Thursday, June 04, 2009

Vinegar Revisited. Again.

Distilled Vinegars are Gluten-Free, Just Check Others

The dietitian Tricia Thompson, who did the research that measured significant wheat contamination in oat brands including McCann's, recently collaborated with other gluten-aware dietitians in addressing concerns about the possibility of gluten in vinegar.

Their findings—summarized in Tricia's blog post, "Vinegar: When Is It Gluten-Free?"—were generally consistent with research published in Gluten-Free Living suggesting that the vast majority of common vinegars are gluten-free.

The main points:
  • Distilled vinegar is gluten-free, no matter what the source material may be, because (the ancient and medically reliable process of) distillation separates all proteins from the final product.
  • "Vinegar" simply listed as an ingredient can be considered safe—made from apples.
  • Check non-distilled and flavored vinegars. The most common non-distilled vinegar that would be of concern is malt vinegar; some Asian black rice vinegars might also merit concern.
  • The contributors to this recent statement are all dietitians notable for their expertise concerning celiac disease: In addition to Thompson, they include Cynthia Kupper of GIG, Melinda Dennis of Boston's Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (CCBIDMC), author Mary K. Sharrett of Nationwide Children's Hospital of Ohio (NCHO), Anne Lee (formerly of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University--CDCCU), and Pam Cureton of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research (UMCCR).


    Sailing Girl said...

    I have to respectfully differ with you on the gluten status of most vinegars. I belong to a forum for those who are super-sensitive to gluten ( Part of our mission statement is to ferret out hidden sources of gluten cross contamination, because our members react to very, very small amounts. Several of our members have gotten positive tests for gluten (using the EZ Gluten home testing kit) on distilled vinegars. ELISA Technologies, the company that manufactures the EZ Gluten test, has investigated and backed up these results with additional testing under laboratory conditions. The tests indicate that the amount of gluten in the various vinegars tested is very small (on the order of 5ppm or less). However, that’s enough to cause a reaction in those of us who are super-sensitive to gluten. Naturally fermented vinegars are available that test negative for gluten and do not cause a reaction in people who are super-sensitive to gluten. We’re fortunate to have this type of testing technology, which wasn’t available even a few years ago, to conclusively determine the gluten status of the products we use.

    David Marc Fischer said...

    Thank you for a throught-provoking comment. I'm going to contact Tricia Thompson about this and find out what she has to say.

    David Marc Fischer said...

    While I'm looking into this some more, I want to note that I visited and had some difficulty finding the test results described. I wonder if someone might be able to link to them or share them here.

    Sailing Girl said...

    We've had a variety of threads that touch on this, so the information is a bit scattered throughout the site, unfortunately. Here's a link to some information (although not the testing results themselves, because they're scattered in a variety of different threads):

    Several of us have gotten positive results when testing distilled vinegar with the EZ Gluten test strips. Testing with the home kit will show gluten down to 5-10ppm. The leader of our site (whom I consulted before writing my initial comments) has done copious research on this subject and has spoken in detail about it with ELISA Technologies. He told me that *every* vinegar tested in the lab by ELISA (including those vinegars that were not originally gluten-grain-derived) had some gluten in it, up to about 5ppm. The issue apparently is cross contamination of the yeast used to speed up the fermentation process. Naturally fermented vinegars (non-gluten-grain derived) do not have this added yeast, and so do not have the CC issue. I personally react to most vinegars, but have been able to consume naturally fermented vinegars with no problem.

    David Marc Fischer said...

    Thank you for getting back to me about this, Sailing Girl. After looking at the link you sent me I still have questions--the information in that particular post seems to address aspects of the subject at hand without going to the heart of it. If you happen to find anything that's more to the point, I'd really appreciate seeing that. Sorry to be such a stick in the mud....

    Otherwise, I am looking into this elsewhere. I did find some posts from January that said that the EZ Gluten test strips only test down to 10ppm, and also a reference to the test giving false positives for vinegar until the test was improved.

    I'm not saying those posts are definitive--I'm just pointing them out because I thought they might be of interest.

    But I also note that the EZ Gluten website also says that it detects "levels of gluten as low as 10 parts per million."

    To be continued....

    Sailing Girl said...

    I'm happy to provide information on this, David -- it's very frustrating for those of us who have reacted to vinegar and then gotten a positive with a gluten test kit to be told, over and over again, that vinegar (with the exception of malt vinegar and some flavored vinegars) is gluten free. It's not, and we've proven it.

