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Academic questions need for gluten-free spirits status

A US academic has questioned the need for spirits companies to certify their products as gluten-free, claiming that vodka concerns of coeliac sufferers are “usually not science-based”.

Since an interim ruling in the US permitted spirits to undergo a gluten-free verification process, critics have asked whether distilled spirits actually pose a threat to coeliac sufferers

Speaking to the Scientific American, Steve Taylor, co-director of Lincoln’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program at the University of Nebraska, said all distilled spirits are gluten-free unless the protein is added after distillation

Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye and has the ability to cause people suffering from coeliac disease to experience severe gastrointestinal symptoms. If sufferers ingest gluten, it attacks the lining of the small intestine and keeps the body from absorbing necessary nutrients.

However, Taylor, told the journal: “Distilled spirits, because of the distillation process, should contain no detectable gluten residues or gluten peptide residues. Proteins and peptides are not volatile and thus would not distill over.”

Following the 2012 Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) interim ruling, gluten-free labelled vodkas hit the market this year. This ruling allows rye, barley and non-wheat distilled products to be labeled as gluten-free if they are verified as such.

Blue Ice vodka became the first spirit to be certified gluten-free by the TTB earlier this year, although Devotion Vodka also claimed to be the first this month with its own ruling form the TTB.

Thomas Gibson, the chief operating officer for 21st Century Spirits, Blue Ice’s parent company, told the Scientific American: “With coeliac and gluten-free products becoming more accessible, why not go through the process of proving we were gluten-free to TTB? We could use it as one aspect of our marketing program.”

But Taylor added: “All vodka is gluten-free unless it is a flavoured vodka where someone adds a gluten-containing ingredient. I know that many coeliac sufferers are extra-cautious. That is their privilege. But their [vodka] concerns are usually not science-based.”

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