Winter brings thoughts of sitting in front of a roaring fire and sipping hot chocolate or hot cocoa, preferably with gluten-free marshmallows. But which of the store-bought hot chocolate mixes (made with actual chocolate) and hot cocoa mixes (made with cocoa powder, not chocolate) are considered gluten-free?
To help you find something safe to sip, I've pulled together a list of hot chocolate and hot cocoa mixes that are labeled as gluten-free (to at least less than 20 parts per million) in the U.S. I've also included those containing no gluten ingredients but that aren't considered safely gluten-free by their manufacturers due to potential gluten cross contamination.
A couple of quick caveats: As I said, these hot chocolate/hot cocoa mixes all are considered legally "gluten-free" or "no gluten ingredients" by their manufacturers. However, that doesn't mean they're necessarily completely free of gluten — many foods labeled "gluten-free" or "no gluten ingredients" still contain a very small amount of gluten, and many people react to gluten below the levels considered legally gluten-free. Where possible, I've included information on the gluten levels to which manufacturers test (lower is better). For more details on this, see:
- Gluten-Free Foods May Still Contain Some Gluten
- Why You Can Eat Gluten-Free and Still Get Symptoms
- Why Manufacturers' Gluten Testing Numbers Matter
- Gluten PPM Testing Levels for Manufacturers
Here, in alphabetical order, is the list of gluten-free and no gluten ingredient hot chocolate and hot cocoa choices:
- Ghiradelli. This San Francisco-based company makes hot cocoa in four flavors: Double Chocolate, Chocolate Mocha, White Mocha and Chocolate Hazelnut. Only one Ghiradelli product — the Luxe Milk Crisp bars — contain a gluten ingredient (barley malt). Those are not made on the same equipment as the powdered mixes. However, Ghiradelli does not test for gluten and does not maintain a gluten-free list, so I'd advise caution with all Ghiradelli products, including hot cocoa.
- Hershey's. Both Hershey's Cocoa and Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa appear on the company's 2012 gluten-free list. Hershey's tests its product to 20 parts per million (ppm), or GF-20 levels. Note that even though Special Dark cocoa is considered gluten-free, Special Dark chocolate bars are not gluten-free (for more information, see my Gluten-Free Candy List).
- Land O Lakes. Cocoa Classics, distributed by Land O Lakes, is available in 12 different flavors. Land O Lakes does not maintain a gluten-free list, but states that it will provide "complete and accurate ingredient information" on its labels. None of the 12 Cocoa Classics products contain gluten ingredients, but the company does not test them for gluten cross-contamination.
- Swiss Miss. Swiss Miss may be the best-known hot chocolate mix, and the company makes a variety of different flavors, including Diet and No Sugar Added varieties. As of January 2012, all are considered gluten-free to GF-20 levels, and are carrying "gluten-free" designations on their labels. Swiss Miss is a ConAgra company, and ConAgra has a policy of clearly disclosing all gluten-containing ingredients on the label, including those from barley and rye.
- Trader Joe's. As Trader Joe's continues to expand, its gluten-free list is growing, as well. As of October 2012, the list includes T.J.'s Sipping Chocolate, found seasonally in Trader Joe's stores. The hot chocolate mix should be gluten-free to GF-20 levels. However, ingredients and suppliers at Trader Joe's seem to change frequently, so check with the store to make sure the Sipping Chocolate you're purchasing is still considered gluten-free.
The following hot chocolate and hot cocoa mixes are not considered gluten-free:
- Cacao Reserve by Hershey's
- Godiva (nothing from Godiva is considered safe)
Finally, if you don't want hot chocolate or hot cocoa from a mix (or, like me, you want to limit the chances of gluten cross-contamination), you easily can make it from scratch. Here are a couple of good recipes:
- Hot Cocoa. With just five ingredients, this recipe from About.com's Guide to Home Cooking only takes 10 minutes to make.
- Spanish Hot Chocolate. This recipe, from About.com's Guides to Spanish Cooking, is a bit more complex, but it's thick and delicious to drink.
- Brown Sugar Hot Chocolate. As the title indicates, this recipe from About.com's Guide to Coffee & Tea substitutes brown sugar for white sugar. The result is an extra-sweet drink.
- Hot Chocolate Video. Learn step-by-step how to create the perfect mug of hot chocolate.