Common misconceptions about dairy & gluten-free chocolate

Common misconceptions about dairy & gluten-free chocolate

Chococo co-founder Claire BurnetCo-founder Claire here again with some observations on the ever-more confusing world of "dairy-free" & "gluten-free" when it comes to chocolate - especially dark chocolate.

This was sparked by seeing two of our eggs included in an Easter egg feature in Vegetarian Living which surprised me somewhat when I saw how some of the eggs were being promoted. For example, I was a bit gobsmacked to see eggs from a High St retailer being marketed as "Made without dairy Dark chocolate eggs"...dark chocolate is naturally made without dairy - how to confuse consumers in one easy move!

So let's look at some common misconceptions:

1. "I can't eat some chocolate as I am a vegetarian":
ALL chocolate is naturally vegetarian, unless it contains an added flavouring such as; marshmallows, buttons or nuts covered in sugar shells that contain shellac (but there is a debate about whether that is ok for vegetarians), or even more unusually, flavours such as bacon or black pudding (yes some chocolatiers work with meats for some creations!).  

2. "I can't eat chocolate as I am dairy-intolerant or vegan":
ALL dark chocolate should be dairy-free!! It should just be a blend of cocoa solids (the technical word on packaging for cocoa) & sugar to a greater or lesser extent. Only cheap industrial chocolate sometimes contains a small amount of milk in their dark chocolate for some reason best known to themselves. However, this is unusual & will have to be declared on the back of packaging. And you should be avoiding such chocolate anyway, as it will probably contain palm oil (enough said).
We regularly get customers coming into our chocolate houses not understanding that they can enjoy a huge selection of our dark chocolate items, as they dont understand that dark chocolate is naturally dairy-free & vegan.
If you just dont like dark chocolate, there are now an increasing number of alternative "milk" chocolates using dairy-free ingredients to create a creamy effect, such as coconut milk or rice flour. We have just started stocking such a bar made in Vietnam by Marou which contains 55% cocoa & coconut milk instead of normal milk - so it has a lovely creaminess to soften the intensity of the cocoa flavours, but with a coconut tang! This new bar is available in our 3 chocolate houses now, and will be online very soon.

3. "I can't eat chocolate as I am intolerant to gluten":

It never ceases to amaze me how many people seem to think that chocolate contains is NATURALLY GLUTEN-FREE! You have to add biscuits or other gluten-containing ingredients to it to make it an issue.  So it does puzzle me when customers come into our chocolate houses saying that they can't eat chocolate as they think it all contains gluten & I see articles, such as in Vegetarian Living, that tout some perfectly normal dark chocolate buttons by a company as being "gluten-free" as if that is something special. 
Rather than declaring what is gluten-free, we work the other way round & only highlight the products we make that definitely do contain gluten as they are the exceptions, not the rule.

However, like 99% of chocolate companies, even if a recipe does not contain dairy, nuts or gluten in it, we cannot give a 100% guarantee that there might not be traces, as we make all our chocolates in one kitchen. It is very unusual that a company can have totally dedicated spaces for each specific type of chocolate.
However, what I am talking about it here is a much bigger issue around understanding of what chocolate is and dispelling some myths that seem to be taking shape at the moment & could be used to exploit consumers' lack of understanding.

So what is chocolate made of?
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans which have been removed by hand from inside cocoa pods (which were cut off their trees by hand), then fermented, dried, roasted, shelled, chopped & pressed into their two constituent parts - cocoa powder (the colour & flavour of chocolate) & cocoa butter (the melting property of chocolate).

At it's most simplistic level, these two elements are then put back together with one or two other ingredients, depending on what type of chocolate is being made, in the final stage of chocolate production, conching.
Some chocolate also has a tiny % of natural vanilla added, (a throwback to the Mayans & Aztecs who used to drink their chocolate & one of the flavourings used was vanilla which is indigenous to Mexico), & lecithin to help the sugars & fats to bond, (historially soya, increasingly sunflower or none at all).  
By the way, another clue to the quality of chocolate you are about to buy is whether, if it contains vanilla, the vanilla is natural or is labelled as "vanillin", a synthetic alternative. According to Wikipedia, "today most vanillin is produced from the petrochemical raw material guaiacol"...mmmm - no thanks, I would rather pay a bit more and eat chocolate that does not contain palm oil or a petrochemical byproduct.

So to clarify, the main ingredients by type of chocolate are (ranked here by the chocolate element first):

Dark chocolate: cocoa powder, cocoa butter + sugar (& that is it!)

Milk chocolate: cocoa powder, cocoa butter + sugar + milk (which is always added as milk powder by the way)

White chocolate: cocoa butter (no cocoa powder, hence it is white & doesn't taste much of chocolate) + sugar + milk

I hope this has helped to clear up any confusion about the role of gluten & dairy in chocolate but please do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any specific questions.

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