Barley has been confirmed to contain proteins that trigger symptoms in people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Barley, is that you?

Like wheat, barley is a grain for which the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed standards. USDA defines barley as any grain that contains at least 50% of whole kernels of cultivated barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) and not more than 25% of other grains for which it has established standards. Also like wheat, there are many species and types of barley. USDA specifies two classes of standardized barley: malting barley and barley. Both types can be either two-row or six-row. There are also at least two types of barley that fall outside USDA's definition for standardized barley, notably: black barley and hull-less barley.

A common use for barley is making malt, or "malting," which is commonly done or added as part of the process of brewing and distilling alcoholic beverages. Malt is produced by steeping and germinating barley in a controlled process that results in either a brown liquid or light-colored powder. Most people are aware that beer and other similar beverages such as stout, porter, ale, lager and others contain gluten. Some may also know that certain distilled spirits such as whisk(e)y (Scotch, bourbon, etc.) and even vodka are often made using wheat, barley or rye and may contain gluten (although most vodka and possibly some other liquor producers claim that the distilling and filtering process removes or breaks down any triggering proteins). However, the fact that the main threat in these alcoholic beverages is often barley (inserted as "malt") rather than wheat (although some beer and liquor, and almost all premium vodka, is made with wheat) may come as a surprise to some.

In addition to alcohol, malt is used as an ingredient in a host of other food and beverage products too numerous to comprehensively compile and list. Coupled with the fact that barley is not one of the FDA's eight major food allergens, and thus not required to be declared in a "contains" statement, this makes "malt" an essential ingredient for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to watch out for on product labels such as those for some cereals, salad dressings and marinades among countless others.

Want to Know More?

About the USDA's classification of barley ... Read the United States Standards for Barley [PDF]
About the different species of barley ... Take a look at the USDA Classification Reports for Hordeum L. and ├ŚElyhordeum
About common barley ... See its USDA profile
About the different types of barley ... Check out the USDA Commodity Image Gallery
About the 8 major food allergens ... Start with the FDA's guidance for consumers and food manufacturers