When I was a kid, I used to love coming in from a day of sledding to a steaming cup of hot chocolate with melty little marshmallows. But my multiple-allergic daughter had never had the pleasure until this winter, when I finally set out to find her some safe cocoa free of traces of nuts and dairy.
The allergy challenge: It’s easy to make hot chocolate vegan with a dairy-free milk substitute … the trouble is sourcing cocoa and chocolate that has no traces of contamination from nuts, dairy or her other allergens. All the organic cocoa powder brands I’d purchased in our pre-food-allergy days had big nut contamination warnings on them.
The allergy-free hypothesis: Allergy-free cocoa powder is out there somewhere!
The verdict: After a few days of emailing companies and digging around the always-awesome Kids With Food Allergies forums for ideas, I came upon a few good options — and learned that allergy-free chocolate chips make a mean cup of hot cocoa as well. My daughter was over the moon happy… one more normal kid food she can have on occasion!
Recipe inspiration: I started by adapting the recipe on the Hershey’s cocoa powder box but found it way too rich and almost sickeningly sweet. I cut the recommended sugar and cocoa in half, and all was well. It’s still not exactly health food, but it makes a lovely occasional treat.
Safer sourcing ideas:
DISCLAIMER: Please proceed with caution, check with companies yourself and use these allergy-friendly sourcing ideas as a starting place only. These are the options that work for our particular family and our daughter’s allergies and sensitivities as of the time of this writing. Ingredients and labels and cleaning practices can change at any time without warning.
- Chocolate chips: Enjoy Life chocolate chips are Top 8+ free, and our most trusted safer option — I often get them as part of a bulk order from Vitacost.
- Cocoa powder: Hershey’s Cocoa Naturally Unsweetened cocoa powder is top 8 free and available pretty much everywhere (they couldn’t promise me sesame wasn’t an issue, but it seems unlikely to me). And Now Foods has an organic cocoa powder that they say is free of eggs, dairy, gluten, corn, soy, nuts and more (see their allergy policy and allergen data table for more info).
- Milk substitute: Use your favorite faux milk, though my daughter and I love unsweetened organic oat milk. It’s easy to make, or you can be lazy like us and buy 12-packs of Pacific Organic Oat Milk by Amazon subscription for slightly over $2/quart (compared to an average $4 in many local Brooklyn stores). Do note that Pacific runs some products containing cashews and dairy on the same line, but told me they take their cleaning practices very seriously—your comfort zone may vary here.
- Marshmallows: Allergic vegans might be out of luck here, but for those of you who don’t mind a dose of gelatin and corn syrup solids every once and a while, we buy Kraft Jet Puffed marshmallows (Kraft’s customer service reps recently assured me that they label for the Top 8 plus sesame and mustard). If you’re vegan and not allergic, there are a few nut-contaminated vegan marshmallow brands out there.
- Sweetener: If you want to go for a more natural or fair-trade sweetener, Wholesome Sweeteners sells organic and fair-trade raw and less-processed sweeteners that were free of contamination from dairy, nuts, sesame, eggs and more as of February 2014 (this does NOT include their Stevia product).
- Vanilla extract: We use McCormick (available as an Amazon subscription), as that is our go-to-brand for safer single spices and extracts. As of a recent email, they seem to take allergen safety, cleaning and cross-contamination very seriously.
Allergen-friendliness: This recipe can be made free of all of the top 8 allergens (dairy, egg, nuts, peanuts, fish/shellfish, soy and wheat) plus sesame and mustard depending on your choice of milk substitute. It can also be made vegan (depending on your choice of marshmallows).
Here’s to snuggling up with a hot (and safer) cup of cocoa!
- 2 Tbsp allergen-friendly cocoa OR ⅓ cup Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
- 2 Tbsp allergen-friendly sugar (plus additional to taste)
- 2 cups dairy-free milk (I like organic unsweetened oat milk)
- dash salt
- ½ tsp vanilla extract (optional)
- allergen-friendly or vegan marshmallows (optional)
- Heat dairy-free milk of choice in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
- When warm, gradually add cocoa powder or chocolate chips, sugar, salt and vanilla while stirring.
- Taste for sweetness/richness—you may want more sweetener or cocoa/chips depending on your choice of dairy-free milk. (I use oat milk, which is naturally sweet, but unsweetened coconut or soy milks can be a bit bitter.)
- Stir until melted, well-combined and warm.
- Serve in mugs with allergen-friendly marshmallows.
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