Is Organic Brown Rice Syrup Gluten Free? Does it Contain Arsenic?

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Because brown rice syrup is listed on so many gluten free product labels, you may have come to the conclusion that all rice syrup brands are gluten free. However, some contain barley. The fermentation process often removes the barley, per some manufacturers. If you are gluten intolerant always contact the manufacturer before consumption to check, and for cross-contamination issues.

Image: Organic Brown Rice Syrup

A number of sites online explain the process of brown rice syrup manufacturing as to include the use of barley enzymes. Wikipedia defines the manufacturing process of brown rice syrup as “culturing cooked rice with enzymes (usually from dried barley sprouts)”. To make brown rice syrup gluten free, they must process out the barley enzymes. I would imagine that each manufacture has different processes, and they all do not use barley enzymes. So, definitely read those labels, and if you’re gluten intolerant check directly with each manufacturer for cross-contamination of gluten.

How Brown Rice Syrup Affects Blood Sugar Levels

Brown rice syrup is digested slowly, reacting slower on blood sugar levels than sugar and similar sweeteners. However, because of its carbohydrate and sugar content, diabetics should be cautioned, as it contains 36 grams of carbs per 2 tablespoons.

How to Bake Gluten Free with Brown Rice Syrup

With its mild buttery flavor and smooth texture, I have added it to a couple of my gluten free recipes. It provides softness without adding much flavor, less flavor than honey, though honey also softens baked goods. The thickness of brown rice syrup is usually thicker than honey, therefore, you achieve a softness as well as a bit of chewiness. I used it in my Mock Udi’s Whole Grain Bread Recipe, as does Udi’s.

To use brown rice syrup as a substitute for sugar in baking, I suggest using 1/4 cup brown rice syrup to replace 1 cup of sugar, and decrease the liquid in the recipe by 2-3 tablespoons, though 1/4 cup is suggested by Lundberg, the makers of Sweet Dreams Brown Rice Syrup. It depends upon the thinness or thickness of the liquid you are attempting to replace. Since milk and water is very thin, and brown rice syrup is thick, it would make sense to only replace a portion of it. All you can do is experiment with your particular recipe, as all milk textures are not created equal, especially the dairy-free varieties.

Brown rice syrup also makes an excellent corn-free substitute for light corn syrup. I used it to make my Gluten Free, Dairy-Free, Corn-Free Caramel Sauce. It’s easy to over cook just like corn syrup, therefore, be careful you don’t end up with a sticky candy-like textue.

Arsenic in Brown Rice Syrup

I recall earlier this year watching The Dr. Oz Show segment on arsenic found in organic brown rice syrup and other foods. Arsenic is found in our soil, more in some than other areas. Meanwhile, it is showing up in rice, where there is much concern, and other products such as apple juice, fruits, vegetables – even in rice baby food and infant formula which contains brown rice syrup – definitely a cause for concern.

The levels of arsenic recently found on our grocery store shelves were worrisome. The FDA allows a certain percentage of arsenic in our water, but they do not have a limit for it in our food or drinks.

Today, September 19, 2012, the FDA published their findings on Arsenic in Rice.

Where to Purchase Brown Rice Syrup

I purchase Lunberg’s Organic Sweet Dreams Rice Syrup online, through Vitacost. It is labeled gluten free, and they continue to test arsenic levels in their rice. In speaking with the Lunberg company, I learned that both their “Organic” and “Eco-Farmed” Sweet Dreams Rice Syrup are processed with microbiological enzymes (not barley), and made in a gluten free facility. It only contains brown rice and pure filtered water. Whole Foods most may some, as well.

In response to the Consumer’s Report article on Arsenic in Your Food, Lundberg published the following response.

Summary and Substitutions

Take note that brown rice syrup is not the only rice product of concern. All rice is being investigated. If you’re looking for a brown rice substitute, if you can get away with using organic honey, it seems like a safe alternative. If you need a substitute that is thick like brown rice syrup, note that most corn syrups contain genetically modified corn.

If you’ve decided to avoid rice products, now is the time to turn a negative into a positive and use more whole grain flours in your gluten free baked goods, and look for the same in manufactured products.

You may learn more about arsenic in food by visiting the following organizations:

  • USA Rice Federation
  • Organic Trade Association
  • International Food Information Council

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