Why distillation is compatible with a gluten-free diet
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.
Astute readers of gluten-free labeling rules may have noticed that the FDA and the TTB treat distilled alcohol differently.
On the one hand, the FDA allows distilled alcohol and distilled vinegar as ingredients in foods labeled gluten-free regardless of the starting material (e.g., vanilla extract containing distilled alcohol, catsup containing distilled vinegar). On the other hand, the beverage “distilled alcohol” is not allowed by the TTB to be labeled gluten-free if the starting material is wheat, barley, or rye.
The FDA views distilled alcohol and distilled vinegar made using distilled alcohol to be ingredients “processed to remove gluten.”
In a Q&A for the FDA’s proposed rule for gluten-free labeling of fermented or hydrolyzed foods, FDA writes:
“Can distilled foods made from ingredients derived from gluten-containing grains be labeled as “gluten-free”?
Yes. Since proper distillation is capable of removing all proteins, including gluten, it would be considered as a “process to remove gluten.” Thus, an ingredient that is derived from a gluten containing grain that has been properly distilled would be allowed to be used in a food bearing the “gluten-free” claim since the ingredient would meet the requirements of 21 CFR 101.91.”
The TTB takes a slightly different approach. Distilled alcohols can be labeled “processed to remove gluten” as long as a second statement also is included on the label:
“This product was distilled from grains containing gluten, which removed some or all of the gluten. The gluten content of this product cannot be verified, and this product may contain gluten.”
If this is confusing to you, the following excerpt from The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide (Tricia Thompson, McGraw-Hill, 2008) may help:
“Alcoholic beverages are either fermented or distilled. Fermented and distilled beverages are made by first converting starch or sugar from a food source (for example, grapes, wheat, or potato) to alcohol, using yeast. With fermented beverages, such as beer, the liquid removed from the mash (the mixture of starting materials) is boiled. If a gluten-containing grain is one of the food sources used to make the mash, the liquid removed from the mash is not gluten-free. With distilled beverages, such as vodka, the liquid removed from the mash is not only boiled but also distilled. Distillation is used to increase the alcohol content of the beverage. When the liquid is boiled, the vapor is “captured” and cooled. The resulting liquid is called the distillate. Distillation separates substances that are volatile (meaning they vaporize) from less volatile substances. Protein is not volatile and does not vaporize. Consequently, even if wheat, barley, or rye was used to make a distilled alcoholic beverage, gluten-containing proteins will not be found in the final distillate.”
Tomorrow’s post: Nutritional Quality of the Gluten-Free Diet