Is Rice Dream Really Gluten-Free?

The label says yes, but many people react anyway

Rice Dream
Jane M. Anderson

If you're looking for a rice-based milk beverage that suits the gluten-free diet, you might logically turn to Rice Dream. After all, it seems to meet all the criteria listed—it's even labeled "gluten-free." But that's not the end of the story for Rice Dream.

Legally, Rice Dream (made by a division of Hain Celestial) is considered gluten-free, which means it contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. Hain Celestial, which makes both shelf-stable and refrigerated versions of Rice Dream, along with Rice Dream ice cream, advertises its gluten-free status through a prominent "Gluten-Free" logo on the products' packaging.

But despite that gluten-free claim, we still advise extreme caution for those considering consuming this popular non-dairy milk.

Why Wouldn't Rice Dream Be Gluten-Free?

Rice Dream does not contain any gluten ingredients in its base formula, but the company uses a gluten ingredient in processing. Specifically, the brown rice syrup in Rice Dream milk is produced using a barley-based enzyme... and barley, as we know, does contain gluten. The Rice Dream milks are the only products that use this particular process; the Rice Dream ice creams do not.

Well-known gluten-free dietitian Tricia Thompson questioned the company about the use of this barley enzyme in its milk and concluded that the enzyme does not contain enough complete barley protein molecules to register positive on commercial gluten tests.

Thompson's conclusion? "The barley enzyme preparation and rice base used by Hain Celestial in their Rice Dream beverages are gluten-free [defined as less than 20 parts per million of gluten] and safe for gluten-free consumers."

However, we have difficulty reconciling this statement with the numerous reports of people reacting to Rice Dream.

Use caution, as lots of people report getting glutened by eating Rice Dream.

Also, note that a food can legally be labeled as "gluten-free" and still contain up to 19 parts per million of gluten—enough to make many people sick. That's why the most careful manufacturers strive for less than 5 parts per million of gluten in their products.

Tests Don't Detect Barley Hordein Well

Part of the problem could be that the commercial tests for gluten contamination have some difficulty detecting hordein (the type of gluten protein found in barley) when the hordein has been broken down into smaller pieces or protein fragments.

It's also possible that there's not enough residual gluten left in the product for testing to detect (at least not with current tests), but there is plenty for our bodies to detect, especially in people who tend to be more sensitive to trace gluten.

A product such as Rice Dream can meet the legal standards for "gluten-free"—in other words, it can contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten—but still contain enough gluten to make the more sensitive among us sick.

Regardless of the reason, we don't recommend Rice Dream for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. If you do decide to try it anyway, proceed with caution, and watch yourself for symptoms of a glutening.

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.