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Gluten Confusion: Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

10:42 PM

Fall, beautiful fall, beautiful crispy-crunchy-gusty-munchy fall. A time for boots and sweaters, hot chocolate and marshmallows, pumpkin patches and apple orchards and corn mazes and bonfires. And Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes, of course. Which begs the question: can you?

The answer, of course, is that depends. And no, we couldn't find clear-cut information on their website. Why can't these answers ever be easy? 

Starbucks makes it very clear that they do not and will not label anything as gluten free because all drinks are made on the same machines and therefore the risk of cross contamination is high. And the last thing Starbucks wants is a lawsuit from a Celiac. Yet, according to Starbucks spokesperson Linda Mills, both the pumpkin spice syrup and that yummy sprinkle business they put on top are gluten free (and Jane Anderson will tell you all about that here). Again yes, you can pick up trace gluten on the way, but the ingredients themselves do not contain gluten. Some people tolerate it; others don't. I personally don't tolerate coffee one bit, but I do sometimes order a chai tea (just the hot tea bag—the pre-made mix contains barley!) with a shot of pumpkin syrup and it suits me just fine. 

Aren't these seasonal fabric prints adorable? You can buy them here (clockwise from top left): autumn showers by bee&lotusfalling arrows by kathrynzarembafoxes on grey by katarinahallow fields by kennerroad.

Now, just to air a bit of frustration: Starbucks will tell you absolutely nothing about the gluten status of their ingredients. Not one thing. I'm fine with them refusing to completely guarantee safety—cross contamination is always, always a concern. But Starbucks, can't you at least give me something? Can't you tell me which syrups contain gluten ingredients and which don't? Just a simple list, please?

I did a little homework, scoured the interwebs, and found a whole huge mess of conflicting information.  One really great comment, left on the killer blog Gluten Is My Bitch, seems pretty insightful (although it does contradict the statement from Linda Mills, so who really knows).

The comment, dated September 12, 2013 reads:
I work at Starbucks and have celiac disease and I made corporate go through every item made with gluten. The chai concentrate used for the chai tea lattes does contain gluten because it uses barley sugar. So I would recommend you stop drinking that even if you’re not experiencing a noticeable reaction.
And there is a difference between the sugar free syrups used for the skinny lattes and the light syrup. The light syrup is used only for the lower calorie frappuccino and until fairly recently did contain gluten. All of Starbucks syrups are gluten free but certain sauces are not. Mocha and white mocha are both gluten free but the white mocha contains dairy. Pumpkin Spice sauce last I checked contains gluten. The pumps for these sauces can be used interchangeably and if they are not properly sanitized can lead to gluten contamination.
Also, Starbucks uses a special vacuum for food to clear crumbs from the pastry case but in many stores this same vacuum is also used to clean out the espresso hopper resulting in cross contamination in espresso beverages. If you’re getting a skinny latte and having a bad reaction I’d surmise that you’re getting contaminated that way or you have an I diagnosed dairy allergy (something that happened to me and to other people I know with celiac disease).
So, when it comes down to it, we can't say for sure. Maybe I'll spring for another hot chai with a shot of pumpkin spice... or maybe we'll figure out how to make our own. I doubt it's really worth the risk. What about you?
And oh PS, we're starting weekly themes. It's going to be fun. This week's theme is "First Days of Fall," so there are definitely some pumpkin doughnuts coming your way. Get excited (and come back tomorrow, of course)!

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