Is Kahlua Gluten-Free?

Kahlua contains alcohol distilled from wheat

kahlua and cream
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It's difficult to say whether or not Kahlua, the very popular coffee-flavored liqueur, is gluten-free. The bottom line is, it may be okay for some of us, but almost certainly causes problems in others who are gluten-free. 

Like most other manufacturers of alcoholic beverages, Kahlua's manufacturer, Pernod Ricard USA, does not disclose the ingredients in its products. But here's the probable reason Kahlua causes problems for some people on the gluten-free diet but not others: Kahlua contains alcohol that was distilled from one or more of the three gluten grains (wheat, barley, and rye). 

While many authorities on the gluten-free diet say that the distillation process removes the harmful gluten protein, many people with  celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity find they can't drink gluten grain-based alcoholic beverages without suffering from symptoms.

Background on Kahlua's Gluten-Free Status

Several years ago, Pernod Ricard USA used to say that Kahlua was considered gluten-free. However, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules on gluten-free labeling took effect, the manufacturer stopped saying that.

Instead, Pernod Ricard USA, now says simply that it does not test for gluten in the finished product. It does not appear that the liqueur's ingredients have changed. However, following the change in the rules on gluten-free labeling, the company now is more cautious about claiming Kahlua is gluten-free.

So Is Kahlua Gluten-Free, or Not?

Kahlua's ingredients, as reported by the manufacturer, include: 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.

According to a statement from a Pernod Ricard USA representative, Kahlua is made from distilled grains (the company mentions wheat, barley, rye and oats, but does not specify which are used to craft the liqueur). 

Now, as I said above, many experts believe distillation removes the harmful gluten protein. However, many people still find they react badly to gluten grain-based alcohol, and therefore might react badly to Kahlua.

All this applies to plain (some might say "classic" Kahlua). However, you should note that Pernod Ricard USA also manufacturers additional Kahlua-branded liqueur flavors, including: Chili Chocolate, Pumpkin Spice, Salted Caramel, Peppermint Mocha, Hazelnut, Mocha, French Vanilla, Midnight, and Cinnamon Spice.

The company does not provide any information on the ingredients for these flavored liqueurs. You can presume they're made with a plain Kahlua base (and with alcohol distilled from gluten grains). However, there's no way to know if additional gluten-containing ingredients are added. Therefore, everyone with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should steer clear.

Cocktails that Include Kahlua

If you do need to avoid Kahlua, you'll also need to avoid certain cocktails and other drinks that include the liqueur. 

Many people put a splash of Kahlua in their coffee or decaf coffee, especially following a festive meal. In addition, the following popular cocktails always or often include Kahlua as an ingredient:

  • White Russian
  • Black Russian
  • Espresso Martini
  • Mudslide
  • Frozen Mudslide
  • Brave Bull
  • B-52 Shot
  • Long Island Iced Tea

Note that some of these drinks may also include gluten-based ingredients beyond Kahlua, so even if you don't have a problem with Kahlua, you'll need to do your due diligence and check out all the ingredients in whatever cocktail you're ordering.

A Word from Verywell

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

I strongly 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 (there are plenty of recipes out there, so you can experiment until you find the best one for you). If you do tend to react to alcoholic beverages distilled from gluten grains, just be sure to use gluten-free vodka (vodka crafted from something other than the traditional wheat and/or rye) to make your homemade liqueur.

One last note: If you also react to the milk protein casein, several of Kahlua brand's flavors—specifically, the Drinks-To-Go and the Ready-To-Drink products—do contain casein as an ingredient.

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