Surprising Items Labelled as Gluten Free: Branston Pickle

So today’s post was supposed to be about the Mexican restaurant Wahaca. I officially *heart* Wahaca and had been looking forward all morning (or in all honesty the whole 2 weeks since I made the plans) to lunch there with a friend. When we arrived eagerly anticipating a Mexican feast, we were shocked to discover a problem with the water in East London had forced closure of the restaurant. What a nightmare!! We’ll be meeting up again in a couple of weeks so my post about their fab food and very helpful mails on their Coeliac friendly food will have to wait.

Instead, today’s post is about items of of food which surprise me when I see their labelling as gluten free.

Branston Pickle.

I was rifling through the fridge earlier and noticed the back label on Branston Pickle stated “suitable for a gluten free diet”. Not sure why I find this surprising, and clearly it’s great, but it got me thinking. For items like GF bread, pasta or biscuits which are made as specific alternatives to food products, labelling them as gluten free is clearly a requirement. It’s the point of the product.

But who decides for products like Branston pickle which I wouldn’t necessarily associate with gluten? How and why do producers decide to change their labelling? Are food producers listening to the growing gluten free market and updating their labelling as a result?

Comments very welcome!

Gluten Free Mrs D



  1. karen
    July 6, 2011 / 12:11 pm

    Anyone who knows anything about gluten and pickles, will know that malt vinegar is often used in pickling, and this is not permitted on a gluten_free diet. So it is a help to have it clearly labelled on pickles.

    • Rob
      October 7, 2015 / 5:09 pm

      …but anyone who knows anything about vinegar will know that it is created through distillation like whisky. Gluten is heavier than whisky and vinegar. Therefore the vinegar gets separated from the gluten during distillation. Elementary physics :-).

  2. Renee
    December 18, 2011 / 1:32 am

    Which brand is gluten free? The kind I have cross and blackwell is not. Thanks

    • December 18, 2011 / 7:39 pm

      Hello there, the Branston pickle in this post is safe according to the Coeliac UK Food & Drink Directory. Whereabouts in the world are you?

  3. Rob
    February 13, 2012 / 10:59 am

    I think you are missing the point here. You may not agree with it, but there is good reason for Cross and Blackwell to say Branston is GF.
    To start with Vinegar is often not made from wheat or barley. The second point is that the vinegar creation process includes distillation to remove the light component (the vinegar) from the heavy components (people usually think of the alcohol but gluten is a heavy component).

    This link tries to explain in a balanced way what the concerns are and what the likely facts are…

    Their summary is this…It would seem that this information — wheat is rarely used to make vinegar and even if it were used, gluten peptides would not survive the distillation step — would end any celiac concern about vinegar.

  4. Melanie
    April 5, 2013 / 12:54 am

    I’d check that one, its made with barley products.

  5. Gluten Free Traveller
    April 16, 2013 / 4:30 am

    So Branston Pickle is gluten free? Interesante. Do you know if this is still the case? I need to find some here in SF. I used to love a cheese and pickle sandwich 🙂

    • April 21, 2013 / 11:01 am

      According to Coeliac UK it’s suitable for a gluten free diet. It appears in Section 2 of their food directory. Products which appear in this section are made without gluten containing ingredients and have controls in place to minimise cross contamination risk. (For info section 1 of the directory contains foods which are on prescription, free from foods labelled ‘gluten free’ and those with the crossed grain symbol).

  6. Judith Broughton
    July 26, 2013 / 11:26 am

    Although many pickles contain malt vinegar (which is made from barley malt, ie contains gluten), according to the coeliac website:
    ‘Barley malt vinegar is made using a fermentation process. The end product only contains a trace amount of protein (and therefore gluten), which is well below the level which is safe for most people with coeliac disease.’

  7. August 14, 2013 / 6:44 pm

    Companies label it for two reasons: more and more there are legal requirements for labeling for allegens and because you cannot ASSUME that anything is gluten free. Companies use gluten in all kinds of things that one would not think contained gluten. Believe me, those of us with celiac disease appreciate not having to call to check.

