Is vodka gluten-free? As the quest for healthy living becomes more popular, this question increasingly comes up. You might have been diagnosed with celiac disease, have a gluten intolerance, or simply want to avoid the harm gluten can do to your digestive system. Regardless, gluten causes problems for a percentage of the population, and for those people, it’s understandable why they should want to avoid it in their spirit or liquor.
If you enjoy the occasional drink, this can be a real problem. Many beverages are made with grains which contain gluten. The good news is that some are gluten-free. However, when it comes to vodka, it can be difficult to know what’s safe for you and what’s not.
We’re here to help.
So, whether you enjoy Smirnoff, Grey Goose or another brand, in this post, we’re going to answer the question of “is all vodka gluten-free?” once and for all, and give you the best advice for alternatives should you have a problem digesting gluten.
Vodka and Gluten: A Puzzling Case
Is vodka gluten-free?
Let’s start with the short answer: Some vodka is gluten-free, but it’s way more complicated than you might think. To understand this, we have to look at how vodka is made.
Vodka has been around since at least the middle ages and has become one of the most popular spirits in the world. In 2016, Smirnoff alone sold 25.5million nine-liter cases. That’s a lot of vodkas! And yet few are aware of how it’s actually made and what it contains.
What makes vodka’s relationship with gluten so tricky is that it can be made from almost anything - within reason. The main ingredient has to contain sugar or starch so that the fermentation process can take place. This simply means that yeast bacteria can feed on the ingredient and produce alcohol in the process.
The most common ingredients to make vodka include:
But fruits and other vegetables can also be used, as long as the yeast can feed on it.
What is Gluten?
What some of these ingredients have in common (corn, sorghum, rice, wheat and rye) is that they are grains. Some grains contain a substance known as gluten. If you’re wondering what gluten is, it’s simply a type of protein.
It sounds a bit like “glue”, doesn’t it? That’s because both words have a similar origin. Gluten acts as a binding agent which pulls food molecules together. If you’ve ever seen someone making a pizza base and stretching the dough, it’s the gluten which creates that stretchy, rubbery consistency.
So, gluten is kind of a “glue” after all.
Which Ingredients Contain Gluten?
If a vodka is fermented using a food source which contains gluten, then the undistilled spirit will contain gluten (we’ll come back to the undistilled part shortly).
Common gluten-containing ingredients include:
These are the two main culprits when it comes to gluten in vodka.
Why is Gluten in Vodka Bad?
Again, there isn’t a simple answer. While there is good evidence that gluten can cause inflammation in the body which can contribute to a variety of illnesses, it depends on the person. The current science states that some people tolerate gluten well while others don’t. Of those who don’t, adverse reactions can range from mild inflammation to permanently damaging the nervous system (something called Gluten Ataxia).
Do You Need to Avoid Vodka with Gluten in it?
Products containing gluten, such as bread or wheat pasta, can be a great source of vitamins and fiber. For many people, it can be part of a healthy diet. Removing it from your diet should be done after discussing this issue with a medical professional. However, there is good evidence that many people feel better after eliminating it from their diet.
Is All Vodka Gluten-Free?
It would seem at first glance that you simply have to avoid any vodka made with wheat or rye and you can be sure there is no gluten in your drink. Unfortunately, as we said at the beginning of this article - It’s more complicated than that.
Gluten in Distilled Spirits
Remember the undistilled spirit we talked about earlier? That’s the fermented alcohol-containing liquid which is first produced by the yeast as it feeds on sugar or starch-rich foods. Every vodka requires this liquid. But if you read most vodka reviews or labels, you’ll see that vodkas are distilled, not undistilled.
What’s the Distillation Process?
An undistilled spirit tends to have a lower percentage of alcohol. As low as 16%. Most vodkas, however, have a percentage in the late thirties and up.
So, how do they increase the alcohol content?
They distill the spirit. That means they heat the undistilled spirit. Alcohol has a much lower boiling temperature than water, so, the alcohol becomes a gas which is then collected and cooled. When it’s cooled, it becomes a liquid again. However, the water content and other “impurities” have been left behind.
The distilled spirit now contains a higher percentage of alcohol. It’s purer.
Hey, What’s This got to do With Vodka and Gluten?
Many people believe that during the distillation process, the gluten proteins are left behind.
The takeaway? Even when made with rye or wheat, the distilled vodka should contain no gluten.
But It’s Still Complicated
While no studies have been published on this subject (yet), the quest for gluten-free vodka does not end here. There is anecdotal evidence that even after distillation, something in the spirit still causes a bad reaction in people who are sensitive to gluten.
And it gets worse.
You might think that sticking to a vodka which uses no gluten ingredients during the fermentation process (potatoes, corn, etc.) is a safe bet. But even then there are instances where gluten gets into the end product. Some distillers add a small amount of undistilled grain spirit to the final product for coloring, flavoring and/or consistency. And, you guessed it, sometimes the grain used contains gluten.
Gluten-Free Vodka Alternatives
While brands like Grey Goose use gluten containing-grains, there are a few brands which market their vodkas as completely gluten-free.
Is All Vodka Gluten-Free?
The answer to this question then is that all vodka is not gluten-free. In fact, many brands contain gluten even after distillation.
How to Choose a Gluten-Free Vodka?
If you’re wanting a safe bet and need to avoid gluten vodkas like Grey Goose entirely, then follow these simple steps:
Make sure that the fermentation ingredient contains no gluten (no wheat or rye especially!).
Ensure the spirit is distilled a number of times.
Avoid any flavorings or colorings which contain gluten and are added after distillation.
Ask the vodka maker or check their advertising claims. If they say it’s gluten-free, you should be safe.
To be extra careful, find out if the vodka has been certified safe by the Gluten Intolerance Group.
Now that we’ve answered the question “is all vodka gluten-free?” we want to hear from you! What are your experiences drinking gluten-free vodka? Which ones would you recommend?