Is Chocolate Vegan? (The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Chocolate)

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Let’s get straight to the question! Is chocolate vegan?

Chocolate can be vegan, but it’s often not. You should make sure to read the ingredients.

If animal products – like dairy (a common one) are included, then it’s not vegan friendly.

If you want to learn how to identify vegan chocolate quickly, other issues surrounding chocolate, plus, how healthy it is – keep reading!

This ultimate guide to vegan chocolate is written by a dietitian who identifies as vegan, so you know it’s going to be pretty sweet (see what I did there 😉 ).

Disclaimer: This article just contains information and is not providing personalized dietary advice. Talk to your doctor if you have any health or diet questions and concerns. See our Disclaimers for more details.

This article was originally published on 3/28/22. The recent updated date is listed above.

What is Vegan Chocolate Made Of?

Vegan chocolate is typically made of these core ingredients:

  • Cocoa (sometimes listed as cocoa solids, cocoa mass, or cacao beans)
  • Cocoa butter
  • Sugar (optional)

Sometimes vanilla extract is added as well and other plant based ingredients (like nuts, or dried fruit), but chocolate only needs cacao beans and sometimes sugar.

All of these ingredients are 100% plant based making it a vegan!

Lastly, while dairy butter is not vegan, cocoa butter is!

Cocoa butter is essentially the fat (“buttery” portion removed from cacao – the cocoa bean that chocolate is made from.

To illustrate how cocoa butter might appear on chocolate, check out the example from a the back of aa vegan granola box that included chocolate:

picture of ingredients on a granola with chocolate. the ingredients for the chocolate curls on the box read: Dark chocolate curls (cocoa: 70% minimum (cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter)

The dark chocolate curl ingredients read: “(cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter.)”

When is Chocolate Not Vegan?

Chocolate is not vegan when it has animal derived products in the ingredients list. Most chocolate bars in the US are milk chocolates. They use dairy– making it a non vegan.

While dairy is typically the most common non vegan ingredient in chocolate, other animal products could be included, such as as eggs, honey, fish, meat, or their byproducts.

Here’s some examples of ingredients that make chocolate “not vegan:”

  • milk
  • whey
  • lactose
  • butter
  • honey
  • carmine
  • bacon
  • gelatin

Additionally, some vegans may avoid artificial food colorings/dyes. That’s because some sources suggest they are frequently tested on animals(1).

Is Milk Chocolate Vegan?

Milk chocolate is not vegan. At least not the dairy milk chocolate that folks often refer to!

That’s because milk chocolate traditionally includes dairy. So it might include milk, butter, or other dairy-derived ingredients.

Luckily, you can find vegan “milk chocolate!” Instead of dairy milk, these often use plant based milks such as:

  • Oat milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Almond milk
  • Cashew milk
  • Rice milk

While I have yet to try one that tastes exactly like milk chocolate, the issue doesn’t bother me much, because I prefer the dark varieties any way!

Like most things related to being vegan, to not have a the expectation that a faux product will taste exactly same.

You didn’t go vegan because you loved to eat animal products (just a wild guess)!

So it’s ok if we don’t have flavors that are an exact replica -just my two cents!.

Is Dark Chocolate Vegan?

You may have heard that all dark chocolate is vegan – but that’s a myth!

I’ve seen many popular brands include dairy (as an example).

Sure, dark chocolate chocolate is often vegan, but not always-so you’ll want to check the ingredients!

If animal products are present, it’s a no go for vegans.

Some chocolates might list “certified vegan” but you can always check the ingredients to find a 100% plant based product.

Beyond Good is an example of a company that currently sells only vegan chocolate bars (2).

As a vegan who prefers dark chocolate, they are one of my favorite deliciously dark treats!

This brand has a delectable caramel or toasted hazel nut flavor that reminds me of a darker version of Ferrero Rocher (in bar form)!

And their crispy rice dark chocolate flavor that reminds me of those Crunch bars I use to enjoy growing up.

Want to learn more?

picture of beyond good's chocolate bars including salted caramel, crispy rice and toasted hazel nut bars.

How About White Chocolate (is that vegan)?

Most white chocolate is not vegan. Dairy products are often used to make white chocolate in the US, although there are definitely exceptions!

For example, Pascha makes a vegan white chocolate bar that uses rice “milk” instead of dairy milk.

Interestingly enough, some argue that white chocolate is not “chocolate” because it doesn’t contain any cocoa solids.

The only part of the cacao bean that white chocolate tends to contain is cocoa butter (the fat extracted from the cacao bean).

Anything Else Vegans Might Look For In Chocolate?

Some vegans don’t just shy away from animal based ingredients!

Both of us might want to avoid environmentally intense palm oil and cocoa beans sourced from areas where slave and child labor is prevalent.

And that’s not strictly related to vegan, but let’s talk about it!

Palm Oil

Palm oil is derived solely from a fruit called the oil palms – making it a vegan product. It’s found in a variety of food products, you might not even think of, such as cereal, peanut butter, and chocolate.

The palm oil industry has made headlines for being a major driver in deforestation and biodiversity loss. Checkout this article in The Guardian to learn more.

In short, while this oil is plant based, some ethical vegans might avoid it because it is not eco friendly.

Cocoa Beans: A Sourcing Issue

Vegan chocolate does not mean cruelty free despite the absence of animal products!

