Is WheatGrass Gluten Free?


For those trying to limit gluten in their diets, that seems like a contradiction. How can anything with the word “wheat” be gluten free? Wheat is generally thought of as food with the highest level of gluten.

Yet, an outside lab tests each batch of our wheatgrass ensure it meets the FDA’s gluten free standard. Pines would not use the gluten free logo on its labels for Pines Wheat Grass without laboratory tests proving it.

The FDA now requires that a gluten-free claim requires tests on file for each batch showing the gluten level was below 20 parts per million.

How Come other Wheatgrass Products Do Not have the Gluten Free Logo?

So how can Pines Wheat Grass meet the FDA's gluten free standard when most other wheatgrass products do not? That’s because other companies do not harvest when wheatgrass is at the stage when it can meet that standard. At Pines, we are very careful to harvest at the correct time. Just to make sure, we test each batch to make certain it meets the FDA standard for gluten free.

Planting in the Fall for a Winter of Slow Growth

Prior to the development of the grain, wheatgrass represents “the placenta for the grain”. It is a lush dark green leafy vegetable with extremely high levels of green food nutrition.  The plant uses that stored nutrition when it starts developing the grain. When are fields are near roads, we leave a wide buffer strip and a reminder to road crews that they agreed not to spray their right of way. We plant our quality wheatgrass in the fall.  We use glacial soils found only in the far northeastern corner of Kansas, northern Missouri and Central Iowa. That's where Charles Schnabel, the father of wheatgrass, grew the wheatgrass powder for all the studies cited by popular authors, including Ann Wigmore, Viktoras Kulvinskas, and Steve Meyerowitz Unlike wheatgrass grown in trays, the scientists never planted true wheatgrass seeds right next to each other. Instead, the scientists grew the wheatgrass for the research as nature intends and the way Pines still does today.  We plant the seeds an average of one inch apart so each plant has room to grow as it should. When we plant the seeds of true wheatgrass in the fall, the glacial soil is still warm from summer and the air is often cold, sometimes even freezing. Warm soil and cold air in the fall are natural to winter wheat and induces the plant to grow foot-long roots deep in the rich glacial soil. After a month, even with those long roots, the plant only produces one or two inches of leaf above ground.

Slow Growth Through Often-Freezing Temperatures

WG Winter - Right During slow growth through often freezing temperatures in the winter, the wheatgrass roots are busy preparing for spring by utilizing the solar energy collected by the short leaves on milder winter days. By early spring, immature, nearly-microscopic seed heads have developed in an ovary in the roots called “the boot.” Schnabel and other scientists studied the nutrient levels of wheatgrass at various stages of growth. They found that wheatgrass reaches its peak nutritional level in the spring after a winter of slow growth in often freezing temperatures. They found that this peak occurs just before the tiny seed head starts to move out of the boot. At this point, the wheatgrass does not contain anything like the nutritional spectrum of grain. Its nutritional spectrum is similar to that of any dark green, leafy vegetable, but with much greater nutritional concentration.

The Magic Happens for Only a Couple of Days in the Early Spring

WG Finished - right As this almost microscopic seed head begins moving up out of the boot, the naturally-concentrated vegetable nutrition in the wheatgrass is ready to serve as the “placenta” for making the seed. Dr. Schnabel and the other scientists determined that at this precise stage of growth, the plant contains its highest level of dark green leafy vegetable nutrition. This once-a-year period lasts only a few days for each field in the early spring. That is when Pines harvests its wheatgrass and is the time when Dr. Schnabel harvested the wheatgrass used in all the research. This stage of growth is called “jointing.” After jointing, the wheat plant forms a stalk. The developing seed head grows in size as it moves upward inside that stalk, utilizing the stored vegetable nutrition in the wheatgrass. Wheatgrass itself contains no gluten. It is that seed head that starts producing the gluten protein. Thus, as long as a grower harvest the wheatgrass when it is a still a short grass, before it forms a stalk, it is gluten-free. That's when it is still a dark green leafy vegetable. At this correct stage for harvest, the wheat plant is usually about eight to ten inches tall. The immature seed is near or below ground level.  That's well below the cutting bars on the harvesting machines.

