Is All Vodka Really Gluten-Free?

Vodka

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Is vodka gluten-free? Most experts consider vodka to be gluten-free, even if it's distilled from gluten grains (wheat, barley, or rye). However, some people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity may still experience a reaction to vodka made from gluten grains.

It's not clear why this is, although some experts have speculated that it could be due to gluten cross-contamination following distillation. Others have theorized that it could be a reaction to tiny fragments of the gluten protein that might remain in the gluten grain-based vodka even after distillation. If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, find out which types of vodka are safe for you to drink.

What Is Vodka Made From?

Vodka is made from grains, primarily rye, which is a gluten-based grain. The grains used to make vodka are combined with water and then heated. When yeast is added to the pulpy mixture, the fermentation process converts the sugars into alcohol. Once fermentation is complete, the distillation process can begin.

If you react to vodka distilled from gluten grains (again, all three gluten grains can be used to make vodka), other types of vodka are made from potatoes, corn, and other gluten-free substances. Potato vodka, especially, is readily available in liquor stores, bars, and restaurants.

Does Distillation Really Make Vodka Gluten-Free?

In theory, the process of distillation removes the gluten protein that causes reactions in people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. In fact, the National Celiac Association states that distilled alcoholic beverages are safe to drink, even if they're made from gluten sources.

That's the theory. However, some people still experience glutening symptoms from any form of alcohol that started its life as gluten grains, and that includes vodka made from wheat or rye (it's not as common to find a vodka that contains barley).

It's unclear why alcohol distilled from gluten grains causes a reaction in some people but not others. Some experts have speculated that the immune systems of those who are especially sensitive to gluten can detect partial pieces of gluten protein that survive distillation. It's also possible that there's something else in the grain—beyond the gluten protein—that survives distillation and causes a reaction in particularly sensitive people.

There has not been enough scientific research to prove or disprove any of this, just anecdotal experience from those who react to gluten-grain-based alcohol such as wheat-based vodka. If you have a gluten reaction to gluten-based alcohol such as vodka made from wheat, then it's probably best to avoid those products.

Keep in mind that excessive consumption of alcohol can cause problems far beyond a glutening. For example, it can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis, which is already a concern for some people who have celiac disease.

Gluten-Free Vodka: Alternatives to Gluten Grain-Based

If you notice symptoms with a gluten grain-based vodka, but you really like the taste of vodka, you're in luck. There are plenty of vodkas on the market that are not wheat-based (although some are made in facilities that also distill gluten grains and could still potentially be a problem due to cross-contamination).

In fact, these "gluten-free vodkas" have become very popular. Some people even believe that potato-based or grape-based vodkas are "smoother" and don't provoke as bad a hangover if the person overindulges. Steering clear of gluten-grain-based vodka should actually be pretty easy, with options ranging from potato vodka to corn vodka, to grape vodka, and even fig vodka.

Potato vodka is quite common, especially in imports from northern Europe. The common vodka distillery Smirnoff makes its vodka from corn. Other, smaller companies make well-rated vodkas from grapes and sugarcane.

For a complete, extensive list of gluten-free vodkas, see this gluten-free vodka list. This list also includes information about potential cross-contamination issues and some other shopping hints.

Frequently Asked Questions

 Is It Safe for People With Celiac Disease to Drink Vodka? 

Many experts state that pure, distilled vodka is considered to be gluten-free, even if it is made with gluten-based grains such as rye, barley, or wheat. Because of the distillation process, people with celiac disease should be able to safely consume vodka—though this is not always the case among those who are particularly sensitive to trace amounts of gluten or cross-contamination.

However, some types of vodka, especially flavored vodka, may contain trace amounts of gluten hidden in the ingredients that have been added after distillation. Those diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid flavored vodkas to be safe. Always read ingredients labels carefully or contact the manufacturer if the list of ingredients is fully disclosed on the label.

Which Types of Alcohol Are Gluten-free?

Any distilled alcohol is considered gluten-free. This would include vodka, as well as bourbon, whiskey, scotch, tequila, mezcal, gin, rum, cognac, brandy, absinthe, and vermouth. However, some individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity who are prone to reactions from trace amounts of gluten should still read ingredients labels carefully to avoid getting sick.

A Word from Verywell

If you're wondering whether gluten grain-based vodka is truly gluten-free, the key is to listen to your own body. It's always possible there could be something other than the gluten protein that's responsible for any symptoms you might be experiencing.

While most experts state that distilled gluten-grain based vodka should be safe for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, some anecdotal reports have suggested otherwise. Fortunately, gluten-free alternatives to gluten grain-based vodkas are available for those who are especially sensitive. Just remember to consume alcohol in moderation to avoid adverse effects. 

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