Monday, April 7, 2014

Blog: Are Mirang Oats Gluten Free?

Oatmeal is hard to find in Korea. Koreans have their own hot cereal. It's a rice mush called jook (죽). So when I saw oatmeal at Costco, I thought it would be perfect for my new gluten free diet. Oats, after all, don't contain the same kind of gluten as wheat, but then Mayo Clinic had to spoil everything.

"Certain grains, such as oats, can be contaminated with wheat during growing and processing stages of production. For this reason, doctors and dietitians generally recommend avoiding oats unless they are specifically labeled gluten-free." - Mayo Clinic, 2011

Well, that's terrific. Time to read the whole box looking for "gluten-free."

Many items at Korean Costoco stores are American brands. These oats, though, are not. They were made by Mirang (미이랑), a Korean company. So the box is completely covered with Korean except for the product title, "Oatmeal." It took me seven and a half minutes to scan the box top to bottom and back to front looking for "글루텐 프리" or something similar, but there wasn't a sign of it.

Clearly this doesn't mean these oats are gluten free. Yet one heartening fact is that the oats were grown in Korea. By and far, Korea grows considerably more rice than wheat. A report by the International Grain Council showed Korea's 2011-12 rice production at 4.3 million tones. In comparison, the country produced a mere 51,000 tones of wheat the same year. While the government is pushing to achieve the production goal of 200,000 tones of wheat by 2015, this is still small in comparison to the amount of rice produced. As a result, I'm not terribly worried about it being cross contaminated with wheat gluten.
Moreover, I have yet to be convinced that gluten free labels are commonly used in Korea. Since Koreans generally do not have gluten related health issues, there is no gluten free market among mainstream Koreans. Thus, if the oats are truly gluten free the company has no incentive to label it.

Unfortunately, a lack of conclusive information doesn't make these oats any more positively gluten free. For all I know there could be a central grain processing super-conglomerate that processes all kinds of grain on the same machinery, polluting everything with wheat gluten. So if I genuinely had a problem with gluten and it excluded avenin, an oat protein that a small percentage of celiac patients are sensitive to, I should contact Mirang to be certain their oats are gluten free. If I was as lazy I could just eat them and then check how my stomach feels, but I can't do that. My tummy likes gluten. And depending on how badly my system would react if I did have a problem, that second alternative might not be feasible.

Time to call Mirang! ...as soon as I can get a translator.

But in the meantime, I'm still going to eat those oats.

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