Caramels: Are They Gluten-Free?

When adopting a gluten free diet, it can feel overwhelming to understand what is safe to eat. One indulgence that many people inquire about is caramel. It is a common question, is caramel gluten free?

What is gluten?

Before we get into the discussion on gluten in chocolate, here is a refresher on gluten and celiac disease to provide some context to our conversation. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which your immune system perceives gluten as an invader. This causes your body to launch an immune response that causes inflammation and damage to the intestines. 

Those who have celiac disease need to avoid gluten. Gluten is often defined as a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains. However, we know that gluten protein can be found in ALL grains. Common foods containing gluten include pasta, bread, baked goods, beer, and candy.

Is caramel gluten free?

Caramel is made from a mixture of sugar, water, vanilla, milk and salt. These ingredients tend to be naturally gluten free, however it is important to check the label to ensure that the ingredients were sourced with care and that the product was manufactured in such a way to prevent cross contamination. 

In addition to gluten, it is important to note that caramel typically contains some other ingredients that can be problematic for some people:

  • Sugar: Sugar is what sweetens caramel, but sugar is inflammatory and should generally be consumed in moderation.
  • Milk: Dairy is a common intolerance, particularly in those avoiding gluten or those in the process of gut healing and repair. Some caramel contains coconut milk as a dairy free alternative.
  • Additives: Common additives include artificial flavors, gums and stabilizers, soy lecithin, sorbitol, and more.  

Gluten free caramel products

  • Sweet Apricity sea salted caramels and caramel sauce
  • Cocomels (note that the company states that their facility is not gluten free but they have an “allergen cleanse protocol and testing which is implemented between the production cycles of our products and other products which may contain allergens. This allergen cleanse reduces the potential for cross contamination on production machinery.”)
  • Fat Toad Farm goat milk caramel sauce

How to make your own gluten free caramels

If you want to try your hand at making your own homemade caramel, check out our delicious recipe here.  We also  recommend these Coconut Milk Caramels, from the book Paleo Indulgences by Tammy Credicott:

Ingredients for Caramel
  • 1 cup (200 g) coconut crystals
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) coconut nectar
  • 1/2 cup (120 mL) full-fat coconut milk
Ingredients for Coating
  • 1/2 cup (80 g) chopped dark chocolate
  • 1 oz (28 g) unsweetened dark chocolate, chopped (see our recommendations for chocolate here)
Instructions:
  1. Make the caramel: Place all the caramel ingredients in a medium saucepan and stir to combine.
  2. Heat over medium-high heat, and boil mixture until it reaches 250°F on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and let sit until the caramel is soft and pliable but cool, about 20-30 minutes.
  4. Roll the caramel into balls by the teaspoonful and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  5. Make the coating: Place all the chocolate in a double boiler over gently simmering water and stir until almost melted. Remove from the heat and stir until completely melted and smooth.
  6. With 2 forks, dip each ball of caramel into the chocolate, tapping off any excess on the side of the bowl. Place back on the parchment-lined baking sheet to set. You can refrigerate to speed up the process.

Is caramel color gluten-free?

Caramel color is an additive that is made by heating one or more forms of sugar (could include dextrose, maltodextrin, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, molasses, glucose syrup, or sucrose). In North America, wheat is typically not used as a starting ingredient in caramel coloring. Caramel color is typically derived from corn in the United States. In Europe and Australia, wheat is more commonly found in caramel coloring.

If wheat is used in caramel coloring, the label will note wheat as an allergen, so be sure to check the ingredients lists and also look for a “contains wheat” statement on the packaging.

Since corn can also contain gluten, it is best to avoid or limit caramel coloring.

The bottom line

Caramel can be gluten free, but like all foods, it is important to read labels and trust the company behind any products you purchase. Caramel coloring can be derived from a number of sources, including wheat, and is best to avoid or limit.

Browse Gluten Free Society for more do’s and don’ts of a gluten free diet. And if you think you may have gluten intolerance, take the sensitivity test to learn more!

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