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AboutTricia 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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The first and only time I ate Marmite was in high school. I’ve never had the desire to eat it again. But many people love Marmite. If you are one of these people, and you have celiac disease, you should know that this product may not be gluten free (as we define gluten-free in the United States).
What exactly is Marmite?
Marmite is a yeast extract spread that is wildly popular in the United Kingdom. According to the Marmite website (marmite.com), this spread is “made from brewer’s yeast that’s been used to ferment sugars into alcohol.” The ingredients list of Marmite reads, “Yeast Extract, Salt, Vegetable Extract, Niacin, Thiamin, Spice Extracts (Contains Celery), Riboflavin, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12.”
Why assess Marmite for gluten?
Marmite was assessed for gluten contamination as part of preliminary testing for a planned larger study on yeast extract/autolyzed yeast extract derived from brewer’s yeast. Brewer’s yeast may be a by-product of the beer brewing process and as such may be contaminated with malt and grain. In the US, individuals with celiac disease are advised to avoid food products containing brewer’s yeast as an ingredient.
An unopened 125 g container of Marmite manufactured by Unilever in the UK was sent to the Food Allergen Research and Resource Program at the University of Nebraska (farrp.org). The product was tested in duplicate using both the standard R5 sandwich ELISA and the competitive R5 ELISA. The results are as follows:
Sandwich R5 ELISA
Extraction One: 28 ppm gluten
Extraction Two: 31 ppm gluten
Lower limit of quantification for this assay is 5 ppm gluten
Competitive R5 ELISA
Extraction One: 3,700 ppm gluten peptide
Extraction Two: 3,400 ppm gluten peptide
Lower limit of quantification for this assay is 1,250 ppm gluten peptide
Please note that 1 ppm gluten peptide is NOT equivalent to 1 ppm gluten. It is not easy to evaluate peptide concentration in terms of ppm gluten. According to R-Biopharm, the manufacturer of the competitive R5 ELISA,"The degree of hydrolisation is variable in the analysed food matrices and therefore smaller and bigger fragments in different amounts and forms are occuring." What we can conclude from the results of the competitive assay, is that Marmite contains peptide fragments that are potentially problematic for individuals with celiac disease.
Very important caveat: Only 1 container of Marmite was tested. This container may not be representative of the general gluten content of Marmite.
Marmite in the United Kingdom
Marmite is manufactured by Unilever in the UK. Marmite is not labeled gluten free (at least the jars I have). Unilever includes Marmite in a listing of products with the heading, “The products on the below list DO NOT contain Gluten or products thereof (wheat, rye, barley oats) in flavour or as ingredient.”
Historically, Marmite has been included in the Food and Drink Directory of Coeliac UK (http://www.coeliac.org.uk/node/156). In email correspondence with representatives from Coeliac UK, I was advised that for the 2009 version of the directory, manufacturers had to sign a declaration that products contained less than 100 ppm gluten. Prior to 2009, products had to contain less than 200 ppm gluten.
The 2010 directory has two sections. To be listed in the first section, foods must meet the gluten-free labeling law introduced in the UK in 2009. Products in this section contain less than 20 ppm gluten as verified through testing.
To be listed in the second section, foods must meet 2005 UK Allergen Labeling laws. Products in this section do not include any ingredients that contain gluten. Manufacturers are not required to submit gluten test results for products to be included in this section. Marmite is listed in the second section.
According to the Website of Coeliac UK, “All foods listed in the Food and Drink Directory ... Continue
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