Hot chocolate, or hot cocoa, is a warm drink often consumed on a chilly day. It is usually mixed with water or milk.
The first record of a hot cocoa beverage was by the Mayan people in what is now called South America. They mixed cocoa with hot water, cinnamon, and pepper (
Although hot cocoa in its most basic form doesn’t contain any gluten, some commercial varieties may be contaminated with gluten or include other gluten-containing ingredients.
This article reviews whether hot chocolate is gluten-free and provides some tips on choosing a gluten-free hot chocolate.
Hot chocolate is naturally gluten-free.
Most hot chocolate recipes are made by mixing chocolate or cocoa powder with hot milk or water and a sweetener.
Cocoa powder is made by crushing nutrient-rich cocoa beans and removing the fat (cocoa butter). Cocoa, the primary ingredient in chocolate, is high in antioxidants and other beneficial compounds (
Hot chocolate is often made using gluten-free ingredients like cocoa powder and is therefore naturally gluten-free. However, toppings or sauces added may not be gluten-free. There is also a risk of gluten contamination if you purchase it commercially.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a naturally-occurring protein found in grain products (
Symptoms associated with gluten-related disorders may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, gas, and bloating. However, these can vary depending on the condition (
- wheat and its derivatives, e.g. wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, graham
- malt, such as malted milk, malt extract, and malt vinegar
- some sauces like caramel, soy sauce, and barbecue sauce
When considering buying packaged goods or commercial food products, you’ll want to read the allergen label. They may indicate potential contamination with gluten (
Gluten-free foods can be contaminated by coming into contact with a gluten-containing food (physically touching it) or through indirect contact, such as being handled with utensils that were used on a gluten-containing food (
Cross-contamination can be as simple as using the same spoon to mix gluten-free hot chocolate and hot chocolate that isn’t gluten-free.
Every person with a gluten-related disorder has a limit to how much gluten they can ingest without experiencing symptoms. For some, that’s no gluten at all.
One small study tried to establish a safe gluten threshold for people with celiac disease. For 90 days, 39 adults diagnosed with celiac disease who followed a gluten-free diet were given a daily capsule containing 0mg, 10mg, or 50mg of gluten (
Participants who took 50mg of gluten per day did not experience any relapse in symptoms during the study period. However, one individual taking 10mg of gluten per day relapsed within 6–8 weeks (
This study suggests that the gluten tolerance threshold can vary for each individual. Therefore, it’s recommended to take care and limit gluten intake, both directly and indirectly, if you have a gluten-related disorder (
Plus, more research is needed into how much gluten people with gluten-related disorders can consume.
Always speak to a qualified healthcare professional like a registered dietitian or physician specializing in digestive health to understand what diet is best for you.
Are commercial hot chocolate brands gluten-free?
Hot chocolate is naturally gluten-free. However, adding certain toppings or making the drink in an environment where gluten contamination is possible can change that (
If you’re buying hot chocolate at a store or cafe, be sure to check the nutrition labels and evaluate the potential for gluten contamination.
- Dunkin’ Donuts Hot Chocolate: While it is made using gluten-free ingredients, the restaurant chain’s allergen statement mentions potential wheat contamination. Therefore, it is not recommended for people who must avoid all gluten.
- Starbucks Hot Chocolate: The Starbucks company website mentions that there is a risk of cross-contamination when storing, preparing, or serving drinks in stores. If you’re craving the taste of Starbucks’ drinks, consider the brand’s make-at-home hot cocoa mix, which does not contain gluten (19).
- Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix: This mix has a gluten-free label on their products.
- Hershey’s Hot Cocoa: This quick mix contains all gluten-free ingredients. However, it is not on the Hershey’s gluten-free product list. You may want to make your own mixture using Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder, which is gluten-free (20).
Always speak to a healthcare professional who has experience treating those with gluten-related disorders if you need guidance understanding what foods are safe for you.
Hot chocolate is a naturally gluten-free drink. However, when made in a commercial kitchen, there is a higher risk of gluten cross-contamination. You can limit your exposure to gluten contamination by making your own hot chocolate at home.
People living with gluten-related disorders likely need to limit gluten intake or avoid it entirely.
Here are some tips to make sure your hot chocolate is gluten-free:
- Read the ingredients. Look out for gluten-containing ingredients like malt or wheat flour.
- Read the allergen label. Hot chocolate is generally made using gluten-free ingredients, but it may be prepared in an environment where gluten contamination is possible or likely. Restaurants and food packaging will often provide allergen labels letting you know if there’s a high risk for gluten contamination.
- Look for the gluten-free label: Per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), all gluten-free labeling must be accurate so as not to mislead consumers. You may want to purchase products that are certified gluten-free (
- Ask: Whether you are buying hot chocolate from your local cafe or trying out a new supermarket brand, it’s always a good idea to ask the company you are purchasing from about whether a product is gluten-free. If it isn’t, they may be able to suggest other gluten-free options.
Some advice to make sure your hot chocolate is gluten-free is to check the ingredients label, read any provided allergen labels, look for the gluten-free certification, or ask the person or company making it.
Following a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean that you can’t have the foods and drinks you enjoy. It just means you need to be a little more mindful of your choices.
To minimize the risk of gluten contamination, you may want to make your own hot chocolate at home.
Try this recipe below:
- 8 oz (250mL) milk or water
- 1 tbsp (14g) unsweetened cocoa
- 25g gluten-free dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 1–2 tbsp (14–28g) brown sugar or sweetener of choice (optional)
All you have to do is heat the milk or water, cocoa, sugar, and chocolate in a pan over medium heat until the chocolate has melted.
Then, pour into a mug and enjoy.
The Mayan people drank hot cocoa-based beverages with cinnamon or chili. Consider adding a pinch of cinnamon or chili to your hot chocolate!
Making your own hot chocolate at home is a great way to minimize the risk of gluten cross-contamination.
Hot chocolate is an ancient beverage dating back to the Mayans of South America. Today, it’s a popular warm and sweet drink often consumed on a chilly winter’s day.
Hot chocolate is naturally gluten-free. However, there is a risk of gluten contamination if you buy it from a coffee shop or prepare it from ready-made mixes.
Some tips for choosing a gluten-free hot chocolate include reading the ingredients and the allergen label, looking for the gluten free certification, or asking the person or company making it for clarity.
You probably don’t need to worry about gluten contamination unless you have a gluten-related condition that requires you to limit or avoid gluten. But exposure to even small amounts of gluten can trigger symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, and gas in some people.
To minimize risk, you can try making your own hot chocolate at home by choosing a simple gluten-free mix or trying a new recipe.
Always talk with a healthcare professional specializing in digestive health or gluten-related disorders if you’re unsure what foods are safe for you.