Chocolate is a beloved treat for many people, but those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity have to be careful about the ingredients. For those who need to avoid gluten, it’s important to check whether popular chocolate brands like Ghirardelli contain this problematic protein.
What is Gluten and Why Do Some People Need to Avoid It?
Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. It helps give elasticity to dough, acting as a kind of “glue” that holds baked goods together. For most people, consuming gluten is not a problem.
However, for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an abnormal immune response. When they eat it, it damages the small intestine and prevents proper absorption of nutrients. Symptoms of gluten intolerance can include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue, headache, “foggy mind,” numbness in the legs, arms or fingers, and joint pain.
For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, the only treatment is a strict lifelong gluten-free diet. This means avoiding any foods or products that contain wheat, rye, barley or oat derivatives (unless certified gluten-free).
Gluten-Free Diet Basics
Following a gluten-free diet entails more than just eliminating breads, pastas, baked goods and wheat-based cereals. It also means checking the ingredients on processed foods, cosmetics, medications and other products. Gluten can be found in unexpected places like soy sauce, salad dressings, soups, spices, lip balms and vitamins.
In addition, cross-contamination is a concern. Even tiny amounts of gluten can cause issues for those who are highly sensitive. Using shared kitchen equipment and surfaces or manufacturing processes that also handle gluten-containing foods can introduce trace amounts.
That’s why it’s so important for those avoiding gluten to look for certified gluten-free products. When an item carries an independent 3rd-party gluten-free certification logo (like that of the Gluten-Free Certification Organization or Celiac Support Association), it has been rigorously tested to confirm it meets the standards for gluten-free status (containing less than 10-20 parts per million of gluten).
Is Ghirardelli Chocolate Gluten-Free?
For chocolate lovers who avoid gluten, the good news is that most pure chocolate is naturally gluten-free. Cocoa beans do not contain any wheat, rye or barley.
However, issues can arise depending on a chocolate product’s specific ingredients and manufacturing processes. Potential sources of gluten to watch out for in chocolate include:
- Added grains like wheat, barley or malt
- Flour from gluten-containing grains used to prevent sticking
- Cookie, cereal or granola inclusions containing glutenous ingredients
- Cross-contamination from shared equipment/facilities
So is Ghirardelli chocolate gluten-free? Here’s what to know about their popular melting chocolate products:
Ghirardelli Melting Wafers
Ghirardelli’s classic melting wafers come in milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, white chocolate, and mint chocolate varieties. The ingredient lists contain just sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, milk ingredients, soy lecithin, and vanilla. There is no mention of any gluten-containing grains.
According to Ghirardelli’s customer service department, these basic melting wafers are considered gluten-free. However, they note that the wafers are produced on shared equipment that also processes products containing wheat and barley. So there is a chance of cross-contamination.
Ghirardelli Melting Chips
Beyond basic wafers, Ghirardelli makes melting chips in flavors like milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, butterscotch, mint chocolate, white chocolate, and chocolate & raspberry. These contain similar core ingredients as the wafers, without gluten-based grains. However, again cross-contamination may be possible from shared equipment.
Ghirardelli’s website states that all their items are produced on shared equipment with milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts (with the exception of items labeled peanut-free/tree nut-free). So those with celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity may want to exercise caution.
Ghirardelli Baking Chips
In addition to melting chips, Ghirardelli makes classic baking chips. These are formulated to hold their shape at high temperatures for cookies and baking. Flavors include semi-sweet chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and butterscotch.
The baking chips have similar ingredients to melting chips, without gluten-containing ingredients called out. And again, cross-contamination from manufacturing is possible. Those highly sensitive should reach out to customer service for the latest information.
Precautions for Gluten-Free Consumers
While Ghirardelli melting wafers and chips appear to be gluten-free based on their ingredients, the company does not label them “gluten-free” or submit them for 3rd party certification. This means there are no processes in place to guarantee no cross-contamination for those who need to strictly avoid gluten.
For people with celiac disease or who are highly sensitive, consuming Ghirardelli chocolate does involve some risk. There are a few precautions you can take if you choose to eat their products:
- Rinse the outer wrapper before opening, to wash away external contaminants
- Contact customer service to check if manufacturing processes have changed
- Look for small manufacturer’s marks on the packaging to ensure the product was made on equipment dedicated to allergen-free foods
- Stick to plain chocolate varieties and avoid inclusions that may contain gluten
- Consume in moderation versus large amounts
Keep in mind that those with celiac disease need to avoid any cross-contaminated products, even if they don’t always cause obvious symptoms. Consuming seemingly “safe” gluten traces over time can still promote small intestine damage and other complications.
Safer Gluten-Free Chocolate Options
For those who need to steer clear of any cross-contamination risk, there are some good gluten-free chocolate alternatives, including:
- Enjoy Life – Offers dairy-free semi-sweet mini chips, crunchy chocolate bars, soft baked cookies and other items that are certified gluten-free, peanut/tree nut-free, soy-free, dairy-free, and free of most major allergens.
- Pascha – Carries a wide range of organic, fair trade and non-GMO chocolate bars, chips, and baking pieces that are certified gluten-free and made in an allergen-free facility.
- Taza – Stone ground chocolate discs and bars made from heirloom cacao. Certified gluten-free and processed on dedicated equipment.
There are also many gluten-free brands offering chocolate chips, melting discs and baking bars that would work well as Ghirardelli substitutes for recipes. Just look for reputable 3rd party certification and manufacturing precautions for any highly sensitive diet.
The Bottom Line
So is Ghirardelli chocolate gluten-free? While their popular melting wafers and chips are formulated without wheat, barley, rye or malt, the brand does not guarantee against cross-contamination. Shared equipment and facility use creates potential risk for very gluten-sensitive individuals.
Those with celiac disease or who react to trace gluten need awareness and caution when consuming Ghirardelli. For maximum safety, choose certified gluten-free brands of chocolate and baking pieces instead. Thankfully, there are more and more tasty options hitting store shelves that eliminate the guess-work!