Starbucks is a popular coffee chain arguably more famous for their coffee drink creations, like the Pumpkin Spice Latte, Caramel Frappuccino, and the Pink Drink, than actual brewed coffee, but is Starbucks gluten-free? Not really. Find out what's a concern and how to avoid it if you plan to dine at your local Starbucks.
- Starbucks' Allergen Policy
- Does Starbucks Have a Gluten-Free Menu?
- Tips for Dining Gluten-Free Starbucks
- How to Find the List of Ingredients
- What to Avoid at Starbucks if You're Gluten-Free
- Items that Contain Gluten
- Does Starbucks Caramel Drizzle Have Gluten?
- Safest Gluten-Free Drinks to Order
- Gluten-Free Food Items
- Starbucks Copycat Recipes
- Frequently Asked Questions
Especially if you are on a strict gluten-free diet due to celiac disease or gluten intolerance, there are definitely precautions you'll need to take to safely dine at Starbucks. While a lot of the offerings at Starbucks are actually gluten-free, the environment in which they are prepared is not, which is precisely what poses the biggest problem.
Starbucks' Allergen Policy
Starbucks readily admits customers with food allergies or intolerances should tread lightly in their stores, those with celiac disease are no exception. Here's the company statement on allergens, which they post all over their menu:
"We cannot guarantee that any unpackaged products served in our stores are allergen-free because we use shared equipment to store, prepare, and serve them. Customers with allergies can find ingredient information for products on the labels of our packaged products or online at Starbucks.com/menu."
Unless the product is in a package, Starbucks will not deem it safe to eat or declare the item free of any allergens.
Does Starbucks Have a Gluten-Free Menu?
Starbucks does not have a gluten-free menu. While many of their drinks do not have any gluten-containing ingredients, there is a high risk of gluten cross-contact in the environment in which the drinks and food are prepared.
Unfortunately, there is always going to be inherent risk any time you're dining out. The risk is even greater at a restaurant like Starbucks, where there is shared equipment and no allergen control policy in place.
The risk of cross-contamination, more accurately cross-contact, lies in the way the store operates. Starbucks uses the same unwashed shakers, blending pitchers, and steam wand for all items, even those that contain gluten. So this really is a problem for someone with Celiac disease whom must avoid even the smallest amounts of gluten.
Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be an an exhaustive list of everything that is or is not gluten-free at Starbucks, but rather a guide to help inform your choices. As always, do your own diligence by reading the list of ingredients on anything you wish to order and ask questions of your barista. There is risk in dining at Starbucks but with proper precautions, you can minimize the risk.
Tips for Dining Gluten-Free Starbucks
All that said, there are plenty of people with celiac who still go to Starbucks.
Even though you're dining at your own risk, there are some steps you can take to minimize your chances of ingesting gluten.
Here are some precautions to take when ordering:
- Check the app or Starbucks website for a ingredient lists. (See more on how to do that below!)
- Go inside to order. While the app is great for checking ingredients, you won't be able to ask the barista any questions or confirm they're making your order in a safe manner. You can also alert the barista of your gluten allergy and see your drink being made.
- Asses the situation. Is it a busy time? Do the employees look stressed? If so, this is not the time to be asking for a bunch of accommodations. While you may get a helpful barista, you may also get someone who doesn't quite care or understand the importance of your requests, and you may be paying for it later. If it's not a peak time, you will have more time to communicate your needs and the barista will have the time to cater to them.
- Ask how your drink is prepared. Drinks prepared directly in the cup are a much safer option than something made with shared equipment. Anything made with the shaker, blenders, or steam wand are a higher cross-contact risk.
- Ask for your drink to be made in the cup. If you really want a drink that is usually shaken or blended, ask for it to be prepared directly in the cup or over ice instead.
- Ask for clean equipment. If the staff seems accommodating, you can ask for your drink to be made with freshly washed equipment. It would be wise to stress the importance of it actually being clean, as these baristas are not going to be well-trained on avoiding allergens.
- Get it iced. Hot lattes are made with steamed milk, which poses a cross contact risk. Iced lattes on the other hand are made in the cup and topped off with cold milk, which is a safer option.
- Only consume pre-packaged food that is labeled gluten-free. Anything cooked in the ovens poses a cross-contact risk as the ovens and utensils are shared.
- Tip your barista! Especially if your barista goes above and beyond to help you, a tip is always appreciated. This is a great idea especially if you frequent the same local store. If you make friends with the staff, they're more likely to accommodate you.
How to Find the List of Ingredients
The Starbucks menu now lists the ingredients for each drink on its menu, both on the app and the company website. This is so helpful, especially for new and seasonal items. Here's how to find it:
- In the app, go to order > pick a store > then tap on menu.
- Tap on the drink you're interested in.
- Scroll to the bottom and look for the button that says, "full nutrition and ingredient list."
When you tap that button, you can then see the full list of ingredients for any particular drink by tapping on the ingredients tab.
Take note: The ingredients list only applies to their drink menu, not added customizations. In other words, if you add anything custom to a drink, the list does not update. For any customizations, you'll need to look for another drink that already has that item included to see its list of ingredients.
