Is Chocolate Gluten-Free?

Learn which chocolate candy to buy when you're on the gluten-free diet

Chocolate chips in wooden spoon on wood table
Hero Images / Getty Images

Pure, unsweetened chocolate is gluten-free. That's because pure chocolate is made by liquefying roasted cacao beans, and gluten—a protein found in the grains wheat, barley, and rye—doesn't play any role in that process. However, almost every chocolate candy on the market contains multiple ingredients and is made alongside other products, and that's where gluten can sneak in. You need to be particularly careful of:

  • Chocolate candy with cookie or pretzel ingredients
  • "Crispy" chocolate candy, which often contains wheat flour and/or barley malt, and
  • Chocolate candy made on equipment that's also used to manufacture gluten-containing products

Read on for more details on how chocolate is made and which types are gluten-free.

Why Only Some Chocolate Is Gluten-Free

While pure chocolate—made from roasted cacao beans—is gluten-free, it also doesn't taste very good. In fact, some people argue that it tastes a little like dirt.

To make the purest version of the sweetened, smooth candy we know as "chocolate," manufacturers take what's called "chocolate liquor" (which isn't alcoholic at all—it's just those liquefied cacao beans, sometimes also called "cocoa mass") and blend it with cocoa butter (fat from the cacao beans), plus sugar.

Some of the highest-quality chocolates available include only these three ingredients, and it's this combination that makes "chocolate" such a taste sensation.

The purest milk chocolates contain just one additional ingredient: powdered milk.

But most of what we think of as "chocolate" contains many more than just those three or four ingredients. In fact, one of the most popular candy bars on the market—Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar—contains 11 ingredients, and the first two are sugar and milk, not chocolate or cocoa butter.

(Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar is considered gluten-free, by the way.)

How Can Gluten Get Into Chocolate?

It's possible even for pure, unsweetened chocolate to contain a bit of gluten if it's been subjected to gluten cross-contamination in harvesting or processing (for example, if the cacao beans are processed on equipment that also processes wheat, barley, or rye).

Sadly, the chances of having your chocolate contain gluten just go up from there—the more ingredients used in your chocolate (or in the facility that makes your chocolate), the higher the risk.

Obviously, some chocolate candy products feature gluten ingredients—either in the form of wheat (most frequently in chocolate-cookie confections) or in the form of barley malt (a popular sweetener frequently used in candy, especially in crispy rice and malted confections). For example, Hershey's Whoppers include both barley malt and wheat flour in their recipe.

Other chocolate candies contain no gluten ingredients, but they are subject to gluten cross-contamination because they're made on the same manufacturing equipment or in the same facilities as those gluten-containing items. In my surveys of candy manufacturers, this seems to be the biggest reason many chocolates aren't considered gluten-free.

Which Chocolate Contains Gluten?

Examples of chocolate candy that are not gluten-free include:

  • Hershey's Cookies 'N' Creme bar and Nestle's Kit Kat bar, both of which feature chocolate combined with cookie ingredients
  • M&Ms Pretzel, since the pretzels used are made with wheat
  • Butterfinger Crisp Bar, which contains wheat flour
  • Lindt Chocolate's Lindor Truffles, because they're made with barley malt

Finally, most chocolate candy made on equipment that's also used to manufacture gluten-containing products will not be considered gluten-free. Examples of this include:

  • All Lindt products (They're made on the same equipment as the Lindt chocolate products made with barley malt, which means they're not gluten-free.)
  • Certain flavored M&Ms, which are made on the same equipment as M&M Pretzel candies
  • Some Butterfinger Bar sizes (While the ingredients are gluten-free, some sizes of these are made on shared equipment.)

A Word From Verywell

Chocoholics have no need to despair—there are many gluten-free chocolate candies on the market.

If you're looking for a plain or flavored chocolate bar, my article on premium and gourmet gluten-free chocolate bars will help you figure out what's safe and what's not (there are several brands I can recommend). If you want chocolates in a gift box, my article on gluten-free gift candy boxes should point you in a safe direction.

For more mainstream candy, check out my master gluten-free candy list, which I update monthly. That list also includes links to information on holiday-themed candies, updated every year (at least).

Although many chocolate products you see in stores won't be considered gluten-free, it's still possible to get your chocolate fix even if you're following a gluten-free diet by choosing a gluten-free chocolate from one of those lists.

Source:

Celiac Disease Foundation. What Should I Eat? Fact Sheet.

Continue Reading