    Many Celiacs are consuming commercial vinegar and potentially are being harmed by it.

    Unfortunately, most of the research on this took place before the website went up, and so it isn't posted there in one thread -- as I said, it's scattered.

    But here's the story: Our founder, Mike (a super-sensitive), kept reacting to vinegars. The EZ Gluten test kit had just come out, and he used it to test various vinegars. And he was getting positives. ELISA Technologies at that time said vinegars could produce a false positive with the EZ Gluten test kit because of the pH level of the solution used. But Mike suspected they weren't false positives, because he was having a gluten reaction every time he consumed commercial vinegar.

    So Mike decided to make his own, naturally-fermented apple cider vinegar, which took three months. He tested it with the EZ Gluten test kit before and after, and it tested negative both times. In addition, he didn't react to it.

    Mike got back on the phone with ELISA Technologies (very nice people there, BTW). He told them that their test was producing accurate positive results on the vinegars.

    ELISA followed up with testing of its own under laboratory conditions using a different type of gluten-detecting test, and found gluten (under 5ppm) in every vinegar it tested, regardless of source. As I said, the issue appears to be cross contamination of the yeast used to artificially speed up the fermentation process. Naturally fermented vinegars (like Mike's homemade apple cider vinegar) do not use yeast to speed up the process, and so do not have this CC issue.

    As far as the detection level of the EZ Gluten tests goes, ELISA Technologies told us that we could double the sample size, which makes it possible to test down to 5ppm.

    I can tell you from my own testing experience that at the 5ppm level, many, many, many foods marked "gluten free" test positive for gluten. Eliminating foods that test positive even at that low level has improved my health tremendously, and also has cut way down on those "mystery glutenings."

    David Marc Fischer said...

    Thanks for bearing with me. I have sent out some queries; I hope to learn more soon.

    In the meantime, I have found this explanation of how distilled vinegar would not have gliadin, let alone gluten in it.

    Also--and I am hoping to get outside info on this--for some years I have understood readings of 5ppm or less to mean "no detectable level of gluten." So, just to concoct an example, a watermelon could yield that kind of reading.

    I do not doubt that people who claim to have reactions to distilled vinegar really do have reactions. I do wonder whether there are more likely reasons than any presence of gliadin or gluten that could be causing the reactions, and whether those possible causes have even been ruled out. For instance, I believe that vinegar has an acidity of 4%-7%. Might some people react poorly to that type of acidity, especially if they have damaged intestinal tracts (due, for instance, to unhealed villi or ulcers or acid reflux)?

    Sailing Girl said...

    I'm glad you're pursuing this -- I think it's a very important topic for the Celiac community.

    Here is how I understand it: The distillation process in fact does remove the gluten. One of our members (who is even more sensitive than I am) recently did an experiment with Jameson triple distilled whiskey. It tested negative via the EZ Gluten test ... and so she consumed a fair amount over the course of a couple of days. She had no reaction. Jameson's distillation process reliably removed the gluten.

    The problem with vinegar seems to be that, although the distillation process removes the vinegar in the gluten grains, some small amount of gluten is added back in via CC from the yeast ... which itself appears to be obtained from the distillation industry.

    I think the fallacy that readings of 5ppm or less mean "no detectable level of gluten" comes from outdated testing technology. It's now possible to reliably test down to at least 3ppm, and there are gluten-free food companies doing that.

    I know my own gluten reaction. It has a well-defined timeline and too many different components (neuro, GI, fatigue, DH) to mistake it for anything else. I have reacted to vinegar (and to many, many other things that are claimed to be "gluten free" but have tested positive via the EZ Gluten test).

    I react to some brands of "gluten free" foods that say they test to 5ppm. We at have tested these ourselves and gotten very, very faint positives (indicating less than 5ppm, but still detectable levels of gluten) -- which, combined with our own gluten reactions, is definitive.

    Yes, you're right: a watermelon could test positive for gluten at 5ppm if it had been CC'd, perhaps by farm equipment or at the grocery store. The skin of the melon could have residue on it from the farm, or if the watermelon was cut on a contaminated cutting board, the slices could be CC'd.

    I've never run across a cross-contaminated watermelon, but I don't doubt it's possible -- gluten grains are *everywhere* in our food supply, starting at the farm and continuing on to the kitchen table. And if I were to eat the part of that watermelon that had been CC'd, I would react -- it wouldn't make a difference whether it had been CC'd at the farm or at someone's kitchen table.

