It’s that time of year again! Crisp air, warm sweaters, pumpkin spice everything. Social media will soon be full of pictures of everyone’s Starbucks #PSL (that’s millenial for “pumpkin spice latte”).
But if you are on a gluten free diet, you may get that familiar twinge of doubt wondering if those specialty drinks at coffee shops are actually gluten free. They should be okay, right? After all it’s just coffee, milk, flavoured syrup and whip…
Well I wanted to know more. So I did a little digging. I chatted with a Starbucks customer service representative, spoke to a couple Starbucks baristas and looked online for anecdotal evidence from my fellow gluten free comrades.
So it is gluten free? Probably, but with a bit of risk.
A gluten free lifestyle come down to risk. Whether something is high, low risk or somewhere in between. Basically, if your beverage is prepared in the store, Starbucks will not guarantee that it is gluten free for risk of cross contamination with gluten containing ingredients.
“We cannot guarantee that any of our products are free from allergens (including dairy, eggs, soy, tree nuts, wheat and others) as we use shared equipment to store, prepare and serve them.”
Okay I get that they need to cover themselves for liability purposes and that of course they can’t guarantee that. But how much of a risk is there really for cross contamination? Are there many drinks that have gluten as an ingredient?
The drinks with the highest risk seem to be the frappuccino beverages as the java chips have some cookie crumbs (wheat) in them as well as some sprinkles apparently. The issue with cross contamination seems to be that the container use to blend the frappuccino may not be washed between beverages, only rinsed. This will not removed all of the gluten from the container and has the potential to cause an accidental glutening.
Anecdotally, there have been reports from a few online gluten free groups that claim they have been glutened from drinking a PSL beverage from Starbucks. The reason for this is open for debate of course.
So where does that leave us? Is it safe or not?
It comes down to making an informed decision, evaluating the potential risk and find ways to minimize that risk.
Here are my tips for choosing a safer beverage from Starbucks.
- Check the ingredients online and double check with the employee when ordering.
Starbucks now lists ingredients on their website, where as previously they did not. Pumpkin spice latte and most other drinks do not contain gluten. There is of course the risk that there is gluten contamination in manufacturing as Starbucks does not have a gluten free claim on the syrups. Ingredients can change over time so it is wise to double check.
- Talk to the barista and mention that you have a strict dietary requirement. They can ensure you stay safer by doing a clean of the steaming wand and using a clean blender or steaming cup that was washed in the dishwasher or hot soapy water. Clean hands on the barista is important as well.
- Opt for the steamed latte instead of the blended frappuccino version of the drink.
- If you are very sensitive to trace amounts of gluten, stick with drip coffee, tea (check ingredients) or a pre-packaged drink like the Starbucks Frappuccino drink, Starbucks Doubleshot or Starbucks Doubleshot Energy.
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