When my friend Ellen’s weird symptoms were finally diagnosed as Celiac disease, it was the first I’d heard of this extreme sensitivity to wheat and other grains. Not that I’m a stranger to food allergies – mine range from a mild rash (peaches) to a sledgehammer headache (eggs.) Now that wheat was on my radar – and Halloween on the horizon – I decided to investigate gluten-free treats, and avoid tricking anyone into eating something they shouldn’t.
The first thing I discovered is that it’s much harder to avoid wheat products than eggs. Gluten can be obvious – wheat, barley and rye flours – but it can also hide in malts, artificial colors and flavorings, food starch and cocoa. The FDA has had “gluten-free” labeling under advisement for two years now, but there are no current regulations to encourage full disclosure on labels, other than listing wheat, one of the top-eight allergens. Health stores carry gluten-free products, but if you want to shop at the local supermarket, guidance is essential.
I went armed with lists of gluten-free candy from Divine Caroline and Wellsphere, but reading the actual labels still surprised me. Sure, I figured Whoopers were a no-no – malt balls have, well, malt – but who would’ve guessed that Twizzler Chocolate Twists are made with wheat flour? Cross-contamination is always a concern, and very few manufacturers use dedicated machinery for allergen-free products. Plus manufacturers can and do fiddle with ingredients, which means you have to read the label every time you purchase a product.
All of which is to say, be careful out there. But with those caveats, here are the best of the gluten-free candies to celebrate with this Halloween:
Hershey’s cocoa is gluten-free, so Hershey’s Kisses – essentially, dollops of chocolate without other additives – gets my vote for the top traditional candy. Hershey chocolate bars are likewise fine to eat, but avoid any version that’s “crispy” or has a cookie or a wafer. On its website, Hershey promises that the company takes allergens very seriously and uses best practices to avoid cross-contamination; too bad their website doesn’t list ingredients or directly mention gluten.
Yay! The candy that says “Boo!” like no other – Pumpkin, Ghost and Spooky Cat Peeps are, like all Peeps, made from corn. Just Born is the parent company and you can contact them directly about Peeps and other products (such as Mike and Ike and Hot Tamales, also corn-based) via their website.
Most of the lollipops I looked at had no wheat products listed, but Spangler went above and beyond: not only are their Dum-Dum Pops gluten-free, they’re manufactured on dedicated equipment.
The Snickers home page links to the most comprehensive corporate statement of allergens I was able to find online. Snickers themselves are gluten-free, even though they contain caramel. Despite lore to the contrary, real caramel (sugar-based) contains no gluten, and artificial caramel made in the U.S. is corn-based, and therefore safe as well. The problem with caramel seems to be that the more highly-processed it is, the more likely the cross-contamination, leading some people to have reactions to caramel coloring, for instance, or caramel flavoring. Check out the Mars Company’s allergen statement or contact Snickers directly.
The Mars Company makes not only Snickers, but M&Ms as well. There was a moment of panic when I saw “Dextrin” on the ingredient list, but as it turns out, their dextrin is corn-based – which means the “Cool Ghoul” mix gets a place at the table at my Halloween party.
Now that’s sweet.
FDA, “Questions and Answers on the Gluten-Free Labeling Proposed Rule.” FDA.gov
Veronica Kavanagh, “Gluten Free Halloween Candy.” Divine Caroline.
Jeff, “Gluten Free Halloween Candy.” Wellsphere.
Hershey’s Official Website.
Just Born Official Website.
Mars Company Official Website and Allergen Statement.
Snickers Official Website.