Vegan Chocolate vs. Dark Chocolate - Which One Is Better For You?
Perhaps more importantly, which one tastes better?
And if you’re trying to live a lifestyle that is 100% vegan, then the most important question of all - can dark chocolate be vegan in the first place?
While many people view dark chocolate and vegan chocolate as one and the same because dark chocolate typically does not contain milk or milk fat, that’s not always the case.
In fact, there are several differences between true vegan chocolate and dark chocolate that are worth noting, so let's take a deep dive into this topic. After reading, you’ll be able to enjoy your favorite chocolatey treats, guilt-free.
How Exactly is Chocolate Made?
Before diving into a comparison of vegan chocolate versus dark chocolate, it’s helpful to first consider how chocolate is made.
The base ingredient for chocolate, whether it's dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or vegan chocolate, comes from the cocoa plant. Also known as Theobroma cacao, this plant is a tree that is native to tropical areas in Central America (though it is grown in many other places around the world, too).
It has an apt name that translates to "food of the gods" and since it is derived from a plant, chocolate is, at its most basic, vegan.
However, what makes chocolate non-vegan is in how it is processed. Most chocolate brands rely on extensive processing to make it creamy, sweet, and delicious.
Unfortunately, that processing often involves non-vegan ingredients such as white sugar (which is not vegan because it includes bone char) and milk derivatives (dairy).
Milk derivatives aren't just found in milk chocolate. Unfortunately, they are used in conjunction with cocoa butter (which is vegan) to help make chocolate more creamy. While there are plenty of chocolate bars that do not contain milk products like milk powder and milk fat, many do, sometimes concealing them with names like lactose, casein, or whey powder.
It is rare to find a chocolate bar that has not been extensively processed - things like artificial sweeteners, lecithin, and other ingredients are frequently added to the pure cocoa powder and cocoa butter to improve the taste, texture, and shelf life of chocolate bars.
Is Chocolate Vegan?
At its most basic, unprocessed level, chocolate is vegan. Chocolate is just a derivative of the cocoa plant.
However, the problem arises in the processing.
As mentioned earlier, milk is the most problematic ingredient. While there are some vegan chocolate brands that use milk substitutes like almond milk or soy milk, most companies rely on dairy to make their chocolates creamier.
Milk derivatives can include lactose, whey powder, milk powder, milk fat, and milk solids.
Milk isn't the only ingredient in chocolate that makes it non-vegan, either. Sometimes, egg products are in chocolate, too.
These are a bit sneakier, typically showing up under the name of lecithin. The problem with lecithin in a vegan or dark chocolate bar is that it doesn't have to be made out of eggs - lecithin can also be made from sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, and soy, all of which are non-animal sources.
Therefore, it's a good idea to double-check where the lecithin is coming from if you want your chocolate vegan-friendly.
The other forms of animal products in chocolate are pretty obvious. You might find things like biscuits, caramel, and toffee in your dark chocolate or milk chocolate bars. Of course, these tend to be made with milk. There are even some chocolate bars that include bacon!
Obviously, these are not vegan-friendly and should be avoided if you are trying to follow a plant-based diet.
Vegan Chocolate vs. Dark Chocolate - Are They The Same?
Many people automatically assume that dark chocolate is the same as vegan chocolate. That's not the case, although it can sometimes be.
Dark chocolate is simply chocolate that is produced with no added milk solids. Instead, it will have ingredients like sugar, cacao beans, vanilla, and an emulsifier like soy lecithin, which is meant to preserve texture.
The more cacao a dark chocolate bar has, the more bitter it will taste. It will also confer more health benefits. The darkest varieties (over 50 to 60% cacao) are considered bitter or bittersweet, while those that contain around 30 to 40% are classified as sweet or semi-sweet.
True dark chocolate is rich in fiber, magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese.
However, sometimes companies will add a bit of milk to their dark chocolate to make it a tad sweeter and creamier. Not only does this take away from some of the health benefits from the product but it also makes it non-vegan.
Even if milk is not added, dark chocolate is not always vegan because it can contain white sugar. White sugar is not vegan because it gets its color from bone char that is used in the refining process. This is not a direct animal product but is still an animal product nonetheless.
When chocolate does not contain white sugar and instead relies on pure cocoa, vanilla, and alternative sweeteners like maple syrup or Yacon syrup to get its flavor, then it is vegan. It must also contain a form of lecithin that is not derived from an animal (some contain eggs).
There are some vegan chocolate brands that use alternatives to milk, too, lending to a chocolate bar that is sweeter while still remaining animal-free. They might use coconut milk, rice milk, oat milk, or another dairy alternative for this effect.
What About Milk Chocolate??
The most obvious difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate is that milk chocolate always contains dairy.
While dark chocolate isn't always vegan, it is more likely to be vegan because it typically doesn't have milk added in (though it's important to check labels as some common brands, including Hershey's Special Dark, do add milk as part of the processing).
Dark chocolate doesn't need to use milk because it can contain up to 100% cocoa solids. It will be much more bitter than milk chocolate which is why it tends to be less popular. However, it usually has less sugar and is more likely to be plant-based and vegan-friendly.
It's also much better for your health than milk chocolate. With less sugar and more antioxidants (found naturally in pure cocoa), dark chocolate is the best option both for people who are looking to forego animal products as well as those who are health-conscious.
Is Vegan Chocolate Healthier Than Normal Chocolate?
Many people automatically assume that, because vegan options for chocolate do not contain dairy, that they are automatically better for you than chocolates made with milk, like white chocolate.
That's not always the case.
Vegan chocolate tends to be healthier but it's important to remember that it's not just milk that takes away from the overall health benefits of chocolate. You also need to watch out for added sugars, preservatives, and other ingredients.
Look for a chocolate bar with a high percentage of cocoa solids and fewer additives, like soy and even non-dairy milk like rice milk or coconut milk. Although these kinds of milk are better alternatives to cow's milk, they do still add on calories.
Simplicity is key when you are searching for a healthy chocolate bar - plant-based or not.
What is the Best Vegan Chocolate Brand?
If you’re trying to decide between dark chocolate and vegan chocolate, you might be doing so for the health benefits alone. The health benefits of dark chocolate have been documented and are both extensive and profound.
Vegan chocolate is often a better alternative, particularly if you are trying to stick to a vegan diet and you aren’t sure whether your favorite dark chocolate brand contains milk or white sugar (two common non-vegan ingredients).
Unfortunately, there are so many vegan chocolate brands that rely on fillers and chemicals to improve the taste of their dairy-free chocolates. These bars often don’t match up to dark chocolate, both in terms of health benefits and flavor.
Enter - Midday Squares.
Midday Squares offers an assortment of functional, flavorful chocolate bars. They have all the health benefits of a protein bar - 3 grams of fiber, 12 grams of protein, and1.5 grams of omega-3s - without the cardboard-like taste.
Most importantly, Mid-Day Squares do not contain soy, gluten, GMOs, or any animal products. They’re 100% organic with zero preservatives.
You’ll get a serious mood and energy boost from Midday Squares, allowing you to snack without guilt or feeling like you’re missing anything, which is often the case with other vegan or dairy-free chocolate bars.
Grab yours today and see what all the hype is about!