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Chocolate is a decadent delight, and while many popular flavors, such as milk chocolate, aren't appropriate for a strictly plant-based diet, connoisseurs who forgo dairy can still indulge in the classic candy since consumer interest in vegan products is steadily on the rise—prime motivation for small-batch and mainstream manufacturers to keep inventing new varieties to satiate this demand.
Chocolate maker and Wm. Chocolate owner Will Marx encourages folks to think beyond the label before buying. “It’s not enough for a product just to be vegan. It should also support progress in the chocolate supply chain. I want to have a sense that the maker cares about people and the planet when sourcing and is not just chasing the lowest-cost ingredients. When these pieces are in place, the product will likely taste very good, too.”
We researched the best vegan chocolates that you’ll be tempted to stockpile, but rarely share.
Best Overall: Endangered Species Chocolate Oat Milk Dark Chocolate
Made with fair-trade chocolate
Only available in one size
What do buyers say? 70+ Thrive Market reviewers rated this product 4.3 stars.
If creamy dark chocolate is your jam, this bar was made for you. Having an oat base provides a smoother composition than some other non-dairy chocolates. The result pays off in a more cohesive balance between taste and texture. Another popular attribute of the Endangered Species brand is that 10 percent of the company’s net profits are donated to conservation and wildlife organizations, including The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the National Forest Foundation.
Best Organic: VGAN Milk Chocolate
Nut allergen info on package
Solely available for purchase by bulk
Very few plant-based chocolates claim to rival their whole-milk predecessors, but VGAN does just that by asserting that its substitution of coconut cream and coconut milk not only produces a product that tastes similar, but also surpasses expectations. This “NoMilk” chocolate is made with bourbon vanilla, raw cane sugar, and zero dairy additives. The five VGAN bars currently available for purchase are also certified organic and certified vegan.
Best Handcrafted: Nohmads Coffee Crunch - 74% CACAO
Not widely available
"Simply handmade" is an apt description for this sweet treat made with only five ingredients: organic raw cacao, organic maple sugar, organic raw cacao butter, organic coffee beans, and sea salt. The flavor profiles of the coffee and the cacao are noticeable in each bite—a big positive for mocha fans. Plus, the bar breaks apart easily with minimal flaking.
“In addition to cacao and a sweetener, other plant-based ingredients can be added to vegan chocolate. For example, it is possible to make a vegan 'milk' chocolate using plant-based milk alternatives, like oat milk, and many common inclusions, like nuts or dried fruit or spices, are plant-based and can be used in vegan chocolate.” — Will Marx, Chocolatier and Creator of Wm. Chocolate
Best Fruit: La Maison du Chocolat Fruit Naturally Gift Box 16 Vegan Chocolates
Artisanal made in France
Packaged in luxe gift box
Indulge in luxury with these fruit ganaches from the beloved Paris chocolate boutique La Maison du Chocolat. The rich flavors and silky cream-like mouthfeel won't even have you missing the dairy. Some of our favorite flavors include blackcurrant, orange zest, and passionfruit. These fruit profiles pack a lively brightness that provides a delightful contrast to the intensity of the dark cacao. You're in for a treat with each bite of these beautiful ganaches!
Best White Chocolate: Pascha Organic Vegan White Chocolate Bars
Texture is noticeably different than dairy chocolate
Made using rice milk instead of dairy products, this chocolate melts fantastically, making it a versatile pick if you're on the hunt for a vegan chocolate that is great for snacking and baking. However, because of how easily it melts, it's recommended that you store it in the refrigerator or freezer (assuming the whole bar isn’t polished off in one sitting.) Pascha also sells this same varietal as chocolate chips, which are a small enough to be added to pancake batter and cookie dough.
“Many mainstream white chocolates contain even more dairy ingredients, like milkfat, to reduce costs. As usual, read the ingredients, look for a vegan declaration on the package, and ask the manufacturer if something isn't clear. These days you can find vegan white chocolate, but it may take some searching.” — Will Marx, Chocolatier and Creator of Wm. Chocolate
Best Caramel: Nelly's Organic Caramel Nougat Candy
Each varietal contains nuts
This confection is perfect for nut lovers, as it's jam-packed with organic raw cashews and organic peanut butter, as well as other yummy ingredients, including raw shredded coconut, organic raw vanilla beans, pink Himalayan salt, organic chocolate liquor, and more. These treats are small enough to fit inside fanny packs, lunch sacks, and coat pockets. In addition, don’t be surprised when biting into the caramel nougat’s triple-layer interior. It maybe one big bite, but it sure is satisfying.
