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The Safety of Malt for Those with Celiac Disease

The following is a post by Donald D. Kasarda ( that was written to Michael Coupland of Kellogg (Cereal Company).

Dear Michael,

I have been asked to comment on your reply to Bev Lewis about the absence of gluten (or the barley equivalent) in malt flavoring. I am a cereal chemist who is sometimes asked for advice in regard to the gluten proteins as they relate to celiac disease by celiac patient organizations. I have provided advice to Kellogg in the past in regard to safe processing of a rice cereal (Kenmei) in order to avoid contamination. Kenmei has since been discontinued by the company.

While it is possible that the malt flavoring you refer to is free of all harmful peptides, your statement that because the flavoring is a water wash of malt, it is free of gluten, is not in itself completely satisfying for the following reasons.

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At present, we are pretty sure that peptides derived from gliadin proteins that consist of as few as 12 amino acids can be toxic. These small peptides are sometimes quite water soluble as well. When malt is prepared by germination of barley, hydrolytic enzymes break down the harmful (to celiac patients) hordein proteins. It is possible that some of the resulting peptides are small enough to be water soluble, but large enough to retain harmful activity in celiac disease. A peptide of molecular weight no greater than about 1300 could potentially still be active in celiac disease.

Therefore, the water wash could pick up harmful hordein peptides. Furthermore, unless the wash was centrifuged or filtered to clarify it, it could pick up small amounts of suspended particles that could contain hordein proteins or fragments of them that resulted from the protease action during germination.

The amounts of harmful peptides or proteins that end up in a malt-flavored cereal might well be insignificant for celiac patients, for, after all, the amounts in the wash are likely to be small and the amount of flavoring added to the cereal is probably a small part of the total solids. My main point is that some transfer of harmful peptides to the water wash could occur and unless your researchers have studied this question and have some basis for concluding that the amounts are insignificant (other than because a water wash was used), perhaps it would be best to indicate that some uncertainty still exists.

Incidentally, my suspicion is that there is not enough of the harmful peptides in Rice Krispies to cause harm to celiac patients, but for me it is only a suspicion in that I know of no experimental measurements or calculations in regard to the question and we still do not have a really solid indication of how little of the harmful proteins or peptides is OK for celiac patients on a daily basis.

Don Kasarda welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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12 Responses:

Connie Green
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said this on
07 Feb 2008 6:50:10 AM PST
Nice to have an educated opinion.

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said this on
25 Oct 2009 2:16:05 PM PST
I researched the ingredients of Rice Krispies and then came across this article, because last night I had some Rice Krispie treats at a Halloween party. It was about the only desert I thought I could have, forgetting why I never buy Kellogg's Rice Krispie cereal. It contains Malt flavoring and yes, I was affected. I have been trashed all day because of it. The amount is significant enough to affect gluten intolerant and celiac patients. Please be careful and thank you so much for the info.

Carol Bottoms, MS, RD, LDN
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said this on
07 Feb 2008 7:20:13 AM PST
Very helpful. I have had some children who are so very sensitive to to items like gluten and milk protein-it shows how hard it is to avoid these things. Hopefully some of the big company's will listen to the scientists and make more products friendly to a wider range of clients, as well as provide better labeling.

Judith Kramer
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said this on
07 Feb 2008 9:41:31 AM PST
As a nutritionist I appreciate the quality of your article.

Debra Bolen
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said this on
08 Feb 2008 6:17:39 AM PST
Very interesting and informative.

Matt Porcelli
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said this on
30 Sep 2008 9:42:59 AM PST
After getting into some pretty heated arguments with friends about it, I'm glad this clears the air. Thank you.

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said this on
14 Feb 2009 7:41:25 AM PST
Are 'malt' and 'malt flavoring' the same thing? I know some products list 'barley malt' and others list 'malt flavoring.' If these are different names for the same thing, we're okay. But if they're not, the title of this article may be a bit misleading.

Felicita Smith
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said this on
27 Nov 2009 3:26:03 PM PST
The only conclusion I can draw based on this article is what may be 'ok' for one may not be for another. No two celiac patients are alike. It's unfortunate that there are not enough studies to thoroughly understand the effects. We may stumble upon the cure if we had the tools and an active participation from a more proactive scientific study.

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said this on
04 Dec 2009 12:59:26 PM PST
I have been able to eat Rice Krispie Treat with no adverse affects. However, I have also found that the more true I am to a gluten-free diet, the less I can get away with so eventually, I suspect they may be something I cannot eat.

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said this on
24 Aug 2012 2:06:32 PM PST
The other issue with malt flavoring that can cause either a headache or a feeling of sluggishness, unclear thinking is the MSG factor, the processed free glutamic acid that is present... There exists an app called NxtNutrio (currently available for iPhone users) It allows consumers to set up their allergy profile, as well as food sensitivities which includes MSG and it's derivatives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners...colors... Alerting consumers of potential questionable ingredients...

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said this on
13 Apr 2013 7:13:52 AM PST
Laurie, Thanks for mentioning the NxtNutrio app. I can see where it will be a health and time saver.


said this on
28 May 2013 7:33:41 AM PST
Felicita Smith's remark seems today unacceptable. Even if one celiac patient does not show side effects it does not mean it is OK because you can not see the creeping devastation of the intestines which will eventually lead to cancer.

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