Is Omission Beer Gluten-Free Enough For You?

The Celiac Sprue Association seal

The Celiac Sprue Association seal

There has been some debate for a while now as to whether or not Omission craft beer should be considered gluten-free and safe for celiacs to consume. This week, many gluten-free beer drinkers will be happy to hear that the Celiac Sprue Association (CSA) has given them their seal of approval.

When a company earns the right to use the CSA seal, it means they meet their stringent requirements of less than 5ppm. This is currently the best test available. I know there are folks out there who will say that they won’t eat anything unless is contains zero gluten but unfortunately 0ppm cannot currently be tested for.

Omission Brewing Company are the first to make craft beers that include malted barley in their recipe but which undergo a special process to remove the gluten. I’m not entirely sure what this process is but I’m intrigued to find out more! Each batch of their lager, pale ale and IPA is independently tested using the R5 competitive ELISA test to ensure that it contains way below the FDA gluten-free standard of 20ppm or less of gluten.

Last year, I attended one of Omission’s launch events. I met the company’s lovely CEO (who is a celiac!) and tried their beer. As a celiac himself, Terry Michaelson spoke about the importance of keeping customers with celiac disease safe and clearly they have taken this step of using the CSA’s recognition seal to show customers that they take their gluten-free status seriously and want to prove that they can be trusted. I should probably add that I didn’t get sick from their beer but I have some gluten free friends who have.

This process of removing gluten from gluten-containing grains using some kind of process, which I can only assume is some type of magic, has been a topic of much debate in Europe for years now. Many breakfast cereals in the UK, for example, contain “barley malt extract” but are considered by Coeliac UK as safe for celiacs to consume as they have been tested to confirm they contain less than 20ppm.

Codex wheat starch is another ingredient found in some of the UK’s gluten free products because again, it keeps within the less than 20ppm market enabling it to be classed as gluten free. Whiskies are also considered gluten free in the UK as it’s said that gluten does not transfer through the distillation process.

SO..

Omission beer has now been classed along with many other products to be gluten-free and containing less than 5ppm of gluten. The CSA is a fantastic resource for the gluten free community and they certainly don’t take their certification process lightly. I have no doubt however that many of you still won’t feel comfortable drinking it. Whilst the gluten removing process means that little to no gluten is found in the beer on testing, it was still made from a gluten-containing grain in the first place. Does this make it less safe for celiacs?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Please share in the comments below. If there are any readers out there who can explain the science behind whether or not these types of gluten free products could be harmful to celiacs, please share your knowledge!

I’m clueless on the science stuff so here’s a question I’d like to know the answer to: If two products are gluten-free certified and tested to contain less than 5ppm, are they equally safe for celiacs to enjoy? Even if one is made from a gluten-containing grain?

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Comments

  • Well, here’s a few thoughts. First, people who are paying attention are upset by this because the CSA has long said that they wouldn’t endorse a product made of gluten-containing ingredients. They even recommend for celiacs to avoid grain-based alcohol and stick, instead, to things like potato vodka, even though distilled beverages were proven safe fore celiacs more than 20 years ago (whiskey in the U.S.l is considered gluten free, just as in the U.K. So it’s a little weird that they would back-track on all this just to endorse Omission.

    Second, the problem that people who doubt the veracity of Omission’s gluten free claims have is that scientists do not recognize the ELISA test as being appropriate for brewed beverages. I’m sure the testing comes out as they say it does, but that doesn’t mean anything if the test itself hasn’t been proven to be valid for the product in question. As I understand it, the problem is that the ELISA testing looks for whole particles of gluten. The process that the Omission beer goes through breaks down these particles, so they don’t show up on the testing. But it doesn’t prove that the gluten is actually gone.

    See the quote below from Alessio Fassano, director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at MassGeneral Hospital for Children:

    “Negative results on the R5 competitive ELISA do not prove Omission beer’s safety for people with celiac disease. Dr. Fasano noted that ‘the purpose of the R5 ELISA is to test for cross contamination with naturally occurring gluten, not gluten that is artificially manipulated or degraded by an enzyme.’”

    YES, being made from a gluten product means that it’s less safe for celiacs.

  • Hi Laura.
    There are a few brewers that make reduced-gluten beer, and all use the same basic principle: they add an enzyme derived from a fungus to digest the proteins in beer. This enzyme takes over where our digestive enzymes would normally get stuck, and breaks down proteins into minute fragments, which are hopefully safe. I wrote an article that may help explain this: http://ultimateglutenfree.com/2013/07/gluten-free-beer-does-omission-beer-deliver-goods-simple-guide-non-biochemist/ (or still too technical? let me know)

    This is an elegant concept, but the problem is that there is no validated way to test whether the final product is safe. According to their recent regulation on GF labeling, the FDA deliberately sidestepped the question of “hydrolyzed foods”— gluten-containing foods in which the gluten has been partially broken down — because of this problem of comparing “20 ppm gluten” in a normal food with the gluten in beer (or barley-malt vinegar or soy sauce).

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