Is Chocolate Vegan?

Depending on the ingredients, it may be dairy free

Dark vegan chocolate bars
magnez2/Getty Images

Because chocolate comes from a plant—the pod of the cocoa tree, to be exact—it sounds like this beloved sweet should be safe for vegans to eat. But it is what else is included in the chocolate that may make it unacceptable to a vegan diet. In the process of going from the tree to the grocery store, a variety of additives are added, some of which are dairy products.

Additional Ingredients

When looking for a chocolate that is vegan (without simply looking for "vegan" on the label) you may have better luck with high-quality chocolates. Good quality chocolate will have a higher chocolate content, pure ingredients, and no additives. The ingredients will be simple: cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar, and occasionally soy lecithin and vanilla. High-quality chocolate also has quite a few nutritional benefits.

Lesser quality chocolates, on the other hand, have a long ingredient list, which, along with cheap fillers such as food starch and artificial flavorings, will often contain milk, milk solids, or milk fat.

Sometimes it is obvious when a chocolate is not vegan. Anything labeled "milk chocolate" usually does, in fact, contain milk and is therefore not vegan. However, many chocolates—particularly lower quality and cheaper brands—labeled "dark chocolate" also contain milk. Thus, it is important to read the ingredient list of any type of chocolate.

"Accidental" Vegan Chocolate

While most chocolate is not vegan simply due to the additives, there are plenty of vegan chocolate options available, many of which are not marketed or even purposely manufactured to be vegan. You will find a few brands of chocolate that are dairy-free, whey-free, and casein-free just about anywhere, including at your regular grocery store. These are what we'll call "accidentally vegan," that is they are high-quality chocolate with no additives and contain no animal ingredients or fillers, but aren't marketed as vegan or labeled as such.

how to choose vegan chocolate illustration
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

Some "accidental" vegan brands to look for are:

  • Chocolove—Dark Chocolate and Orange Peel
  • Trader Joe's—chocolate chips
  • Newman's Own—Sweet Dark Espresso and Sweet Dark Orange, regular and organic chocolate bars
  • Ritter Sport—Chocolate Mint (light blue) and Marzipan (red)
  • Green and Blacks Organic Chocolate—Dark Chocolate
  • Organic Equal Exchange Chocolate—all flavors except for milk chocolate
  • Fanny May—Dark 70% chocolate bars

Vegan Chocolate Brands

There are a few brands of vegan chocolate that are specifically made to be vegan or dairy free and are marketed and labeled as such (keep in mind that some brands only say "dairy free" on the label, or specify what type of non-dairy milk is used). A few producers have started making "milk" chocolates from non-dairy milk substitutes such as almond milk or rice milk. Most of these vegan chocolate brands are organic and fair-trade as well.

  • Endangered Species Dark Chocolate—most, but not all flavors
  • Sunspire and Tropical Source—chocolate chips and chocolate bars
  • Whole Foods Brand—Chocolate Chips, Dark Chocolate, and Dark Chocolate with Almonds
  • Plamil So Free Organic Chocolate (fair trade)
  • Terra Nostra Rice Milk Choco Bars
  • Sjaaks Organic Chocolates—everything is vegan, including their line of "melk" chocolate

You may also want to seek out a local chocolatier, as they will likely have many vegan options available. 

Other Vegan Chocolate Treats

If you're looking for more than just vegan chocolate chips and chocolate bars, there are plenty of other vegan chocolate treats to satisfy even the most ardent of vegan chocoholics.

  • Chocolate Creme flavored Oreo cookies
  • Vegan Ice Cream (such as Purely Decadent brand Chocolate Peanut Butter Zig-Zag and Temptation brand Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough flavor)
  • Peanut Chews candy
  • Wax Orchards brand Fat-Free Fudge Sauces
  • Reese's Puffs Cereal
  • Cocoa powder, any brand, as long as its 100% cocoa
  • Chocolatey Chip and Chocolate flavor Teddy Grahams
  • Trader Joe's brand vegan chocolate chip cookies