Maltodextrin is a common food additive that is safe for celiacs.

Maltodextrin is to Malt as Sea Horses are to Horses

Anyone on a gluten-free diet knows that grocery shopping and deciphering all those labels can be downright maddening. Although, label reading is much easier thanks to the gluten-free labeling rule, I still find myself questioning ingredients and double-checking labels.

That extra care keeps me out of trouble, but it also can throw me for a loop.

It’s like this. I’ll be reading the ingredients on a label and suddenly my eye lands on the word “flour.” If I look more carefully, I notice that it lists “almond flour” or “mustard flour.” They are both safe but seeing the word “flour” is unsettling. So, I stand over the package and read and reread the label just to be sure. It’s time consuming.

Maltodextrin is another ingredient that catches me off guard. Any ingredient that has “malt” in its name makes me think it surely contains barley malt. In the past, I always put products listing maltodextrin back on the shelf.

Now I know better. Turns out, despite the name, maltodextrin has nothing to do with malt. It is a white starchy powder that is tasteless and is added to a lot of foods to improve texture, flavor or even shelf life. It’s usually derived from corn but otherwise comes from tapioca. In the past, maltodextrin could contain wheat, but scientists are quick to say that because it is so highly processed, any gluten protein would be removed, making it gluten free.

Maltodextrin from wheat, however, is hardly ever used and if it were, the “wheat” must be declared on the label thanks to the FALCPA legislation. If you see no wheat warning on the label, the maltodextrin is safe.

Another factoid about Maltodextrin: even if it is wheat-based, it never comes from barley.

Here’s a trick I use to help remember that it is safe. Maltodextrin is to malt as seahorses are to horses and snapdragons are to dragons. That is to say, these all sound a bit dangerous, but all are totally harmless. (Seahorses are a type of fish with gills and snapdragons are a type of flower.)

Now when I am racing through the grocery aisles and must pause to read labels, I remind myself of these comparisons and my frustration about spending so much time in the grocery aisles melts into images of seahorses and snapdragons.

By the time I reach the checkout counter, my fret has turned to a smile and those images have filled my grocery escapade with a healthy dose of laughter! Not to mention my shopping cart is filled with all kinds of tasty packaged snacks containing maltodextrin because it’s safe for celiacs!