Are Airheads celiac safe?

Airheads are a popular taffy candy produced by Hershey’s. With their chewy texture and assorted fruit flavors, they have been a favorite treat for kids and adults alike since first hitting store shelves in 1986. However, for those with celiac disease or following a gluten-free diet, determining if Airheads are safe to eat can be tricky. In this comprehensive guide, we will examine if Airheads contain gluten, what ingredients they are made from, how they are manufactured, and if cross-contamination is a risk. We will also provide some helpful tips for enjoying Airheads while following a gluten-free lifestyle. Whether you are newly diagnosed with celiac disease or simply curious if Airheads align with a gluten-free diet, read on to get the full scoop on Airheads and gluten.

Do Airheads contain gluten?

The good news is that according to both Hershey’s product information and consumer reports, Airheads themselves are free from gluten-containing ingredients. Gluten refers to the proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten can lead to very unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms and other health issues. Fortunately, the ingredients to make Airheads do not include any gluten-containing grains.

Airheads Ingredients

According to the Hershey’s website, Airheads ingredients include:

  • Corn syrup
  • Sugar
  • Dextrose
  • Palm oil
  • Artificial flavors
  • Hydrogenated palm kernel oil
  • Soy lecithin
  • Malic acid
  • Colored with Yellow 5, Red 40, etc.

Noticeably absent from this list are any gluten-containing ingredients. Corn syrup and sugar make up the majority of Airheads. Dextrose is also derived from corn. Therefore, the primary ingredients in Airheads are naturally gluten-free.

How are Airheads manufactured?

In addition to having gluten-free ingredients, Airheads are manufactured without the use of any gluten-containing grains. Here is an overview of the Airheads production process:

  • Liquid sugar, corn syrup, and dextrose are combined in large vats and heated.
  • Colors, flavors, and other ingredients are added to the heated sugar mixture.
  • The flavored liquid is poured onto a chilled, Teflon-coated belt in a thin layer.
  • As it travels down the belt, the liquid thins and cools into taffy.
  • The taffy is then cut into small pieces and wrapped into the iconic Airheads packaging.

This efficient manufacturing process does not require the use of any equipment that also processes gluten-containing ingredients. The liquid taffy is simply flavored, cooled, cut, and packaged without contamination risks.

Is cross-contamination an issue?

While the ingredients and manufacturing process of Airheads themselves are gluten-free, cross-contamination is still a potential concern for very sensitive celiacs. Cross-contamination refers to the unintentional presence of gluten due to shared equipment or facilities. Here are the key factors in assessing the cross-contamination risk of Airheads:

  • Hershey’s does produce other candy products that contain gluten, such as products with wheat like Hershey’s Kisses.
  • Airheads are produced in facilities that also process known allergens such as peanuts, milk, soy, etc.
  • Hershey’s indicates that equipment is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between production runs.
  • There is no gluten-free certification or independent gluten-free testing of finished products.

For these reasons, Hershey’s cannot guarantee Airheads are 100% gluten-free for those highly sensitive. The dairy-free labeling suggests that cross-contamination with milk allergens is not a major concern. However, individuals with celiac disease or wheat allergy should use their own judgment on whether to consume.

Tips for Enjoying Airheads Gluten-Free

While the gluten-free status can’t be definitively confirmed, here are some tips for enjoying Airheads with celiac disease:

  • Contact Hershey’s directly with any questions or concerns regarding cross-contamination risks.
  • Look for Airheads specifically labeled as gluten-free or with a gluten-free symbol on the packaging.
  • Stick to whole, unopened packages and do not consume Airheads from bulk bins.
  • Consider trying a “tester” amount first to check for any reaction.
  • Opt for varieties without inclusions like sprinkles, which may contain traces of gluten.

Adhering to a gluten-free diet can be challenging. With some adjustments and extra care, conditions like celiac disease are very manageable. Foods like Airheads that are naturally gluten-free can help add variety. As with any processed food, it is smart to do your own individual research and assess your comfort level with potential cross-contamination. By understanding ingredients lists, manufacturing processes, and contacting companies directly with questions, those with celiac can safely enjoy old favorites like Airheads.

Are other taffy and chewy candies gluten-free?

