Italy is one of the world’s favorite nations – and that’s not just due to its beautiful landscapes and culture. It has given the world delicious foods – and incredible liquors and spirits. If we talk about alcoholic drinks from Italy, an iconic one is Sambuca, rich with the flavors of anise. But is Sambuca gluten free?
Sambuca is a distilled alcoholic drink. Even though the base may contain gluten grains, the process of distillation makes it a naturally gluten free drink. Spices used in the drink are also free from gluten. But cross-contamination and additives may add gluten to it.
But is it completely safe to have Sambuca if you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance? Are distilled drinks really safe for you? Keep reading to know more!
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Is Sambuca Gluten Free? Explained
If you love your liqueur with a dash of spiciness, Sambuca is just what you need in your life. Every sip brings you a beautiful mix of star anise and green anise. You’ll also feel the hit of fennel, elderflower, licorice, and other spices in your mouth.
When we talk about Sambuca, we usually refer to the clear variant. Another variety is the black Sambuca. It is known for its fruitiness, with hints of raspberry, banana, or apple. It may also offer the savory notes of coffee, licorice, and witch elder – with a subtle spiciness.
The two might differ in taste. But they both have the same base. The body of both forms of this beverage contains a distilled liquor made from a mash of grains or molasses. That brings us to an important question: is Sambuca gluten free?
Let’s consider the source of the base liquor. If it is derived from molasses, you don’t have to worry about gluten content. Molasses, i.e., raw sugar juice, is inherently free from gluten. So, Sambuca with a base made from molasses is entirely safe.
But what about Sambuca with a grain-derived base? Should you be worried if its distillate comes from a grain mash that contains gluten grains like wheat? It may sound worrisome, but there’s good news. The liquor undergoes distillation, a process known to effectively remove gluten protein from a liquid.
So, even Sambuca made using grain-based liquor is naturally gluten free and safe for you. However, if you are severely sensitive to gluten, you can stick to Sambuca varieties with a base made from molasses only. Check the product’s label to find out about the base or contact the brand for more details.
Another factor to consider is the spice content in the drink. Sambuca is richly flavored with aromatic essential oils from a variety of spices – especially anise. Black Sambuca may also contain fruits, coffee, and more.
Thankfully, spices and aromatics are free from gluten content. So are fruits and coffee. So a high-quality Sambuca, whether clear or black, is infused with real ingredients and should be safe. But cheaper brands may use flavoring agents that have gluten in them.
You also need to check if there is a possibility of cross-contamination in the facilities. If the liqueur handles gluten-based drinks or ingredients, there is a chance for your Sambuca to get in contact with such gluten-based products and end up with trace gluten.
Besides bottled Sambuca, you should also consider the drink served in a bar. Shared serveware can lead to cross-contamination if the establishment does not clean its glasses properly. The risk is higher if you order a cocktail and the mixologist doesn’t wash the stirrer, shaker, or peg measurer.
As for a restaurant, the possibility of cross-contamination is high due to common serveware. If you order a cocktail, gluten can come from shakers and stirrers. So you need to have a conversation with your mixologist regarding their steps to serve a gluten free drink.
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Is Distilled Alcohol Gluten Free?
Many alcoholic beverages have a distilled liquor base. Unfortunately, a lot of them are derived from a grain mash that may include gluten grains. But that doesn’t automatically mean you should stop drinking distilled alcohol! In fact, people with a gluten free lifestyle heavily rely on distilled drinks.
It may sound surprising to you – but pure, distilled liquor can be consumed by people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. That’s because the distillation process separates heavy and non-volatile substances in any liquid from volatile ones.
When the liquid starts to vaporize, heavy substances in the mix like protein particles stay back. Gluten is one such protein that gets eliminated from alcohol during distillation. Thus, it is safe for you to drink distilled alcoholic beverages if you are celiac or sensitive to gluten.
Even the FDA has recently confirmed the same because distillation is a purification process that removes gluten from liquids derived from gluten grain mash. However, you have to be careful about trace gluten that can get added to the beverage due to additives or cross-contamination after the distillation process.
Is Sambuca Healthy?
