Is Chocolate Vegan? The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Chocolate

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Is chocolate vegan? Chocolate can be vegan, but it is often not. You should make sure read the ingredients and make sure no animal products are present for it to be vegan friendly.

That’s the short and sweet answer. If you want to learn how to identify vegan chocolate quickly, what vegans might consider beyond ingredients, and how healthy chocolate is, keep reading!

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

Disclaimer: This article is not providing dietary advice. Always talk to your doctor if you have any health concerns, before adding a supplement or making major dietary changes. 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. 

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 are added (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 vegan granola that includes chocolate below:

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.)”

Why 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 chocolate that 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 we most commonly 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 use plant based milks such as:

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

I recently tried this oat “milk” chocolate from Raaka. I thought it had a very creamy texture, and didn’t have that bitterness that is characteristic of dark chocolate!

You can check it out below (affiliate link*):

Is Dark Chocolate Vegan?

Dark 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.

I’ve seen many popular brands include dairy in their dark chocolate.

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 and who prefers dark chocolate, they are one of my favorite deliciously dark treats!

They have 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.

You can check them out below (Amazon affiliate links*-as a reminder, if you click on the links and purchase, I earn a commission at no added cost to you.):

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

Is White Chocolate 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 even 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 vegans and non vegans might want to avoid environmentally intense palm oil and cocoa beans sourced from areas where slave and child labor is prevalent.

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 (beans used to make chocolate) 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 coco farms in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire (3).

Not only is this work dangerous, but kids do not have the ability to play or go to school if they are working.

To learn more 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. If you want to discover some that I tried and enjoy, check out our Chocolate gift article!

Picture of vegan chocolate white cake on a white plate.

Vegan 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

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)!

What about the saturated fat? Doesn’t chocolate contain a lot of that?

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(4).

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 trade your fruits and veggies for chocolate! Chocolate should not replace other healthy 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 recently (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 or necessarily 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 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).

Where Can I Buy Vegan 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
  • Pascha
  • Ritter Sport
  • Guittard

Is Chocolate Vegan? – Final Words

Chocolate can be vegan, but it’s not always vegan. You should make sure the ingredients don’t list any animal ingredients, like dairy and honey in order for this treat to be vegan.

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.

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll love our vegan chocolate gift guide here!
Want to learn more about what products are vegan? Check out these other posts chock full with answers written by a vegan dietitian, going over subjects like:
Guar Gum

Lastly, if you want to stay updated on new posts, sign up for my e-mail list here!✌❤

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