Is Kahlua Gluten-Free?

Kahlua contains alcohol distilled from wheat

kahlua and cream
Is Kahlua gluten-free?. Brian Leatart/Getty Images

It's difficult to say whether or not Kahlua is gluten-free. The bottom line is, it may be okay for some of us, but almost certainly causes problems in others who are gluten-free. Here's the background on Kahlua's gluten-free status.

The manufacturer of Kahlua, a popular coffee-flavored liqueur, used to say the liqueur was considered gluten-free. However, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules on gluten-free labeling took effect, the manufacturer stopped saying that.

Instead, the manufacturer, Pernod Ricard USA, now says simply that it does not test for gluten in the finished product. It does not appear that the liqueur's ingredients have changed, just that the company now is more cautious about claiming it's gluten-free.

So Is Kahlua Gluten-Free, or Not?

Those of us following the gluten-free diet because we have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity definitely should exercise some caution with Kahlua. The liqueur contains gluten grain-based alcohol, which causes symptoms in some of us.

Kahlua's ingredients, as reported by the manufacturer, include: high fructose corn syrup/sugar, cane spirit, coffee extract (cane spirit, sugar, water, caramel), neutral grain spirit, water and wine. The caramel is not derived from gluten grains, but the neutral grain spirit contains wheat-based distilled alcohol, the manufacturer says.

According to a statement from a Pernod Ricard USA representative, Kahlua is made from distilled grains (the company mentions wheat, barley, rye and oats, but does not specify which are used to craft the liqueur).

Most (but not all) celiac associations consider distilled spirits to be gluten-free, even if they contain gluten grains, because distillation breaks down the harmful gluten proteins. Nonetheless, a substantial percentage of us still react badly to alcohol derived from gluten grains, and so want to source truly gluten-free alcohol.

How to Figure Out If You Should Drink Kahlua

Sadly, you'll need to determine through trial and error whether or not you react to Kahlua — some people report reactions, while others say it's just fine.

I strongly recommend caution if you haven't tried Kahlua before, especially if you've noticed glutening symptoms following other gluten-grain-based alcoholic products, such as beer made from "de-glutened" barley, plus most varieties of gin and bourbon.

Fortunately, it's really easy to make homemade coffee liqueur. If you do tend to react to alcoholic beverages distilled from gluten grains, just be sure to use gluten-free vodka (vodka crafted from something other than the traditional wheat and/or rye) to make your homemade liqueur.

One last note: If you also react to the milk protein casein, several of Kahlua brand's flavors — specifically, the Drinks-To-Go and the Ready-To-Drink products — do contain casein as an ingredient.

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