Why is Absolut Vodka not gluten-free?

Absolut vodka is one of the most popular vodkas in the world. It’s known for its iconic bottle and smooth, neutral taste that mixes well in cocktails. However, unlike some other vodka brands, Absolut vodka is not labeled as gluten-free. This causes confusion for those following a gluten-free diet, especially since vodka is distilled from grains that contain gluten like wheat, rye or barley.

What is Gluten and Why Does it Matter?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. It helps give elasticity to dough, allowing bread to rise properly. For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an autoimmune reaction that damages the small intestine. This can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue and more. The only treatment is following a strict lifelong gluten-free diet, avoiding any food or beverage containing gluten.

For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it’s extremely important to only consume vodka and other distilled spirits labeled as gluten-free. But figuring out if vodka is truly gluten-free can be tricky…

Why Do Some Vodkas Contain Gluten?

Vodka is made by fermenting and distilling grains or vegetables high in starch or sugar. Most vodka is made from gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye, or barley. During the distillation process, the gluten proteins are supposedly removed from the final spirit. However, research shows traces of gluten can still be detected in some vodka and other distilled spirits made from glutenous grains.

There are a few potential reasons why vodka may contain traces of gluten after distillation:

1. Cross-Contamination During Production

Most vodka distilleries produce a range of products, including whiskies and grain neutral spirits made from gluten-containing grains. Gluten cross-contamination can occur:

– In shared equipment, tanks, pipelines, and bottling lines.

– Through airborne gluten dust in facilities that handle multiple glutenous grains.

– If vodka is diluted with water sources contaminated with gluten.

– During flavoring and filtering processes.

2. Distillation May Not Remove All Gluten

Some research indicates the distillation process does not remove 100% of gluten proteins. Small amounts can recondense and end up in the final distilled spirit. The amount remaining depends on factors like:

– The type of gluten-containing grain used. Barley contains hordeins that are more heat stable than gliadins from wheat.

– How thoroughly the grains are cooked and mashed before fermentation. More intensive cooking can breakdown more gluten.

– Fermentation time. Longer fermentation further degrades gluten.

– The efficiency of the actual distillation process and equipment used. More advanced systems may remove more gluten.

3. Addition of Flavors Containing Gluten

Many vodka brands add flavors after distillation. These flavorings can sometimes contain gluten or be contaminated with gluten during processing.

So unless a vodka producer starts with a certified gluten-free grain, controls gluten cross-contamination, uses an extensive distillation process, and avoids adding any gluten-containing flavors, they can’t guarantee a 100% gluten-free final product.

Why Isn’t Absolut Vodka Gluten-Free?

With this background, let’s look specifically at why Absolut vodka does not market itself as a gluten-free brand:

Made from Wheat

Absolut’s main vodka is distilled from winter wheat grown in the rich fields of Southern Sweden. Since wheat contains gluten, that means Absolut vodka starts off with a gluten-containing ingredient.

Risk of Cross-Contamination

The Absolut distillery also produces a wider range of grain-based spirits that likely increases the risk of gluten cross-contamination. Their products include:

– Absolut Elyx – single estate wheat vodka
– Absolut Apeach, Mango, Berri Açaí – flavored vodkas
– Absolut Elyx Blossom, Raspberri – flavored vodkas
– Van Gogh vodka – flavored vodka
– skål vodka – budget vodka

With shared equipment and resources used across these glutenous spirits, cross-contamination is highly likely.

Lack of Third-Party Gluten Testing

Absolut does not publish any certification showing their vodka has been third-party lab tested to verify non-detectable levels of gluten. Testing each batch would be required to scientifically validate the vodka as gluten-free.

No “Gluten-Free” Labeling

Nowhere on the Absolut website or bottle does it state the vodka is gluten-free. Unless a product is actively marketed as gluten-free and provides certification, people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should assume it contains gluten and avoid consuming it.

Testing Results on Absolut Vodka

So what do third-party lab tests reveal about the actual gluten content in Absolut vodka?

Overall, testing shows inconsistent results:

Test #1: 2014 Study

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Analytical Chemistry evaluated the gluten content in 22 different vodka brands made from gluten-containing grains.

The results for Absolut vodka showed it contained 5.4 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. This is below the 20 ppm cut off used in the USA, Canada, and Europe for labeling items “gluten-free”.

However, the 5.4 ppm indicates Absolut vodka is not 100% gluten-free and does contain trace amounts of gluten. The researchers concluded a “gluten-free” label could not be scientifically applied to Absolut.

Test #2: 2015 Analysis by GlutenFreeWatchdog

Tricia Thompson, founder of GlutenFreeWatchdog.com, tested Absolut vodka in 2015 and found no detectable gluten above 5 ppm. So this analysis found significantly lower levels than the 2014 study.

