Which Starbucks Items Are Gluten-Free?

Can you enjoy blended drinks at Starbucks? What about snacks?

starbucks gluten-free
This Starbucks is embracing gluten-free. © Jane M. Anderson

If you enjoy stopping at Starbucks, you probably don't want to quit your habit just because you've been diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity and are following the gluten-free diet. So which Starbucks products are gluten-free, and which have gluten in them?

Starbucks is extremely cautious when it comes to the gluten-free status of its various drinks and snacks. According to the company's corporate customer service personnel, ​nothing prepared at the stores is considered gluten-free due to the possibility of gluten cross-contamination from gluten-containing products and ingredients.

"We're unable to guarantee a gluten-free environment," one rep told me. "I wouldn't order anything from behind the counter — only packaged products marked 'gluten-free.'"

However, even as someone who's extremely sensitive to trace gluten, I've been able to enjoy certain coffee drinks at Starbucks without reacting. Therefore, I'd take the rep's statements with a grain of (gluten-free) salt.

Here's what the company says about the gluten-free status of Starbucks drinks and snacks, and some tips from me on what to order if you want to take the chance.

Gluten-Free Beverages at Starbucks

We can start with water: unsurprisingly, Starbucks' Ethos bottled water is gluten-free. In addition, the shops usually have some pure fruit juices (usually the Evolution brand) that should be safe. Several bottled Starbucks-labeled drinks, including Starbucks Frappuccino, Starbucks Doubleshot, and Starbucks Doubleshot Energy, are considered gluten-free to at least 20 parts per million, according to customer service.

However, you should check the label of anything you're considering purchasing to make sure it explicitly states "gluten-free," since ingredients can change at any time. (I don't worry about the water, but I'd definitely check anything else.)

As I said, the company discourages anyone with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity from ordering an espresso or blended drink prepared behind the counter.

There appears to be a good reason for avoiding flavored drinks: I've frankly lost track of how many people have reported getting glutened by various flavored coffee treats from Starbucks.​

However, I've found that plain coffee drinks (espresso or brewed coffee) seem to be gluten-free to well below 20 parts per million (based on my own reactions or lack thereof, not on any objective testing). I've also had good (but not perfect) luck with milk-based drinks such as cappuccinos and lattes. (For more information on coffee and gluten, check out Is Coffee Gluten-Free?)

If you avoid dairy, Starbucks' soy milk (the company's own house brand) is considered gluten-free to 20 parts per million, according to the baristas. Be aware that the baristas do use the same steaming wand to steam both soy and regular milk, so if you react badly to either, you may want to stick with plain coffee or espresso.

If you're a tea drinker, Starbucks offers Tazo teas. Four Tazo flavors contain gluten: Green Ginger, Tazo Honeybush, Lemon Ginger, and Tea Lemonade.

In addition, because the same tongs are used to dispense all tea bags at Starbucks, you risk cross-contamination by ordering tea there. When I want tea, I ask for a cup of plain hot water and use my own tea bag.

Blended Drinks: Yes or No?

Unfortunately, blended coffee drinks pose more of a problem for those of us who avoid gluten.

There's conflicting information on whether Starbucks' light frappuccino mix contains gluten. Regardless, other ingredients (such as the java chips and some of the sprinkles) definitely contain gluten, and the equipment to blend those drinks is simply rinsed, not cleaned thoroughly, in between uses.

If you must have a frappuccino-style drink, I'd stick with the bottled, gluten-free-labeled options (all of which are manufactured by Pepsi Co. for Starbucks).

Starbucks doesn't provide ingredient lists for its various syrups and other mixes used to create beverages such as the holiday Pumpkin Spice Latte and Caramel Hot Chocolate, in part because ingredients can vary from store to store and at different times. There's some evidence that caramel is the problematic gluten-containing ingredient, but a Starbucks representative won't confirm or deny this.

You can check ingredients lists at the individual stores for yourself (the baristas should know, although knowledge varies depending on whom you ask), and potentially order a drink that's free of gluten ingredients. Still, beware of the large potential for cross-contamination when ordering one of these drinks—many people have reported problems with them.

When it comes to the perennially popular Pumpkin Spice Latte and Starbucks' other holiday drinks, as of late 2016 a company spokesperson said that it doesn't contain gluten ingredients, but the syrup and toppings could be subject to cross-contamination in manufacturing (note that many people report getting sick from these special holiday drinks, unfortunately). 

The bottom line: plain coffee or espresso-milk drinks may be okay, but blended and flavored drinks are extremely risky.

Gluten-Free Bakery Items at Starbucks

It can be discouraging for those of us who follow the gluten-free diet to ogle the bakery case and know there's nothing in there for us.

The company's foray into gluten-free bakery products numerous years ago didn't go well, and Starbucks has been slow to address the demand for decent gluten-free snacks (to say the least). It rolled out a gluten-free brownie, but those eventually disappeared from stores. It now labels its large rice Krispies bar as gluten-free, making that the only gluten-free sweet treat available. If your Starbucks has these, they're normally displayed on the counter... safely wrapped in plastic to avoid gluten cross-contamination in the store.

The rice Krispies bars are made by La Boulange, Starbucks' in-house bakery arm that obviously also produces gluten-containing items. According to a Starbucks representative, the gluten-free-labeled treats are produced in the same facility but "in separate rooms" to guard against cross-contamination during processing. The products should meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration minimum gluten-free standard of fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten.

Starbucks also offers Kind bars, which are prominently labeled gluten-free.

Other Foods - A Few Items Available

In the packaged food section of several Starbucks, I've seen a packaged "protein box" that's labeled "wheat-free," with no other information provided on its possible gluten content. I asked customer service whether this food item also was gluten-free, but the rep told me it wasn't listed as such. The box does list "natural smoke flavor" as an ingredient, which almost always contains barley. Therefore, I'd stay away.

Another rep told me the chain also is looking at adding gluten-free salads and other snacks and is hoping to offer syrups for blended coffee drinks that meet gluten-free standards. However, she could not provide me with a timeline for these additions (which would be quite welcome). Currently, none of the prepared meal options at Starbucks are considered gluten-free, including the salads (which obviously could be made in a safe manner, but currently aren't).

Some Starbucks branches do carry two or three additional packaged snack products that are labeled gluten-free. For example, I've seen POP! brand popcorn, which is certified gluten-free, and some other chips that are labeled gluten-free. In addition, I've seen Justin's Peanut Butter Cups, which are certified gluten-free. You'll find these snacks right at the counter where you order.

Some Starbucks stores also are carrying Evolution brand snacks. Note that some of these—not all—are certified gluten-free; make sure you choose a package with the "GF" symbol displayed on the back. You should assume those Evolution snacks that don't say "gluten-free" are not safe.

The Bottom Line for Staying Gluten-Free at Starbucks

If you're starving and just looking for a quick snack, you should be able to find one at Starbucks, especially those that carry the rice crispies bar (which seems to be all most of them).

But Starbucks continues to shy away from truly catering to the growing gluten-free community. This may change—Starbucks is coming under pressure from its own shareholders for avoiding gluten-free products—but as of now, you need to be very careful of what you order at Starbucks.

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