Comparing the Jointing Stage with the Flag Grass Stage

compare grasses - right In an effort to increase production, some companies try to capitalize on the reputation for quality that Pines and Charles Schnabel established during more than 80 years of growing wheatgrass properly. These "copycat companies" use statements from our literature and from Dr. Schnabel’s research but often do not follow the standards he established. These growers seem to care more about profits than quality. They allow the wheat plant to grow much taller than what Schnabel used in his research and what Pines has harvested since 1976. They postpone the harvest and wait for greater tonnage per acre. When they do that, the seed heads are no longer below the cutting bars of harvesting machines. If these immature seed heads end up in the product, the resulting powder or tablets can contain gluten above the FDA standard.  We use outside labs to test Pines Wheat Grass and other crops for gluten.  Pines keeps  those lab reports on file. That's why we can state on the label that that it is gluten free. Consumers cannot assume that just because Pines Wheat Grass is gluten free that all other wheatgrass products are also gluten free. Pines International harvests about 500 pounds of gluten-free wheatgrass per acre per year. Companies that let their wheatgrass grow past the jointing stage can produce 2,000 pounds or more per acre, and their products can contain gluten. Further, when a grower harvest the wheat plant after the seed head has started moving up the stalk, it is no longer wheatgrass. The nutrition in the wheatgrass (the placenta) went toward supplying the growing seed head with nourishment as it moved up the stalk.  To capture that nutrition, growers must harvest wheatgrass before that occurs.

Gluten forms After the Jointing Stage

In the two pictures above, the picture on the right shows the wheat plants after the stalks have formed. Please note the dried up wheatgrass at the base of each stalk. The wheatgrass turns brown and becomes drained of nutrition. That nutrition went to making the seed head. Each stalk you see in the picture contains a seed head that is growing in size as it moves up within the stalk. Each seed head gets bigger each day as it moves up, finally emerging at the top of each stalk as the familiar green shaft of wheat. The shaft of wheat then flowers and shares pollen. The seed head produces fertilized seeds.  They ripen and then farmers harvest them as wheat grain. Pines harvests its wheatgrass at the correct stage. The picture on the left shows that stage. When harvested at this "unjointed stage," the thick stalk has not developed. The seed head is still well below the cutting bar of the harvesting machine. That is when the wheatgrass is at its most nutrient-dense point. It contains no gluten.

Some Incorrectly Say Flag Grass is Wheatgrass

Growers who let the wheat plant go beyond the wheatgrass stage harvest "flag grass”.  Flag grass is the flag leaves that come off the stalk. You can see the flag leaves in the picture on the right. The wheatgrass no longer exists.  It dried and drained of nutrition at the base of each stalk.  In order to remove the stalk and seed head, some growers use a technique called “aspiration".  They use aspiration to “blow off” the stalks and the seed head inside them. This helps to remove some of the gluten and the stalks.  Unfortunately for the consumer, the result is not really wheatgrass.  Flag grass even without the stems contains far less green food value as real wheatgrass. Although they call the aspirated product, “wheatgrass,” it is in reality “flag grass". Flag grass can contain a gluten well above the FDA standard, even with aspirated stems. If a product claims to be “wheatgrass,” without the label stating "gluten free," it may not meet the FDA standard.  That shows the company does not have lab reports to prove teach batch meets the standard. The product is likely flag grass instead of gluten-free wheatgrass.  

Find a Store Near You or Order Online

my plate - fixed right The Centers for Disease Control found that only one in ten people eat enough dark green veggies. They also found dark green veggies protect us from disease common to modern society.  That's why the USDA food plate (at left) made veggies the most important food group. No matter how many vegetables you eat, you probably need more.  PINES products cost less than other vegetables, provide more nutrition. In addition, we won the Taste of Life Award!  Please use our store locator to find a location near you where you can buy Pines. Also, feel free to order online.