Thursday, September 23, 2010

Are Lipton soup mixes still gluten free?

The oven-roasted potatoes recipe on the Lipton Onion Soup mix box has been a favorite side dish in our house for years.

So when an observant celiac support group leader from Philadelphia called Gluten-Free Living to ask if we knew if it was still gluten-free despite a change in the ingredients, I ran to my pantry. I had just bought a six pack of the mix at a warehouse club.

I am sorry to admit I did not look at the multi-pack in the store, especially since Gluten-Free Living always says you have to read the ingredients list every time you buy a food!

Both Lipton's Recipe Secrets Onion and Vegetable soup mixes now list autolyzed yeast extract made from barley. A consumer representative said this is a change in the formulation.

Lipton has a policy of always listing any potentially gluten-containing ingredient on its labels. Allergen labeling laws require wheat to be noted, but Lipton, a Unilever brand, voluntarily also lists any barley or rye. Consumers are advised to use the labels to determine if products are gluten free.

But the consumer representative said the onion soup is estimated to contain only 0.09 parts per million of gluten and the vegetable only 0.04 ppm. These levels are far below the 20 ppm of gluten the Food And Drug Administration has proposed as the cut-off for foods that can be considered gluten free.

I contacted Unilever's press office for more information about the tests used to get these amounts. Barley can sometimes present specific problems when it comes to testing. But so far I have not heard back. I'll follow up when I do.

Meanwhile, I had already researched autolyzed yeast extract made from barley for an On Your Plate column in an issue of Gluten-Free Living published earlier this year.

It turns out that autolyzed yeast made from barley is fairly rare. But I did find one company, Bio Springer, that produces some. Jean-Marc Pernet, head of market development for Bio Springer, said soup is one place that you might expect to find it.

Pernet said only a small amount of barley malt extract is used and only minimal traces of gluten remain in the final autolyzed yeast extract -- far below 20 ppm. In fact, Bio Springer certifies its product as gluten free.

Also keep in mind that yeast extract is typically used in very small amounts in a finished food. Pernet said there is little, if any, risk of finding gluten from yeast extract in a soup.

I don't know if the Lipton soup mixes use the Bio Springer yeast extract. But it would still seem the mixes poses little risk of containing any significant gluten.

I should also note the soup mix label says they are made in a facility that also processes wheat. It is very hard to know exactly what advisory statements like this mean because they are not regulated or required. A shared facility does not mean a product is automatically cross contaminated by other foods made there, but allows for the potential to exist.

Like all things gluten free, you have to weigh the facts that are available in deciding whether to keep using the Lipton soup mixes.

And remember to always read the label!

Amy Ratner

2 comments:

Heidi said...

I have always used lipton in my gluten free cooking, so i was sad to see this morning while throwing stuff in the crockpot, that my prized lipton soup said Barley! I called Unilever and they made me think that it was still ok to use, so I did. After tasting the soup a few times while making it, the unmistakable feeling came over me and I have been in the bathroom ever since. I would say, after this I will not be using it again, unless they change it back to the old recipe. :(

Amy said...

Lipton changed the formulation several months ago. The company has run tests and found very minute amounts of gluten, far below the 20 parts per million being proposed as a cut off for gluten-free labeling. The only company we could find that makes yeast extract from barley, which is the ingredient causing you concern, said they certify their product as gluten free.
But each person who has celiac disease has to decide which products they want to include in their own gluten-free diet. Unilever has a policy of always labeling barley, but this is voluntary. They could make the soup mix and not note the barley on the label, in which case you might not even realize it's there. Because they do label it, you can make an informed decision about whether to continue using the soup mix.
I am sure there are others who agree they would be happier if Lipton went back to the old formulation that does not include barley.
Amy