Is Barley Gluten Free? | Build a Stash

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Key Takeaways

  • Barley is a cereal grain that is healthy for many people but contains gluten.
  • You need to avoid gluten if you stick to gluten-free grains.
  • Malt sugar, malt syrup, malted barley, and malt beer all contain gluten.
  • Barley is not much lower risk than wheat if you have bad reactions to gluten.
  • Barley pearls contain gluten, as does whole-grain barley.

If you are on a gluten-free diet, you have to avoid wheat and some other grains. Is barley gluten-free? What grains contain gluten?

Unfortunately, there is nothing gluten-free about barley. Barley is not lower in gluten than wheat by enough to matter. Someone with gluten insensitivity, even if it is not celiac disease, should avoid foods made with barley.

I have moderate gluten insensitivity and would not consider eating foods made from barley instead of wheat. The gluten is still too high, even if you only try to limit and not eliminate gluten. However, there are lots of gluten-free foods out there, including gluten-free bread and beer.

Table of contents


Is Barley Gluten Free?

Barley is a grain found in many foods including processed foods. Unfortunately, you cannot eat or drink anything made with barley on a gluten-free diet. It is one of the grains you have to avoid.

Only wheat, barley, and rye contain gluten. There is also gluten in a cross between wheat and rye, called triticale. While whole grain barley is considered a healthy whole grain, it is not ok for people who cannot eat gluten.

You won't find gluten in other grains, so you don't have to eat a grain-free diet. There are still forms of bread, cereal, and pasta you can eat without ingesting any gluten.

What About Gluten-Removed Beer?

In my experience, you can drink gluten-removed beer with no symptoms. However, it depends on how serious your gluten sensitivity is.

Gluten-removed beer is low in gluten but is usually not gluten-free. The process used to remove the gluten is imperfect. If you have celiac disease, I recommend avoiding gluten-removed beer.

A better choice is beer made from grains that don't contain gluten. Many beers have always been gluten-free even if they are not marketed as such. Beer made from sorghum and many other grains is fine.

What About Barley Malt and Barley Malt Extract?

Unfortunately, these drinks contain gluten, so you will have to look for gluten-free alternatives. You quite likely cannot drink malt beverages with gluten sensitivity and get away with it. The gluten content is high enough that you will get symptoms even if your gluten sensitivity is not severe.

Usually, any kind of beverage with the word "malt" in it has gluten. Malt vinegar, malted syrup, and malted milk also have gluten and should be avoided.

Remember that many beers contain zero gluten as their ingredients are gluten-free. These drinks are fine even if you have celiac disease and will have an allergic reaction from gluten.

What About Barley Flour?

There is nothing low-gluten about barley flour. It isn't any better than wheat flour for the gluten intolerant. Barley products are high in gluten unless the gluten is removed or reduced.

What is Pearled Barley?

Pearled/pearl barley is a type of refined grain. It has had its bran and hull removed.

This does not reduce the gluten content at all. Pearl barley is also less nutritious because it is missing the nutrients found in the bran and hull.

Does Barley Have an Inedible Outer Shell?

Yes, barely cannot be eaten without the inedible outer shell removed. In its original form, barley is called covered barley. Food manufacturers must modify it a little to make it edible.

Is Barley Grass Gluten Free?

While barley grass can be gluten-free sometimes, it is likely enough to contain gluten that you should probably avoid it. If your gluten intolerance is severe, avoid barley grass completely. I avoid it even though I do not have celiac disease and only have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Barley grass is only gluten-free if it is harvested early, which it often isn't. If the barley grass is harvested before the plants produce seeds, it's gluten-free. However, the plants can sprout early, so some gluten can easily be in your food.

Tests used to measure the amount of gluten can either overestimate or underestimate it. It depends on how serious your gluten intolerance is. If you only have to limit gluten, possibly foods containing barley grass could be ok.

Avoiding Gluten if You Have Celiac Disease

Unfortunately, gluten is not an allergen that food producers are legally required to warn people about. The only allergens that must be listed by law in the United States are:

  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Shellfish
  • Fish
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts

While labels must warn you that a product contains wheat, they do not have to warn you about gluten. A food containing barley may contain gluten without a warning label. This is unfair to people with severe celiac disease who could end up in the hospital after accidentally eating gluten.

Is Barley Lower in Gluten Than Wheat?

Yes, but it is not low enough in gluten for that to matter. Foods made from barely still have too much gluten in them for gluten-sensitive people. Even those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity should not eat foods made with barley.

Probably, some people with milder gluten sensitivity can eat some foods made from barley. However, it is usually not enough to eat foods made from barley instead of wheat.

One low-gluten food that some people with less serious gluten sensitivity can tolerate is sourdough bread. The bread loses a lot of its gluten when it is fermented, making it acceptable for some people with gluten sensitivity.

Is a Gluten-Free Diet Good for Everyone?

Surely, people with celiac disease should stick to foods labeled gluten-free. Eating gluten-containing grains and drinking barley-based alcoholic beverages despite the disease will keep you sick all the time and lead to other health problems. Some people should avoid barley grains and anything else with gluten protein.

However, should everyone avoid gluten? Some people think they should - gluten is somewhat bad for everyone and very bad for some people. However, other people disagree and argue that gluten is harmless for most people.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, there is no point in going on a gluten-free diet if you are not gluten-sensitive. However, Harvard also says that the evidence is not conclusive. Perhaps, it could be true that many or most people could improve their health by avoiding gluten.

Why Are Gluten-Free Diets So Popular?

People are to varying extents gluten-intolerant. Many other people have digestive issues without being sure of the cause of these issues. They try going on a gluten-free diet to see if it fixes their problems.

Gluten is linked to inflammation, so many people who know they have chronic inflammation try avoiding gluten. Many celebrities have gone on gluten-free diets. A person might also have friends and family members that recommend a gluten-free diet.

One disadvantage of a gluten-free diet is that foods which contain gluten can be nutritious. You need to make sure you are replacing them with equally nutritious foods. Gluten-free diets are also somewhat more expensive than regular diets.