Another Important Tip: Be sure to actually read through the list of ingredients. Starbucks is not great at not listing allergens under the "allergens" section, even if there may some present. See the example pictured below:
What to Avoid at Starbucks if You're Gluten-Free
All of these options are a risk for cross-contact.
- Anything made in the blenders: The same unwashed blender jars used to make items with gluten are then used to make other items like Frappuccinos and cold foams, therefore introducing the risk of cross contact.
- Frappuccinos: The Frappuccino chips, Java Chip Frappuccino, and and Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino all contain gluten.
- Cold foam: The chocolate cold foam contains malt powder, which is not gluten-free.
- Drinks made in a shaker: This includes shaken espresso, iced tea, refreshers, iced matcha latte, and lemonades which are all shaken. The Chocolate Almond Milk Shaken Espresso for example, is made with malt powder and that same shaker is used to make other drinks.
- Anything made with the steamed milk. Since oat milk is an option, this could pose another cross contact risk if you are sensitive to oats. Starbucks is known to use Oatly oat milk though, which is certified gluten-free. Always ask though, as this could easily change.
- Food items prepared in the oven. A huge risk here of cross contact, since most items cooked in the ovens contain gluten.
- Sprinkles and toppings: These pose an unnecessary risk without adding much to the drink at all.
Items that Contain Gluten
These are the items that currently contain gluten on the Starbucks menu. This list is subject to change, especially with seasonal offerings.
- Chocolate cold foam
- Java chips
- Frappuccino chips
- Chocolate cookie crumble
- Malt powder
- Most of the hot breakfast, lunch, and bakery items
Does Starbucks Caramel Drizzle Have Gluten?
There has been some talk that Starbuck's caramel drizzle or caramel sauce contains gluten in the natural flavors. According to this document from 2019, it shows that at the time the caramel sauce did not contain gluten ingredients.
It appears that Starbucks is, or at least was in 2019, declaring gluten allergen from sources including wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and oats. Also, currently in the ingredients lists on the Starbucks website and app, they are declaring that the malt powder is derived from barley.
Which leads to the conclusion that Starbucks would likely declare potential allergens in natural flavors if they were derived from them. Granted, there is no official word from Starbucks on this, but this seems to be the most logical conclusion.
Safest Gluten-Free Drinks to Order
These Starbucks drinks are made in the cup without shared equipment and are arguably the safest route to go when ordering. Be advised to check any of your added customizations for gluten-ingredients. Also, this list is not exhaustive and subject to change at any time. Always double check and ask your barista about drink preparation before ordering.
- Plain coffee with or without milk, cream, or syrups.
- Plain Espresso
- Caffé Americano
- Hot teas, Chai tea (not tea lattes)
- Cold Brew (without foam)
- Iced Coffee
- Iced Caffé Latte
- Iced White Mocha
- Iced Caramel Macchiato
- Iced Americano
- Iced Flat White
- Iced Chai Latte
- Iced Espresso (not shaken espresso)
Gluten-Free Food Items
As far as gluten-free food options, look for prepackaged items that are labeled gluten-free. They currently have a Marshmallow Dream Bar, which is a Rice Krispie treat, that is labeled gluten-free, and possibly some Kind Bars available.
Other than that, most items either contain gluten or are cooked in the same ovens with all of the other gluten-containing products.
Starbucks Copycat Recipes
I've started to recreate popular Starbucks drinks at home, thus avoiding the risk all together. Check out all of my Starbucks copycat recipes here!
Frequently Asked Questions
Starbucks uses Oatly brand oatmilk, which is certified gluten-free, but this could easily change at any time. Other brands used may or may not be gluten-free, so it is always best to double check at the store to see which brand of oatmilk they are currently using.
Yes, Starbucks syrups are gluten-free. Check the app for a more current list of ingredients, especially on new or seasonal flavors.
Yes, the mocha sauce is gluten-free. The ingredients in Starbucks mocha sauce are: water, sugar, cocoa processed with alkali, and natural flavor.
Yes, the ingredients in Starbucks caramel drizzle are: sugar, corn syrup, butter, water, heavy cream, nonfat dry milk, natural flavors, salt, mono & diglycerides, soy lecithin, sulfites. While there are natural flavors there is nothing indicating they are derived from a gluten-containing grain.
The Starbucks egg bites do not contain gluten ingredients but they are cooked in the same oven as other items with gluten and are handled with shared utensils. This poses a cross-contact risk if you are highly sensitive to gluten.
Starbucks as a whole uses shared equipment and is taking no steps to avoid cross-contact with gluten or other allergens in their stores.
To minimize your risk, order drinks prepared directly in a cup without the use of shared equipment. Also, check the app for the current list of ingredients in your drink before placing your order.
Always talk to the barista and ask questions about your order. Never assume that something is safe. If you're unsure how an item is prepared, just ask. This will help guide your choices.
If you must order a drink made in the blender, shakers, or with the steam wand, ask if the barista can clean it first to reduce the risk of gluten cross-contact.
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Disclaimer: The information in this article is the personal opinion of the author and for educational purposes only. This is not medical or nutritional advice. Please consult a doctor or medical professional before making changes to your diet or regarding any health related decisions. Ingredient information was accurate at the time of posting but should always be verified by the consumer by checking the product ingredient label for the most up to date information.