Best Mini: UNREAL Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
Contains no artificial sweeteners
You’ll never miss Reese’s again after trying UnReal’s version of the classic peanut butter cup. The peanut butter inside is just enough to mingle with the exterior chocolate layer so that each can be adequately savored, yet not overpowered. Another mega bonus to this product is that each cup comes individually wrapped to prevent the chocolates sticking together when stored or transported. Be sure to keep refrigerated (or frozen) so that the integrity of the shape is maintained.
If looking for a delectable vegan chocolate which is (almost) undetectably dairy-free, Endangered Species Oat Milk Dark Chocolate is the best buy. If you prefer to primarily purchase fully organic products, VGAN Milk Chocolate and Nelly’s Caramel Nougat are also stellar options in regard to taste and cost.
What to Look for in Vegan Chocolate
"The chocolate and sugar industries have a very dark underbelly, so looking for chocolate that is fair trade certified is a great start. I also look for the vegan symbol, which is becoming more and more apparent on products these days,” says vegan baker and Heirloom Bakery and Kitchen founder Mickey Walker.
Vegan chocolate should be made using solely plant-based ingredients. “Chocolate has a long history as a naturally vegan product because its most important ingredient, cacao, is the seed of a tree,” says Wm. Chocolate owner Will Marx. “You can actually make chocolate from cacao alone (think of unsweetened baking chocolate), but we tend to add ingredients to sweeten or flavor it. It's those ingredients that we must examine because they may or may not be vegan. After cacao, the most important ingredient in chocolate is the sweetener, often cane sugar.” Many others used in making chocolate are also derived from plants and are vegan-friendly.
What is vegan chocolate made from?
“Ideally a good bar of vegan dark chocolate is only going to have a handful of ingredients for its base, such as chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and a sweetener,” says Walker. “The possibilities are endless from there as far as adding extracts, chopped nuts, fruits, milk alternatives (like coconut, oat, or rice milks), caramel, toffee, sea salt, nut butters, and spices, to name a few.”
In practice, the main difference between vegan and non-vegan chocolate is that vegan chocolates do not use dairy ingredients. Dairy ingredients are the only animal products widely used in chocolate. The nutrition label will oftentimes let you know whether the product contains milk.
Is all dark chocolate vegan?
“No,” says Marx. “In its simplest form—cacao and a plant-based sweetener—dark chocolate is vegan. However, many products sold as 'dark chocolate' are not vegan for three main reasons.”
1) They contain dairy ingredients. Sometimes manufacturers replace some of cacao's natural fat (called cacao butter) with a cheaper fat, often milkfat from cow's milk. This is done mostly to save money. You would think that adding milkfat would mean the product has to be called milk chocolate, but that's not the case. Milk powder makes for milk chocolate, but milkfat is just an alternative fat that can be added to any type of chocolate. Read the ingredients to spot it.
2) They contain sugar processed with bone char. This one is harder to catch. Ask the manufacturer, avoid products with refined sugar, or look for a vegan designation on the label.
3) They may contain traces of dairy. This means the product was made in a facility that also makes non-vegan chocolates. Although such products may still be labeled vegan, you must decide if traces of dairy are acceptable, both philosophically and from an allergen standpoint. Look near the ingredients for an allergen statement.
Is white chocolate vegan?
Traditionally, white chocolate is not vegan. According to Marx, “In its purest form, white chocolate contains three ingredients: cacao butter (always vegan), sweetener (can be vegan), and milk powder (dairy, never vegan).” He also states that “it is possible to make white chocolate vegan by ensuring that the sweetener is vegan-compliant and replacing dairy milk powder with plant-based milk powder.”
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Rachel Werner is a vegan who teaches Intro to Food Writing through The Loft Literary Center and has been selecting food-based businesses for editorial coverage for more than nine years. Her product and restaurant reviews, food styling, and photography have appeared in a variety of regional and national publications including The Gourmet Insider, Fabulous Wisconsin, and Hobby Farms Magazine.