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Q. My family is gluten-free, so does that mean we can eat all our gluten-free food on Pesach?
A. People who are celiac or otherwise choose to avoid gluten will not eat items that contain wheat, rye, spelt, and barley, and at first glance it would seem that anything labeled gluten-free is automatically suitable for Pesach. The simplest reasons why this is not accurate are that (a) oats can be gluten-free, yet oats mixed with water is chametz, and (b) corn, rice, and beans are all gluten-free but are not eaten by Ashkenazic Jews due to the custom of avoiding kitnios.
In addition, to qualify as gluten-free, the FDA requires that the product be shown to contain less than 20 ppm of gluten. This may be an appropriate standard for people suffering from celiac disease, but such tests will not show whether the product was produced on hot equipment used for chametz/gluten (which was not kashered) or whether the gluten-free products had incidental contact with gluten-containing grains during transit or processing. Such issues have been observed by Mashgichim overseeing kashrus for items claimed to be gluten-free.
However, there is a more fundamental reason why gluten-free products are not necessarily acceptable for Pesach – 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 can be labeled gluten-free. Of course, these grains also have other components such as starch, which may be gluten-free but are most definitely chametz. Thus, for example, in some countries wheat starch which is converted into glucose, later 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 https://bit.ly/3F6q9oZ). 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 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.