Good quality pure chocolate, of any kind, does not contain gluten.
However, lower quality chocolate, like those in some mass-produced Easter chocolates marketed for kids, could potentially contain fillers like gluten to ‘stretch’ their product.
This allows them to keep prices low, so they can make more chocolate using less of the high quality (and expensive) chocolate ingredients. So always be sure to check the label on these types of chocolate products.
Chocolate in its pure form is very bitter. The darker and more bitter it is, the more cacao it contains. Chocolate falls into three categories, dark, milk and white (not technically ‘chocolate’ though), with dark chocolate having sub-categories due to varying levels of its cocoa and sugar content.
Once you determine what type of chocolate is your favorite, check out our article on Tempering Chocolate, and learn what tempering actually does to the chocolate, what types of chocolates should be tempered, and most importantly how to do it.
Types of Chocolate
The base form of chocolate, made only from the center (nib) of the cocoa bean. It is created by grinding and heating the nib to a liquid form. This liquid is called chocolate liquor (or cocoa solids), and is used to created other types of dark and milk chocolate by adding other ingredients like sugar, vanilla, milk solids/fats, lecithin, and more cocoa butter. As it has no sugar, unsweetened chocolate does not taste good, and is used only in baking when combined with other ingredients. As it made from only the cocoa bean, it does not contain gluten or milk products.
Also known as sweet chocolate, it has a high cocoa solids content (usually at least 50%), with no or very little milk (less than 12%). Types of dark chocolate include:
Ideally it should contain equal amounts of chocolate liquor and sugar, although European brands generally contain more cocoa solids making them more bitter, which is why the cocao content can range from 50%-99%. Does not contain gluten or milk products.
Similar to bittersweet, but with a slightly higher sugar content. When an unspecified chocolate is called for in a recipe, this is the classic choice when baking. Not too sweet and not too bitter, it contains 50-62% cocoa solids, and is a great all-purpose chocolate. Some brands can contain milk products and for the most part most semi-sweet chocolate is fine to eat (just watch for lower quality products can contain gluten, so be sure to check the label).
As a general rule, all milk chocolate contains more sugar than cacoa. The sweeter the bar, the less cocoa it contains. With less than 30% cocoa content, it contains over 50% sugar, and has more than 12% milk solids and 3.39% milk fat.
In the Unites States, federal laws require that a candy bar contain a minimum of 10% cacao solids to be classified as a ‘chocolate’ bar. Some lower quality products can contain gluten, so be sure to check the label.
This is a low quality chocolate which contains others fats besides cocoa butter. Because of this it does not need to be tempered. It can also be used as a confectionery coating, which is a blend of sugars, vegetable oil (to supplement or replace cocoa butter), cocoa powder, and other products – high potential of containing gluten, so be sure to check the label.
White chocolate is technically not chocolate at all since it does not contain any cocoa solids. It gets its color, or lack of it, as it is made using only the fat from the cocao bean. Along with sugar, milk, an emulsifier, vanilla (or other flavoring), it contains at least 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk solids, and 3.5% milk fat, with no more than 55% sweeteners. Pure white chocolate does not contain gluten.
White Confectionery Coating is even less like white chocolate as it contains no part of the cocoa bean. It is made with sugar, milk and milk fat, vanilla, lecithin, and vegetable fats. Although this can sometimes be other fillers like gluten, so be sure to check the ingredient label on any product you buy with this confectionery coating.
The world of chocolate has a language all its own. Check out our chocolate glossary “How To Speak Chocolate”, to learn what the difference between cocoa and cocao is, and if chocolate liquor actually has alcohol in it.
Chocolate By Any Other Name…
…may not be chocolate at all, legally that is. National laws govern the definition of chocolate and what its cocoa content must be to be labelled as such. For instance, the U.S. Government requires a 10% concentration of chocolate liquor for a product to be labelled as milk chocolate. Whereas the European Union regulations specify a minimum of 25% cocoa solids.
Aside from the cocoa content, other ingredients that can be added determine if the product can still be labelled as “chocolate”. Between the United States and Canada, there is a big difference between the chocolate used in coatings for candy bars. To be labelled as “chocolate”, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) does not permit the use of cocoa butter substitutes (vegetable fats or oils) in chocolates produced or sold in Canada. However, importers and manufactures can get around this by calling it a ‘candy-coating’ instead of ‘chocolate-coating’.
In the United Sates, due to recent lobbying from the Chocolate Manufactures Association, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has changed the legal definition of chocolate coatings so they can now contain “…safe and suitable vegetable derived fats, oils, and stearins other than cacao fat. The fats, oils, and stearins may be hydrogenated”.
Note: This article deals with pure chocolate in its original form – that in which you would use for baking, or to use as a coating for certain desserts. ‘Chocolates’ or candies that are filled or use for confectionery, can have gluten containing additives (malt being the most likely), so be sure to read the label for those products, and ensure they are made in a gluten free facility.