The answer is, “it depends”. Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao tree and if that was the end of the story, it would be a vegan product. Though the fact is, it’s hardly ever the end of the story. Certain added ingredients obviously make a bar of chocolate not vegan, while others can be a little more sneaky in their labeling. We’ll cover how chocolate is made, break down a slew of common, non-vegan additives, and provide a list of tasty, totally vegan, chocolate brands. So, whether you want to chow down on a vegan chocolate bar or work it into a vegan chocolate recipe, you’ll be informed.
What is Chocolate Made From?
Chocolate was originally cultivated and created by the Mesoamericans, as the cacao tree naturally proliferates near the equator. Here, it began as a vegan product and in fact, the classic Mexican chocolate recipe uses just roasted, ground cacao beans and sugar. That said, after the Europeans landed in Mesoamerica, they too discovered chocolate and brought some back with them on their return voyages. It’s during this time in history that chocolate began to deviate from its original recipe and soon, milk chocolate entered the picture.
Vegan Chocolate vs. Non-Vegan Chocolate
First, simply reading the label can tell you a lot. Of course, if it’s labeled as milk chocolate, you can bet it’s not vegan. Likewise, certain brands label their chocolate as vegan, which eliminates the guessing game. Barring these two scenarios, the best way to know if the chocolate you’re considering is vegan is by scanning the ingredients list. Some common non-vegan finds include milk, milk solids, and milk fat. Some other common vegan finds include sugar, vanilla, and soy lecithin, which acts as a binder. Also, you may want to look out for whether or not the factory that produces the chocolate uses equipment that also processes non-vegan ingredients. This should be stated clearly (typically near the ingredients list) as it can be a concern for those with allergies.
Apart from reading both the label and the ingredients, it’s good to find trusted brands. Many cheaper chocolate brands use fillers like food starch, additives like artificial flavors, and overall, lower-quality ingredients. That doesn’t mean the chocolate isn’t vegan, but high-quality brands usually put more care into sourcing, processing, and labeling their chocolate.
Vegan Chocolate Substitutes
Even within the category of chocolate, there is plenty of variation, so you may be able to swap one chocolate product for another. For example, want a low-carb, vegan chocolate chip? Cacao nibs may do the trick. You can also skip buying a premade hot chocolate mix and blend your own, using cacao or cocoa powder.
There is also carob, which is a legume that has a similar taste profile to chocolate, though it’s naturally a bit sweeter. Carob is typically made by grinding and drying the pulp of its pods, where it’s then sold as a powder. This makes it a great ingredient to swap or combine with cocoa powder in recipes.
Where to Buy Vegan Chocolate
There are plenty of “accidentally vegan” and vegan brands of chocolate out there, so you don’t necessarily need to go to great lengths to find one. Your local market is sure to have some options, but you can always seek out a specialty chocolate shop if that’s your thing. Here are some brands we recommend:
"Accidentally Vegan" Chocolate:
- 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
Other Vegan Brands of Chocolate:
- 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
There’s nothing special about storing vegan chocolate, so treat it as you do all chocolate. This means wrapping it tight, placing it an airtight jar, and storing it in a cool, dark place. Also avoid storing chocolate in the refrigerator, as it can absorb the flavors of the food it’s near, as well as develop a white coating on its surface known as “sugar bloom”. This is totally harmless but it’s unsightly and generally undesirable. Under the right conditions, vegan chocolate (like almost all chocolate) will keep for 6 months to a year.