In the past twenty years, the incidence of allergies has increased significantly. According to statistics, one in three people will develop an allergy in their lifetime, and the trend is rising. A similar development can also be observed for food intolerances. By now everyone probably knows at least one person who is lactose intolerant or cannot tolerate gluten. Unfortunately, more and more people are complaining about discomfort after eating our favorite treat, chocolate. The good news is: an actual allergy to chocolate is very, very unlikely. Much more often it is the added additives that lead to complaints. In this context, it is important to distinguish between allergies and intolerances and to identify the actual troublemaker. In this article, we list ways that can lead to complaints after enjoying chocolate and why high-quality bean-to-bar chocolate is usually the best way here.
Why can't I tolerate chocolate anymore? Or: The essential difference between an allergy and an intolerance
If you are afraid of not being able to tolerate chocolate well, it is important to differentiate between an allergy and an intolerance.
Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to actually harmless antigens from the environment, so-called allergens. Such a reaction is shown by an increased level of IgE in the blood and can be detected with a blood test. Allergies are accompanied by – sometimes very dangerous – reactions immediately after eating the food. These include skin changes, skin reddening, a rash, itching in the mouth and throat, discomfort, stomach problems, intestinal problems and, in severe cases, shortness of breath or even anaphylactic symptoms.
Intolerances, on the other hand, mainly take place in the intestines when they cannot digest certain food components. So-called intolerances are therefore characterized by various complaints of the digestive tract. Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and flatulence are typical symptoms of an intolerance. So they're definitely uncomfortable too, but not as dangerous as an actual allergy. "Classic" intolerances are lactose, fructose, gluten or histamine intolerance.
So how do I know if I have an allergy to chocolate itself?
An allergy to chocolate, i.e. to the cocoa components themselves, is incredibly rare and, as already mentioned, very unlikely. Intolerances related to cocoa but actually not so much.
If you have severe symptoms or even an allergic reaction after consuming chocolate, it is definitely important to consult a doctor to identify the troublemaker, but if you do not have extreme symptoms, i.e. tolerable ones, after consuming chocolate, you can easily find out whether you are reacting to chocolate itself, i.e. the cocoa mass, or to an ingredient. For this self-test you only need a small piece of pure cocoa mass, i.e. 100 percent chocolate. If you don't have any symptoms afterwards, it's almost certainly other ingredients in the chocolate that your body is reacting to. If you have any complaints afterwards, it is probably the cocoa mass that is unfortunately not good for you. In the next sub-points we list possible causes of this:
Histamine intolerance and chocolate sensitivity
If you have symptoms, the darker the chocolate and the higher the cocoa content, it is almost certainly the chocolate mass that is causing problems for your body. However, an allergy to chocolate itself is really, really rare, with a probability approaching 0. It is more likely that you either have a histamine intolerance or have an increased sensitivity to chocolate.
Reactions of histamine intolerance, as mentioned above, can cause a wide variety of symptoms, but they are not limited to the digestive tract. Skin reactions, headaches, breathing difficulties, sore throat, constant runny nose, headaches, gastrointestinal pain, ... These reactions are triggered by the histamine component, which is contained in many foods, often to varying degrees. In particular, fermented foods such as red wine or chocolate, which consists of previously fermented cocoa beans, lead to symptoms. If you suspect a histamine intolerance, it definitely makes sense to seek support from a doctor or a nutritionist. And that doesn't mean, by the way, that you can never eat chocolate again. Sometimes the intolerance goes away after a while. And white chocolate, in the best case fine white chocolate without unnecessarily added flavorings, can continue to be eaten even if you have a histamine intolerance. Because it only contains cocoa butter, the oil component of the cocoa bean, it is histamine-free and therefore still edible :)
There are also reports of people who have a high sensitivity to chocolate itself, i.e. the cocoa mass, i.e. a kind of intolerance. An indication of this are typical symptoms of intolerance, but also headache, nervousness or restlessness. Here, too, the complaints become more severe the higher the cocoa content of the chocolate consumed.
Cross reactions to chocolate
As already mentioned, an allergy to chocolate is very unlikely. But what can actually happen is that there is cross-reactivity to a substance to which one is actually allergic. If this substance is similar in its molecular structure to that of chocolate, this can confuse the immune system and cause an allergic reaction in particularly sensitive people. According to studies, substances that can provoke a cross-reaction with cocoa include ragweed, tobacco and coffee. Such cross-reactivity is usually accompanied by milder symptoms, but of course it is uncomfortable nonetheless.
Do I have an allergy or intolerance to any of the ingredients in chocolate?
Having covered the very unlikely case, assuming that the cocoa liquor itself is the problem, let's look briefly at "non-cocoa" allergens. An indication that there is an allergy or intolerance to added substances is a higher reaction the lower the cocoa content. For example, the cocoa ingredient cocoa butter, which is found in white chocolate, has no known allergens. So if you are allergic to white chocolate or have symptoms afterwards, it must be due to the added substances.
Allergens in Chocolate
As a general rule, we always recommend reading the list of ingredients in chocolate, if only to assess the quality of the product. Because the following applies: The fewer additives and flavors that are added, the higher the quality of the chocolate. Processed chocolate, on the other hand, often has a whole bunch of added additives. So significantly more ingredients to which the body can react allergically. Classic troublemakers, i.e. allergens, that can be found in chocolate are gluten, milk, nuts, eggs and soy . If you are allergic to one of these ingredients, an ingredient check is essential. In the case of severe allergy sufferers, this is of course already burned into their buying behavior anyway.
And of course an intolerance to one of the substances is also possible. Especially people who are lactose intolerant can sing a song about the difficulty of finding milk-free chocolate in the supermarket.
Very disgusting but must be mentioned: insect remains in chocolate
Yes, you read that right. Insect residues can be processed in chocolate as well as in many other natural foods. By mistake, of course, but still. Cocoa beans, for example, have to dry in the open air for a few days after fermentation. It shouldn't come as a surprise that a beetle or a cockroach crawls over it, gets lost there and is simply wrapped up and processed. This also applies to other foods that are of relatively natural origin, such as flour or nut products. Of course, the insect parts in chocolate only make up a tiny, imperceptible proportion in relation to the other ingredients.
But what does that have to do with allergies? In fact, the insect components can trigger allergies, for example to house dust. And it's just not particularly hygienic either. So if you want to be on the safe side, or let’s say safer, the only thing that helps here is to buy high-quality bean-to-bar chocolate . Rather than making huge batches of chocolate in the most engineered way possible, the focus here is on care at every step. The probability that a cockroach will end up in the cocoa mill is therefore significantly lower.
Conclusion: Always check the list of ingredients and use fine chocolate if possible
So what do you do if you feel like you can no longer tolerate chocolate well?
In summary: Always read carefully the ingredients contained in chocolate and check whether you have or could have an intolerance to any of them. If you actually do not tolerate the cocoa mass itself well, a histamine intolerance could be a possible reason.
And to be sure of well-processed chocolate without useless additives that can trigger intolerance, it makes the most sense to rely on fair-trade, fine, bean-to-bar chocolate. But the fact that we advocate it is certainly no surprise for loyal readers :)