How Gluten Ends up in your Latte!

I love my coffee, as do most Americans. Of course, my favorite treat is a coffee shop latte with yummy flavor combinations such as hazelnut, Vanilla, chocolate etc. I don’t care if it has caffeine or decaf. I just love a good strong latte. So, of course this spring, when I started noticing that I felt crummy when I ordered coffee drinks at some of my favorite places – sometimes incredibly tired, sluggish or achy, other times migraines again, I started investigating.

I’ve had adrenal fatigue, so i thought perhaps too much caffeine and I moved to half-caf or decaf. Sometimes it worked better, but not always. Finally I started seeing trends, I’d feel yucky usually after white chocolate drink or caramel. So recently, I sat down and started going to websites of the main manufacturers of syrups. I found my problem. SOME of the coffee houses have flavor syrups that contain gluten. Of course when you ask, they don’t know. They can offer the gluten-free muffin at $4 a muffin, but they don’t know their syrups.

Here is a quick rundown of what I’ve found so far. Although your best bet is to find a coffee shop that has syrups for sale so you can look at them before ordering, In the meantime, I can give you information about four of the products to help you make better decisions. I’m ranking them by what I’d feel the most safe ordering.

Monin
I like these syrups best because they use cane syrup or sugar rather than HCFS. I don’t care about the debate on HCFS, I don’t like it because things taste too sweet. Monin Syrups also taste the most natural and authentic to me.

Monin Syrups at my local Bad Ass Coffee shop in Bernalillo, NM


Monin syrups don’t contain gluten. I emailed the company and they responded promptly (within 30 minutes!) stating their facilities don’t use gluten so there is no issue of cross-content either. The email exchange went as follows:

Good Afternoon Jennifer,

Thank you for your interest in Monin. All of our products are Gluten-Free. I have attached above a statement from our Quality Department for you to view. If you have any further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to let us know. Thanks and have a great weekend

Upon Further question about the facility they answered:

Jennifer,
Our products, nor our facilities, contain any gluten. We are a gluten-free atmosphere.
Thanks again!
Ryan Niemann
Manager of First Impressions

They also provided me with a quality assurance statement

I feel very confident ordering from a coffee shop that uses Monin Syrups, (I also appreciate the shops that use the Monin chocolate and white chocolate sauces) Since finding a shop here in Rio Rancho that uses strictly Monin Brands, I’ve felt great after having a lovely latte. For those in the Abq or Rio Rancho Area, you can find Monin Syrups at Bad Ass Coffee at 965 F Highway 550 Bernalillo, NM 87004 www.nmbadasscoffee.com

This is one awesome iced latte! (yeah, it's big, I know. I got a half-caf, does that count?)

off 550 or Satellite Coffee throughout Abq. Bad Ass Coffee is actually a franchise and I’ve included a link so you can where you can find your local shop. Always check with your local shop to find out what they choose to carry though. Always, always check. However, I’d stay away from the frozen drinks from Satellite. Those are very iffy; they don’t know and I can’t remember if they use the Monin sauces or other brands for the chocolate. I didn’t feel well when I ordered one.

One thing to be wary of with coffee shops anywhere, even if they use Monin are that some shops use powder in their drinks, especially the blended ones, so you’ll need to ask about any powder they use or things they use other than a syrup and the espresso beans. (Also make sure they don’t add Malted Milk Powder)

DaVinci
I see this company and the next I’ll mention the most in coffee houses. They are easily available in stores and a great price at Sams Club (or at least used to be, my membership has expired). DaVinci’s FAQ states: Do DaVinci Gourmet products contain gluten? Most DaVinci products are gluten-free. The only product that currently contains gluten is Dulce de Leche Sugar Free Syrup. When I emailed the company to confirm this is the only syrup that contains gluten, they assured me that it is and they “”follow and adhere to strict practices and policies which absolutely prevent any chance of cross contamination.” This might be trusted simply because they also product nut flavored syrups do contain trace amounts of allergens (also on that statement.) However, personally, I’ve found I don’t feel as well when I have their sugar caramel syrups. Caramel is one of those that is touch and go anyway because some use barley to get the flavor. So, I’m going to stay away from any caramel flavor from DiVinci, but that is my personal experience.

The next two companies I will no longer buy based upon their website statements. I will not frequent coffee houses that use the next two syrups, nor purchase the syrups based upon the information.

Torani
This company’s information is interesting and extremely concerning to me. When you go to the FAQ page you get the following under the Gluten question:

Which syrups contain Gluten?

At this time, we only have five syrups, Bacon, Classic Caramel, Sugar Free Classic Caramel, Toasted Marshmallow and Sugar Free French Vanilla which is known to contain a small amount of barley which does contain gluten. We are unaware of any gluten in our other syrups.

They are unaware of any other products that contain gluten? Further down in the FAQ you see why they are “unaware” under the questions about “allergens.”

Do your syrups contain any allergens?

To the best of our knowledge, no allergenic substances* are used in the manufacturer of our syrup base (regular or sugar-free). However, the individual natural flavorings which are added to this base may have been derived from or contain derivatives of allergenic substances. Whenever possible, we have asked our suppliers to remove unnecessary allergens but we are still left with nut flavors which have been extracted from tree nuts and contain an oil derived from peanuts, and a few flavors which have a creamy note that has been derived from a dairy source. It is a difficult balance to flavor with natural products but limit the natural compounds that may be included in the finished product. * We ask our suppliers to inform us if their products contain any of the ‘Big 8’ allergens: Peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, fish, shellfish, soy, eggs or wheat. These allergens were chosen because they are responsible for over 90% of all food allergies. View the full list

Torani Sauces

From what I could gather, Monin knows their raw materials and suppliers. However, Torani, doesn’t manufacture everything in-house and they don’t know their raw materials. They don’t manufacture their syrup base and if you read carefully, they only ask their suppliers to note the big 8 allergens, which means that other syrups besides the ones they noted *could* contain barley, rye, etc and not be noted. (Another crucial reason the 1in133 movement is so crucial!) Again, Torani is only *aware* of the 5 syrups that contain the allergens and they only given information about the syrups that contain *the Big 8.* Gluten is not part of the big 8, so these syrups *may* contain gluten without Torani’s knowledge since they are not asking that gluten be removed from the supply chain. I refuse to purchase Torani or frequent coffee houses that use Torani syrups because they don’t even know what their product actually contains. And in fact, the coffee houses I’ve felt most ill from serve the Torani Syrups. This is where the term natural flavors can get you sick. I’m just thankful Torani is honest.

