Maltodextrin: What Is It?

What Is This in My Food? Maltodextrin

“Do you know the source of maltodextrin in this chicken?” I asked the guy behind the deli counter.

“Maltodextrin is just sugar, it’s perfectly safe,” he said impatiently.

“But it comes from corn and sometimes wheat. I’m allergic to both.”

He shook his head as if I was speaking a different language, then he assisted the lady next to me.

I didn’t buy the chicken.

Maltodextrin is one of those ingredients that confuses me. Sometime it makes me sick, sometimes it doesn’t.  So today I decided to put on my sleuth hat and do a little investigating.

In terms fit for an allergic foodie who didn’t do well in science class, maltodextrin is simply a food additive produced from a starch. While the name has “malt” in it, maltodextrin does not contain any malt (phew!). It comes in a white powder or a concentrated solution.

What Is This in My Food? Maltodextrin?

What’s important for those of us with allergies, sensitivities and celiac disease to know is this: Maltodextrin is derived from corn, rice, potato starch, wheat, and sometimes barley.  So if you have allergies or sensitivities to any of these, you may react to maltodextrin. I know I sure do! This is why I don’t use Splenda–it contains maltodextrin from corn.

If you have celiac disease, you need to stay away from maltodextrin derived from wheat and barley. This is easier said than done. For instance, the other night my husband was eating barbecue ribs and maltodextrin was listed on the label. According the FDA Regulations, if the maltodextrin contained wheat, wheat should have been included on the ingredient (maltodextrin (wheat)).  It wasn’t. But I still didn’t feel safe because “gluten free” didn’t appear on the packaging either. And since I’m also allergic to corn anyway, I decided not to take a chance on those ribs.

Honestly, unless I’m eating food from a allergy-friendly company, I’ve never seen the source of maltodextrin listed. The reason maltodextrin derived from wheat can be listed as plain old maltodextrin, even though the FDA has labeling rules for the top-8 allergens, is a bit complicated. The Gluten Free Dietitian has a good explanation here.  I’m sure she did better in science class than I did.

Something else to consider: The amount of gluten in maltodextrin is usually less than 20 ppm; this means the FDA allows the food to be labeled gluten-free. For those of us who are super sensitive, 20 ppm is way too much.

So I’m glad I didn’t buy that chicken or bite into those ribs.  Unless the ingredient list identifies the source of maltodextrin, I’m staying away from it.

What Is This in My Food? Maltodextrin first appeared in Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.