Wheat Starch in Gluten-Free Foods in 2023: An Update from Gluten Free Watchdog

Wheat Starch in Gluten-Free Foods in 2023: An Update from Gluten Free Watchdog

Bottom Line:

  • Avoid wheat starch-containing foods NOT labeled gluten-free.
  • It is your decision whether or not to eat labeled gluten-free foods containing wheat starch.
  • In the opinion of Gluten Free Watchdog, wheat starch used in gluten-free products should be tested with both the sandwich and competitive R5 ELISAs unless it can be confirmed with the supplier that hydrolytic enzymes are NOT used in the production of water washed wheat starch.
    • Read on for the reasons why.
  • Please see the manufacturer listing below.

Considerations:

  • Do not eat wheat starch-containing foods NOT labeled gluten-free.
    • Based on testing done through Gluten Free Watchdog, wheat starch not labeled gluten-free may contain gluten well above 20 parts per million.
  • Wheat starch is an allowed ingredient in foods labeled gluten-free in the US.
    • It is considered an ingredient processed to remove gluten.
    • The highest level of gluten we’ve found in our commissioned testing on labeled gluten-free wheat starch and gluten-free foods containing wheat starch is 17 ppm of gluten using the competitive R5 ELISA and 6 ppm of gluten using the sandwich R5 ELISA.
      • The competitive ELISA detects gluten protein fragments.
      • The sandwich ELISA quantifies intact gluten protein.
    • Most wheat starch-containing products tested through Gluten Free Watchdog are testing below the lower limit of quantification for gluten (5 ppm for the sandwich and 10 ppm for the competitive)
  • Testing wheat starch and wheat starch-based products can be a bit problematic due to (not a complete list):
    • Gliadin to glutenin ratios
      • Gluten contains both gliadin and glutenin fractions.
      • The sandwich R5 ELISA detects the gliadin fraction of gluten.
      • Test results assume a 50:50 split between gliadin and glutenin (e.g., the test result for gliadin is multiplied by 2 to get a gluten result).
      • If a higher percentage of glutenin is present then the test result could be an underestimation.
      • Gliadin is more soluble than glutenin so a higher percentage of glutenin may remain in the starch.
    • Hydrolytic enzymes may be used in the production of water washed wheat starch.
      • If so, it is an open question whether the competitive R5 ELISA is able to detect all hydrolyzed gluten fragments.
  • Wheat starch used in gluten-free foods should be tested by manufacturers using both the competitive and sandwich R5 ELISAs.
    • If it can be determined by manufacturers that the wheat starch is water washed only, without the use of hydrolytic enzymes, a sandwich ELISA is sufficient.

What’s a consumer to do?

  • Reach out to manufacturers asking 1. if their wheat starch ingredient is tested for gluten using both a sandwich and competitive ELISA OR 2. have they confirmed with their supplier that no hydrolytic enzymes are used in the manufacture of water washed wheat starch (if so, then testing with a sandwich ELISA may be all that is necessary).
  • Check the manufacturer information below.

GFCO certified products (Confirmed via email on August 1, 2023): According to GFCO, wheat starch used in certified products must be water washed only (without the use of hydrolytic enzymes), and the starch must test below the lower limit of quantification (no more than 5 ppm of gluten) using a sandwich ELISA.

Note: Contrary to outdated images online posted by merchants, forums, and bloggers, GFCO does not currently certify King Arthur gluten-free pizza and bread flour containing wheat starch.

Schar (confirmed via email on August 8, 2023): According to Schar, they use both the sandwich and competitive R5 ELISAs to assess wheat starch for gluten AND they do not use hydrolytic enzymes in the production of water washed wheat starch.

U.S. products containing wheat starch: Croissants, Pain Au Chocolat.

King Arthur (confirmed via email on August 2, 2023): According to King Arthur, both the sandwich and competitive R5 ELISAs are used to assess wheat starch for gluten.

