Tricia Thompson, MS, RD is a nutrition consultant, author and speaker specializing in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. She is the author of The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide and has a MS degree in nutrition from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts and a BA degree in English Literature from Middlebury College in Vermont.

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Living Gluten-Free

by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, The Gluten-Free Dietitian
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I recently received a few emails asking my opinion on caramel color and whether it is okay to include this ingredient in a gluten-free diet when it is derived from wheat. In my opinion the answer is "yes." What follows is a basic primer on caramel color.

What is caramel color?

Caramel is a color additive that is made by heating any number of carbohydrates. According to the Food and Drug Administration's Code of Federal Regulations carbohydrates that may be used to produce caramel color are dextrose, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, molasses, starch hydrolysates (such as glucose syrup) and fractions thereof, and sucrose.

What products contain caramel color?

Caramel color is found in a wide variety of products, including carbonated beverages, baked goods, cooked meat products, sauces, soups, and alcoholic beverages.

Is caramel color ever derived from wheat?

Yes. DD Williamson is one of the largest manufacturers of caramel color with manufacturing plants in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. DD Williamson (UK) uses syrup derived from wheat, corn, or beet to manufacturer caramel color. However, in their North and South American plants, neither wheat nor gluten is used as a starting material for caramel color.

For more information about DD Williamson, see

Does caramel color made from wheat-based glucose syrup contain gluten?

I am not aware of any studies that have assessed the gluten content of caramel color. Studies that have assessed the gluten content of wheat-based glucose syrups have found very low levels of gluten.

For more information on these studies, see

Can caramel color derived from wheat be included in a gluten-free diet?

In areas of the world where wheat-based caramel color is more commonly used, the opinion appears to be yes.

European Union
In 2007, the European Union permanently excluded from allergen labeling wheat-based glucose syrups including dextrose and products thereof (meaning products such as caramel color which may be made by heating wheat-based glucose syrup). As part of this exemption the starch industry agreed to a "Code of Good Practice" regarding the purification of wheat starch hydrolysates (e.g., glucose syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin) and committed to a maximum gluten level of 20 parts per million of gluten for these products.

For more information, see


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