    • September 7, 2013 / 9:34 am

      Yes, you’re absolutely right. Here in the UK there is a legal requirement to label foods containing certain allergens including gluten. It certainly makes life easier to know there are rules and regulations in place which govern those products which can be labelled gluten free. It’s then up to the consumer to select those products.

  8. chloe
    August 18, 2013 / 11:31 pm

    Here in the UK, I would steer well clear of Branston Pickle. Numerous coeliac friends & I have been ‘glutenated’ by it, before we became wise to the evil Barley Malt Vinegar! The pickle doesn’t have Gluten Free on the label here though, thankfully. As with Coeliac UK’s suggestion that a small amount of Barley Malt Extract would be fine (for example, a bowl of Rice Krispies, which actually made me incredibly ill), this is one they got wrong for many people!

    • September 7, 2013 / 9:32 am

      Hi Chloe, thanks for stopping by and commenting. As you say, this is the advice from Coeliac UK with regards to Branston Pickle / malt vinegar:

      Can I use malt vinegar?
      Malt vinegar can be made from barley and is found in pickles, chutneys and condiments such as sauces. If it is used in a product the manufacturer must list the word ‘barley’ on the ingredients list.

      Barley malt vinegar is made using a fermentation process. The end product only contains a trace amount of protein (and therefore gluten), which is well below the level which is safe for most people with coeliac disease. In addition, barley malt vinegar is only usually eaten in small amounts, for example, drained pickled vegetables, sauces with a meal, on chips.

      Balsamic, cider, sherry, white wine and red wine vinegars are not made from barley and are also suitable for a gluten-free diet.

      I think the key point in this is that’s it’s tolerated by most – but not all – people as you’ve explained.

    • wedgberto
      October 19, 2013 / 1:43 pm

      Hey Chloe, was there any chance that your jars of Branston had been used on gluten sandwiches before ?(i.e accidentally contaminated with gluten bread crumbs)

      • chloe
        October 21, 2013 / 3:59 pm

        Hi, no, a new jar in a gluten free household. We all have the same reaction in my family to Branston pickle, and any items with barley malt vinegar are no go areas. Shame, as it’s so yummy, almost worth the nausea and bloat for..!

  9. Phil a
    February 13, 2014 / 12:46 pm

    Just so you know, the tolerance level for being “gluten free” is 20ppm, meaning that those of us who have above average sensitivity are still impacted by the traces of gluten in the product.

    If you’re coeliac & want to be certain, check the ingredients and avoid anything which MIGHT contaminate, and avoid anything with those ingredients, including Heinz and Cross&Blackwell pickles

    I’m yet to find a TRULY gluten free pickle (I’m a hyper-sensitive coeliac)


    • Ali
      May 5, 2014 / 7:32 am

      Hey Phil, not sure where you are but i have found a gluten free pickle at my local supermarket here in Australia. Spring Gully Green tomato pickle ingredients sugar, onions, water, green tomato, thickener 1422 , modified maize starch, herbs and spices and food acid 260. its made here in Australia and i am pretty sure some of our testing even so less than 3ppm of gluten when its tested. maybe an option for you if you are really sensitive coeliac

      • Phil
        May 5, 2014 / 9:01 am

        Hi Ali,
        I’m in the UK, so can’t get Spring Gully products (as they’re an Australian based company)

        My level of sensitivity is so high that I can’t tolerate any gluten at all, meaning that I have to make all my food from fresh, using virtually no pre-packaged items, like sauces, pickles, etc

        Thanks for the info though 🙂


        • Kate
          March 3, 2016 / 9:27 am

          Hey Phil
          I also cannot eat Branston but have found in waitrose that DUCHY onion marmalade is quite a fantastic alternative and so far have eaten jars of it and no reaction. Hope that helps?

