Is Barley Gluten-Free?

Is Barley Gluten-Free?

Barley is a wonderful grain often contained in alcohol like whiskey, beer or other foods such as cereals, baked goods and soups. It’s hearty, filling and full nutrition ideal for a healthy, well-rounded diet. But, people who have a medical aversion to gluten have to take greater precautions.

Since gluten is a byproduct contained in various grains, many pose the question, “Is barley gluten-free?” Unfortunately, barley is not ideal for celiac disease or those with severe gluten sensitivity. One of its main constituents is gluten and it will wreak havoc on someone’s system who cannot handle it.

Barley is one of those primary grains to avoid alongside wheat and rye. This includes their many byproducts like spelt, malt, wheat germ, wheat bran, emmer, wheat protein and their flour counterparts, among others. But, barley is somewhat controversial since some people eat it without having a reaction at all.

About Gluten in Barley

Is Barley Gluten-Free?

Different grains contain different types of gluten. Barley has hordein, which occur in the plant’s seeds and what we identify as the grain. Malt is the main byproduct from barley, which manufacturers germinate and dry for things like vinegar, beer and whiskey.

Of all the grains to avoid on a gluten-free diet, barley doesn’t contain nearly as much as things like wheat. Usually the levels in barley are 0.2% to 2.2% while wheat contains anywhere between 5% and 9%.

Ergo, there are a few instances where people with a gluten allergy will consume barley and be fine with it. So, barley consumption will depend on the person and how bad their condition is.

Barley for Gluten-Free Diets

Is Barley Gluten-Free?

However, for the sake of safety, do not consume barley if your body reacts to gluten in any capacity. This means finding alternatives in order to continue enjoying beloved foods without the risk of glutenization.

In fact, barley has been one of those controversial grains, specifically pearl barley. While most with celiac avoid it, some with simple sensitivities seem not to have a reaction . Therefore, you don’t want to eat anything with barley in it and, unfortunately, many foods do comprise some barley.

Aside from beer and whiskey, things like mead, tea, candy bars (particularly the crispy rice types), artificial sweeteners, cereals and some granola bars contain barley. Also, other products indicating malt are, essentially, barley. These include anything malted such as candy, milk and vinegar.

Read More >> Is Barley Grass Gluten-Free?

Barley in Labeling

Is Barley Gluten-Free?

The problem here is labeling. Food labeling laws mandate manufacturer’s to indicate gluten allergens like wheat on their products, but the same isn’t necessarily true for barley. While most companies are good about indicating products containing barley, you still have to inspect labels.

This is because they can sneak in gluten-filled barley, malt or other barley-based ingredients under the guise of “smoke flavoring” or “natural flavoring.” Additionally, caramel coloring and flavoring can sometimes involve barley or barley byproducts.


Then there’s the matter of how manufacturers love to use euphemisms and other terminology to cover the real identification of actual ingredients. Therefore, those with a gluten intolerance should look out for things that say dextrimaltose, malt syrup and malt sugar. This is because such things are barley byproducts.

However, please note that maltodextrin and maltose are gluten-free. These do not derive from barley grains and are perfectly safe to consume.

Replacements for Barley

Is Barley Gluten-Free?

Since barley is off the menu for a gluten-free diet, finding suitable replacements are essential. There are many out on the market and are very adequate, albeit not as tasty or nutrient-rich as barley. Still, they are delicious and pack a punch with vitamins and minerals in their own right. The following list indicates some other grains to use in recipes and gluten-free cooking:

  • Amaranth
  • Sorghum
  • Millet
  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Buckwheat
  • Teff
  • Quinoa
  • Tapioca Starch/Flour
  • Potato Starch
  • Almond Flour
  • Coconut Flour
Is Barley Gluten-Free?

The only downside to these as barley alternatives is that one is not a catchall replacement. You will have to keep several varieties on hand for various things. Some things will taste strange in some recipes while others will not suffice in flavor or texture.

For instance, if you want to make beef barley soup and want to substitute the barley, you’ll want to use millet, rice or sorghum. Corn won’t have quite the right texture and quinoa fails to provide the hearty bulk that barley does.

Liquor ; Spirits with Barley

Is Barley Gluten-Free?

When it comes to drinking things like beer and whiskey, these are a no-go for gluten-free diets. Whiskey is not a safe spirit to consume for those with celiac disease and severe gluten allergies. The risk is far too great even though a lot of it comes out during distillation.

Since barley is a component in a lot of caramel coloring, especially for liquor, gluten-free diets shouldn’t have dark rum, some amaretto and darker colored brandy. But, some with lighter gluten intolerances do not experience reaction or illness after consuming these types of spirits.

Read More >> Is Bourbon Gluten-Free?

Gluten-Free versus Crafted to Remove Gluten

Is Barley Gluten-Free?

Also, some manufacturers make 100% gluten-free beers while others include an enzyme during the brewing process to remove the gluten from their beer made with barley. The problem with beers crafted to remove gluten are a tossup and somewhat misleading.

Per the Celiac Disease Foundation, the tools to measure the amount of gluten contained in any given product do not have scientific verification. They are mere gauges for estimations, not a precise measurement. This means that while the enzyme lowers gluten levels to a large degree, they are not completely bereft of them.

So, some people have a reaction and get really sick after consuming such beers. Yet, there are those with severe intolerances who never have a reaction at all. The table below lists some of the more popular beer brands that are either completely gluten-free or indicate “crafted to remove gluten.”

100% Gluten-FreeCrafted to Remove Gluten
GlutenbergDaura DAMM
BardsYards Brewing
Buck WildOmission Beer
Biddeford BreweryTwo Brother’s Prairie Path

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