How can beer be gluten-free?

Ross Greenwood speaks to Phil Larkin, a research scientist at the CSIRO, about the development of Kebari, which has been used as an ingredient in gluten-free beer.

Introduction: How can beer be gluten free?

Ross Greenwood: I want to take you to another story, which is good. Scientists at the CSIRO had started to develop effectively a gluten-free beer. Now, this is kind of interesting because it goes to the very heart of the way in which the ingredients are being grown and in fact being used. Let’s connect with Dr. Phil Larkin who is a research scientist at the CSIRO. Well, many thanks for your time Phil.

Interview with: Phil Larkin, CSIRO, Research Scientists

Dr. Phil Larkin: Thank you, yes.

Ross Greenwood: You in this particular case have used a new form of Barley. It’s being used to make a gluten-free beer. Just explain this barley you made.

Dr. Phil Larkin:Yes, well, you’ll be aware that plenty of people particularly those that have suffered from coeliacs disease need to avoid gluten.

Ross Greenwood: I’m one of those so I do understand that very much.

Dr. Phil Larkin:Well, what we did in was tried to remove the gluten. We went around the world finding rare types of barley that were missing one or other of the, in fact, more than 20 genes that encode these proteins and then bred them together. It’s a process that took about 13 years and-

Ross Greenwood: 13 years, wow.

Dr. Phil Larkin:Yes, and it took a lot of patience. We’ve now reduced the gluten in the barley grain by more than 10,000-fold and that actually means that even the grain can qualify by the WHO’s standards as being called gluten-free and when you make beer from it’s even much more diluted than that. For people who need to avoid gluten, beers made from this barley should be very safe.

Ross Greenwood: But I’m presuming that it may be used for other things as well. Any sort of grain could be actually clearly crushed and used for pastas or some sort of dough of some sort. Is that the way in which it could be used as well?

Dr. Phil Larkin:Of course and the first one was in what we call a malting barley, which is a grain that holds the husk on the outside. The brewers prefer that but we’ve now moved this trait, this characteristic into a naked grain version, which the food manufacturers are after. So there will be breakfast cereals and maybe pizza bases, soups, maybe flatbreads and noodles, which you can make from this barley that will have a really familiar taste. It will be highly nutritious and be available. That will be available in a couple of years. The beers first and you may have read that that was launched in Germany late last year.

Ross Greenwood: Just incredible. I’m presuming with this, it’s okay to try and get this in the laboratory and try and test it up in terms of the way in which you work it but then you’ve got to get out of the field. Is it being able to be grown on a commercial basis or not?

Dr. Phil Larkin:Yes, of course. A very large area is grown in Australia. Some of that is being grown in Europe now to supply the German brewer, the biggest brewer over there in Germany. But yes, it’s going in Australia in areas all under contract. You’d appreciate that we, the purity of the seed, when we’re talking about people with incredible sensitivity to gluten, the purity of the seed really has to be preserved at considerable efforts.

Ross Greenwood: Was there a breakthrough moment when you knew when you were doing your study that you were on to something, that there was a prospect that you could actually create this gluten-free grain?

Dr. Phil Larkin:As a matter of fact, the team working on this project did have exactly that sort of a moment, that a single seed represented the combination of all of these rare changes and that could identify, literally pull out one seed that started this whole thing.

Ross Greenwood: Good Lord. It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s quite incredible but again, it just reiterates the work that the CSIRO does, the diversity of the work that it does, and then the practical solutions that it has over people’s lives.

Dr. Phil Larkin:Thank you, Ross, I couldn’t agree more. [chuckles]

Ross Greenwood: Tell you what, I’m going to leave it there. Dr. Phil Larkin. How is that very incredible? Research Scientist at the CSIRO. This is called Kebari, K-E-B-A-R-I. I do understand that this is not genetically modified, it’s not transgenic, anything like that. This is purely bred and discovered. And of course, it’s taken the CSIRO 13 years to achieve that. Now that clearly could have a significant impact on many people’s lives. They’re suggesting that there may be one or two in every 100 people in Australia who are actually coeliac, gluten intolerant, and that’s a really good story. Phil, appreciate your time here on the program.

Dr. Phil Larkin:Okay.

 

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