Sambuca is a flavor-packed drink that everyone loves. But remember that it’s not just loaded with complex aromas. This liqueur is full of sugar! A Sambuca shot of 28 g contains 1 g of carbohydrates – and 100 calories. So if you’re counting your calories or carb-intake, Sambuca might not be suitable for you – except for occasional indulgence.
However, Sambuca also offers some health benefits. Anise and fennel, both used in Sambuca, are both incredibly effective in boosting digestion. Thus, Sambuca is great for digestion. It is often taken after a meal as a digestif – and a mouth freshener.
Additionally, it works as a carminative to reduce flatulence and bloating. The ancient Greeks believed that Sambuca is effective in relieving breathing problems, pain, cramps, convulsions, cough, urination problems, and more. Many proponents vouch for these effects of the drink.
Best Gluten Free Sambuca Brands
We have already provided an answer to the burning question: is Sambuca gluten free? Since distilled drinks are all naturally gluten free, any good Sambuca brand should be safe for you. It’s best to choose a high-end brand like Molinari, Romana, Di Angela, Borghetti, Meletti, Luxardo, etc.
However, if you are specifically looking for a brand that uses an alcohol base made from molasses, Antica is an excellent choice. It has a base of alcohol derived from molasses. Interestingly, the alcohol in this liqueur comes from sugar beet molasses.
Lazzaroni is another excellent choice for you. The name is known throughout the world for its classic Sambuca made using a century-old recipe. This Sambuca has a distinctive taste that comes from molasses.
The Right Way to Drink Sambuca
Did you know that there’s a unique way in which Sambuca is served? If you visit an authentic Italian restaurant, you will get a glass of Sambuca with three coffee beans afloat in the drink. This presentation is called Sambuca con la mosca.
The beans add a lovely flavor to the drink. After you have downed your Sambuca, you mean to munch on the coffee beans. This helps offset the sweetness of the drink. Sometimes, seven beans are also served with Sambuca – to represent the seven hills of Rome.
A rough translation of this would be “Sambuca with the fly.” The beans represent fulfillment, health, and splendor. “3” is also considered lucky by Italians. Thus, Sambuca con la Mosca becomes particularly popular during festivities.
Sambuca is also flambeed before serving. Legend has it that an old lady was having Sambuca with her family when three flies flew to their glasses, attracted by the drink’s aroma. To remove them, they ignited the liqueur, ending up roasting the poor insects.
Sambuca is usually served on the rocks or with ice water. Adding water may turn the liqueur cloudy. This is because of the anise content. The more anise it contains, the cloudier it will be. This is called the Ouzo or louche effect.
Sambuca is also used in coffee-based cocktails, milkshakes, and floats with ice cream. You can also drizzle it on fruit salads. It is usually not served neat to reduce the alcohol content and the strong taste. Flambeing, too, helps with the same.
However, this is only true for clear or white Sambuca. Black Sambuca, on the other hand, can be taken in undiluted form. This lets you enjoy the fruity flavors and rich color of the drink. You can serve it in a tall snifter glass or shot glass.
Sambuca vs. Ouzo
Many people get confused between Sambuca and Ouzo. That’s because they’re both anise-flavored and have a distilled alcohol base. Let’s understand the difference between them.
a) Gluten Content
Ouzo may have gluten due to the ingredients added after distillation. These include grains. Since the recipes differ from one brand to the other, the possibility of gluten content is higher.
b) Origin and Drinking Customs
Ouzo is a Greek drink – while Sambuca comes from Italy. Sambuca is served after a meal as a digestif. Ouzo is served before a meal. It is consumed as an aperitif and boosts your appetite.
c) Louche Effect
Ouzo is usually served with chilled water and gets cloudy due to the louche effect. For Sambuca, it’s not common to become too cloudy. That’s because Ouzo has more anise content.
Sambuca is much sweeter than Ouzo due to higher sugar content. Ouzo is a dry beverage. Sambuca also has 38% alcohol, while the alcohol level in Ouzo ranges from 37.5% to 50%.
Sambuca is a popular alcoholic drink with an exotic touch. But you may wonder, “Is Sambuca gluten free?” Well, you now know the answer to your question. It is inherently gluten free and safe because of the process of distillation. If you want to be absolutely sure, you can consume it in small amounts to observe your body’s reaction to it.