  10. Susan
    August 7, 2014 / 11:39 am

    To make gluten free pickles and chutney it is best to make your own, easily done, tomato and onion being the easiest using 2lb chopped toms, 2lb cored and peeled tart apples, 2 sliced onions, 2 cups cider vinegar, 2 crushed dried chillies, 2tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp mustard seed, 1/2 a cup of sultanas and 3/4 cup of runny honey. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 3 hours on low heat. Place in sterilised jars and keep cool for 10 days before consuming to ensure flavour is blended.

    • Ethna
      January 10, 2015 / 3:12 pm

      a tolerable amount of gluten is an interesting comment . Coeliac Disease is an autoimmune condition and it is possible that it’s the tip of the iceberg when one has symptoms ; however what is going on below that level . I would suggest that there is no such thing as a tolerance level and all gluten is dangerous for the coeliac gut , symptomatic or not . There is even evidence to suggest that all grains might be unsuitable .

  11. Ethna
    January 10, 2015 / 3:08 pm

    a tolerable amount of gluten is an interesting comment . Coeliac Disease is an autoimmune condition and it is possible that it’s the tip of the iceberg when one has symptoms ; however what is going on below that level . I would suggest that there is no such thing as a tolerance level and all gluten is dangerous for the coeliac gut , symptomatic or not . There is even evidence to suggest that all grains might be unsuitable .

    • Phil
      January 11, 2015 / 12:38 pm

      One thing to note is that some coeliac sufferers have cycles of 7 years, with the cycle going from “slightly intolerant” to “extremely intolerant” during the cycle – I used to be like this (in my 20s/30s), but went hyper-sensitive in my early 40s

      Don’t expect to guarantee that a “tolerant amount” will be the same from one year to the next, when I was at a good point I could easily tolerate items which had trace levels, but when I was on a bad period I was close to the levels I’m at now

      The best advice you can give to anyone who is coeliac is to avoid EVERYTHING that could possibly contain even trace elements, but trying to keep a certain amount of fibre in your diet is difficult

      • January 11, 2015 / 2:50 pm

        Hi Phil – interesting comment about 7 year cycles, I’ve not heard this before. Do you have any further info / links to research on this?

        • Phil
          January 11, 2015 / 5:40 pm

          Sorry, I have no links, but at the time the consultant I was under told me that it happened to some sufferers, but not all, I remember the conversations as I was definitely on a “cycle”, several years of my food management being easy, and a year or so of it being terrible

          During my 20s I was having endoscopy/biopsies every few years, so it wasn’t that severe, unlike now as I have cameras shoved into me every 6-9 months

          • January 11, 2015 / 5:59 pm

            That’s interesting. I must admit i seem to be less affected by cross contamination – at least outwardly – and this has been the case for a couple of months. I think i’ll investigate a little further. Thanks again for your comments.

  12. Kate
    October 7, 2015 / 2:36 pm

    Ok so in the quest for pickle
    Still no joy with a Branson version, it has barley in and I cannot eat it 🙁
    I always get a reaction
    Duchy originals Beetroot Relish
    Is an ok substitute in a ploughmans lunch and is labelled as gluten free, I have tested it and so far so good!

    • October 7, 2015 / 3:56 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation / I’m going to look up the beetroot relish. Sounds delicious, I love beetroot. I’d also recommend Stokes pickles, relishes, mustards. All really fantastic, lots labelled gluten free and sone great flavours.

  13. Kate
    October 7, 2015 / 2:39 pm

    They do an onion marmalade too 🙂

  14. BW
    September 6, 2016 / 8:43 am

    Thanks for the pointer on Stokes pickles, I can not bring myself to buy Duchy products. I understand that whilst they appear to be perfect for the small retailer their pricing policy is such that an independent retailer almost pays more wholesale than a consumer pays retail in a major supermarket. I’m also not sure I like where the money goes at the top of the tree.

    • September 6, 2016 / 2:29 pm

      I really recommend Stokes. All their products from chutneys to ketchups to jams are very flavourful and good quality….as well as being gluten free.

    • September 6, 2016 / 2:29 pm

      PS interesting about Duchy products. I wasn’t aware of that.

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