Is Yeast Extract Gluten-Free?

You’re looking a food label and you’re wondering, “is Yeast Extract Gluten-free?”. The topic of yeast ingredients can get confusing quickly. There are lots of ingredients related to yeast that are and aren’t gluten-free. More on that in a moment.

But yeast extract? Yeast extract can contain gluten. That’s because some yeast extract is made as a byproduct of spent brewers yeast used for beer.

This can be alarming for those needing to stay gluten-free as yeast extract is found in many foods. Foods like broths, stocks, cheese, meats, sauces, seasonings, canned soups, frozen dinners, and salty snacks like potato chips. This is why you always want to check food labels for gluten.

So let’s talk about all things yeast and yeast extract, and when they are safe for a gluten-free diet.

Table of Contents

Is Yeast Gluten-free? What About Yeast Extract - celiac dietitian

What is Gluten?

When talking about if yeast extract is gluten-free, it’s important we know what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, contaminated oats, and wheat. It may be helpful to remember the acronym “BROW” when trying to remember what foods have gluten.

In baked goods, gluten holds things together working as a binding agent. It gives texture and chew to foods.

Most people can safely eat gluten. However, some people have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease which means they need to avoid gluten. It can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea and nausea as well as nonintestinal symptoms such as rashes, headaches, or joint pain.

Yeast Extract is NOT the Same as Yeast Used for Baking

Before we dive into if yeast extract is gluten-free, I want to make it very clear that yeast extract is not the same as yeast you use for baking.

Yeast used for baking is gluten-free. That includes Baker’s Yeast, Autolyzed Yeast, Active Dry Yeast, and Instant Yeast. So rest assured, baking bread with yeast is fine.

Brewer’s Yeast on the other hand isn’t always gluten-free. This is because it can be derived from byproducts of brewing gluten containing beers. If you want to buy brewer’s yeast, make sure it’s labeled gluten-free.

I know, things are starting to get confusing. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of identifying gluten in food labels in the USA. If you want more help with this, check out my free labeling-reading training that simplifies the entire process in just 4 simple steps.

Nutritional Yeast is Also Different

Nutritional yeast is gluten-free, unlike yeast extracts. It’s deactivated yeast made from the organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The yeast is grown on glucose from sugarbeets or cane sugar.

It is sold for food. Because of its cheese-like flavor, it is used in many vegan or dairy-free recipes or supplementary use. It is used as a supplement because it’s packed full of nutrients and often fortified. 

So nutritional yeast, like yeast used for baking, is gluten-free. However, Brewer’s Yeast and Yeast Extract which can come from processes involving brewing gluten-containing products like beer, are not always safe.

Yeast Extract Can Contain gluten

Back to the gluten-free status of yeast extract, again, it’s not always gluten-free. That’s because if it’s derived from spent brewer’s yeast used for beer then it can have high levels of cross-contact with gluten and be unsafe. This also goes for other forms of yeast extract too:

  • Autolyzed Yeast Extract is not always considered gluten-free for the same reason as yeast extract. It can be derived from spent brewer’s yeast that was used to brew beer. Thus, it can contain unsafe levels of gluten due to cross-contact.
  • Yeast Extract Powder is also not always considered safe for similar reasons.
  • Barley Yeast Extract would definitely contain gluten because it’s clear it’s derived from barley, a gluten-containing grains.

So moral of the story? If a food item contains any form of yeast extract it could contain gluten, but let’s go over some examples of how to know.

USA Food Label Examples

An Example of When Yeast Extract Isn't Gluten-Free - Celiac Dietitian - Tayler Silfverduk

Pictured above is an example of yeast extract in a seasoning blend. In this case, the seasoning blend is not marked gluten-free. In order for us to know if this product is safe, we’d need to contact the manufacturer to verify the source of the yeast extract. Something like “Hi, I have a severe gluten allergy, I’m curious of the yeast extract in you Memphis Inspired Seasoning Rub is derived from spent yeast?”

An Example of When Yeast Extract is Gluten-Free - Celiac Dietitian - Tayler Silfverdk

Pictured above is another example of yeast extract in product. However, this time the product has a gluten-free claim. This automatically means that the product is safe and we do not need to question the manufacturer further. So if you see a gluten-free product or certified gluten-free product with any form of yeast extract, then it is safe no matter what.

So when is Yeast Extract Gluten-Free?

Yeast extract is gluten-free if it’s in a product with a gluten-free claim or certification. However, this ingredient may not be considered gluten-free if it’s in a product not marked gluten-free.

However, you can verify the status of the yeast extract in products that aren’t labeled as gluten-free by contacting the product manufacturing and checking to see if the yeast extract is or isn’t derived from spent yeast.

The topic of yeast is just one of the many confusing topics of gluten-free label-reading in the USA. I know it’s tricky to know what’s safe and what isn’t in the USA so if you need more help, click here to get my totally free training on how to identify gluten on a food label in the USA.