beers.
Another fine example is Bellfield Brewary. They have been set up by 2 brothers who are both Celiac.
How is gluten free beer made?
There is probably 3 main ways to make gluten free beer.
- 1. Use alternatives to barley, wheat and rye.
Below are ingredients used to make gluten free beer, that do not contain gluten. So called non gluten containing ingredients (NGCIs)
- corn (maize)
As they don’t start with gluten containing grains they can be truly gluten free and not merely gluten free <20ppm (gluten removed) if attention is paid to the starting yeast.
If you are extremely gluten sensitive and anything near 20ppm gluten may still affect you then these types of brews are for you. They are pretty easy to search for now with good old Google.
- 2. Incorporate special low gluten barley along with the NGCIs then filter the remaining gluten out.
With modern brewing techniques, low gluten malts and NGCIs and be brewed in such a way to leave a very low level of gluten that can then be filtered out at the end to get below the 20ppm standard and hopefully 10ppm to be classed as “gluten absent”
- 3. The last way is to brew your normal beer with barley, rye or wheat then introduce an enzyme that breaks down all non starch compounds, including gluten
This is probably the most common method now. Adding an enzyme such as Brewers Clarex can break down all the gluten to inactive parts than can be left in the beer or again filtered out.
How are beers tested to be gluten free certified?
Testing can differ across the globe. In the UK, beers are tested at UKAS accredited laboratories using the industry standard R5 Competitive ELISA test. This is to ensure the beer can be certified gluten-free.
All certified gluten-free beers have to be tested using the R5 competitive ELISA as this is the only method Coeliac UK accept for hydrolysed products.
Are gluten free beers higher in calories ?
Gluten free beers do not have higher calories than a like for like normal beer. In general, non alcoholic, gluten free beers will have a lower calorie count due to the calorie dense alcohol being removed.
Does gluten free beer have more sugar?
Gluten free beer doesn’t have more sugar than regular beers as the brewing process and enzyme reduction of gluten does not affect sugars and carbohydrates.
Some non alcoholic gluten free beers will have a higher sugar content than regular beers as it is added for body and mouth feel.
How do you check if a beer is gluten free?
If you have Celiac i’m sure you are well used to this and on the ball. The default is to assume all beers are not gluten free until proven otherwise.
They will often be advertised as gluten free and you can look up the ingredients and check other their website to get an idea of what brewing techniques are used. You may also find their gluten free ppm number and certification.
If you are very sensitive to gluten then look for the NGCIs without any barley, rye or wheat in the beer
Is non alcoholic wine gluten free?
Non alcoholic wine is gluten free as it is not made from any grains. Even if any grains are used in part of the manufacturing, the distillation process would remove any gluten from the finished wine.
Is non alcoholic gin gluten free?
Gin is gluten free due to the distillation process. It is made with a base grain which will contain gluten but once the gin has been distilled this removes all the gluten rendering it gluten free.