Some people have the worst luck. Chocolate is one of life’s great pleasures. Unless, of course, you’ve got a chocolate intolerance, allergy, or sensitivity. However, while it’s possible to be allergic to cacao (the core ingredient), it’s exceptionally rare.
More common is an intolerance or allergy to one of the other ingredients – be it milk, caffeine, or even tree nuts.
In this article, we explore the causes behind chocolate intolerance, the most common symptoms, and what the most likely culprits are.
What is Chocolate Intolerance?
Chocolate, first consumed by the Olmec civilisation (19th to 11th century BC), has evolved considerably in the past 4,000 years. Today, it’s a complex mix of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. Milk chocolate, as the name suggests, adds condensed milk or milk powder, while white chocolate does without the cocoa solids.
Chocolate intolerance occurs when a person reacts to one of these ingredients. That could be an allergic reaction or an inability to digest a component. Some people are also just a little sensitive to some ingredients.
Cocoa Allergy Symptoms
Cocoa allergies are extremely rare. However, like all allergies, it occurs when the body identifies a substance as harmful, triggering an immune reaction. You can expect the following symptoms:
- Red, itchy rash (hives or urticaria)
- Difficulty breathing
- Swollen tongue, lips, or throat
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach cramps
In a severe allergic reaction, a person may enter anaphylaxis – a life-threatening immune reaction.
Milk Allergy Symptoms
Milk allergy is much more common than for cocoa. As before, a person will develop hives, difficulty breathing, and nausea. However, they may also experience:
- Stomach upset
- Abdominal cramps
- Mucus secretions (lung or nose)
In addition to milk allergy, a person can be lactose intolerant. This occurs when a person produces insufficient quantities of the enzyme lactase. Because lactose isn’t broken down, it gets digested by bacteria in the gut, causing gas, diarrhoea, and stomach ache.
Neither lactose intolerance or milk allergy should occur when eating chocolate without milk, e.g., dark chocolate or pure cocoa.
Caffeine Sensitivity Symptoms
Coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine. According to the US Department of Agriculture, a 100-gram chocolate bar contains around 43 mg of caffeine – about the same as half a cup of coffee. That’s more than you thought!
Some individuals are more susceptible to caffeine, either because of a slower metabolism, taking certain medications, or genetics. Symptoms of caffeine sensitivity include:
- Jittery or nervous behaviour
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased heart rate
- Diarrhoea, nausea, or stomach pain
Caffeine allergy is also possible – although, like cocoa allergies, it is rare. As before, individuals will experience hives, swelling, and breathing difficulties. They’ll also experience similar symptoms after consuming coffee, tea, energy drinks, and other caffeinated products.
Chocolate Intolerance vs. Chocolate Sensitivity
Still not clear about the difference between chocolate intolerance and sensitivity? There’s a simple way to tell them apart:
Chocolate Intolerance refers to the body’s inability to digest or process certain ingredients found in chocolate, typically due to a lack of specific enzymes. For instance, some individuals might have difficulty processing the caffeine or theobromine found in chocolate, leading to digestive issues or migraines.
Chocolate Sensitivity, on the other hand, isn’t about the body’s digestive capacity. It’s an overreaction of the immune system to components in chocolate, albeit not as severe as an allergic reaction. Symptoms might include skin rashes, headaches, or nasal congestion shortly after consumption.
Reactions to Other Ingredients
Cocoa, milk, and caffeine aren’t the only ingredients people are allergic or intolerant to. Chocolate often contains added ingredients and flavourings or gets cross-contaminated by other ingredients used in the same factory.
- Peanuts or tree nuts are commonly added to chocolate or made in the same environment. If you’re allergic to nuts, look for a nut-free label.
- Wheat and glutens, like nuts, often cross-contaminated the product. In addition, chocolate wafers, biscuits, and other confectionery contain gluten and wheat.
- Berries are a popular chocolate ingredient, especially in chocolate boxes.
- Soy lecithin, a byproduct of soy, is sometimes used as an emulsifier to keep chocolate solid at room temperature.
Are you allergic, intolerant, or sensitive to chocolate? If so, white chocolate may be the best alternative. Unlike dark or milk chocolate, it contains fewer cocoa solids, reducing the caffeine and cocoa content. However, it does still contain milk. White chocolate also contains soy lecithin.
Not sure what ingredient you’re allergic or intolerant to? Try our Individual Allergy Test to determine the primary culprit behind your chocolate intolerance. Using a hair sample, this home-to-lab test identifies 975 possible sensitivities, including milk, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, and gluten.
Don’t let your love for chocolate be marred by discomfort. Order our Individual Allergy Test today and enjoy your treats with confidence!