There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation when it comes to gluten-free living. The term “gluten-free” can cause eyes to roll and it has taken on a bit of tarnish, and that’s not really fair.
There are many people out there with an intolerance to gluten, in some cases, it is very severe. And more information is coming out all the time to support the idea that many humans have a hard time digesting the stuff. It is a real thing! So let’s keep an open mind.
You might be wondering: How does this relate to chocolate?
How Does Gluten Relate to Chocolate?
People often associate gluten with a few specific foods — pasta, bread, flour, etc. But gluten can actually be found in a whole host of other foods, mainly in the form of additives and other ingredients.
So today, let’s look at some of the basics of gluten, going gluten-free, and what a gluten-free diet means for chocolate lovers.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein found in many types of grains, including rye, barley, and wheat. Many people are able to digest gluten easily without experiencing symptoms or issues. For those with a sensitivity or who are living with celiac disease, eating foods containing gluten can have serious health effects.
What Happens When A Person Eats Gluten?
Especially for people living with celiac disease, eating foods containing gluten can set off an immune response that causes the body to attack healthy tissue. Some of the symptoms of a gluten attack include diarrhea, inflammation, a reduced ability to absorb nutrients, and extreme fatigue, just to name a few.
For those with a sensitivity to gluten, they may experience gas, nausea, bloating, fatigue, and other kinds of temporary discomfort. Therefore, eliminating, or at least greatly reducing gluten prevents these conditions and is necessary for achieving and maintaining optimal health.
So… is chocolate gluten-free?
The short answer is yes. Chocolate in its purest form is gluten-free. Rejoice!
But! There is always a but. While pure chocolate is gluten-free, finding and eating pure chocolate is not everyone’s go-to. Many people are drawn to chocolate bars that are not gluten-free.
So let’s take a closer look at the difference so that you have the information needed to safely eat chocolate, even if you have severe gluten restrictions.
What Kinds of Chocolate is Not Gluten-free?
As mentioned, chocolate in its pure form does not contain gluten. What you need to watch out for are the ingredients that are commonly added to chocolate. These may contain gluten and may trigger a domino effect of symptoms.
For those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, it is vital to avoid chocolate that contains cereals, flour, malt syrup, or other ingredients that usually contain traces of gluten.
Generally speaking, this includes many of the chocolate bars found in the candy aisle. All of those ingredients add crunch, chewiness, extra flavor, and excitement to a plain bar of chocolate. This list can also include additives used to increase the shelf-life, as well as those that reduce the cost of more expensive ingredients in pure chocolate. These are the real culprits.
High-quality chocolate is produced with just a few simple ingredients like cacao beans, cocoa butter, and sugar. These ingredients are gluten-free.
However, take one look at the labels of more common brands of mass-produced chocolate and you’ll find many more ingredients. These long lists often include powdered milk, vanilla, and soy lecithin. These and other products can contain trace amounts of gluten.
Here is an incomplete list of some commonly added ingredients to store-bought chocolate candy that contains gluten:
- barley malt
- brewer’s yeast
- graham flour
- malt extract
- malt flavoring
- malt syrup
- rye flour
- wheat flour
What is Cross-contamination?
Cross-contamination is why some chocolate products contain traces of gluten, even when they are free of products containing gluten. Gluten-free chocolate can be contaminated when it is produced in a factory that also produces products that contain gluten.
As more and more people develop increasingly serious reactions to foods (those with a nut allergy can attest), it is important to stay aware of where your chocolate was manufactured. You can do this by closely reading the labels.
Is White Chocolate Gluten-free?
Not everyone loves white chocolate, but for those that do, the same rule applies. Pure white chocolate is made from a few pure ingredients — cocoa butter, milk, and sugar. It doesn’t include any chocolate liquor, which contains the flavor we think of as “chocolate”.
So yes, if you are a white chocolate lover and worried about your gluten intake, worry no more. Pure white chocolate is ready and waiting for you to enjoy!
The most important thing to remember is that labels contain all you need to know about making the chocolate choice that is best for you. We suggest for the best possible experience, whether you are gluten-free or not, is to find high-quality chocolate with as few ingredients as possible.
Dark chocolate (as dark as you can go!) made from a small batch manufacturer is going to provide the most healthful experience. Of course, not everyone always has access to extremely good chocolate, especially when the craving hits.
Those living with celiac disease of course must read the ingredients lists of chocolate products very carefully before eating them. For those with less severe variations and sensitivities, it’s still important to carefully consider what you are putting in your body.
Pure, unsweetened chocolate derived from roasted cacao beans is naturally gluten-free, and you can taste the difference. So beware, but enjoy! Remember to stop and savor, because that’s really what life is all about.