Does Starbucks have gluten-free caramel?

Quick Answer

Yes, Starbucks does offer gluten-free caramel syrup that can be added to drinks. The caramel syrup used in Starbucks beverages is made without gluten-containing ingredients. However, cross-contamination is possible in the preparation process. Customers with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should exercise caution when ordering drinks with caramel syrup at Starbucks.

In-Depth Answer

For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, navigating menu items at coffee shops can be challenging. Starbucks offers a wide range of beverage customizations, including the option to add caramel syrup as a flavoring. But is this caramel syrup gluten-free?

According to Starbucks, their caramel syrup does not contain any gluten-based ingredients. The listed ingredients are sugar, water, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2% or less of natural flavors, potassium sorbate, citric acid, sodium hexametaphosphate. None of these contain gluten.

However, Starbucks does caution that cross-contamination is possible during the preparation process. They cannot guarantee beverages will be 100% gluten-free when ordering. Equipment and blenders used to make drinks come into contact with ingredients that contain gluten. While unlikely, traces amounts could potentially be introduced into a gluten-free beverage.

Risk of Cross-Contamination

The risk of cross-contamination depends on the specific drink being ordered. Beverages made directly with steamed milk or coffee, like lattes and americanos, carry less risk. Drinks made in blenders, like frappuccinos, have higher potential for cross-contact with gluten.

Additionally, size matters when estimating risk. A short 8 oz coffee is less likely to have trace gluten than a 20 oz frappuccino. The more ingredients and the longer the preparation time, the more chances for cross-contamination.

Tips for Ordering

For those trying to avoid gluten, here are some tips when ordering a Starbucks drink with caramel syrup:

  • Opt for sizes tall or short to reduce the amount of syrup used.
  • Choose beverages made directly with espresso and steamed milk like lattes.
  • Avoid blended drinks like frappuccinos which have higher risk.
  • Ask for new, clean blenders and utensils to be used if ordering a blended drink.
  • Request that syrup is added after the beverage is made to reduce cross-contact.
  • Inform the barista of your gluten allergy so extra care can be taken.

What About Pumps of Caramel Sauce?

In addition to the caramel syrup, Starbucks also offers pumps of caramel sauce that can be added to beverages. The ingredient list for the Starbucks caramel sauce contains wheat-based ingredients. Specifically, both regular and dark caramel sauce contain wheat starch.

Therefore, customers who need to avoid gluten should not order drinks customized with pumps of caramel sauce. Stick to the gluten-free caramel syrup only. And be sure to clearly specify “syrup” instead of just requesting caramel as an add-in.

Cross-Contamination at Starbucks

Beyond caramel syrup, cross-contamination is an issue at Starbucks across menu items for those sensitive to gluten. Baked goods, breakfast sandwiches, oatmeal, and snacks containing gluten are heated and prepared in common areas.

While Starbucks states they train staff on allergen protocols, the nature of their operations makes it difficult to fully prevent cross-contact. Customers with celiac disease are advised to consider the risks when ordering.

Steps Starbucks Takes

Starbucks does take some steps to reduce cross-contamination for gluten-free orders:

  • Using separate pitchers for non-dairy milk alternatives like almond and coconut milk.
  • Using clean blenders upon request for blended beverages.
  • Changing gloves and washing equipment when preparing gluten-free orders.
  • Keeping ingredients containing wheat, like croissants, separate from gluten-free items.

However, they do not have separate preparation areas or equipment strictly for gluten-free menu items. Cleaning measures between orders may not fully eliminate traces of gluten.

How Much Cross-Contact Is Acceptable?

The amount of gluten cross-contact that is acceptable depends on the individual. People with celiac disease or wheat allergy require foods with no detectable gluten at all. Even small traces can trigger symptoms and damage.

For those with gluten sensitivity or intolerance, up to 20 parts per million may be tolerated. However, some people are still sensitive to amounts under 20 ppm. The only way to determine personal tolerance levels is through trial and error.

In general, the less cross-contact, the better for gluten-free diets. But Starbucks menu items likely exceed the no gluten detectable threshold and should be considered high risk.

Gluten-Free Drinks at Starbucks

While gluten cross-contact is possible, some Starbucks beverages are safer options for gluten-free diets. When customized properly, the following drinks have lower risk:

Hot Coffees

  • Caffe Americano
  • Hot Brewed Coffee
  • Espresso or Double Espresso Shots
  • Cappuccino

Hot Teas

  • Green, Black or Herbal Teas
  • London Fog Tea Latte

Iced Teas

  • Iced Passion Tango Tea
  • Iced Green Tea
  • Iced Black Tea


  • Caffe Latte
  • Non-Fat Cappuccino
  • Skinny Latte
  • Soy Latte
  • Almondmilk Latte

When ordering these drinks gluten-free, request no baked goods or toppings that may be contaminated. And ask for new clean equipment to prepare the beverage.

Higher Risk Drinks

Blended coffee beverages, frappuccinos, and items made with breakfast sandwich ingredients have a higher chance of gluten cross-contact at Starbucks.

For example, frappuccinos are blended with ingredients used in wheat-containing baked goods. And breakfast sandwiches are prepared near oatmeal and bakery items.

While baristas take precautions, traces of gluten can end up in these higher risk menu options. Those with celiac disease may want to steer clear.


  • All Frappuccino blended beverages
  • Double Chocolaty Chip Crème Frappuccino
  • Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino
  • Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino
  • Java Chip Frappuccino

Breakfast Drinks

  • Eggnog Latte
  • Pumpkin Spice Latte
  • Caramel Macchiato
  • Iced Caramel Macchiato

Those avoiding gluten may want to choose a hot latte or coffee rather than a blended crème frappuccino or eggnog latte with breakfast ingredients.

