The Pumpkin Spice Latte is not guaranteed to be gluten-free at Starbucks. While the beverage itself does not contain any gluten ingredients, cross-contamination with gluten is possible due to shared equipment and ingredients at Starbucks locations. Customers with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should exercise caution when ordering a Pumpkin Spice Latte.
Ingredients in the Pumpkin Spice Latte
The main ingredients in a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte are:
- Steamed milk
- Pumpkin spice flavored sauce
- Whipped cream
None of these ingredients inherently contain gluten. However, there are some important considerations regarding potential cross-contamination:
The espresso itself should be gluten-free, as it is simply extracted from ground coffee beans and water. However, espresso machines may be used to make other beverages containing gluten, so cross-contamination is possible if equipment is not properly cleaned.
Plain milk does not contain gluten. However, the steam wands used to foam and heat the milk could come into contact with gluten-containing ingredients from other drinks.
Pumpkin spice flavored sauce
The exact ingredients in the pumpkin spice sauce are proprietary to Starbucks. While the sauce likely does not contain glutenous ingredients, Starbucks has not confirmed that it is gluten-free. Cross-contamination could occur from shared equipment and ingredients.
Whipped cream only contains cream and vanilla, both of which are naturally gluten-free. However, the equipment used to make and dispense the whipped cream could introduce gluten through cross-contamination.
Risk of Cross-Contamination at Starbucks
Even though a Pumpkin Spice Latte does not directly contain gluten, cross-contamination is a real concern at Starbucks due to shared equipment and ingredients:
- Espresso machines, steam wands, pitchers, and utensils are used to make multiple beverages containing gluten, like baked goods, sandwiches, and blended drinks with wheat-based components.
- Ingredients like flavored syrups and baked goods contain gluten, and may come into contact with equipment used for gluten-free beverages.
- Blenders used for Frappuccinos with glutenous ingredients could contaminate a Pumpkin Spice Latte if improperly cleaned.
- Baristas use the same tools and work areas to make all drinks, increasing the chance of gluten exposure.
With so many potential sources of cross-contamination at a busy, high-volume Starbucks location, there is an elevated risk for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Starbucks Policy on Gluten-Free Drinks
Starbucks does not claim that any of its beverages are 100% gluten-free. In its gluten-free information page, Starbucks states:
We cannot guarantee that any of our products are free from allergens as there is always a possibility of trace amounts crossing over into different products.
Starbucks also confirms that while they train staff and follow sanitation procedures, cross-contamination may still occur.
Therefore, someone following a strict gluten-free diet for medical reasons should use their own judgement before consuming a Pumpkin Spice Latte or any other Starbucks drink.
Tips for Ordering
If you need to avoid any amount of gluten, here are some tips for ordering a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks:
- Request a clean blender pitcher if getting a Frappuccino, which uses shared blenders
- Ask for new containers of milk and whipped cream to limit cross-contamination
- Order drinks made only with espresso and steamed milk to reduce ingredient cross-contamination
- Go when Starbucks is not busy to limit shared equipment usage
- Inform your barista that you need to avoid gluten due to an allergy
Keep in mind that these steps reduce but don’t eliminate the risk of gluten exposure.
Homemade Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Latte
To control for gluten, many people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity choose to make their own Pumpkin Spice Lattes at home.
This allows you to control all the ingredients and equipment, avoiding any cross-contamination with gluten.
Here is a gluten-free Pumpkin Spice Latte recipe:
- 2 shots espresso or strongly brewed coffee
- 1 cup milk of choice (dairy, non-dairy, nut milk)
- 3-4 tablespoons pumpkin puree
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup or sweetener of choice
- 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- Whipped cream (optional)
- Brew the espresso or coffee and let cool slightly.
- In a small saucepan, whisk together the milk, pumpkin puree, maple syrup, and pumpkin pie spice. Heat over medium-low just until warmed through (do not boil).
- Pour the milk mixture into a cup. Add the espresso or coffee and stir to combine.
- Top with whipped cream if desired.
The beauty of this homemade version is that you can control the ingredients to suit your dietary needs. Be sure to use a clean French press or equipment only used for gluten-free cooking.
Are Pumpkin Spice Syrups Gluten-Free?
