Is Dark Chocolate Dairy-Free?

Whether it be a dairy allergy or a vegan diet, staying dairy-free can be an incredible chore.  We all want sweet snacks from time to time, but the search can be a daunting road of dodging allergens.

Just because you are vegan or are lactose intolerant, doesn’t mean you can't satisfy that sweet tooth. But how do you find a candy that's free of lactose, and be sure certain it doesn't contain dairy?

Why Finding Dairy Free Chocolate Is So Important

For those who are lactose intolerant, the risk of having a single allergen present can be scary. No one wants to suffer the consequences of eating something that may contain milk if they suffer from an allergy.

If you want something delicious, not too sweet, and traditionally dairy-free, look no further than dark chocolate.

But what are the benefits of dark chocolate? Where does it come from? Most importantly, is it always dairy-free?

The Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolates are well known for their proven health benefits.  Read the label on your favorite dark chocolate brand, and you'll see everything from vital nutrients to antioxidants.

Dark chocolate products are a rich source of fiber. They are also chock full of zinc, iron, and magnesium; all essential building blocks to any healthy food. 

Dark chocolate also contains antioxidants called flavonoids. Flavonoids have excellent anti-inflammatory properties, not to mention their ability to reduce the presence of free radicals. Free radicals can directly contribute to cardiovascular disease and cancer. 

Dark chocolate products also help lower blood pressure and have also been shown to reduce insulin resistance. This helps reduce the risk of diabetes. 

Not only is dark chocolate rich in health benefits, but it also has a rich history. The origin of food can be very important to understand how its made, and what ingredients go into making it. Let's take a look.

The history of dark chocolate

Dark chocolate's origins can be traced back thousands of years. Originally developed in South and Central American countries, it was later used as a ceremonial drink by the Aztecs and Mayans.

The Mayan people called chocolate Xocolatl, and its closest modern relative would be chocolate milk. Related might be a strong word though as Xocolatl was naturally milk-free, and did not contain dairy. This milk-free chocolate beverage was far more bitter, as the Mayans did not have access to anything with sweetening qualities. 

Xocolatl and the Aztecs

The drink was actually spicy, with the recipe consisting of chili peppers, water, and cocoa beans. The Mayans believed chocolate had divine origins and was a method of the gods to directly communicate to those on earth.

They would consume it much as we do with our daily cup of coffee but would place special value on the drink during religious holidays. Then, the age of the Mayans concluded. As Aztec society grew, the drink became much harder to come by. This is when it was deemed ceremonial, and only the rich or the holy could access it. 

The Spanish Sweetening

It wasn’t until the early 1500s when Spain discovered chocolate for themselves that it became closer to the product we know today. Though stories vary, some say that Italian explorer Christopher Columbus brought cocoa beans to Spain in 1502.

Others say it was Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez, who was given cocoa beans when he made contact with the Aztecs. Either way, these chocolates maintained that bitter note of cacao flavor, as well as their dairy-free and vegan qualities.

With the addition of honey and cane sugar, the Spanish would sweeten the natural bitterness of the cacao bean. These chocolates became widely popular in Europe, with different countries adding cinnamon, oats, and other ingredients to make their own unique chocolate recipes. 

More ingredients were added over time

Some of these ingredients included cream and helped to develop milk chocolate. A short while later in the Netherlands,  it was found that a fat-laden paste could be derived from the cocoa plant. This cocoa extract was then melted into a liquor, and formed into a solid. This would be the building blocks for one of the first recipes for cocoa butter.

It wasn't until 1847 in Britain that the modern chocolate bar would first be invented. Joseph Fry, along with his son, would discover that pressing cocoa paste and sugar into a bar made for a portable and delicious treat. The chocolate bar would go on to be mass-produced, and turn into the dark chocolate bars we know today.

Ingredients in modern-day chocolate

The chocolate we consume today is very different from past iterations. While that classic hint of bitter is still present, you’re no longer stuck with spicy drinks or less than flavorful dark chocolate bars. 

The recipe for modern chocolate includes the same set of ingredients, with slight variations. Cacao solids are a major component, making up 50 to 90% percent of the mass of any piece of dark chocolate. For chocolate to be classified as “dark”, a minimum of 50% is required.

From there, cocoa butter is added. The only case where it would not be is if you are making cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is basically dry cocoa solids without butter and is used in foods like biscuits or cakes.

Cocoa butter is derived from the extracted beans of the cocoa plant. These beans are turned into a liquor, then solidified into a tasty edible fat. If the bar is milk chocolate, this is where milk and milk products would be added.

Then, sugar and an emulsifying agent are added. In nonvegan brands, this can be E476, a water-in-oil emulsifier. In vegan products, the more natural ingredient soy lecithin is used.

So - Is Dark Chocolate Actually Dairy-Free?

Pure, dark chocolate is without a doubt dairy-free. But not all dark chocolate is pure chocolate, and therefore not necessarily free of food allergens.

The pure chocolates found in stores are free of milk products because the cacao bean is naturally lactose-free. But 100% pure chocolate would be baking chocolate, and not something you want to eat by itself.

The problem is other ingredients companies add to their products. These additions, if not carefully curated, can result in milk being introduced into supposedly "dairy-free" chocolate. Unless it is a brand you trust, you cant ensure the chocolate is truly dairy-free.

Cross Contamination Can Produce Serious Issues

This is understandable with milk chocolate, but it happens with dark chocolate as well. Of course milk chocolate contains milk by default, but dark chocolates should not. For vegans and those allergic to milk, this is a serious matter.

Chocolates are one of the most common foods where this accidental cross-contamination occurs. If the FDA believes a food could contain an allergen, they'll release a statement recalling the item from shelves. But for some, that may be too late.

Always Read The Ingredient Label To Be Sure

The only way to be certain your dark chocolate does not contain any dairy is by checking to see if the potential for cross-contamination exists. This means finding a chocolate prouder that does not use any dairy at all in their facility.

Whenever you're in doubt, simply check the ingredient label. Brands are required to disclose if allergens could be present - one of which is lactose - on the label. If you don't see lactose listed, you should be good to go!

Where Can I Get The Best Dairy-Free Dark Chocolate?

If you need chocolate that is free from milk or another allergen, there are many brands you cannot trust. Some brands have labels claiming there are no traces of milk, but they may contain some lactose anyway. If you have a milk allergy, this cross-contamination could lead to an allergic reaction, which is unacceptable.

You need a manufacturer that takes your milk allergy seriously, and means it when they say their chocolate is dairy-free. A label is nice, but as we've seen, even products with a label can be unsafe if you are allergic to milk. You need a quality company, with equipment designed to make chocolate with your specific allergies in mind.

Mid-Day Squares: The Cream Of The Dairy-Free Crop

At Mid-Day Squares, you can trust our dairy-free chocolate does not contain milk. Our products are processed with specialized equipment, in completely dairy-free facilities. We do this so we can be sure there are no traces of milk or dairy. That way, you can enjoy truly 100% dairy-free chocolate products.

With vegan ingredients free of allergens, this food was made specifically with you in mind. We use only the finest quality cacao and cocoa butter, all-natural coconut sugar, and the best vegan emulsifier, soy lecithin.

Our snacks are not only vegan and dairy-free but taste amazing. Just because you can't enjoy dairy, doesn't mean your taste buds should suffer too!

Whether it be the delicious note of coconut in our Almond Crunch, the peanut butter and oat goodness of Busta Peanut, or the bold chocolate flavor of Fudge Yah, you just can't go wrong with our chocolate. Try a starter pack today!