Author: Nick Marsden
Is chocolate gluten free?
That’s a question we’re often asked in a spare moment during our chocolate making workshops or when people book our fun chocolate making hen parties. When I got asked for the first time I had to really think, because since I work with 'proper' chocolate I don't even think about alergies. It's just chocolate, you know...nothing else! I never really promoted my chocolate as gluten free, suitable for vegetarians and vegans or that it can be made completely lactose free. It's just a normal chocolate, right...everybody knows that! Well, it turns out that not everyone does and because 99% of mass produced chocolate products contain all sorts of things, that just shouldn't be there, understandably people ask, whether my chocolate is gluten free or not.
People may be making chocolates for themselves or a friend who has a gluten free diet or they may know someone who’s a Coeliac – more of that latter. More often than not, the chances are that they’ve simply read an article about gluten free products and wondered how it applies to chocolate, like any other item of food. Is chocolate gluten free? It’s a complicated subject so let’s find out a little more about both chocolate and gluten.
What is gluten and where is it found?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, which may also be found in other products. Unlike simply avoiding eating rye bread, if on a gluten-free diet, it’s not so simple a decision when it comes to eating or not eating chocolates.
Is chocolate naturally gluten free?
Yes. In its purest sense, sweetened chocolate – that is made from liquefied cacao beans, and blended with cocao butter, plus added sugar, should be gluten free. As we’ll see, it’s when you start adding things to the chocolate and start to examine the manufacturing process that the questions start to mount up.
Typically, chocolate consists of cocoa beans, cocoa butter, sugar, and sometimes vanilla, lecithin (to make sure the cocoa butter doesn’t separate), and milk or cream goes into making chocolate.
So why is gluten found in chocolate?
Now that’s the key question and it’s solely down to cost. Although wheat flour itself is not used in chocolate, many products made using wheat or containing wheat derivatives are used. Chocolate is often combined with ingredients that contain this protein. That’s because, gluten, the protein that is found in wheat, is a thickening agent which helps bind the chocolate together. What this really means is that it’s used to bulk up chocolate, reducing its quality, and making it cheaper to manufacture.
So, a chocolate bar that contains a wafer or other ingredient made from wheat will definitely contain gluten, whereas a plain chocolate bar may not. Additionally, many of the fillings in chocolate bars may contain wheat based products for the same reason – cost!
What about Cross Contamination?
We know that chocolate may contain gluten if certain ingredients are added. However, it may also contain gluten if it comes into contact with wheat, barley or rye during processing. The example usually given is that of liquorice which contains wheat. So where chocolate is manufactured on the same equipment as liquorice, it may contain trace amounts of gluten picked up on the equipment.
Are there hidden sources of Gluten?
It’s a safe rule to say that the fewer ingredients added to it, the more likely that the chocolate is going to be closer to the original cocoa bean. During our courses, we give out samples of the high quality chocolate we use for our products and also ‘origins’ chocolate made from a single source or plantation. Think single malt whiskey and you’ll get the idea. People find that the taste is very different and more intense and satisfying than that of high street chocolate bars with equally high milk solids contents. They also have less of a craving for more chocolate due to the additives found in most commercial chocolate bars,
So back to those hidden sources of gluten. This is when it starts to get a bit bewildering
Some of the added ingredients that may indicate gluten include:
- Artificial flavours or extracts
- Malted Chocolate or Malted Milk
- Malt Extract, Syrup, or Flavouring
- Modified Food Starch
What is Coeliac Disease?
This where an intolerance to gluten can become something altogether more serious.
Coeliacs are unable to process gluten properly so it causes harm to the lining of the small intestine which can become irritated and inflamed. This means that coeliacs are less able to absorb the right nutrients from their food, so they may become thinner and suffer unhealthy weight loss.
Where can I get wheat-free and gluten-free chocolate?
Most health food stores and some supermarkets now carry organic / alternative /gluten free ranges. At least it’s a bit easier to find the right section in the right shop than trying to read all those labels.
Where can I get more information?
Try the British Allergy Foundation. It produces a good guide to helping you shop with an allergy or intolerance. To obtain a list contact the BAF on www.allergyfoundation.com or call 020 8303 8525.
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