Starbucks
The last company that we need to be extremely careful and who I refuse to buy from anymore is Starbucks
Unlike Torani, which has decided to be unaware of the ingredients in their products, Starbucks refuses to disclose the information. Jules Shepard, a wonderful advocate for the celiac community, co-founder of the 1in133 project, and fantastic gluten-free flour creator, posted in her blog last year about problems with Starbucks drinks. You can read her post It’s a Bummer about Starbucks here. Last year, Starbucks refused to guarantee products could be gluten-free or even create precautions in their shops that would ensure prevention of cross-contamination. I think the issue started when they introduced their “light” Frappachino drink and some of the new syrups contained barley as a thickener. Unfortunately, in the last nine-months since Jules’ post, Starbucks seems to have gotten even worse with their disclosures. A company that seems so eco-conscious, fair trade minded, and world sustainable minded refuses to take the safety of their customers into account. Now, on their site under their Allergen FAQ they state:

Where can I find allergen information?

Allergen information is currently unavailable online for our beverage selections. We are actively working to bring that information to you. If you have an allergen concern, please feel free to ask our baristas to check the ingredient labels or click on our Customer Service page. We cannot guarantee that any of our beverages are allergen free because we use shared equipment and handle allergens throughout the store

In another spot Starbucks website states:
*Allergen info is not available for our drinks because of the many customization options we offer.

When I saw this, I cringed in disgust and anger. Starbucks have an entire tab about “responsiblity” that includes “local responsiblity” but they refuse to provide allergen information and blame it on the fact that they customize their drinks. Plenty of companies provide information on each of their ingredients. Mind you, you end up with grids that you have to piece your meal together, but at resturants like Ruby Tuesdays, Applebees or Chili’s, when you ask for a “gluten Free” menu, the hostess hands you Xeroxed copies of grids that have all the allergens listed. While it’s a hassle, at least they provide the information. Starbucks refuses to even offer that. A grid with all the syrups and sauces and whether they contain gluten or other allergens would allow a customer to “customize” their drink. As it stands, asking the barista if you can see the bottle and read the ingredients doesn’t work. I’ve done that and I’ve gotten sick! The syrups list “natural flavors.” And sadly, I’ve discovered i feel incredibly ill when I have something with the caramel syrup. I’m guessing that “natural flavor” contains some “natural” barley.

What I find the most interesting about Starbuck’s is that about three or four years ago, they were actually one of the first companies to offer “gluten free’ pastries. They had an amazing glutenfree almond orange cake. It disappeared and along with it, any concern for people with gluten intolerance, celiac or it seems other allergens. Sorry Starbuck’s, but while you might give people job across the globe jobs, you aren’t keeping me or my family safe. I’ll buy my coffee elsewhere.

Please remember, this is just research on 4 companies. Double check the websites frequently for yourself, especially if you have a drink and feel “off.” Suppliers change all the time in the food industry. Also remember that the individual coffee shop can still add things that might contain gluten. I know of one juice company (Inta-Juice) that uses malted milk powder in their drinks. Luckily, I found out by watching the girl dump some into a customer’s drink ahead of us. We walked out.

Take time to get to know your local coffee shop. If you can, try to arrange a time to go in when they aren’t busy and ask more about their practices. Inform them about it for their other customers. So many shops are starting to carry the “gluten-free” baked goods, but even the owners are unaware of their drinks might contain ingredients we can’t have. Most people don’t know what gluten is! If we do it in a way that is kind and educating, and shows you wish to continue to be a loyal customer, that will help.

A few more words of caution: with the summer, blended drinks are super popular. Many companies use a powder instead of brewed espresso. Sometime when they aren’t busy, talk to them about the powder and request the information on it. Explain the situation. Just don’t do it during the 8 am or 1130 rush. A second thing to keep in mind is some companies use different brands for things like sauces. I’ve learned to be careful with sauces (chocolate, white chocolate, caramel), and there are many brands of sauces. That will be part 2. Monin’s sauces do not contain gluten. There are several other companies we’ll need to investigate for the chocolate, white chocolate and caramel sauces. In the meantime, I highly recommend finding a coffee shop that uses the Monin flavors. Those seem to be the most safe and give the most information about their products. I personally think they are the best tasting and highest quality too, so it’s a win for my tastebuds and my body.

Thanks as always for reading. Please remember the Katz Giveaway. The big giveaway has come and gone, but I still have 5 products I get to give one lucky winner, so check out that article HERE and remember to comment to be entered!

Disclaimer: Please, Please remember that manufacturers change things all the time. So continue to check websites regularly. Also remember companies might use other chocolate sauces even if they use Monin upfront. And don’t blindly take my research and what I say. Keep checking out for yourself as well. These are starting points for you so you can be educated and know where gluten might be hiding in your food or drinks. Check with your coffee shop and mention the need for GF. The more patrons they see that want it, hopefully the more they will start to think it’s worth their time and effort to accomodate! Thank you!