Does peppermint bark contain gluten?

Peppermint bark is a popular holiday treat made by coating peppermint candy pieces and layers of chocolate. It’s loved for its festive colors and minty chocolate flavor. But is it safe for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

The short answer is that traditional peppermint bark recipes do contain gluten. However, there are gluten-free options available for people who need to avoid gluten. In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at the ingredients in peppermint bark and whether they typically contain gluten. We’ll also provide tips for finding or making gluten-free peppermint bark.

Gluten Overview

Before diving into peppermint bark specifically, let’s take a quick look at what gluten is and why some people need to avoid it.

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. It helps give elasticity and structure to products made with these grains. Gluten is found not only in foods made directly from wheat, rye, and barley but also in processed foods, sauces, seasonings, and other products that contain ingredients derived from these grains.

People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity cannot tolerate gluten. When they eat it, it triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, and nutritional deficiencies. The only treatment is a strict lifelong gluten-free diet.

For people who must avoid gluten, reading ingredient labels carefully and knowing common sources of gluten are important. Even small amounts of cross-contamination can cause issues.

Gluten in Chocolate

Now let’s examine the two main ingredients in traditional peppermint bark – chocolate and peppermint candy. We’ll start with the chocolate.

Most chocolate contains gluten. Specifically, milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, and white chocolate typically contain gluten.

Here’s why:
– Cocoa solids and cocoa butter alone are naturally gluten-free. However, chocolate also requires additional ingredients.
– Many candy bar manufacturers add wheat flour as one of the extra ingredients in their chocolate. Flour helps improve texture and reduce the amount of more expensive cocoa butter needed.
– Companies that don’t add wheat flour often use ingredients derived from wheat, rye, and/or barley, such as malt extract or malt flavoring.
– Cross-contamination is also a concern in facilities that produce multiple chocolate varieties using shared equipment.

So unless the packaging indicates a chocolate is gluten-free, it should be assumed to contain gluten. Dark chocolate bars with higher cacao content and fewer additives are less likely to have gluten. But checking labels is still important.

Gluten in Peppermint Candy

Now let’s look at whether the peppermint candies used on peppermint bark contain gluten.

Peppermint candies are typically made from sugar, corn syrup, and peppermint oil or extract for flavor. These ingredients are naturally gluten-free. However, some candies may also contain small amounts of ingredients derived from wheat as stabilizers, binders or anti-caking agents. Starches from wheat, rye, or barley may also be used to coat the outside to prevent candies from sticking together.

So while peppermint candies are generally considered gluten-free, it’s a good idea to check labels, especially around the holiday season. Companies may make seasonal changes or substitutions to their ingredients and manufacturing processes.

Some peppermint candy brands labeled gluten-free include:
– YumEarth Organic Peppermint Patties
– Hammond’s Peppermint Candy Canes
– Brach’s Peppermint Candy Canes
– Spangler Peppermint Candy Canes

Risk of Cross-Contamination

Beyond the ingredients themselves containing gluten, cross-contamination is a potential concern when making peppermint bark.

Cross-contamination happens when gluten-containing ingredients come into contact with gluten-free ingredients and surfaces. This transfer of gluten can easily happen if equipment and surfaces aren’t thoroughly cleaned between uses.

If you’re making homemade peppermint bark and want it to be gluten-free, be very careful about cross-contamination from ingredients and equipment. Thoroughly clean all bowls, utensils, baking sheets, spatulas and other tools before and after use. And check all labels on ingredients.

Professionally made peppermint barks also risk cross-contamination in manufacturing. Gluten-free peppermint barks are produced on dedicated equipment in facilities that follow rigorous protocols to prevent any cross-contamination.

Finding Gluten-Free Peppermint Bark

If you need or want to enjoy gluten-free peppermint bark, here are some tips for finding options:

– Check your local gluten-free bakeries or candy shops. Some make special batches of gluten-free peppermint bark during the holidays.