Being Gluten Savvy at Starbucks

While it’s impossible to eliminate all risk, customers trying to avoid gluten can take steps to minimize cross-contact at Starbucks:

  • Know the menu and ingredients. Do research ahead of time.
  • Stick to plain, single ingredient beverages like brewed coffee, espresso shots, and tea.
  • Size down to shorter 8 oz or 12 oz versions to reduce ingredients used.
  • Always specify no whip or toppings, which may be contaminated.
  • Ask for new, clean blenders and pitchers for your drink.
  • Customize orders to reduce cross-contact chances. Ask for milk alternatives before espresso, for example.
  • Communicate with the barista on gluten allergies and preparation concerns.
  • Check beverages for signs of contamination before drinking, like unusual toppings or textures.

Being informed, flexible, and proactive helps patrons worried about gluten obtain the safest Starbucks experience possible. While unlikely to be 100% gluten-free, latte lovers have options to enjoy their coffeehouse favorites within reason. Just take precautions and enjoy responsibly.

Gluten-Free Food at Starbucks

When it comes to food options beyond beverages, Starbucks has a slimmer selection of gluten-free choices. Food menus tend to focus heavily on baked goods, sandwiches, and breakfast items containing gluten ingredients.

However, Starbucks does offer a few gluten-free snacks and treats for those looking. Here are some of the menu options that fit a gluten-free diet:

Yogurt Parfaits

Starbucks offers several gluten-free yogurt parfait options, including:

  • Strawberry Yogurt Parfait
  • Harvest Fruit Yogurt Parfait
  • Mixed Berry Yogurt Parfait

These are made with yogurt and fruit with no gluten-containing ingredients. But note they are prepared in common facilities and may carry risk for those highly sensitive.

Protein Bistro Boxes

Certain Starbucks protein bistro box options are gluten-free:

  • Peanut Butter and Honey Protein Bistro Box
  • Chicken & Quinoa Protein Bistro Box
  • Cheese & Fruit Protein Bistro Box

These contain items like cheese, peanut butter, hard boiled eggs, and chicken. Verify no croutons or wheat-based ingredients.

Snack Boxes

Some snack boxes can be modified to be gluten-free:

  • Dried Fruit & Nut Trek Mix
  • Vegetable Fontiago Cheese Box
  • Mozzarella Cheese & Fruit Box

Request no pretzels or wheat-based ingredients when ordering. Verify items are gluten-free.


Starbucks oatmeal can be prepared without gluten-containing mix-in toppings. However, oats carry a risk of cross-contact during growth and processing unless certified gluten-free.

Those with celiac disease should exercise extreme caution with oatmeal unless an assured gluten-free source is used. Otherwise, it’s safest to avoid.

Being Gluten-Free at Starbucks

When dining gluten-free at Starbucks, keep these tips in mind:

  • Stick to whole, minimally processed foods like fruit, yogurt, nuts, eggs and chicken.
  • Beware of prep areas shared with bagels, sandwiches, oatmeal and bakery items.
  • Ask about ingredients and preparation practices.
  • Know the menu ahead of time and what modifications may be needed.
  • Communicate allergy/sensitivity to staff for extra precautions.
  • Blended drinks, oatmeal and breakfast foods tend to be higher risk.

While problematic for celiacs, Starbucks can be navigated gluten-free by informed customers. Combining smart ordering with clear communication allows enjoyment of coffeehouse flavors safely.

Should You Trust Starbucks for Gluten-Free?

When considering Starbucks for a gluten-free diet, use discretion based on your needs:

  • People with wheat allergies should exercise extreme caution due to risks.
  • Those with celiac disease may want to avoid Starbucks entirely given the cross-contact.
  • People with gluten sensitivity or intolerance may tolerate menu items in moderation.
  • Consult your doctor if uncertain about consuming trace gluten.

In general, Starbucks should not be considered a 100% gluten-free establishment. But with flexibility and customization, patrons concerned with gluten can enjoy offerings in a prudent manner. Being an informed consumer when ordering is key.

Gluten-Free at Other Coffee Chains

For added gluten-free options, consider exploring chains like Peet’s and Caribou Coffee as alternatives to Starbucks.

Peet’s indicates their caramel sauce, caramel syrup and mocha sauce are gluten-free. They also offer lavender and vanilla syrups. Peet’s states their menu can typically accommodate most dietary needs with substitutions.

Caribou Coffee also lists their caramel and mocha sauces as gluten-free. Their peanut butter and blueberry real fruit smoothies are dairy-free and gluten-free as well. Caribou’s team members receive allergen training to handle special requests.

Both Peet’s and Caribou emphasize that preparation areas are shared equipment. Cross-contact at any coffeehouse is always possible. But their gluten-free offerings provide more versatility.

The Bottom Line

When customized properly, certain Starbucks beverages present low risk for gluten exposure. Drinks like coffee, tea, and lattes have less cross-contact potential. But blended creme frappuccinos, breakfast items, and bakery foods entail higher chance of trace gluten.

While not 100% gluten-free, ingredients like caramel syrup are free of gluten sources. By knowing menu options, asking questions, and proactively communicating needs, those avoiding gluten can enjoy Starbucks moderately with care. Consumers concerned about exposure need to assess their own tolerance levels given the shared prep areas. In general, Starbucks is manageable with due diligence for non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but likely too high-risk for those with celiac disease based on the potential for cross-contamination.

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