If you are new to the gluten-free diet, you may have read or heard that natural flavors contain gluten. That is sometimes true, but most often it is not. Here is some information that I hope will help you when you come across it in an ingredient list.
First, let’s be clear about what terms I’m talking about:
- Natural Flavoring
- Natural Flavor
From what I have read, wheat, barley, and rye could possibly be used in natural flavor.
In the US, according to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protections Act (FALCPA) wheat cannot be hidden under any flavoring ingredients. If natural flavor contains wheat, then wheat has to be listed on the label.
Rye is the least likely of the three offending grains to show up in flavoring. I really didn’t think it ever showed up, but according to Tricia Thompson (see resource 1),
“Rye also could be used in a flavoring but probably will be listed as rye flavoring (which is generally made from rye flour) in the ingredients list or used in a food product you wouldn’t eat anyway, such as a bread product.”
When barley is used in flavors, it would be rare that the term “barley” would not be included on the label. You would see it listed as “barley malt”, “barley malt extract,” or “barley malt flavoring.”
In fact, any time you see the term “malt,” assume that it is made from barley. (Maltodextrin is gluten-free though.)
Since wheat has to be declared and barley and rye almost always are declared, natural flavor, natural flavoring, and flavors are generally considered gluten free.
According to Shelley Case (see resource 2),
“For this reason, most experts do not restrict natural and artificial flavorings in the gluten-free diet.”
And Tricia Thompson (see resource 1),
“…unless you see the words wheat, barley, rye, or malt on the label of food product containing natural flavor, the natural flavor probably does not contain protein from these sources.”
Is Rarely Good Enough?
On their ingredients page, Gluten-Free Living states (see resource 3),
“Flavors are rarely made from gluten-containing grains, according to the Flavor Extract Manufacturers Association.”
Based on that and the other uses of words in this post such are “rarely” or “usually,” a person must decide whether they will consume a product that contains natural flavor.
It’s a personal decision for each of us, but here’s a suggestion. If it is a product that you consume on a regular basis, then call the manufacturer and try to get more information about the flavor or gluten-free status of the product.
Otherwise, rest assured that rare is rare and the natural flavoring is very likely completely safe.
1. Flavorings and Extracts: Are They Gluten Free? is a great resource by Tricia Thompson on this topic. Be sure to read what she says about smoke flavoring which can contain gluten.
3. The Gluten-Free Living magazine and website are resources I have depended on for years, especially for information on ingredients.