When making Pumpkin Spice Lattes at home, you’ll need a gluten-free pumpkin spice syrup or use spices to mix your own. Here are some options for store-bought syrups:
Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Syrup
Starbucks sells their concentrated pumpkin spice flavoring bottled for home use. However, as with the in-store Pumpkin Spice Latte, Starbucks has not confirmed this syrup is gluten-free and cross-contamination is possible.
Torani Pumpkin Pie Sauce
Torani syrups are labeled gluten-free and recommended by many celiacs. Their Pumpkin Pie Sauce provides the signature pumpkin spice flavor.
DaVinci Gourmet Pumpkin Spice Syrup
DaVinci Gourmet states their pumpkin spice syrup contains no gluten ingredients. It is a popular option for gluten-free Pumpkin Spice Lattes at home.
Making Your Own
You can easily mix cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and other pumpkin pie spices into a simple syrup of sugar and water to create your own flavoring. This lets you control the ingredients.
No matter which gluten-free syrup you use, be sure to thoroughly clean any pumps or containers used to avoid cross-contamination.
Should You Consume Cross-Contaminated Drinks if Gluten-Free?
For those avoiding gluten for reasons other than celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, small amounts of cross-contamination may be tolerable.
However, for people with celiac disease, even tiny amounts of gluten can trigger symptoms and intestinal damage. The same goes for those with severe non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Here’s some guidance on consuming potentially cross-contaminated drinks if you follow a gluten-free diet:
Avoid any risk of cross-contamination. Do not consume the Pumpkin Spice Latte or other drinks unless they are guaranteed gluten-free.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
It depends on your individual tolerance level. Some people are fine with trace amounts, while others have severe reactions. Know your limits and avoid if unsure.
Gluten-Free by Choice
You can likely safely consume cross-contaminated drinks in moderation if you do not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Be aware it may cause mild digestive upset.
Avoid any cross-contaminated drinks completely, as even small amounts of wheat can trigger potentially life-threatening allergic reactions.
Should Starbucks Offer More Gluten-Free Options?
Many customers have called upon Starbucks to provide more gluten-free menu items and take steps to reduce cross-contamination risks.
Here are some perspectives on whether Starbucks should expand gluten-free choices:
The Argument For More Gluten-Free Options
- 1 in 133 Americans has celiac disease, plus many more avoid gluten for other reasons.
- Most major coffee chains like Dunkin’ Donuts identify some gluten-free choices.
- It is possible to offer truly gluten-free drinks with separate equipment and ingredients.
- Adding more gluten-free items would allow more customers to enjoy Starbucks.
- Warning labels about potential cross-contamination could help inform gluten-free customers.
The Argument Against Expanding Gluten-Free
- Gluten cross-contamination is difficult to fully prevent in a busy store.
- Very few menu items would likely end up designated gluten-free.
- It could be expensive for Starbucks to overhaul equipment and processes.
- Increased complexity would make training staff more difficult.
- There may not be enough demand to justify major changes.
Given these points on both sides, should Starbucks proactively expand options for gluten-free customers? There are good-faith arguments on both sides of this issue.
In the end, those needing to avoid gluten for medical reasons may choose to enjoy Pumpkin Spice Lattes at independent coffee shops with dedicated gluten-free preparation areas or opt to recreate the beverage at home. But the call for more inclusiveness of gluten-free diets continues to grow.
The Bottom Line
Here is a summary of the key points:
- The Pumpkin Spice Latte contains no direct gluten ingredients, but gluten cross-contamination is likely.
- Shared equipment and ingredients at Starbucks raise the risk for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
- Starbucks does not guarantee any products are gluten-free or free of cross-contamination.
- Those who must strictly avoid gluten should use caution and order modifications to minimize risk.
- Making your own Pumpkin Spice Latte at home with gluten-free ingredients is the safest option.
- While Starbucks has not expanded gluten-free offerings, some customers believe they should to be more inclusive.
Gluten-free customers can ask for modifications and extra precautions when ordering a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. However, the risk of cross-contamination remains. Consumers with celiac disease should consider avoiding Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks unless they can verify the individual location follows strict protocols to eliminate gluten cross-contact. With so many cozy coffeehouse options, you can still enjoy a gluten-free PSL this season!