There are several problems that have been reported in the cocoa industry.

Cacao beans are primarily grown in certain areas of West Africa (such as the Ivory Coast). Several reports suggest that child labor and slavery are ongoing issues there.

It’s been estimated that around 1.56 million children work, and with hazardous conditions on cocoa farms in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire (3).

Not only is this work dangerous, but these kids don’t have the ability to play or go to school if they are working.

It breaks my heart and has really shifted how I view chocolate purchases personally.

To learn more about the issues, check out this article by Food Empowerment Project (F.E.B).

F.E.B. also has a chocolate list that reviews a variety of brands and their sourcing practices (they don’t stop at the Fair Trade or Rain Forest Alliance labels!). The list includes vegan chocolates that they do or do not recommend based on the issues of child and/or slave labor.

You can view the list and learn more here.

Picture of vegan chocolate white cake on a white plate.

Plant Based Chocolate Recipes From Registered Dietitians

Get inspired by Dietitian created recipes that use vegan chocolate!

Please note, if not explicitly stated, 100% plant based chocolate can be substituted!

  1. Vegan Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies by Alex Caspero, RD and owner of Delish Knowledge
  2. Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies by Alex Caspero, RD and owner of Delish Knowledge
  3. Lightly Salted Dark Chocolate Pecan Granola – By Clarissa Paimanta, RD from The KidneyRD Team
  4. Dark Chocolate Covered Date Bites By Lexi Endicott, RD, LD, CCMS of To Taste Culinary Nutrition

And (probably) my absolute favorite vegan chocolate cake needs a special mention!

It uses dates as part of the sweetener. Did you know you could do that?

Is Vegan Dark Chocolate Healthier than Milk Chocolate?

A graphic that compares vegan dark versus milk chocolate. Vegan dark chocolate tends to have less sugar and more flavanols while milk chocolate tends to have more sugar, and less flavanols in general. Both can have heavy metals.

Have you every heard that chocolate is good for you?

That may be thanks to the cocoa content that contains flavanols (antioxidants) which many have beneficial effects. Still, research is ongoing, as chocolate is more than it’s antioxidants (4)!

One of the major criticism some folks point out is the high saturated fat content in chocolate.

Yes. While we should limit saturated fat, luckily, most of the saturated fat in vegan dark chocolate comes from stearic acid, which may have a more neutral effect on total blood cholesterol compared to other types of saturated fat(5).

In contrast, dairy milk chocolate has less cocoa content (aka: less flavanols) and more added sugars than than dark chocolates.

And we know that too much added sugar is not healthy. So read your labels when comparing!

Finally, before we head to the next topic one important thing: I’m not suggesting that you trade your fruits and veggies for chocolate! Chocolate should not replace other healthy and more nutrient dense foods.

Heavy Metals

Chocolate may contain heavy metals such as lead and cadmium, and some contain more than others. This has been in several headlines that you may have seen (and yes, this goes for both vegan and non vegan chocolate (5).

Certain levels of heavy metals in specific chocolate products may pose a risk to health, especially to children(6). So it seems prudent to be very mindful of your intake. There are so many other healthy and tasty foods to eat.

You may also want to keep these last things in mind: (Disclaimer: of course, these pointers do not ensure you are getting a product low in heavy metals. They also don’t guarantee you’ll reduce absorption!):

  • Check out the results of heavy metal levels in certain brands. As You Sow or Consumer Labs are a few places to look(note: a fee is involved to view the Consumer Labs report).
  • One study looking at chocolate and cocoa powder in the US suggests that cocoa products sourced from Latin America may have higher amounts of cadmium when compared to Africa (7)
  • One research study suggests an association between adequate iron status and reduced cadmium absorption(8) when need more research in this area.

Where Can I Animal Free Chocolate?

You can buy vegan chocolate just about anywhere! Amazon, health food stores, and most major grocery stores contain them.

Here’s an example of brands that carry vegan chocolate (FYI: they may carry non vegan chocolate as well, so check the ingredients):

  • Beyond Good
  • Equal Exchange
  • Raaka Virgin Chocolate
  • Taza
  • Alter Eco
  • Eating Evolved
  • Askinosie
  • Choc Zero
  • TCHO
  • IChoc
  • Lakanto
  • Guittard

Is Chocolate Vegan? – Final Words

Chocolate can be vegan, but it’s not always vegan. Contrary to popular belief, not all dark chocolate is vegan (I know, I’m bummed too).

To determine if a product is vegan, you should make sure the ingredients don’t list any animal ingredients, like dairy and honey.

Some vegans may also avoid palm oil and unethically sourced chocolate, but of course, non vegans may look for similar things as well!

While there are some vegan “milk” chocolates available, plant based milks, like oat milk, are typically used in place of dairy in order to be vegan.

Did you enjoy this article? What’s your favorite chocolate brand? Let me know in the comments!
Want to learn more about what products are vegan? Check out these other posts chock full with answers written by a vegan dietitian such as:
Is Tofu Vegan?
Can a Vegan Eat Bread?
Is Guar Gum Vegan?
Can Vegans Drink Coffee?
Are you ready to take the vegan plunge? Then you should totally sign up for Plant Powered You’s E-mail List, and get access to my exclusive video that all vegans should watch!

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