Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Halloween’s killer cereals

For many of us, the prospect of Halloween is scary enough without the presence of roaming spirits. Those with children must weigh the risks of letting them trick-or-treat unsupervised—the familiar danger of “sugar overload”. Those with teenagers must consider the damage their brood are capable of doing, whether with eggs, toilet paper, or worse. Horror film goers will struggle with the walk home through darkened streets after back-to-back screenings. Those of the party-going persuasion must balance the demands of the cooling season with the fear of being inadequately costumed. And of course, there are those who dislike Halloween and its roving gangs of children and costumed horrors, who will be huddled at home, bracing themselves for a late night knock on the door.

But there is another silent spectre at this time of year and one that is often overlooked—gluten. Anybody who suffers from coeliac disease, or knows someone who does, will tell you how debilitating the cereal protein can be.

The very real fear of an accidental encounter with gluten can be magnified by the abundance of anonymous sugary loot distributed be well-meaning strangers. Once a sweet or chocolate bar is separated from its nutritional information, it can be very hard to determine if it is gluten-free, particularly since it is often the gluten-contaminated machinery the confectionery is processed on, rather than its actual ingredients, that make it unfit for consumption. Of course, there’s always the option of abstinence, yet with as many 50% of us sharing a partially hereditary craving for sugar, one that is rewarded by morphine-like chemicals in the brain, the temptation can prove very hard to resist.

Sugar will not be the only addictive substance going door-to-door this All Saints’ Eve.

But sugar will not be the only addictive substance going door-to-door this All Saints’ Eve. Alcohol will also be doing the rounds for those who prefer their carbohydrates in liquid form. The worst variant for gluten-averse drinkers is, of course, beer. Keep in mind that gluten is a generic term for the storage proteins found in plant seeds, the same proteins which are found in the wheat and barley that form the basis of most beers.

But serial swillers need not be cereal ones. Gluten-free beers made entirely from non-gluten ingredients such as sorghum, buckwheat, and common millet are a safer option.

For those pursuing gluten-free treats, Halloween’s Celtic roots may provide some ideas. Because of its autumnal place in the calendar, the festival has always been associated with harvest and food—particularly apples. These seasonal fruits have been used for games and fortune-telling, even throughout the twentieth century—and best of all, no gluten. And while corn does contain a form of gluten called zein, it’s usually well tolerated by those with coeliac disease and is popular in the US Halloween tradition.

Although the half of the population with a sweet tooth might like to update these treats to be more in line with twenty-first century norms by the addition of honey, toffee or taffy, perhaps the scariest thing of all is a Halloween without gluten or added sugar. Now that really is too scary.

Featured image credit: Halloween dessert. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay

Recent Comments

There are currently no comments.