Is All Vodka Really Gluten-Free?

Vodka

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

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 react to vodka made from gluten grains.

It's not clear why this is, although 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.

But if you react to vodka distilled from gluten grains (all three gluten grains can be used to make vodka), you instead can drink vodka made from potatoes, corn, or 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 for 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, there's no question that some people experience gluten 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 not clear why alcohol distilled from gluten grains bothers 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 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 find you have what feels like a gluten reaction to gluten-based alcohol such as vodka made from wheat, then it's probably best to avoid those products.

Everyone is different. Even if a study were to show that gluten grain-based vodka was safe, it's important to listen to your own body. As noted, there could be something other than the gluten protein that's responsible for any symptoms you experience.

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 an issue for some people who have celiac disease.

Alternatives to Gluten Grain-Based Vodka

If you notice symptoms with a gluten grain-based vodka, but really like 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 recently. Some people even believe that potato-based or grape-based vodkas are "smoother" and don't provoke as bad a hangover if the person over-indulges. 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. One common vodka distillery (Smirnoff) makes its vodka from corn, while Finlandia is one of the rare options that makes its vodka from barley. Other, smaller companies make well-rated vodkas from grapes and sugarcane.

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

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. Though some sources state that gluten-grain based vodka should be okay for people with celiac disease because of the distillation process, anecdotal reports indicate there may be a cause for concern. But gluten-free options are available.

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Article Sources
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  1. Minnick F. Should vodka be marketed as gluten-freeScientific American. November 18, 2013.

  2. National Celiac Association. Is alcohol made from grain safe for celiacs?.

  3. Duerksen D, Pinto-Sanchez MI, Anca A, et al. Management of bone health in patients with celiac disease: Practical guide for clinicians. Can Fam Physician. 2018;64(6):433-438.

  4. Beyond Celiac. Is vodka gluten-free?.

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