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Is Chocolate Vegan? The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Chocolate

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Chocolate can be vegan, but its not a rule!

In this Dietitian written ultimate guide to vegan chocolate, you will discover that vegans may look for other things besides the absence of animal products.

Lets dive in!

Disclaimer: This article is not providing personal medical or dietary advice. Always talk to your doctor before adding a supplement or making major dietary changes. We are not claiming that the chocolate brands mentioned here are the healthiest choices. See our Disclaimers for more details.

Consumer Notice: This article contains affiliate links that are marked in this manner: “(affiliate link*)”. If you click on these links and purchase, I earn a commission at no added cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. 

What Makes Chocolate Vegan?

Since vegans avoid products that involve the use of animals, vegan chocolate will only have vegan ingredients (aka: ingredients devoid of animal products/byproducts).

This means that you shouldn’t see the following ingredients that may be more commonly found in non-vegan chocolate:

  • Milk
  • Milk By-Products (Examples include: “whey,” “lactose,” “butter,” etc.)
  • Honey

While “butter” comes from an dairy, cocoa butter comes from the cocoa bean and not from milk! Just something vegans may want to keep in mind, as cocoa butter is listed on several vegan chocolates.

Is Milk Chocolate Vegan?

Nope! At least not the dairy milk chocolate that we think of when we hear the term “milk chocolate.”

Still, there are some chocolate brands that make vegan milk chocolate.

These chocolate bars don’t actually contain dairy milk though! The creaminess that would have come from cows milk may be replaced with plant based milks, such as:

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

Ok, so if milk chocolate as we know it is not typically vegan, what about dark chocolate? No dairy products in that product, right?

Is Dark Chocolate Vegan?

While dark chocolate is more likely to be vegan, many popular brands still include animal products, like milk. Perhaps the creaminess helps combat some of the bitterness. FYI: we aren’t claiming to be chocolatiers though!

Case in point: always check the ingredients list to find out if your dark chocolate is actually vegan.

Vegan chocolate brands might also be “certified vegan,” which is something you could look for as well.

Here’s an example of a vegan dark chocolate from Beyond Good! We really enjoy their salted caramel dark chocolate, for its smooth, chocolatey taste, with hints of (vegan!) caramel. You can find it here (affiliate link*):

Is White Chocolate Vegan?

From what we have seen, white chocolate often has milk products in it! So while there are some exceptions, most commercially available white chocolates in the US are not vegan.

Here is one example of a Vegan White Chocolate bar (affiliate link*):

What Other Things Vegans Might Consider When They Eat Chocolate?

As an FYI: of course – non vegans may avoid these things as well. 🙂

Palm Oil

Occasionally, you might see “palm oil” listed as an ingredient in vegan chocolates. But what is it? And why do some vegans avoid it? Lets talk about that…

Palm oil is derived solely from a fruit called the oil palms, making it a vegan product.

So what’s the big deal? The palm oil industry at large has been accused of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and human rights violations. Check out this article in The Guardian to learn more.

In short, while this oil is plant based, some ethical vegans might avoid it due to the issues surrounding the product.

Where Is Chocolate Made?: More Ethically Sourced Chocolate

Vegan chocolate is absent from animal products, which equals a reduction in animal suffering. However, this does not make vegan chocolate free from criticism.

Chocolate is a very popular product in the United States. As such, there is a high demand for a cheaper product. The cacao beans (beans used to make chocolate) are primarily grown in West Africa.

To provide a cheap product, unfortunately, many cocoa producing areas have resorted to cheap labor practices. And that is just one issue.

The cocoa industry of West Africa has been accused of reports of child labor, trafficking, and even slave labor. You can read more about the issues via this article by Food Empowerment Project (F.E.B). We strongly encourage you read the entire article.

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. If you want to discover some that we tried and enjoy, check out our Chocolate Gift post!

In summary: many vegans care about animals (including human animals), so ethically sourced chocolate may be an additional consideration in the chocolate aisle.

What’s Best Vegan Chocolate (Dark Variety) or Milk Chocolate In Terms of “Healthiness?”

Vegan dark vs milk chocolate graphic. Also in text.

Some arguments have been made in favor of dark vegan chocolate being healthier than milk chocolate.

Have you every heard that chocolate is good for you? That may be thanks to the cocoa content that contains flavanols (antioxidants) that might have benefits for heart health, although the research is ongoing.

Since milk chocolate often has less cocoa content, it may have less healthy flavanols than dark chocolate.

Milk chocolate may also contain more added sugars than than your typical vegan dark chocolate. Added sugar is one ingredient many health professional recommend to eat less of. So read your labels when comparing, but make no mistake, we are not recommending you trade fruits and veggies for chocolate!

Besides the potential for added sugar and the fact that saturated fats come with chocolate, what could be unhealthy about vegan dark chocolate? That leads us to our next topic. Something that you might not have expected in your chocolate:

Heavy Metals

Chocolate may contain heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. In fact, certain levels of heavy metals in specific chocolate products may pose a risk to health, especially to children.

To see the results of heavy metal levels in certain brands, check out As You Sow or Consumer Labs (note: a fee is involved to view Consumer Labs report).

So, if you are looking for chocolate with potentially lower heavy metal content check out these tips (Disclaimer: we are not making any guarantees here! Heavy metals may be present for a variety of other factors):

  • Cocoa products sourced from Latin America may have higher amounts of heavy metals as opposed to Africa. (source)
  • Look for lower cocoa percent solids (source)
  • Talk to the chocolate company: Where do you source your chocolate? Do you test for heavy metal content? Can I see the results or can you tell me about your standards?

Vegan Chocolate Recipes From Registered Dietitians

Picture of vegan chocolate white cake on a white plate.

Get inspired by Dietitian created recipes that use vegan chocolate! Please note, if not explicitly stated, vegan chocolate for baking 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

In Summary: Is Chocolate Vegan?

Chocolate can be vegan but is not always vegan! In order to be vegan, the ingredients list will be devoid of any animal product (ex: dairy milk) or animal byproducts (ex: whey).

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 find this article helpful? Should we write an article about cacao nibs or cocoa powder next? Let us know in the comments below!
And while you’re here, why not poke around on our blog? You can do a search search for other vegan food related topics, such as Is Oatmeal Vegan? And Can Vegans Drink Coffee?
Lastly, if you want to stay updated on all things vegan nutrition, sign up for my e-mail list here!

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