– Look for peppermint barks from gluten-free brands in the grocery store, specialty markets or online. Some reputable brands include Endangered Species, Amanda’s Own, and Vermont Nut Free Chocolates.

– Search online for “gluten-free peppermint bark” to find mail-order options.

– Call or email manufacturers if a product looks promising but you’re unsure about ingredients. Ask specifically if the peppermint bark is produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility.

– When in doubt, make your own using gluten-free dark chocolate and certified gluten-free peppermint candies. See the next section for a recipe.

Gluten-Free Peppermint Bark Recipe

If you want 100% certainty your peppermint bark is gluten-free, making your own is the best approach. Here is an easy recipe to try:

– 12 ounces gluten-free semisweet chocolate chips
– 1 teaspoon coconut oil
– 1 cup gluten-free peppermint candies, crushed
– 1/4 cup crushed gluten-free candy canes (optional)

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Make sure the pan and paper are clean of any residual gluten.

2. Place chocolate chips and coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high in 30 second intervals, stirring between each, until melted and smooth.

3. Pour melted chocolate onto prepared baking sheet and spread evenly with a spatula into a thin layer.

4. Place peppermint candies in a plastic bag and crush finely with a rolling pin. Sprinkle crushed peppermints evenly over chocolate.

5. If desired, crush candy canes and sprinkle over the peppermint layer.

6. Refrigerate 30-60 minutes until chocolate hardens. Break into pieces and enjoy!

Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

What About Homemade Peppermint Extract?

Some peppermint bark recipes call for peppermint extract instead of candies. If you’re making your own gluten-free peppermint extract at home, be aware that alcohol derived from gluten grains is sometimes used.

Vodka is frequently used as the base for homemade extracts. Some vodka contains gluten, while others are distilled from potatoes or other gluten-free grains. Check the ingredients label on any vodka before using it to make homemade extract.

You can also use food-grade alcohol derived from grapes, apples, or sugar cane to be extra safe. Or look for pure peppermint extract labeled gluten-free at the store.

Peppermint Oil As Flavoring

Pure peppermint oil is another gluten-free option for flavoring chocolate or candy recipes. Derived from the peppermint plant, it provides intense minty flavor without any risk of gluten.

A little peppermint oil goes a long way. Use just a few drops when substituting for peppermint extract or candies in bark recipes. Combining the oil with a bit of vodka or pure food-grade alcohol helps evenly distribute the flavor.

Cooking Considerations

When making gluten-free peppermint bark or other candy recipes at home, here are some important tips:

– Use dedicated bowls, utensils, pots, pans, and baking sheets for gluten-free cooking only. Or thoroughly wash all equipment in hot soapy water before and after use.

– Clean countertops well and use fresh parchment paper to prevent cross-contamination.

– Always read ingredient labels closely and look for gluten-free seals from trusted certification organizations.

– Store gluten-free ingredients separately from regular ingredients in sealed containers.

– Watch out for airborne flour or other particle contamination from regular baking.

– Avoid spreading holiday baking projects requiring regular wheat flour across shared work surfaces.

Storing and Serving Peppermint Bark

Properly storing finished peppermint bark helps retain quality and prevent gluten cross-contamination:

– Let bark cool and harden completely before removing from the parchment paper.

– Break into pieces and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Glass storage containers with tight fitting lids work well.

– Avoid storing with other holiday treats that may contain gluten.

– Clearly label gluten-free peppermint bark to prevent mix ups.

– Serve on a dedicated platter, not one used for other baked goods.

– Provide guests or gift recipients a list of ingredients in case of food allergies or sensitivities.

Enjoying Peppermint Bark Seasonally

While peppermint bark is especially popular around the December holidays, you can enjoy it any time of year. The cool mint pairs well with chocolate regardless of season. It makes a nice Valentine’s Day treat too.

You may be able to find peppermint bark in stores year-round. Brands producing it in dedicated gluten-free facilities offer the most reliability. Otherwise, watch for holiday availability and stock up a few extra bags or bricks in the freezer.

