Yeast extract confusion made worse by the lack of manufacturer transparency
Gluten Free Watchdog received a consumer complaint about Health Valley Gluten Free Café Chicken Noodle Soup. The product includes the ingredient “flavors (including yeast extract).” Long story short, according to the consumer who contacted us, she was told by Health Valley customer service representatives that the source of the yeast extract was brewer’s yeast. However, she never received a definitive answer regarding whether the brewer’s yeast was spent brewer’s yeast.
Generally speaking, we do not advise contacting manufacturers about labeled gluten-free foods containing yeast extract. The assumption being that a manufacturer would not label a food as gluten-free if it contained yeast extract grown on barley. BUT, we became concerned after hearing that the consumer was told the yeast extract was brewer’s yeast.
We contacted Health Valley on behalf of the consumer. After multiple phone calls we were advised that upper management was not answering questions about the source of the yeast extract. A floor manager advised us that the company often considers this type of information proprietary.
We reached out to a contact at Hain-Celestial who was able to tell us that according to supplier information, the flavor does not contain gluten. No information was available on the source of the yeast extract. Our request for this information has been sent to R&D.
We also reached out to the certifying agency—GFCO. They are looking into the situation but have not provided any additional information.
Why information about yeast extract matters
The ingredient “yeast extract” may be “spent brewer’s yeast.” Spent brewer’s yeast is generally a by-product of beer brewing—what is left of the yeast once it has been used to make beer. Consequently, spent brewer’s yeast may include gluten-containing malt and grain.
Brewer’s yeast isn’t always spent brewer’s yeast. And we do not know how often the ingredient “yeast extract” is actually spent brewer’s yeast. Barley is not one of the 8 major allergens in the US. There is no requirement for barley to be declared in the ingredients list if barley is not part of the common or usual name for an ingredient (such as malt). This is why we need manufacturers to be transparent about ingredients.
Bottom Line: Give your money to manufacturers who are forthcoming with you about the source of their ingredients. Avoid those brands that withhold information important to your health citing “proprietary” as the reason.
Gluten Free Watchdog’s recommendation: Individuals with celiac disease should avoid products NOT labeled gluten-free containing the ingredient “yeast extract” unless the manufacturer confirms the source to be gluten-free. We do not want folks with celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders to start worrying about yeast extract in foods labeled gluten-free.
Note: You may have read information posted by GFCO that yeast extract is gluten-free (https://gluten.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Label-Webinar-Questions-and-Answers.pdf). This information is not accurate. Yeast extract isn’t always gluten-free.
The following products (among others) contain yeast extract from barley:
- Marmite: The first ingredient in Marmite is “yeast extract (contains barley)”
- Vegemite: The first ingredient in Vegemite is “yeast extract (from yeast grown on barley and wheat)”
- Knorr beef bouillon cubes: One of the ingredients is “autolyzed yeast extract (barley)”
- Knorr vegetable bouillon: One of the ingredients is “autolyzed yeast extract (barley)”