Rabbi Dovid Cohen
Rabbinic Administrator cRc Kosher
Passover Status of Gluten Free Foods
Question: Can I assume that all gluten free foods are chometz free and permissible on Passover?
Answer: At first glance it would seem that the answer to your question would be yes. The reality is much more complicated. Just because an item is labeled gluten free does not mean it is suitable for Passover. Gluten free oats could be mixed with water and become chametz. Also, trace amounts of gluten are permitted by the FDA on a product that is labeled gluten free. While these trace amounts may/or may not pose a health risk they do create a chametz risk. A gluten free product without reliable Kosher for Passover supervision may be produced on hot, shared equipment used for chametz. An unsupervised gluten free product could also come into contact with chametz during processing or transit. Lastly, corn, rice, and beans are all gluten free but are not eaten by Ashkenazic Jews due to the custom of abstaining from kitniyos. These issues are not hypothetical but factual accounts from Mashgichim (kosher rabbinical supervisors) overseeing "gluten free" products.
Perhaps the most fundamental reason for not relying on gluten free status to be Passover approved is that the standards for gluten free and chametz free are not the same. The term gluten is used to refer to specific proteins (gliadin, hordein, and secalin) found in certain grains and any item free of those proteins is labeled gluten free. The protein is not the only part of the grain, there's also the starch component. The starch part of the grain may be gluten free but it is chametz!An example of a gluten free chometzdik product is non-kosher for Passover vinegar. In some countries wheat starch which is converted into glucose which then becomes alcohol and finally ferments into vinegar may be labeled “gluten free” yet the product is clearly not suitable for Pesach. A real-life example of this is Benefiber powder which is made of pure wheat dextrin and is chametz but since it is free of wheat protein it is labeled as being gluten-free (see http://bit.ly/HiAgGO). Similarly, Scotch whisky is made of malted barley and is surely chametz, yet the Scotch Whisky Association proudly reports that it is acceptable for coeliacs (the English spelling of celiac) (see question #90 at http://bit.ly/HiBrG5). These examples reflect the fact that the standard for gluten-free is not the same as the halacha’s (Jewish Law's)standard of chametz-free. Accordingly, we recommend that people wishing to purchase food for Pesach check that the item is certified as being kosher for Pesach and not merely rely on a company’s gluten-free claim.
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