Winter is almost here, and that means it’s time to cozy up by the fireplace with a warm cup of hot chocolate. If you’re following a gluten-free diet, you might wonder which hot cocoa brands are gluten-free and which are not. In this article, I’ll share a list of gluten-free brands and how three popular instant hot chocolates fared when tested for hidden gluten with my Nima Sensor. This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosures.
Nothing is more cozy than curling up on the couch in your sweatpants, a warm blanket, and a cup of hot chocolate, preferably with marshmallows on top.
To put your mind at ease, most but not all store-bought hot chocolate mixes are gluten-free.
Read labels carefully, look for a “gluten-free” claim when possible, and put it back on the shelf when in doubt. There is almost always a gluten-free option.
In this post, I’ll share a list of gluten-free hot chocolate brands and how three of them fared when tested for hidden gluten with my Nima Sensor, a portable gluten-detecting device that enables you to test a small piece of food for hidden gluten in the comfort of your own home. The Nima Sensor is a great tool, but it must be used correctly in order to be effective.
If you’re interested in purchasing a Nima Sensor, please read my article, What You Need to Know About Nima Sensor Before You Buy – Perspective from a Celiac & Nutrition Professional, first. It’s an expensive device and is sometimes controversial, although some of the criticism is rubbish and unfounded.
Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa Mix
Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa Mix is a popular brand of instant hot chocolate. The milk chocolate flavor is made with sugar, corn syrup, modified whey, cocoa, hydrogenated coconut oil, nonfat milk, and natural flavors.
As you can see below, the cocoa is labeled “gluten-free,” which makes me confident that the product is safe to consume on a gluten-free diet.
I tested it with Nima, and Nima displayed a smiley face. That means it didn’t find any hidden gluten.
Starbucks Hot Cocoa Mix
Another popular instant hot cocoa mix is from Starbucks. The mix is made from cane sugar, cocoa, and natural vanilla flavors. The packaging states that it’s made on shared equipment with tree nuts, soy, and milk, but it appears to be dairy-free and gluten-free, albeit such disclosures are not explicitly stated on the label.
I tested it with Nima, and as you can see, it displayed a smiley face. That means Nima didn’t find any hidden gluten.
Trader Joe’s Instant Hot Cocoa Mix
If you’re lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s, you’ll be happy to know that the budget grocer’s privately-labeled brand of instant hot cocoa contains organic cane syrup solids, organic nonfat dry milk, organic cocoa, sea salt, calcium carbonate, xanthan gum, natural flavors and nothing else.
The label says it contains milk and may contain traces of tree nuts and soy; however, there is no explicit “gluten-free” claim.
Hershey’s says all of its cocoa, including its 100% Cacao and Special Dark Cacao, are free from gluten. I like that Hershey’s cocoa is unsweetened, which means you can add your own sweetness level.
Hershey’s cocoa is labeled gluten-free, and it contains only one ingredient (cocoa), which means it has a clean ingredient list and is easy to decode for hidden gluten. I did not test it for hidden gluten because of its clean ingredient list.
If you want to use hot chocolate with Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder, here’s a delicious recipe to follow:
Add 2-3 teaspoons of hot cocoa, two tablespoons of sugar, and 1 cup of warm whole milk, soy milk, or hot water to a mug. Stir until combined, then add 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract for bonus flavor. If you’re making the recipe for a crowd, use a small saucepan or pot to heat everything together.
Also, I suggest topping it all with mini marshmallows or whipped cream and cinnamon spice. Yum!
Nestle Hot Cocoa
If you’re following a gluten-free diet, do not purchase nor consume Nestle hot cocoa. It clearly says on the label, “May contain wheat” like other Nestle products.
For example, NESQUIK instant chocolate milk powder varieties are NOT gluten-free and say “may contain wheat on its packaging and website. Always read the allergen label.
Generic Hot Cocoa Brands
Kroger, Walmart, Target, and Whole Foods (365 Brand) may carry privately labeled hot cocoa. Be sure to carefully read labels and check for allergen disclosure statements when using grocery store brands. It’s always best if the hot cocoa contains a gluten-free claim on the packaging, although it’s not always necessary if the ingredient list is easily decodable.
A Few Other Tips to Buying Hot Cocoa
Read Labels Carefully: When possible, purchase brands labeled gluten-free or that contain simple ingredients. I haven’t found any mainstream cocoa brands that are certified gluten-free by a third party, but as you can see, Swiss Miss is labeled “gluten-free.”
Avoid Buying Instant Packets with Marshmallows. If the mix contains marshmallows, you’ll need to check the ingredient list carefully, as some marshmallows contain gluten.
Also, almost all marshmallows contain gelatin, which is a gluten-free ingredient but is generally derived from pork. I’m not sure I want pork in my hot cocoa, but that’s just me.
See my article, Are Marshmallows Gluten Free and Testing Jet-Puffed Marshmallows for Hidden Gluten, to see how several brands of marshmallows fared when tested with my Nima. Not all marshmallows are gluten-free. Never assume!
If you like marshmallows, I recommend Trader Joe’s or Dandies mini vegan marshmallows. Both are gluten-free and don’t contain pork.
Add a Candy Cane Stirrer: A candy cane will infuse your hot cocoa with peppermint flavor and holiday vibes and help you stir all the delicious cocoa together. Read Are Candy Canes Gluten Free? for questions on how to choose the right candy cane brand.
Are You Dairy-Free? If you’re dairy-free, you’ll want to look for a dairy-free brand of hot cocoa along with a gluten-free brand. Also, consider adding plant-based, dairy-free milk to your hot chocolate, or just use hot water in lieu of milk. I recommend using unsweetened almond milk, vanilla-flavored cashew milk, or plain soy milk.
Hot Cocoa Season Is Here!
Get ready to curl up with a mug full of delicious hot chocolate this holiday season or whenever cold weather hits your part of town. There is no need to visit a coffee shop when you can enjoy instant gluten-free hot cocoa in the comfort of your home with a crackling fireplace and a queue full of Hallmark movies to watch on Netflix.
You might enjoy these articles, too:
- Are Chocolate Chips Gluten Free? (I tested several brands for hidden gluten)
- Beware of Malt and these 21 Potential Sources of Barley (Gluten)
- Why Natural and Artificial Flavors Are Not Always Gluten-Free
- Is Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte Gluten-Free? Let’s Test It To Find Out
- These 90+ Foods and Beverages at Starbucks are Gluten-Free