Products containing wheat starch: Gluten-Free Pizza Flour and Gluten-Free Bread Flour.

Note: Contrary to outdated images online posted by merchants, forums, and bloggers, GFCO does not currently certify King Arthur gluten-free pizza and bread flour containing wheat starch.

Molino (confirmed via email on August 15, 2023): According to Molino, the competitive R5 ELISA is used to assess wheat starch for gluten. They are working to provide the additional requested information.

Original Sunshine (confirmed via email on August 16, 2023): According to Original Sunshine, their wheat starch is water washed only. It is tested with both the sandwich and competitive R5 ELISAs.

DiGiorno (emailed Aug 1, 2023): As of August 16, 2023, DiGiorno has not responded to our questions. UPDATE December 18, 2023. DiGiorno is now making their gluten-free pizzas without wheat starch. Please check labels carefully as wheat starch varieties remain available. For more information, see https://www.goodnes.com/digiorno/crusts/gluten-free/.

Caputo (emailed Aug 1, 2023): As of August 16, 2023, Caputo has not responded to our questions. UPDATE: We have continued to reach out to Caputo since our 2024 testing. While they responded, it is only to say that they are looking into it/have escalated queries to headquarters. As of May 7, 2024 we have not received answers to our queries. UPDATE May 21, 2024: Caputo finally responded to our questions. They use hydrolytic enzymes in the production of gluten-free wheat starch. They test wheat starch with an ELISA. They did not name the specific assay used but mentioned that it tested to 5 ppm of gluten. This suggests they are using the sandwich ELISA versus the competitive ELISA (the competitive R5 ELISA has a lower limit of quantification of 10 ppm of gluten).

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Comments (19)

  • Jan Lee Reply

    As always, thanks for this post and the work that you do. One question: Why do some manufacturers hydrolyze the gluten fragments? One would assume this extra step is to the benefit of the g-f product (and thus the consumer). What’s the point if it makes it harder to ensure the result has a lower ppm?

    August 17, 2023 at 1:33 pm
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      Hi Jan, I’ve edited the post for clarity. Some manufacturers may use hydrolytic enzymes in the production of water washed wheat starch. This may cause any gluten remaining in the starch to break apart. As a result, a competitive ELISA should be used to detect any remaining fragments. However, all fragments may not be detected. My apologies for the confusion.

      August 17, 2023 at 6:31 pm
  • Jan Lee Reply

    I learn so much from your posts! Never had an inkling that prominent GF manufacturers use wheat starch in some products.

    August 17, 2023 at 1:34 pm
  • Jean Reply

    Have you tested a gluten free product that contained wheat starch that was not listed as an ingredient on the label? Why is wheat starch used by gluten free manufactures? Is it because it is more readily available and less costly or makes the product taste better?

    August 17, 2023 at 7:02 pm
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      If wheat starch is used as an ingredient it must be listed. You would have to ask manufacturers why they use it but from what I understand wheat starch improves the mouth feel, texture, and taste of products. I have never eaten a product containing wheat starch, so I can’t speak from experience.

      August 17, 2023 at 7:05 pm
  • Kim Liebowitz Reply

    Hi Tricia, I have an older bag of the KAF pizza flour that has a GFCO logo on it – did they lose the certifcation? FYI the website no longer shows the GFCO logo on their pizza flour

    August 17, 2023 at 7:38 pm
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      Your bag should be fine. However, they are no longer certified. I just double checked with GFCO.

      August 17, 2023 at 7:47 pm
      • Joseph Sterlino Reply

        Is there any reason why they are no longer certified?

        August 18, 2023 at 2:10 am
        • Tricia Thompson Reply

          GFCO has fairly strict requirements for wheat starch. As stated above, it must be water washed only without the use of hydrolytic enzymes, and the starch must test below the lower limit of quantification–no more than 5 ppm of gluten–using a sandwich ELISA.

