September 19, 2017
One co-product from wet milling corn is corn gluten meal, a high-protein ingredient used in many pet foods and livestock feed. Based on its name, one would think that corn gluten meal contains gluten, but it’s a misnomer. There is no gluten in corn gluten meal. In fact, it contains 60-70% protein and is 100% gluten free.
According to University of Illinois food engineer Kent Rausch, “This is a textbook fact. Wheat contains gluten. Corn does not. There has never been any reason why corn gluten meal and another wet milling co-product, corn gluten feed, should contain the word 'gluten.' Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye — not in corn or corn co-products.”
Rausch, an associate professor in the department of agricultural and biological engineering within the College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences, said because corn wet mills process corn grain exclusively — no wheat and, therefore, no gluten — there isn’t even a concern about the possibility that cross-contamination would occur to cause gluten contamination of corn gluten meal or corn gluten feed.
So, how did the word end up in the name? Rausch said the story goes that one of the early corn processors hired someone from a wheat gluten processing facility. “He just called everything that had protein in it ‘gluten,’ but I’ve never seen anything in writing to verify the story.”
Some animal food processors would like to see the name officially changed to something more accurate and to avoid any confusion on the part of consumers. Rausch said pet and livestock owners see corn gluten meal in the list of ingredients on feed labels and have questioned it, assuming that it’s the same as the gluten linked to celiac disease in people.
Considering the texture of yeast breads that contain gluten, it’s obvious that corn doesn’t have it. That’s why cornbread has the consistency it does, because no gluten equals drier and more crumbly compared to wheat bread with its stretchy gluten.
“It’s ironic that corn protein is a great source of gluten-free protein, but everything in the wet milling process has the term ‘gluten’ attached to it. If the name could be changed, it would be a lot less confusing,” Rausch said. “Every year during our wet milling workshop at the (University of Illinois), we have representatives attending who are confused by the names and whether gluten is in corn. These are people that actually work in the wet mills.”
Rausch noted that it’s up to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to change the name. AAFCO is responsible for creating ingredient definitions for animal food products.
With gluten allergies in the health spotlight and more and more gluten-free products being produced, now would be a good time to clarify the term and confirm the absence of gluten in corn and corn products.
“It would certainly stave off the confusion,” Rausch said.
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