Is Vodka Gluten-Free?

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Question: Is vodka gluten-free?

Answer:

Vodka made from non-gluten sources, such as potato vodka or grape vodka, is usually gluten-free. However, there's some controversy over whether vodka made from a gluten grain source is gluten-free.

Most experts on celiac disease believe that distillation removes enough of the harmful gluten proteins to render alcohol made from gluten grains gluten-free. In fact, the National Institutes of Health advises that distilled alcoholic beverages are safe to drink, even if they're made from gluten sources.

However, many of us who are very sensitive to gluten cross-contamination (me included) get truly nasty gluten symptoms from any form of alcohol that started its life as gluten grains ... and that includes vodka made from wheat or rye. In fact, the Celiac Sprue Association recommends against consuming gluten-based vodkas.

It's not clear why this occurs. Some experts have speculated that tiny fragments of the gluten protein survive distillation, and that the immune systems of those who are especially sensitive to gluten can detect those partial pieces of gluten and react. It's also possible that there's something else in the grain — beyond the gluten protein — that survives distillation and causes a reaction in sensitive people.

However, there hasn't been any research to prove or disprove any of this, just anecdotal experience from those who react to gluten-grain-based alcohol such as wheat-based vodka.

My best advice is, if you find you have what feels like a gluten reaction to gluten-based alcohol such as wheat-based vodka, then avoid those products.

So What Can I Do If I React?

You're in luck: Fortunately, there are plenty of vodkas on the market that are not wheat-based (although some are made in facilities that also distill gluten grains).

In fact, these "gluten-free vodkas" have become very popular recently; I even have non-gluten-free friends who believe potato-based or grape-based vodkas are "smoother" and don't provoke as bad a hangover if the person over-indulges. So steering clear of gluten-grain-based vodka should actually be pretty easy — I'll bet your favorite bar or restaurant has some options.

Potato vodka is quite common (especially in imports from northern Europe), and one common vodka distillery (Smirnoff) makes its vodka from corn. Other, smaller companies make well-rated vodkas from grapes and sugarcane. 

For a complete, extensive list of gluten-free vodkas (including potential cross-contamination issues and some other shopping hints), check out the Gluten-Free Vodka List.

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