In addition to Airheads, many classic chewy, taffy, and gum-like candies do not contain gluten ingredients. Here is an overview of some other gluten-free candy options:


Just like Airheads, Starburst contain corn syrup, dextrose, and hydrogenated palm oil but no gluten-containing ingredients. They are produced on shared equipment, so risk of cross-contamination still exists. Many report tolerating Starburst well except for those highly gluten sensitive.


Skittles have the same primary ingredients as Airheads and Starburst and are considered gluten-free from ingredients. However, Mars Wrigley cannot guarantee they are 100% gluten-free due to manufacturing processes.

Swedish Fish

These chewy fruit-flavored candies have been around since the 1950s. Swedish Fish do not contain any gluten sources. However, they are made on shared lines and not tested gluten-free.

Sour Patch Kids

Sour Patch Kids have a chewy texture similar to Swedish Fish. They are considered gluten-free from ingredients. However, no testing measures are in place to rule out cross-contamination.

Haribo Gold Bears

The chewy gummi texture of Haribo Gold Bears makes them a popular gluten-free candy option. Haribo does label some products gluten-free, but Gold Bears are not currently included in testing protocols.

Jolly Ranchers

These hard fruit-flavored candies contain corn syrup, sugar, artificial flavors and colors. Jolly Ranchers do not contain gluten and are considered gluten-free by many. Individual tolerance varies.

Dubble Bubble Gum

Classic Dubble Bubble gum’s ingredients are gluten-free. However, wheat starch is used on manufacturing equipment. Only consider Dubble Bubble if you are not highly sensitive.

Bubble Yum

Bubble Yum bubble gum is another long-time favorite. It is labeled gluten-free by the manufacturer, indicating a very low risk for cross-contamination.

Should you consume gluten-free candy if you don’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

The popularity of the gluten-free diet has soared in recent years, often extending beyond those medically diagnosed with celiac disease. According to one survey, 30% of adults actively try to avoid gluten even without an intolerance. Reasons range from perceived health benefits to simplicity in diets. However, there are several factors to consider regarding strictly gluten-free diets for those without celiac disease:

  • It can be nutritionally limiting – Gluten-free substitutes often lack key nutrients like iron, fiber, thiamine, folate, and niacin that are abundant in wheat-based products.
  • It does not reliably cause weight loss – Any potential weight changes are typically due to overall dietary changes, not lack of gluten itself.
  • It does not positively impact heart health – Contrary to popular belief, research does not show cardiovascular benefits to gluten-free diets in healthy individuals.
  • Reduces intake of beneficial whole grains – Most gluten-free products are made with refined grains and flours.

In terms of gluten-free candy, there are no compelling advantages to choosing naturally gluten-free varieties for those without celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The exceptions would be if you have a personal preference for the taste or texture of gluten-free candy alternatives. For example, some prefer the chewy, smooth texture of Airheads over gummy candies containing wheat starch. Additionally, those with other food intolerances like corn or soy may gravitate toward gluten-free candies as they often do not contain those allergens. Otherwise, there are no significant nutritional or health advantages to gluten-free sweets.

The bottom line on Airheads and gluten

So, what’s the verdict on Airheads for gluten-free diets? Here are the key takeaways:

  • Airheads do not contain any gluten-containing ingredients.
  • Hershey’s manufacturing processes for Airheads are gluten-free.
  • However, cross-contamination can’t be ruled out as facilities also produce gluten products.
  • Individual sensitivity levels vary – less sensitive celiacs can often tolerate Airheads.
  • Take extra precautions like contacting Hershey’s with questions.
  • Look for packaging designating gluten-free when available.
  • Airheads likely pose a very minimal gluten risk, if any.

While not definitively labeled gluten-free, Airheads can likely be part of a gluten-free diet with proper care and awareness. Some trial and error may be needed, so introduce Airheads slowly and watch for any adverse reactions. This applies to other chewy taffy candies as well that are gluten-free from ingredients but carry some risk of cross-contamination. As always, diligently read labels, contact manufacturers with questions, and listen to your own body. By understanding the ingredients and production processes, those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance can often still enjoy these nostalgic gluten-free candy treats.

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