Is chocolate vegan?
It’s a question that we’re increasingly asked, here at Cocoa & Heart. Whether by interested students on one of our chocolate courses wanting to know a little more about the chocolate we’re using or by people wanting to buy some of our high-quality chocolate bars or truffles.
Chocolate comes from a plant and more specifically the pod of the cocao tree. So, in that sense, it could be said to start off life as vegan friendly. However, in the complex and time-consuming process of taking the raw beans and converting them to something like the chocolate we see on supermarket shelves (see our earlier blogs), a variety of additives are mixed in with the chocolate. These include sugar, milk and milkfats, to name just three.
At this stage it’s probably worth making the distinction between good quality and lesser quality chocolate in terms of the ingredients that they are likely to contain. This is crucial for determining whether the type of chocolate you’re considering buying will be vegan friendly or not.
Good quality chocolate will contain a higher chocolate cocao content. At its simplest, the ingredients that you read are likely to be – sugar, cocao butter, (non-dairy) maybe lecithin and possibly a flavour such as vanilla. We’ve championed the nutritional benefits of high quality bar chocolate in previous blogs.
That’s because dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties and can increase cardiovascular function.
As you start to familiarise yourself with the list of ingredients in a bar of chocolate, you’re likely to start to recognise some of the following; cocoa mass, cocoa solids, chocolate liquor, cocoa beans, cocoa paste and cocoa butter. These are all terms for pure chocolate in different states of processing and are all vegan friendly.
A cautionary word about Lecithin which you’ll see on many list of ingredients. It’s an emulsifier that's commonly used by confectionery manufacturers. It can come from either animal or plant sources, so it might or might not be vegan. You you’ll need to check whether it’s either soy lecithin which is OK for vegans, or lecithin derived from egg yolk, which isn’t.
Lesser quality chocolate, on the other hand, will have a whole list of ingredients such as buck wheat, maize, food starches, and various types of milk solids and hydronated fats and emulsifiers. Enough said. It represents the taste most of us have become used to; largely on account of growing up being fed this type of easily available chocolate as a treat or reward to make us feel good.
So it’s the additives that we put in chocolate that makes most of it not suitable for vegans. Milk or white chocolate, for instance, as it contains milk is not vegan friendly.
But here’s the good news. There are an increasing range of producers who are making chocolate from non dairy products – using almond milk or rice milk.
In fact, it pays to look for labels with the words ‘whey free’ or ‘dairy free’. Some people have started to use the term ‘accidentally vegan’ to describe such products, including chocolate that are made and sold in this way.
That’s because the chocolate isn’t actually labelled or sold as being vegan friendly. Although, given the growing strength and purchasing power of the vegan lobby, this may soon change! These types of chocolate are vegan for two reasons. Firstly, because they don’t contain any animal products and secondly, as the chocolate itself is high quality and largely additive free.
So, if you like milk chocolate but want a slightly different non-dairy taste, check out the ‘whey free’ vegan friendly alternatives such as those with almond or rice milk.
Back to dark chocolates, then. Are dark chocolate with their higher cocao content, (usually around 60% upwards) likely to be vegan friendly? The answer is a qualified maybe. That’s because some dark chocolate may have traces of milk, or milk powder, and at the lower quality end, it may also contain some additives. Again, in the absence of clear labelling, it always pays to do a bit of research and check the ingredients, first. The longer the list, the more likely that the chocolate may contain non vegan friendly fillers.
So, now that we’ve learnt a little bit about milk and dark chocolate and what ingredients to look for in a vegan chocolate bar, let’s look at which types and brands of chocolate are vegan friendly and available in shops or on line to buy.
Which chocolate is vegan?
There are a whole range of vegan chocolate suppliers both in Whole food grocery shops and on line. iChoc and Ombar are two popular brands and come in a range of flavours.
Many brands of vegan chocolate are fair trade and organic like Plamil Organic Vegan Chocolate which is mainly sourced from small farming co-operatives in Columbia and then made in house.
Also popular are American brands now available in the UK, such as Chocolove - Dark Chocolate and Orange Peel, Trader Joe's brand chocolate chips and Newman's Own Chocolate Bars - Sweet Dark Espresso and Sweet Dark Orange, (regular and organic).
Green and Black sell vegan dark chocolate as part of their range from producers such as Eat Your Hat. Their chocolate is made with fair trade cocoa grown and harvested on São Tomé island, famous for its aromatic produce.
Another vegan chocolate supplier in their collection is Divine Chocolate. Flavours include those sprinkled with dried raspberries, ginger, and orange, and made with cocoa beans from Kuapa Kokoo, a fair trade co-operative in Ghana.
But what of Green and Blacks’ own famed dark chocolate? Is that vegan friendly? The latest message from the company appears to be that while the recipe and ingredients are vegan, because their dark and milk chocolate is made from the same production lines, there is a risk of cross contact and contamination.
The same cross contamination disclaimer, due to shared milk and dark chocolate production lines, is also used by Cadbury’s in brands such as dark chocolate favourite Bournville.
All you can say, is that it’s very much up to individual vegans to decide whether they wish to buy and enjoy these chocolate products.
Lindt are another well-known chocolate brand with a long tradition. Their website offers a set of FAQ about their chocolate products, how they are made and what ingredients they contain. In response to the question about whether their chocolates are suitable for vegans they state the following.
'Some of our products are made without any animal products, such as our Lindt EXCELLENCE range with 70%, 85%, 90% and 99% Cocoa chocolate bars, that are also suitable for a vegan diet.'
But what of the big high street supermarkets? In late 2016, just in time for the Christmas market, Tesco, launched a ‘Free From’ selection box range of chocolate drops and crispy bars, free from gluten, wheat and milk.
And it’s worth checking out the ‘Free From’ section of other supermarkets, as well. Some Sainsbury stores sell two vegan chocolate bars from Cocoa Libre. The rice milk chocolate bars are available in milk chocolate and chocolate orange flavours.
Whether you’re vegan or not, it’s still worth doing a little bit of research into vegan chocolate alternatives and at the same time learning more about what ingredients go into a bar of chocolates.
Why not take the taste test and find the Free From shelves of your local supermarket for vegan chocolate? Or check out a small independent supplier, either on line or at a specialist Whole Food store, that sells vegan dark chocolate, or non-dairy white chocolate sourced according to Fair Trade principles.
If you can't get to the shops or fancy making your own vegan chocolate, we've tried and tested couple of recipes for you. Here is a really good (and simple) recipe for vegan chocolate with few suggestions on toppings and flavourings. This vegan chocolate icing also comes in handy and it's perfect for any cake or cupcakes. And finally, our raw chocolate recipe is perfect if you want to try something a little different.
As ever, I'd love to know what your favourite vegan chocolate is - so do let me know in the comments below.
Happy chocolate eating!