    Personally, I absolutely believe people who say they're reacting to gluten are in fact reacting to gluten -- there's no reason to doubt that they know their bodies as well as I know mine. There are enough naysayers in the medical community already for us to doubt each other. And we now have the ability to actually test for gluten, so we can back up our known reactions with test results.

    David Marc Fischer said...

    Well, I'm awaiting some more input. In the meantime, it might be helpful for me to have the name of any contact at the testing company who's been especially helpful.

    My "watermelon example" assumed that the watermelon was uncontaminated. I'm saying that, to my understanding, tests that are below limits yield results that are phrased "5ppm or less." And, as I've mentioned, the website for the test you cite says that it measures down to 10ppm.

    Sailing Girl said...

    You're absolutely right that tests that yield results below the limits of the tests often are phrased "Xppm or less." But the testing technology is improving all the time, and it's now possible to test down to at least 3ppm of gluten -- possibly any lower.

    So yes, in your example with a watermelon that was not CC'd, if it was tested using technology that can identify gluten down to 3ppm, the results would be expressed as "negative -- 3ppm or less."

    My point is that various vinegars have tested positive, not negative, meaning the test was able to identify gluten in the vinegar (albeit at levels below 5ppm).

    The idea that something with gluten in it that is detectable but below 5ppm is "gluten free" seems to stem from the limits of the old testing. I react to products that test positive for gluten but below 5ppm, and so do many others.

    I know that the ELISA Tech website says that the EZ Gluten test measures down to 10ppm -- that's the limit of the test they have validated with a single sample size. But one of our members (a PhD chemist with extensive experience testing for trace contaminants in food) talked extensively with the researchers at the company and was advised that we could increase the sensitivity to 5ppm by doubling the sample size.

    ELISA Tech has been extremely helpful as we all work through this fast-changing field. I'm sure if you called them, they'd be more than happy to talk with you.

    Sailing Girl said...

    I just wanted to clarify something. ELISA Tech says they do not recommend doubling the sample size with vinegars, as that may produce a false positive. Our members that have gotten positive results with the EZ Gluten home test with vinegars have used single sample sizes. These positive results have been backed up by laboratory testing at the ELISA Tech company itself, using a different test system.

    ELISA Tech has advised, however, that it is possible to double the sample size on other products (such as flours) and increase the sensitivity of the test to 5ppm. As I said before, the company is extremely helpful and would be glad to talk with you about the testing procedure.

    David Marc Fischer said...

    Tricia Thompson just sent me a note drawing attention to a comment she just added on her vinegar blog post:

    "For those of you who are interested, I will be writing a blog on the EZ gluten home test soon. In the meantime, I have been in contact with Thomas Grace, CEO of Bia Diagnostics ( and this is what he had to say about using the EZ Gluten home test to assess vinegars for gluten, 'I would not put any merit into any results from these tests alone especially coming from un-trained people. One would have to confirm any results with a second method (preferably certified). Also, keep in mind unless the sample (in this case vinegar) is pH adjusted to a range compatible for this specific method (EZ Gluten home test) to start, the acid in the vinegar will most likely cleave the Ab conjugate, change the binding kinetics, strip the Abs from the nitrocellulose and render the assay inaccurate.'"

    I get the gist of that remark more than the details about the Ab conjugate, binding kinetics, nitrocellulose--and I think my readers do too.

    It'll be interesting to see how Tricia fares when it comes to looking into this.

    In the meantime, I still welcome specific information about any distilled vinegars (but especially nationally available ones) that seem to test positive for gluten content.

    Linda - Kitchen Therapy said...

    Wow, great detective work, still in progress.

    A simple cooking solution is to use lemon juice instead of vinegar. You get similar tart flavor, acid, and no gluten.

    Problem solved if you are making your own meals.

    I look forward to Tricia's and others posts.

    David Marc Fischer said...

    More from Tricia:

    "I contacted Elisa Technologies regarding their testing of vinegars and this is what they told me,

    'There has been no detectable gluten in any vinegar sample we have tested using the EZ Gluten or HAVen High Sensitivity Gluten ELISA, when the tests were performed and interpreted following the kit instructions.'"

    Thanks, Tricia!

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    Anonymous said...

    Thank you David and Tricia for looking into this. It was informative for a celiac like me. I don't doubt that certain foods react differently for many celiacs (i.e. The acidity example purported) and was glad to see the follow-up you did. This will at least give the folks at glutenzap some detail to continue their search. Again, I don't doubt that they may be reacting to vinegar but perhaps the cause isn't in the presence of gluten in vinegar. Regardless, thanks.

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