Test #3: 2017 Analysis by GlutenFreeWatchdog

A 2017 test of Absolut by Tricia Thompson again detected no gluten above 5 ppm.

Test #4: 2019 Analysis by GlutenFreeWatchdog

In 2019, Absolut vodka was re-tested by GlutenFreeWatchdog and this time contained 8.8 ppm of gluten. This is still below 20 ppm but indicates Absolut consistently contains trace amounts of gluten.

Test #5: 2020 Recall

In July 2020, Absolut voluntarily recalled around 30,000 cases of their 1. Liters Orange Vodka bottle in the US market. This was triggered when routine internal quality tests detected elevated gluten levels up to 129 ppm per liter. The recall did not apply to any other Absolut products.

Test Year Testing Lab Gluten Level Detected
2014 Journal of Analytical Chemistry 5.4 ppm
2015 GlutenFreeWatchdog Below 5 ppm (none detected)
2017 GlutenFreeWatchdog Below 5 ppm (none detected)
2019 GlutenFreeWatchdog 8.8 ppm
2020 Absolut Internal Testing Up to 129 ppm (Absolut Orange Vodka)

Conclusion from Testing Data

The varying test results indicate Absolut vodka likely contains small amounts of residual gluten, but levels can fluctuate unpredictably from batch to batch. The 2020 recall also showed extremely high gluten levels are possible in certain production runs.

This data explains why Absolut does not label their vodka gluten-free or make guarantees about being gluten-free to consumers with celiac disease.

Is Absolut Vodka Safe for Gluten-Free Diets?

Whether Absolut vodka is truly “safe” depends on an individual’s sensitivity level:

Not Safe for Highly Sensitive Celiacs

For those with celiac disease who react to even tiny traces of gluten, Absolut vodka would most likely cause issues and should be avoided. Even at 5-10 ppm, that could be enough to trigger symptoms and small intestine damage.

Possibly Tolerated by Less Sensitive Gluten-Intolerant Individuals

Those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity or with celiac disease who can tolerate small amounts of gluten may be able to drink Absolut vodka in moderation without reacting. However, it’s still risky since occasional batches may contain much higher amounts, like the 129 ppm orange vodka recall.

Safest Choice is Gluten-Tested Vodka

People on gluten-free diets are best sticking with vodka distillers who use gluten-free grains, have strict protocols against cross-contamination, and routinely test batches to verify non-detectable levels of gluten. That’s the only way to guarantee vodka that is 100% gluten-free.

Vodka Brands Lab-Tested as Gluten-Free

Here are examples of vodka distillers who have products tested as gluten-free:

Tito’s Handmade Vodka

– Made from non-GMO corn grown on family-owned farms

– Produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility

– Lab tested to contain less than 5 ppm of gluten

New Amsterdam Vodka

– Distilled from corn

– Gluten-tested to ensure less than 10 ppm

– Produced in small batches for quality control

Deep Eddy Vodka

– Starts with 100% corn

– Uses a proprietary column distillation process

– Lab tested to confirm less than 10 ppm of gluten

Chopin Vodka

– Made from potatoes grown in Northern Poland

– Distilled in a dedicated gluten-free facility

– Third party tested to contain less than 5 ppm of gluten

Is Flavored Absolut Vodka Gluten-Free?

The testing data above focused specifically on unflavored Absolut vodka. What about their expansive range of flavored vodkas – are those gluten-free?

Unfortunately flavored versions like Absolut Citron, Absolut Raspberri, Absolut Mandrin, etc. are also **not** considered gluten-free.

This is because the natural flavors added after distillation may potentially contain traces of gluten or cross-contamination could occur during processing.

So all flavored Absolut vodkas should be avoided on a gluten-free diet, just like the original vodka.

Can Absolut Vodka Be Made Gluten-Free?

Absolut likely has the capability to make their vodka 100% gluten-free by:

– Using non-gluten grains like corn or sorghum

– Improving sanitation and protocols to avoid cross-contamination

– Investing in advanced distillation equipment to remove more gluten proteins

– Rigorously testing every batch produced

However, this would require significant investment and overhaul of processes. And since Absolut is already an established mainstream brand, they may not see enough incentive to make these major changes.

Targeting the gluten-free audience is likely better suited for emerging craft vodka distillers who can build that selling feature into their production from the start.

The Bottom Line

Absolut vodka is made from gluten-containing wheat and routine third-party testing shows it consistently contains trace amounts of gluten.

While levels may sometimes test below 20 ppm, Absolut does not label their products as “gluten-free” or provide assurances for those with celiac disease. Their lack of guarantees and evidence of sporadic heightened gluten levels means Absolut vodka is not considered safe for gluten-free diets.

Individuals avoiding gluten are better off choosing vodka brands that source gluten-free base ingredients, rigorously control for cross-contamination, and provide validated lab certifications to confirm undetectable levels of gluten in every batch produced.

Leave a Comment