Barley: At one time a controversial grain for folks with celiac disease

Barley: At one time a controversial grain for folks with celiac disease

In Honor of Celiac Disease Awareness Month, Gluten Free Watchdog is writing a series of articles (the goal is one per day during the month of May) related to the gluten-free diet–currently the ONLY treatment for celiac disease.  

Post (#11)…

Believe it or not barley has not always been universally excluded from the gluten-free diet…

Dicke, in his classic feeding trials reported in 1953 (see post determined that, “Of the starch containing foodstuffs as far as investigated, the following are harmless: wheat starch, cornflour, maize starch, rice flour, and peeled, boiled potatoes. Of the cereals and starches, wheat flour, rye flour, and oats have a very unfavourable effect on the patient.” Dicke did not assess barley.

Barley was studied a couple decades later by researchers…

These researchers include Baker and Read in 1976, and Anand and colleagues in 1978. Both studies concluded that barley is harmful to patients with celiac disease. It is unclear when barley was universally added to the list of grains to avoid but Baker and Read include a very interesting table in their paper “Oats and barley toxicity in coeliac patients.” (See page one of the full text article available at This table includes a summary of dietary advice from medical centers in the UK and Ireland. Of the 14 centers surveyed, all recommended the exclusion of wheat and rye. Only 7 advised exclusion of barley. Among the 7 that allowed barley, 6 centers excluded this grain if patients did not respond to a wheat and rye free diet.

It is now universally accepted that a gluten-free diet excludes the grains wheat, barley, and rye…

But the controversial nature of barley may be a contributing factor as to why we see different recommendations on barley-based ingredients in Europe and North America. For example, barley malt, barley malt extract, and barley malt vinegar are not currently allowed in foods labeled gluten-free in the U.S. However in Europe, foods containing barley malt extract and barley malt vinegar may be allowed to carry a gluten-free claim. This difference in labeling rules has resulted in a number of imported foods being mislabeled as gluten-free in the US.

Just in case you need reminding…

Do NOT eat any foods containing malt, malt extract, or malt syrup even if they are labeled gluten-free. These products should be reported first to corporate and then to FDA if necessary.

Tomorrow’s post: The Modern Gluten-Free Diet

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Comments (9)

  • Bonnie Reply

    Hi Tricia, Has GFWD ever tested tea made with barley malt (brewed in bag or loose leaf)? Just wondering what the results would be compared to the testing 1 -2 years ago of green tea which came into cross contact with wheat.

    May 11, 2017 at 5:42 pm
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      We have not unless you are referring to something like Dandy Blend. My guess is the tea itself would contain detectable gluten but steeped tea would not (as long as a tea bag was used and tea leaves did not end up in the brewed tea). BUT this is not an endorsement for drinking tea containing barley malt!

      May 11, 2017 at 6:11 pm
      • Bonnie Reply

        THANK YOU, Tricia, for making your last statement strong and clear! Today’s posting got me thinking about a personal experience with barley malt and tea, and whether or not there was a scientific explanation for any differences that may have resulted in testing green tea versus other tea with barley. A couple of years ago, I did not initially READ the LABEL on the box, and unknowingly, consumed barley malt packaged in the tea bag. It took 4 consecutive days of drinking this tea before registering a reaction. For this reason I avoid green tea too. Lesson Learned: ALWAYS READ LABELS.

        May 11, 2017 at 7:13 pm
  • Shelley Powell Reply

    Can coeliacs eat barley starch found in protein powder. I cant get a clear answer. Thanks

    March 10, 2021 at 1:41 pm
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      Hi Shelley. Is the product in question labeled gluten-free? Do you have photos?

      March 10, 2021 at 4:55 pm
  • Kristi Fackel Reply

    Hi Tricia,
    I am wondering about whether barley “coffee” (with only the one ingredient) contains gluten. Several sources say that instant variety does not, because the liquid from steeping the grain is freeze-dried, therefore containing none of the grain itself. Others don’t look past the fact that the brew is originally made steeping barley. If the gluten is contained in the grain, it seems possible that if you aren’t consuming the grain itself, there may not be appreciable levels of gluten in the instant barley coffee.

    September 16, 2021 at 4:04 pm

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