The Difference Between Dunkin's Flavor Shots And Swirls

When you place an order on the Dunkin' mobile app, perhaps you've spied the menu options for both "flavor shots" and "flavor swirls." They've gotta be basically the same thing, right? Wrong. Tasting Table's favorite Dunkin' iced coffee is the Caramel Craze iced signature latte, which gets its bold flavor from a rich caramel sauce. The ingredient lends brown butter, toasted sugar, and warm vanilla flavors with rich depth and dimensionality. Could a flavor shot or swirl achieve the same thing?

Fans can add flavor shots or swirls to their Dunkin' iced coffee or any beverage order, customizing drinks to fit their unique preferences (Dunkin' secret menu lovers, rise up.) For an ultra-sweet sipper, customers can add four pumps of raspberry flavor shot to a vanilla iced latte. Or, sippers can lean toward a more "gourmet" profile with two pumps of butter pecan flavor swirl in a hot black drip coffee. The primary difference is the sugar content and the thickness, with swirls being richer than shots, but that's just the beginning.

What are Dunkin' flavor shots?

Neither the flavor swirls nor the flavor shots have artificial sweeteners or colors. But, according to an official post on the Dunkin' website, flavor shots are unsweetened and sugar-free syrups. Don't get it twisted, Dunkin's flavor shots may be unsweetened and sugar-free, but they definitely still bring some sweet taste to the table. Although, many fans pair their flavor shots with cream and sugar in their coffees, using the flavor shot as exactly what its name suggests — a shot of flavor — rather than as a sweetener.

Flavor shots are physically thin in viscosity and equipped with a pump dispenser, not dissimilar to Monin or Torani brand flavored coffee syrups. At Dunkin', large coffees get four pumps of flavor shot, mediums get three pumps, and smalls get two pumps. The subtle ingredient adds just 5 to 10 calories per medium drink, and it's a good choice for fans looking to add a subtle pop of flavor to their coffees, especially if sweeter, more dessert-like beverages aren't their style. 

What are Dunkin' flavor swirls?

If flavor shots are comparable to traditional syrup, then Dunkin's flavor swirls are like a thinner, viscous coffee creamer. The swirls are sweet, creamy, and packed with bold flavor. Swirls also add 150 to 160 calories per medium drink, to illustrate the ingredient's comparative richness to the 5 to 10-calorie flavor shot. 

Their deep flavor has ranged from the spiced depth of the Gingerbread Swirl to the dessert-like Rocky Road Swirl flavor, introduced in 2022, with chocolate, marshmallow, and almond-tasting notes inspired by the eponymous ice cream flavor. In early 2024, when Dunkin' released its summer menu, two new donut-inspired drinks were included on the menu: Blueberry Donut Iced Coffee and the Vanilla Frosted Donut Signature Latte (hot or iced). The secret donut-forward ingredient behind them? Dunkin's new "Donut Swirl." This bold ingredient is a customization superstar, packing a potent flavor and responsible for the more creative, innovative, avant-garde flavors Dunkin intermittently introduces to its menu beyond the enduring year-round menu of classic coffee drinks.

Flavor swirls contain dairy, while flavor shots are dairy-free

The most obvious difference between these tasty ingredients is that flavor swirls are thick and luscious, while flavor shots are more understated and thinner. But, there's a reason for this rich difference. Importantly for lactose-conscious and vegan coffee lovers, Dunkin's flavor swirls contain dairy (except for the mocha flavor) while the flavor shots are dairy-free. If shots add a burst of flavor, swirls add both flavor and act as a partial creamer — although, many if not most bevies on Dunkin's menu that include flavor swirls also contain cream. 

In a thread on the subreddit r/DunkinDonuts, the original poster asked this very question, inquiring about the difference between a flavor shot and swirl, writing, "Somebody help cause I usually get the swirls (one less than how it comes) and it's always too sweet." One apparent Dunkin' employee chimed in to explain, writing, "[A]s someone who works there: Swirl: unconcentrated syrup with flavoring, usually has milk unless it's mocha or PB, very sugary. Shot: Unsweetened flavor concentrate without sugar." 

Flavor shots remain consistent, while flavor swirls change throughout the year

Fans know and love Dunkin' for its rotating seasonal flavors, and according to Dunkin', the bulk of its popular seasonally available flavors come from flavor swirls like Peppermint Mocha and Pumpkin Spice. Folks can get excited when the beloved, limited-edition flavor swirls appear behind the counter, bringing back familiar tastes. Year-round, Dunkin's flavor swirls include caramel, French vanilla, mocha, and (at long last!) butter pecan. Butter pecan finally earned a spot on Dunkin's permanent menu last summer after heavy, ultimately effective rallying from high-stamina fans.

By contrast, Dunkin's lineup of flavor shots remains consistent throughout the year and is more of a hold-it-down workhorse than a wild card. The coffee giant's constant, year-round lineup of flavor shots includes vanilla, hazelnut, toasted almond, blueberry, raspberry, and coconut. Flavor shots are the move for adding a subtle toasted almond note to a hot latte, and flavor swirls are a better fit for loading up a cold brew with seasonal pumpkin spice power. Different strokes for different folks, and different tools for different jobs. 

It's also worth noting that the only flavor to have both a swirl and a shot version in Dunkin's oeuvre is vanilla. The sugar-free hazelnut flavor shot remains, but hazelnut swirl was discontinued in 2022.