Treats without Tricks: Halloween Goodies for Special Diets
First published on October 18, 2011.
Bat lollipops, gummy eyeballs, sticky popcorn—Halloween is that most delicious of holidays when the candy and treats are flowing freely. But what if you are one of the thousands of teenagers and adults on the autism spectrum following a special diet?
In preparation for the holiday, I decided to taste test various products with a few discriminating friends and family to see which items pass muster. I have divided the products into two loosely defined categories: Crunchy and Sweet.
Please note: If you are following a special diet, you need to check ingredients carefully and consult manufacturers before trying something new to make sure any product described here meets your dietary needs. Ingredients and manufacturing practices change frequently and labels can be confusing.
Hands-down, the number one gluten-free pretzel is the Bachman Gluten Free Puzzle Pretzel. This pretzel is shaped like the autism-awareness puzzle piece symbol. Taste testers liked the superior crunch. According to one tester, this gluten-free pretzel “does not crumble the way some gluten-free snacks do.” An added bonus is that the Bachman gluten-free pretzel is manufactured in a dedicated gluten-free and casein-free factory, but the product does come in contact with sesame seeds. By way of full disclosure, I had no idea while testing this product that Bachman donates 5% of sales of these puzzle pretzels to Autism Speaks.
For those of you allergic to or avoiding corn, I discovered a tasty substitute for popcorn. Mini Pops are made out of sorghum. According to the company, sorghum is more nutritious anyway, with fewer calories and more protein and fiber. Mini Pops really do feel like popcorn in your mouth and in your hands. My testers only sampled the Subatomic Sea Salt flavor and the raves were unanimous. Some flavors contain milk or milk products, but the manufacturing facility is dedicated gluten-free, organic, and kosher.
I discovered during this review process that a number of companies make excellent candies and other treats that are suitable for a variety of diets. Everything tested was delicious—so first prize can’t go to one single company. Instead, I narrowed in on a few treats from several companies.
If you are just looking for treats to pass around at a party or to hand out to trick-or-treaters, all my testers said YummyEarth lollipops are the best. And while my testers acknowledged that they enjoyed the allergen-free gummy bears, gummy worms, and jelly beans from several companies, most voted for Surf Sweets when asked to pick only one brand. As my neighbor explained, “Surf Sweets are sweet and fruity, but not too sweet, and definitely fruity.” Some Surf Sweet products are listed as vegetarian and not vegan because they contain Confectioner’s Glaze, which is derived from an insect—but all products are gluten-free, casein-free, and dye-free.
One other item that caught my eye: organic licorice laces by Candy Tree. These long strings of black licorice are dye-free, organic, and the ingredients are gluten-free. (Please check with the company if you require items manufactured in dedicated gluten-free facilities.) With a bit of innovation, you can tie and twist these laces into cob webs, bats, and witch hats. Imagine—allergen-free edible Halloween decorations! Now that takes the (gluten-free) cake!
A Few More Tips
Of course, you can find many other products that are suitable for special diets. Potato chips and corn chips, for example, are usually gluten-free and casein-free, and you can find these at any supermarket. A number of popular food manufacturers make candies and treats that are also free of allergens. But be careful. I tried a few types of gluten-free, casein-free chocolates only to discover that these items contain artificial flavors and artificial colors. Manufacturers are pretty good these days about disclosing ingredients and manufacturing processes if you call them up on the phone. You can also find a plethora of information on the web, but you should always verify Internet data.
Sometimes treats made in dedicated factories with carefully selected and monitored ingredients cost a lot of money. But often you can get free shipping if you order products from distributors online. Also stores like Whole Foods will usually give you a case discount on items the store carries. Talk to an accountant to determine if food products purchased in order to comply with a medically-required diet can be deducted from your yearly taxes as a health expense.
Luckily, for those of you following a special diet or interested in trying one, finding yummy, nutritious, and safe options is much easier today than it was even a few years ago.
Best wishes for a spooky and deliciously allergen-free Halloween!