Cocoa powder is just that, cocoa powder isn’t it? Well maybe not. It nearly always contains sugar; finding one without sugar is impossible. They also probably contain skimmed milk powder if sold as a hot chocolate powder drink and on more careful examination, most contain a ‘may contain’ milk or nuts warning.
But what does that mean? If the recipe is freefrom milk and nuts how much risk is a person taking if they consume cocoa powder with such a warning?
What is the likelihood of plain cocoa powder actually coming into contact with milk or nuts?
It could be a very low risk if products are found in the factory but all stored in sealed sacks or there could be open bags of dusty salted peanuts and dried skimmed milk powder lying around just waiting to leap into the lovely cocoa powder.
What does ‘may contain traces of [insert allergen here] due to manufacturing process’ actually mean?
Does it mean they have tested the product and traces of said allergen have been found present? Or does it mean there is a very real risk? or that they haven’t really checked? Or they just don’t know? or care?
There appears to be one solution from my favourite chocolate company, Plamil.
Plamil nut and dairy free chocolate drops
Plamil, supply little freefrom chocolate drops which are great in cookies, cakes etc.
They do have a ‘may contain soya’ warning as a few of their products contain soya flour, but the plain chocolate is all made with sunflower lecithin.
All their products are guaranteed freefrom nuts and dairy.
They also sell larger catering packs of chocolate flakes which might work better if you are actually after cocoa powder. You can read more about Plamil’s freefrom promise and why they say. “manufactured under controlled conditions in our own factory in which no nuts are ever used”.
There are lots of cocoa powders out there in all the main supermarkets but none of them are guaranteeing freefrom. Here is what just a few said…
Cocoa powders – are they freefrom?
- Sainsbury’s – Not suitable for soya allergy sufferers due to the methods used in the manufacture of this product. However they did tell me, “After investigating this further I can confirm that our cocoa powder does not contain milk and nuts and is safe to use for customers avoiding these products.
Ingredients: Cocoa Powder, acidity regulator: Potassium Carbonate.Contains: Cocoa butter 20% minimum.
- The Raw Chocolate Company were the most helpful. They sell raw cacao powder which doesn’t contain nuts but they cannot guarantee nut free because they buy direct from farmers in countries where cocoa trees grow. The told me that the best cacao grows in mixed plantations with avocados, nuts etc. so your cacao farmer will also be harvesting nuts. They also told me that most of the driers and processors also process nuts and they can’t afford separate facilities.
- Earthfare sell raw organic cacao powder which is Soil Association Certified but it is packed in an environment where nuts, wheat and sesame are handled. They do sell large 1kg bags so may work out quite cost effective if you bake regularly.
- Equal Exchange have very detailed allergen information on their website. They say, “We are proud to offer a range of vegan, soy-free and gluten-free options.”
- Marks and Spencer cocoa powder – This is what M&S said, “Thanks for your email about our cocoa powder. I can confirm it doesn’t contain nuts or dairy as ingredients. However, due to the manufacturing methods used to make this product, we advise it isn’t suitable for cow’s milk allergy sufferers, as the product may contain traces of cow’s milk.” When quizzed about these manufacturing processes they don’t have any more information to give so who knows.
- Tesco traditional drinking chocolate – labelling says “Recipe: No nuts. Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free. Factory: No nuts. Ingredients: Sugar, Cocoa Powder, Salt, Cocoa Solids 25% minimum”. So this brand does sound like a pretty safe bet.
- The Hot Chocolate Tree – says all recipes are nut, gluten and dairy free but ‘may contain traces’.
- Green & Blacks – sell 100% organic cocoa powder but with the following warning: Made in a factory that handles nut, cereal, and dairy ingredients. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
I could go on but it’s was more of the same…
One blogger says she uses the Tesco cocoa powder here, “Dairy and nut free cocoa powder found at last”.
So they all seem to be a freefrom recipe but many cannot guarantee no traces. Is this useful information if you have a serious life threatening allergy? Is it a low risk?
For me, my allergy is dose related so the amount possibly present here would probably not be life threatening but that’s still a risk, and it would most definitely give me some symptoms from itchy hives to chronic eczema or worse.
I also drink oatly chocolate milk which is supposedly freefrom dairy and nuts, but is it? Where did they source their raw cocoa from? Is anything really totally guaranteed freefrom nuts and dairy when you’re talking about cocoa?
This blog post was spurred by a recent question from a friend (thank you Hailey), which I couldn’t answer. I’m not sure I’ve answered it still but it was fun trying to find out.
The question: Can you buy nut and dairy free cocoa powder?
The answer: Sort of… If you trust that manufacturing processes are safe enough. But you can get chocolate drops and flakes from Plamil, which are guaranteed freefrom nuts, dairy and in some cases soya (always check the label). I’ll ask them where they get their cocoa from… and what foods are also present at that factory.
However I’ve been eating Plamil chocolate for years now and have never had a problem with it. In fact it’s delicious, my favourite brand. The rum and raisin is to die for.
I am currently also risking it with M&S cocoa powder which has never given me any problems at all, but on further investigation, may or may not be a risky product to be eating with both a nut and a dairy allergy.
Please be aware guys – just because it doesn’t contain a warning, doesn’t mean it’s automatically freefrom – always check with the manufacturer. In fact, if it doesn’t contain a warning it’s usually because they’ve forgotten to put it on. There are very few supermarkets and food companies who don’t use warnings now – but they are just trying to give us the information we need to make an educated choice. If there is allergen in the factory – they have to put on a warning. Sad but true – even if the risk is minimal and has never ever happened.
However I have used many cocoa powders and never had a problem. It’s chocolate bars made on the same line or eating chocolates from a selection box where other chocolates contain nuts where I’ve had bad reactions. If you’re sensible and assess the risks, cocoa powder should be OK, but stick to brands you know and trust and if in doubt, contact them. Most companies will be happy to explain their procedures and allay any fears.
Now if you’re like me you’re feeling a little peckish now. All that talk of chocolate. You can buy Plamil Dairy Free Chocolate Drops 175 g (Pack of 3) here.
Hot chocolate anyone?