How Malt Could Benefit the Soda Industry

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Furfuryl Alcohol, as of last year, has made a stark contrast in California’s past and future, for beverage suppliers. New Legislature in California is calling many synthetic coloring agents, carcinogens.

This has made a vast change in the way soda companies are allowed to operate.

Though furfuryl alcohol is a colorless liquid, an aged sample will start to bear an amber color. This is thought to be the connection in the litany of the California legislature that deals exclusively with soda coloring and carcinogens.

In accordance with California's Proposition 65 law, the levels of 4-MEI found in sodas would have warranted a cancer warning label on every can sold in the state.

Both Coke and Pepsi have completely transitioned away from these chemicals.

Research shows a different picture though. Most beverage analysis studies can't draw a significant link between these chemicals and carcinogens. Perhaps there's a different and more natural way to go about these changes.

Malt As A Coloring Agent

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in its rules on color additives for the foods it regulates, says the color additive caramel can be derived from the following food-grade carbohydrates: dextrose, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, molasses, starch hydrolysates, and sucrose.

Malt, as many brewers know, is able to impart a great deal of color into our brews. Just try brewing a five gallon batch of an imperial stout, and you'll notice not only the mass quantity contribute to the overall color, but the kinds of dark crystal, and chocolate malts that leave their midnight black imprint.

While gluten-containing ingredients can be used in the production of caramel color, North American companies are now using glucose from corn or sometimes sucrose (table sugar).

When Is Caramel Color Not Gluten-Free?

To trace our steps back a bit and discuss the topic in relation to our last blog post:

Using wheat or barley malt—which is the most common kind of malt—would make a product off-limits to people with celiac disease.

However, registered dietitian and gluten-free diet expert Shelley Case, who is on the medical advisory board of the Celiac Disease Foundation, the Gluten Intolerance Group, and the Canadian Celiac Association, says that gluten-containing ingredients are no longer used to make caramel coloring in North America. Correspondence with major manufacturers of caramel color confirms that indeed seems to be the case.

There are a few instances where food products containing caramel color may use caramel color derived from wheat (or possibly from barley malt). Occasionally, packaged products imported to the U.S. from Australia or (even less commonly) Europe will contain wheat-derived caramel coloring. If this is the case, FDA rules on food allergens require the product to specify the source of the caramel coloring by placing wheat in parentheses following the ingredient name.

Example Ingredients: caramel color (wheat).

This restriction doesn't apply to caramel color from barley malt syrup, but that's a very uncommon ingredient.

It's theoretically possible that a small store (or online outlet) specializing in imports could mistakenly sell a product containing wheat-derived caramel coloring that doesn't follow the FDA rules, but you're highly unlikely to run across a situation like this. The same applies to malt-derived caramel coloring.

Since the FDA doesn't regulate all food and beverages sold in the U.S. In the case of meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, that task falls to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which doesn't require labeling of wheat-derived ingredients. It's possible for you to find a USDA-regulated food item imported from Europe or another region that uses wheat-derived caramel color.

Finally, a third exception: the labeling on alcoholic beverages is voluntary, and those may also use caramel coloring derived from either wheat or malt.

California could very well start offering an organic malt-derived coloring for their soda beverages. The labeling they would have to offer for their gluten-free customers would be another issue in itself. It really becomes a question of marketing. However, malt-based sodas might just make their way into the scene in the near future. Time has yet to tell.