Is chocolate vegan? Sometimes. You should make sure the ingredients do not contain animal products for it to be vegan.
That’s the short and sweet answer. If you want to learn how healthy chocolate actually is, plus, what vegans might consider beyond ingredients, keep reading! You’re in for a treat (see what I did there 😉 )!
This ultimate guide to vegan chocolate is written by a dietitian who identifies as vegan.
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 Makes Chocolate Vegan?
At it’s core, chocolate only needs cacao beans (which can be separated into cocoa mass/solids and coco butter) and sometimes sugar. This is 100% plant based vegan!
But several chocolate bars in the US include animal products that make them not vegan. Essentially, vegan chocolate will have no animal derived ingredients, such as eggs, dairy, honey, fish, meat, or their byproducts (ie: fish oil, butter).
Examples of ingredients you may see in chocolate that make them non vegan include:
Additionally, some vegans may avoid several common food colorings (dyes) because they may be frequently tested on animals(1).
Lastly, while dairy butter is not vegan, cocoa butter is!
When cocoa butter is listed under the ingredients list, it’s likely listed as a component of chocolate. That’s because cocoa butter is essentially the fat (“buttery” portion removed from cacao (the cocoa bean that chocolate is made from).
Cacao is a 100% plant based and therefore vegan!
To illustrate how cocoa butter might appear on chocolate check out the example from a vegan granola that includes chocolate below:
“dark chocolate (cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar).
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.
If you loved milk chocolate before going vegan, know that vegan milk chocoalte does exist!
Vegan “milk” chocolate bars gaining traction in many popular candy brands. These chocolate bars don’t actually contain dairy milk though!
Instead, they include plant based milks, such as:
- Oat milk
- Coconut milk
- Almond milk
- Cashew milk
- Rice milk
I recently tried this oat “milk” chocolate from Raaka. In my opinion, it is has a creamy texture. Vegans certainly don’t have to miss out on smooth 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!
I’ve seen many popular brands include animal products, like 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.
I especially enjoy their line from Uganda.
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.):
Is White Chocolate Vegan?
Unfortunately, most white chocolates are 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, white chocolate is not “chocolate” in the sense that it does not contain any cocoa solids! The only part of the cacao bean that white chocolate often contains 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!
They might also exclude chocolate that contains environmentally intense palm oil and cocoa beans sourced from areas where slave labor is prevalent.
Of course, anyone may avoid these things as well. :).
So if you eat chocolate or know someone who does, don’t miss these next few sections because they are important.
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, some you might not even think of, such as cereal, peanut butter, and you guessed it: chocolate.
So why do some vegans avoid it? The palm oil industry at large 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 due to the issues surrounding the product.
Cocoa Beans: A Sourcing Issue
Vegan chocolate does not mean cruelty free, despite the absence of animal products!
One issue that some vegans look at is sourcing.
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 trafficking are ongoing issues there.
To learn more 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.
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!
- Vegan Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies by Alex Caspero, RD and owner of Delish Knowledge
- Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies by Alex Caspero, RD and owner of Delish Knowledge
- Lightly Salted Dark Chocolate Pecan Granola – By Clarissa Paimanta, RD from The KidneyRD Team
- Dark Chocolate Covered Date Bites By Lexi Endicott, RD, LD, CCMS of To Taste Culinary Nutrition
Is Vegan Dark Chocolate 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) which many have beneficial effects, but research is ongoing (2).
But what about the saturated fat? Doesn’t chocolate contain a lot of that?
Yes, and while we should limit saturated fat, luckily, most of the saturated fat in vegan dark chocolate comes from stearic acid, which may have a neutral effect on total blood cholesterol(3).
In contrast, dairy milk chocolate has less cocoa content (aka: less flavanols), and may contain less healthy dairy fat.
Milk chocolate may also contain more added sugars than than your 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.
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 (4).
Certain levels of heavy metals in specific chocolate products may pose a risk to health, especially to children(5) 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, check out As You Sow or Consumer Labs (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 as opposed to Africa (6)
- One research study suggests getting an adequate amount of iron may reduce cadmium absorption(7).
Is Chocolate Vegan? – Final Words
Chocolate can be vegan, but is not always vegan. The ingredients list will be devoid of any animal ingredients (ex: dairy milk, 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 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’ll find learn more about fun food topics such as: if bread and oatmeal are really vegan.
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