Is the Starbucks sugar cookie drink gluten-free?

Starbucks offers a wide variety of seasonal holiday drinks, including the sugar cookie latte and sugar cookie almondmilk latte. These festive drinks feature flavors like vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg to evoke the taste of sweet holiday cookies. However, an important question for people with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease is: Are the Starbucks sugar cookie drinks gluten-free?

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For most people, gluten poses no health issues. However, for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an abnormal immune response that damages the small intestine. Even small amounts of gluten in food can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, and fatigue in gluten-sensitive individuals.

Following a strictly gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease. For non-celiac gluten sensitivity, many find that eliminating gluten from their diet improves symptoms, though it’s not as strictly required as in celiac disease.

Cross-Contamination Risk at Starbucks

At coffee chains like Starbucks, cross-contamination with gluten is a concern for gluten-free patrons. Even if a drink contains no gluten ingredients, cross-contact with gluten-containing foods during preparation and serving could contaminate an otherwise gluten-free menu item.

Some ways cross-contamination might occur include:

  • Use of shared equipment: Blenders, pitchers, and brewing equipment may retain residue from gluten-containing ingredients like wheat-based syrups, roasted malt, etc.
  • Shared display areas: Baked goods containing gluten may shed crumbs onto displays where gluten-free items are also placed.
  • In-store preparations: Baristas use common workspaces, sinks, etc when preparing all menu items. Trace amounts of gluten could be transferred between different drinks.
  • Insufficient hand washing: If staff handle gluten-containing foods and do not wash hands thoroughly afterwards, gluten residue may transfer to a gluten-free order.

For these reasons, the Starbucks menu notes that food and beverage items without gluten-containing ingredients are not guaranteed to be 100% gluten-free. Customers with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should exercise caution when ordering.

Ingredients in the Starbucks Sugar Cookie Drinks

To evaluate if the Starbucks sugar cookie drinks are gluten-free, let’s examine the ingredients:

Starbucks Sugar Cookie Latte

  • Milk
  • Sugar Cookie Syrup: Sugar, water, natural and artificial flavors, salt, potassium sorbate, citric acid.
  • Espresso
  • Whipped Cream
  • Topping: Cinnamon, sugar, and nutmeg spice blend

Starbucks Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte

  • Almondmilk
  • Sugar Cookie Syrup: Sugar, water, natural and artificial flavors, salt, potassium sorbate, citric acid.
  • Espresso
  • Whipped Cream
  • Topping: Cinnamon, sugar, and nutmeg spice blend

The main ingredients of concern are the milk, almondmilk, and sugar cookie syrup. Let’s evaluate each one for gluten content:


Dairy milk is naturally gluten-free. Occasionally, milk may be contaminated if it is processed on equipment shared with gluten sources. However, Starbucks likely uses milk from a supplier with dedicated equipment. The milk itself should not contain gluten.


Almond milk is made by blending almonds with water, then straining. Pure almond milk with no other ingredients added is gluten-free. The almondmilk used by Starbucks appears to just contain almonds and water, so there is no gluten from this ingredient.

Sugar Cookie Syrup

This is the main flavoring ingredient that makes the drink taste like a sugar cookie. According to the ingredient list, it contains sugar, water, natural and artificial flavors, salt, potassium sorbate and citric acid. None of these individual components contain gluten.

However, “natural and artificial flavors” is a broad term that could potentially mask gluten-containing additives. Companies are not required to disclose specifics on what exactly the “natural and artificial flavors” contain.

So while unlikely, we can’t completely rule out the possibility of gluten in the sugar cookie syrup. Starbucks has not provided enough details on the flavorings used in the syrup to definitively determine if it is gluten-free.

Are the Starbucks Sugar Cookie Drinks Gluten-Free?

Based on the ingredient lists, the main components of milk, espresso, almondmilk, whipped cream and spices seem to be gluten-free. However, the sugar cookie syrup contains vague “natural and artificial flavors” that leave room for doubt.

While the drinks appear to be made without gluten-containing ingredients, risk of cross-contamination still exists in Starbucks locations. Even if all the ingredients are gluten-free, shared equipment and workspaces create the possibility of traces of gluten being introduced during preparation.

The Verdict

Starbucks does not claim its sugar cookie drinks are 100% gluten-free or safe for celiacs. They note the risk of cross-contamination from shared equipment. While the main ingredients may not contain gluten, Starbucks sugar cookie drinks would not be securely gluten-free due to the potential of cross-contact with gluten.

Those with celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity should exercise caution and evaluate their own tolerance levels if choosing to consume Starbucks sugar cookie drinks. People with less sensitivity may be able to tolerate potential trace amounts of cross-contamination. But the drinks cannot be considered strictly gluten-free due to Starbucks’ preparation methods.

Alternatives for a Gluten-Free Sugar Cookie Drink

For a gluten-free sugar cookie flavored drink, some safer options include:

  • Requesting an allergen-free preparation: Starbucks baristas can sanitize equipment and take precautions to limit cross-contamination. This reduces, but does not fully eliminate, the risk for highly gluten-sensitive patrons.
  • Opting for a different gluten-free seasonal flavor, like the chestnut praline or caramel brulee lattes, which have less cross-contamination risk.
  • Using a personal single-use blender or mixer and ordering ingredients separately. Make the drink yourself at home or in-store to control preparation.
  • Choosing a different gluten-free coffee chain that offers allergen-free preparation areas.
  • Making a sugar cookie drink at home from gluten-free ingredients using a recipe customized to your dietary needs.

While not completely gluten-free due to potential cross-contamination, the Starbucks sugar cookie drinks can likely be tolerated by some gluten-sensitive patrons based on individual tolerance levels. But for patrons with celiac disease and those highly sensitive, alternative options would be the safest choice.


The Starbucks sugar cookie drinks contain no obvious gluten ingredients, but have a risk of trace gluten exposure through:

  • Vague “natural and artificial flavors” in the sugar cookie syrup that may potentially contain hidden gluten.
  • Cross-contamination from shared equipment, display areas, and preparation workspaces in Starbucks locations.

The drinks cannot be considered strictly gluten-free. Those with celiac or high sensitivity should use caution and opt for alternatives that reduce gluten risk. However, some gluten-sensitive customers may tolerate potential trace amounts depending on individual factors. Consult your healthcare provider if unsure about consuming Starbucks sugar cookie drinks with your specific gluten needs. Carefully evaluate your own health considerations and tolerance levels.

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