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Is Kahlua gluten-free?


Updated April 30, 2014

Is Kahlua gluten-free?

Is this Kahlua-and-cream cocktail gluten-free?

Getty Images/Brian Leatart
Question: Is Kahlua gluten-free?

Kahlua, a popular coffee-flavored liqueur, generally is considered gluten-free, according to a statement from its manufacturer.

However, those of us following the gluten-free diet because we have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity may still want to exercise some caution with Kahlua. The liqueur contains gluten grain-based alcohol, which causes symptoms in some of us.

The liqueur's manufacturer's statement says that Kahlua should be gluten-free because it is distilled: "The processes of distillation should eliminate cereal proteins from distilled spirits drinks and therefore distilled drinks are generally accepted for a gluten-free diet." The statement also includes this disclaimer: "Please note however, that we cannot offer specific advice, and recommend that the individual should discuss these matters with their medical or dietetic advisers."

Kahlua's ingredients list, as reported by the manufacturer, includes: high fructose corn syrup/sugar, cane spirit, coffee extract (cane spirit, sugar, water, caramel), neutral grain spirit, water and wine. The caramel is not derived from gluten grains, but the neutral grain spirit contains wheat-based distilled alcohol, the manufacturer says.

Most (but not all) celiac associations consider distilled spirits to be gluten-free, even if they contain gluten grains, because distillation breaks down the harmful gluten proteins. Nonetheless, a substantial percentage of us still react badly to alcohol derived from gluten grains (read more on this in Is Alcohol Gluten-Free?).

So Is Kahlua Okay or Not?

Sadly, you'll need to determine through trial and error whether or not you react to Kahlua — some people report reactions, while many others say it's just fine.

I recommend caution if you haven't tried Kahlua before, especially if you've noticed glutening symptoms following other gluten-grain-based alcoholic products, such as beer made from "de-glutened" barley, plus most varieties of gin and bourbon.

Fortunately, it's really easy to make homemade coffee liqueur — About.com's Guide to Local Foods reports that this liqueur recipe creates a drink that's even better than Kahlua. If you do tend to react to alcoholic beverages distilled from gluten grains, just be sure to use gluten-free vodka (a vodka crafted from something other than the traditional wheat and/or rye) to make your homemade liqueur.

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