          August 18, 2023 at 1:39 pm
  • Julia Reply

    Thank you Tricia for your ongoing diligence as an advocate for gluten free safe foods. I appreciate your research and detailed explanations

    August 17, 2023 at 11:30 pm
  • C. Bryce Reply

    Dang, sometimes it feels like some companies are trying to poison us. What did we ever do to them! I’ve gotten to the point where I won’t buy anything heavily processed anymore.

    Do you know if any laws that are changing when it comes to restaurants claiming they serve gluten free when they are not? Why is it even legal to say it is GF when it is not; if it is not Celiac safe, it is not gluten free.

    Just a little note to everyone, I was in the produce section and noticed a woman eating a cookie and the crumbs over the broccoli. I now take all my veggies from the back or if there is a box open, I take from there.

    Thank you for your outstanding service to our community.

    August 20, 2023 at 4:31 am
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      Thanks for reaching out.

      This is the latest from FDA on restaurants and gluten-free claims (remains pretty much unchanged):
      “Does the gluten-free food labeling requirements apply to “gluten-free” claims made for foods served in restaurants, including cafeterias and buffets?
      The regulation applies to packaged foods, which may be sold in some retail and food-service establishments such as some carry-out restaurants. However, given the public health significance of “gluten-free” labeling, we recommend restaurants making a “gluten-free” claim on their menus to be consistent with our “gluten-free” definition.”
      AND
      “Can a person report unpackaged foods labeled “gluten-free”?
      FDA’s regulation applies to packaged foods. FDA will monitor any reported information related to unpackaged food and share any complaints received about unpackaged foods, such as those served in restaurants, with state and local government partners.”

      August 21, 2023 at 7:32 pm
  • Erin Smith Reply

    Thank you for this update. Gluten-free wheat starch is a relatively newer ingredient here in the United States. As someone who has been living with celiac disease for more than 40 years, it is frustrating to see trusted brands start to use this ingredient. My personal feeling is that I have lived this long without GF wheat starch, why start now? When traveling in France, I ate at a dedicated GF bakery. I felt terrible afterwards only to find out all of the products had GF wheat starch in their food. I am not convinced it is safe or truly less than 20 ppm. This post explains why it might not be. I have avoided it ever since. Gluten-free wheat starch is NOT for me.

    August 22, 2023 at 11:34 pm
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      Thanks for commenting, Erin. Gluten-free wheat starch is not for me either. Maybe if/when the testing improves…

      August 23, 2023 at 5:59 pm
  • Gluten Free & Tasty Blog! Reply

    As someone who has both Celiac *and* a wheat allergy, I really wish companies would stop going this route!

    I know it’s not a lot of them right now, but I really worry about what I’m going to do if more and more places do this. And what if the few places I dare to go out and eat decide to switch over to these products without announcing it, believing they’re safe because they’re claiming dedicated GF but now they’re not dedicated GF and WF?

    Or if companies are not honest about it when asked because they don’t see the reason to? And now their previously safe lines are all contaminated. And so forth, and so on.

    No amount of testing will ever make it safe for me!

    September 2, 2023 at 12:36 pm
  • Sherri Alexander Reply

    Happy to see DiGiorno’s changed their recipe to remove the wheat starch! I found this link to lead more directly to the relevant gluten-free information on their site: https://www.goodnes.com/digiorno/gluten-free-pizza-faq/

    December 30, 2023 at 4:22 pm
  • Sara Forbes Reply

    Is Gluten free wheat starch safe for those w/celiac??

    March 4, 2024 at 2:49 am
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      As discussed in the post, it depends. You may want to:
      Reach out to manufacturers asking 1. if their wheat starch ingredient is tested for gluten using both a sandwich and competitive ELISA OR 2. have they confirmed with their supplier that no hydrolytic enzymes are used in the manufacture of water washed wheat starch (if so, then testing with a sandwich ELISA may be all that is necessary).
      Check the manufacturer information included in the post.

      March 4, 2024 at 1:47 pm

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