Despite anecdotal claims to the contrary, the presence of a true chocolate allergy is so rare it is considered practically nonexistent in medical terms. Cacao beans, the primary ingredient in chocolate, are usually not the culprit when food allergy symptoms are noticed after chocolate is consumed. Any adverse reaction is typically caused by another ingredient in the chocolate, and is not a chocolate allergy specifically.
Chocolate products, more often than not, contain other ingredients to which many people may be allergic. Nearly all chocolate products contain a dairy ingredient such as milk, and dairy allergies are quite common, especially in young children. For persons who are lactose intolerant, but who can tolerate very small amounts of milk, bittersweet, semi-sweet, and dark chocolates may be an option. These chocolate products are required to have a higher concentration of chocolate liquor, and thus contain a lower percentage of milk than light or milk chocolate. There are also several brands of dairy-free chocolate available on the market for those persons with extremely sensitive lactose intolerance.
Peanuts, and tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans, may also be the source of an allergic reaction to chocolate products. Many candy bars and other chocolate products contain nuts, but even those that do not can still prove problematic. Some chocolate manufacturers create their confections on the same production lines using the same vats and machinery whether or not nuts are actually present in the end product. Therefore, even chocolates that do not contain nuts may still contain minute traces of nutmeat or oils.
For those persons extremely sensitive to nuts, particularly those with severe peanut allergies, even these minuscule traces of nut products can cause a significant reaction. Such persons should consult the label, and if nut-free production isn't mentioned, the manufacturer should be contacted. There are several nut-free chocolate producers in existence, such as Nothin' Nutty® and Vermont Nut-Free®.
The presence of corn in chocolate may cause an allergic reaction in sensitive persons, which may be misinterpreted as a chocolate allergy. High fructose corn syrup is used in many brands of chocolate candies. As in the case with nuts, many manufacturers produce chocolates that do not contain corn on the same manufacturing lines as products that do. Cross-contamination is nearly impossible to avoid, and even minute amounts of corn can pose a risk for the highly sensitive.
Another possible culprit of a presumed chocolate allergy is soy. Chocolate is an emulsion—a mixture of two liquids that would normally separate. In order to prevent the components from separating and to keep the chocolate in solid form at room temperate, an emulsifier is typically added. The most common emulsifier used in chocolate products is soy lecithin. This additive can be problematic for persons with a soy allergy.
Berries are popular fillers for boxed chocolates and are also one of the more highly allergenic foods. Persons with berry allergies would be wise to avoid chocolate assortments to minimize possible exposure. Caffeine may also pose a problem for those sensitive to the chemical. Although present in relatively small amounts in chocolate despite popular belief, there may still be enough caffeine present to cause issues in highly allergic individuals. It's important to note that the darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine content.
Individuals with wheat or gluten allergies, such as those with celiac disease, should take special note of the label prior to consuming any chocolate product. Chocolates with creme fillings often use wheat starch or flour as a binding agent. There are gluten-free chocolates on the market by companies such as Endangered Species Chocolate.
On very rare occasions, the consumption of chocolate products may cause allergic symptoms in individuals taking the prescription drug Prozac® or other serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Chocolate can cause the release of certain neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Prozac® and other SSRIs also impact serotonin levels in the brain. In combination with chocolate, this can cause a drug interaction.
Food allergies can surface at any time. If a chocolate allergy or any other sort of food allergy is suspected, a physician should be consulted. If the symptoms are severe, including sudden rash, rapid pulse, or difficulty breathing, emergency medical services should be sought. The attending physician or allergist should be made of aware of exactly what product was consumed and if any prescription or over-the-counter drugs are involved.