Homemade peppermint bark also lets you satisfy cravings even in the spring or summer. Whip up a batch with high quality gluten-free ingredients using the recipe above.

Buying Gluten-Free Gifts and Sweets

Searching for gluten-free gifts or homemade treats to bring to holiday parties? Here are some tips:

– Look for dedicated gluten-free bakeries in your area or online mail-order options.

– When buying packaged sweets, read labels closely for any wheat-based ingredients or potential cross-contamination.

– For homemade baked goods, opt for naturally gluten-free options like fudge, peanut brittle, toffee, marshmallows, etc.

– Purchase gluten-free baking mixes to create your own cookies, breads, cakes or pies to gift or share.

– Inform any homemade treat recipients that good faith efforts were made but contamination can’t be fully guaranteed.

– Provide a list of ingredients used in homemade items for those with food allergies or celiac disease.

– Buy gluten-free candy, chocolate, and other treats produced in facilities avoiding cross-contamination.

– Look for gluten-free labels from organizations like GFCO, NSF, and GIG’s Gluten-Free Certification Organization.

Traveling for the Holidays

If you or a loved one eats gluten-free and will be traveling for the holidays, be sure to plan ahead:

– Research gluten-free restaurant options at your destination. Focus on dedicated establishments.

– Call ahead to confirm menus, protocols, and availability of gluten-free meals.

– Pack plenty of gluten-free snacks, treats and even shelf-stable meals in case you get stuck without options.

– Bring your own gravies, dressings, sauces and seasonings or request plain fresh-made versions.

– Verify all ingredients if homemade meals will be prepared where you’re staying. Offer to bring your own gluten-free ingredients.

– Be prepared to politely advocate for your needs and double check orders. Language or knowledge gaps can happen.

– Travel with sanitizing wipes, hand soap, paper towels and other tools to avoid cross-contact.

– If celebrating at someone’s home, provide gluten-free dishes you can safely eat. Offer to assist with meal prep.

Accidental Gluten Exposure

Being gluten-free around the holidays can be challenging. If you or a loved one has an accidental exposure:

– Drink plenty of water to help flush gluten from your system faster.

– Take activated charcoal capsules to help absorb any remaining gluten.

– Go easy on fiber to give your gut a break while recovering. Low residue, low fiber foods are best.

– Skip probiotics and prebiotics until your digestive symptoms clear.

– Get extra rest and go easy on exercise while your body heals.

– If symptoms persist longer than a few days or are severe, contact your doctor.

Kids and Gluten-Free Holidays

Having gluten-free kids joining holiday festivities requires some accommodations:

– Make sure kids’ gluten-free needs are clearly communicated to caregivers and relatives hosting events or meals.

– Send gluten-free treats or cookies they can safely enjoy if holiday sweets will be shared.

– Help kids advocate for their diet, ask questions, and refuse unsafe foods politely.

– Pack gluten-free snacks or treats so they don’t feel left out if unsafe options are served.

– Remind them to wash hands before and after meals to prevent cross-contamination.

– Watch for traces of gluten in craft supplies like playdough or on greeting cards. Opt for gluten-free versions.

– After possible exposure, dose kids with extra water, rest, and TLC. Call the doctor if symptoms concern you.

Bottom Line

So does peppermint bark contain gluten? Traditional recipes do because of the ingredients in milk chocolate and the risk of cross-contamination. Thankfully, there are many gluten-free options available:

– Look for brands that make gluten-free peppermint bark using dedicated equipment.

– Make your own at home with high quality gluten-free chocolate and peppermint candies.

– Use gluten-free vodka or extracts if your recipe calls for peppermint flavoring.

– Take care to avoid cross-contamination when working with all ingredients and equipment.

– Carefully read all labels for any sign of gluten-containing additives.

– Call manufacturers if you’re unsure about ingredients in a product.

While going gluten-free adds complexity to baking and the holidays, there are still plenty of ways to safely enjoy peppermint bark and other seasonal treats.

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