Gluten-Free Items at Dunkin' Donuts

Dunkin' Donuts Heart-Shaped Donuts
Getty Images for Dunkin' Donuts / Getty Images

Dunkin' Donuts, with its shelves of gluten-filled doughnut treats, probably doesn't strike you as the friendliest place to visit if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. So is there anything you can enjoy at your local Dunkin' Donuts if you follow the gluten-free diet?

The chain recently introduced a gluten-free brownie. In addition, the buzz around the Internet has been that the chain's many flavored coffee beverages, ranging from hot lattes to chilled Coolatas in a huge variety of flavors, are safe for followers of a gluten-free diet. But further investigation indicates that may not be so.

Dunkin' Donuts Coffee Drinks

Like its coffee competitor Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts offers a huge variety of hot and cold beverages. You can purchase plain coffee, but you also can ask for a salted caramel hot chocolate, which contains more than 20 ingredients, including some derived from milk and soy (but not wheat, according to the chain's ingredients list). The frozen beverages also contain milk- and soy-based ingredients.

Of course, many people who are sensitive to gluten can consume milk- and soy-based ingredients safely. The problem is with gluten-based ingredients that are not made from wheat (in this case, barley, often used as a sweetener, would be a major risk).

In the U.S., wheat is considered one of the eight major allergens and is required to be listed in ingredients. Unfortunately, ingredients derived from barley and rye don't need to be called out on labels or in ingredient lists at restaurants.

A Dunkin' Donuts company spokesperson says: "[These] ingredients are not present in Dunkin' Donuts beverages. However, because not all restaurants and production facilities are dedicated gluten-free, the brand cannot guarantee that there is no cross-contamination. For that reason, the brand stands by the…original statement: 'While many of our beverages do not contain gluten as an ingredient, not all restaurants and production facilities are dedicated gluten-free facilities.'"

Avoiding Gluten at Dunkin' Donuts

Based on the company's statement, you shouldn't stray beyond plain coffee or coffee-plus-milk drinks (cappuccinos and lattes) at Dunkin' Donuts if you're gluten-free. Note that this is the same advice we give for people who like to get coffee at Starbucks (which also has few gluten-free baked treats or safe flavored coffee drinks).

However, there's another issue you need to consider at Dunkin' Donuts: airborne gluten. Dunkin' Donuts sells massive amounts of gluten-containing doughnuts—those doughnuts are basically the raison d'être for the company. Making those doughnuts involves using large quantities of wheat flour, which can become airborne. Some people (especially those who are more sensitive to trace gluten) react to airborne gluten.

Not all Dunkin' Donuts stores make their own doughnuts on site. According to the company spokesperson, "some restaurants do have on-site baking facilities, [while] other locations receive product fresh daily from a dedicated baking facility." Restaurants without baking facilities may have a lower risk of airborne gluten.

A Word From Verywell

People who need to stick to a strict gluten-free lifestyle should not frequent a Dunkin' Donuts facility where there is active baking going on—even if they are just looking for a plain cup of coffee. If you're not particularly sensitive, however, you may have no problem.

Getting plain coffee at a location that doesn't do its own baking is more likely to be safe, but consider asking the worker serving you to change gloves and take other precautions against gluten cross-contamination.

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.