Is Chocolate Gluten-Free or Does It Contain Gluten?

melted gourmet gluten-free chocolate
Is all chocolate gluten-free, or are there exceptions?. Chris Turner/Getty Images

Question: Is chocolate gluten-free, or does chocolate contain gluten?

Answer: Pure, unsweetened chocolate, made by liquefying roasted cacao beans and containing nothing but those roasted beans, should be completely gluten-free. But pure, unsweetened chocolate also doesn't taste very good — a friend of mine says it tastes a little like, well, 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. High-quality milk chocolates contain just one additional ingredient: powdered milk.

So 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).

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).

Lindt Chocolates, one of my favorite chocolate brands pre-diagnosis, uses barley malt in many of its products.

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.

Yes, There Are Some Safe Chocolates

But chocoholics shouldn't despair — there are some 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 the gluten-free diet by choosing a gluten-free chocolate from one of those lists.

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