Yeast extract confusion made worse by the lack of manufacturer transparency

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)”

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Comments (7)

  • Bonnie
    Reply

    Tricia, Yes, this is confusing with a capital “C”. Thank you for bringing more clarity to these on-going issues, supported by facts and food science, and for putting it all into a balanced perspective. The gluten-free boat sails in rough, choppy waters, and your work helps to calm the seas.

    March 2, 2019 at 6:12 pm
  • Lori Reply

    Thank you for making light of this, Tricia! You consistently clarify the most confusing Gf conundrums!

    March 2, 2019 at 9:06 pm
  • Angelica Reply

    Thanks so much for this article. This labeling is so confusing right now. It’s complicated further by my sensitivity to certain kinds of folate. And some yeasts are grown with added folate. So am I reacting to gluten in it? Or the folate in it? And which ones don’t have added folate? Ugh!

    March 2, 2019 at 11:24 pm
  • Jan Lee Reply

    Thanks for following up on this consumer concern, Tricia. But I respectfully have to disagree: Just because a company says it is gluten free and has gluten-free yeast, doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason for the individual consumer to ask for clarification. As Gluten Free Watch Dog has noted in the past, not all companies ascribe to (or understand) the importance of being transparent and exacting in their labeling. I have bought products that say they are gluten free and then in reading the fine print, had reason to question the claim. In one instance, the manufacturer admitted that the product could have been exposed to gluten, and it was an “oversight” that he hadn’t noted it on his label.

    From my experience, the yeast and maltodextrin are the two ingredients that seem to slip through the mesh when it comes to transparent labeling for gluten-free products.

    Thanks to both the consumer and to you for following up on this question to the end. The more that is done, the more companies will know that they *must* be transparent and precise, because otherwise consumers will become wary and their brands could suffer.

    March 3, 2019 at 8:33 pm
    • Tricia Thompson Reply

      Hi Jan, Thank you for your thoughtful comments. As a consumer you should contact manufacturers about any ingredient that you question or anytime you feel less than comfortable about a food. However, at this time, yeast extract is not an ingredient that GFWD will issue a recommendation for when it is included in a labeled gluten-free food. For years, ever since we tested Marmite (this was before the UK required the declaration of barley), we have recommended that folks with celiac disease or another gluten-related disorder contact manufacturers about yeast extract in foods NOT labeled gluten-free. If you come across a labeled gluten-free food that includes yeast extract and you discover it is spent brewer’s yeast/grown on barley or wheat, please let us know. If you come across maltodextrin in any food product–labeled gluten-free or not– that is derived from wheat and wheat is not declared in either the ingredients list or Contains statement, this product is not in compliance with FALCPA and should be reported to FDA. Please notify GFWD too.

      March 3, 2019 at 10:18 pm
      • Jan Lee Reply

        Excellent points. Thanks for your valuable work!

        March 3, 2019 at 10:45 pm
  • Bonnie Reply

    I want to thank all of you for commenting and sharing your thoughts, opinions and experiences. Thanks to GFWD and Tricia, we have the place and space to do it. This kind of dialogue is valuable and has the potential to bring about changes beneficial to all of us.

    March 3, 2019 at 11:35 pm

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