Exactly How Is Vegan Chocolate Made?
That’s a question that just about every chocolate enthusiast who happens to be vegan will find themselves asking.
Being vegan has a lot of benefits, from allowing you to live a healthier lifestyle to protecting other living creatures and their right to live.
However, it also has some drawbacks - one of them being that you might have to forego some of your favorite treats.
The good news is that chocolate is not one of them. There are plenty of vegan chocolate bars out there - and while some might not taste the best, there are plenty (like our favorite, Mid-Day Squares) that actually taste better than their non-vegan alternatives.
Ready to learn more about the ins and outs of vegan chocolate? From its history to its benefits for vegans, chocolate has a rich, storied background - though not quite as rich as the chocolate itself!
History of Chocolate
Have you ever wondered who the genius was to first uncover the magic of chocolate?
We don’t know who took that first bite, but we do know that cacao has been cultivated for more than 5500 years. It was first grown in what is now Ecuador but eventually traveled north into Central America. Cacao plants are grown all over the world, including in places like Hawaii.
The most famous (and first) “chocoholics” were the Aztecs and Mayans, who consumed cocoa in chocolate beverages. These drinks used lots of spices and water (along with natural dyes) to create a red-colored libation that was consumed to energize warriors.
Meant to resemble the blood of human sacrifices, this cocoa beverage was likely a lot less sweet than what we are used to consuming as chocolate today.
Up until more modern times, all cocoa was consumed in its pure, vegan form - and almost always as a beverage. It wasn’t until the cocoa was brought to Europe, where it was sweetened with Caribbean sugar, that it became more processed and sweet.
It was in Europe where the beverage was first prepared with milk instead of water, and it wasn’t until the 1800s when the chocolate bar that we recognize today was first developed.
Can Vegans Eat Chocolate?
Vegans can absolutely eat chocolate. However, it’s important that you look for the right product.
Vegan-friendly chocolate tends to be of higher quality than non-vegan chocolate, made with fewer ingredients that are simple to read and clear in origin.
Most dark chocolate is vegan, while lower quality chocolates will have longer ingredient lists, including fillers from food starches and artificial flavorings along with milk, milk fat, and milk solids.
Many of these chocolate bars aren’t actually intended to be vegan - they just are that way by default. Many brands of chocolate are “accidentally” vegan containing no additives, animal ingredients, or fillers. These are sometimes marketed as being whey-free, casein-free, or dairy-free.
Is Dark Chocolate Vegan?
To be considered chocolate, technically the only ingredient that is needed is pure cacao. Most dark chocolates contain various sweeteners.
The only time dark chocolate would be considered not vegan is if it contains milk products or if it contains white sugar. White sugar is, unfortunately, not always vegan, since it can contain bone char as part of the refining process.
Many companies, like Hershey, also use milk in their dark chocolates. Hershey’s Special Dark contains several forms of milk to emulsify and flavor the bar.
Therefore, it’s important to read the ingredients list of your bar of dark chocolate carefully to figure out if it’s vegan. Look for a chocolate bar made with just cacao and organic sugar (which won’t include the bone char) or a sweetener besides white sugar or honey (also not vegan).
How Vegan Chocolate is Made
If you’re trying to understand whether chocolate is vegan, it’s important to understand how all chocolate - vegan or not - is made.
Chocolate is derived from the cacao bean, a plant product from which cocoa butter and cocoa powder are derived. This plant has been harvested for centuries, with its roots dating all the way back to the Aztecs.
This cacao bean is actually a seed from the cocoa tree, or Theobroma cacao, a plant that is native to Central America but is now cultivated all over the world.
These seeds or beans, of course, are 100% vegan.
After being harvested, the beans are fermented and dried. They are shipped to a processing facility where they are sorted and cleaned, roasted, peeled, ground, and then processed down even further into the sweet stuff we know and love as chocolate.
That’s how chocolate is made! At this point, all chocolate is still considered totally vegan.
It is when other ingredients are added as part of the additional processing, such as milk, that chocolate becomes decidedly non-vegan. Milk, for instance, is often added to soften the bitter taste of pure cocoa.
It’s not only milk chocolate that undergoes additional processing, either. Many chocolate companies add things like lecithin to help bind the ingredients together, while others might add mix-ins like almonds or mint.
Vegan Chocolate Ingredients
At its purest, chocolate is one of the most vegan food products you can eat!
It comes from cocoa, a plant-based food.
Where things become murkier is in how chocolate is processed. While pure dark chocolate is 100% vegan, by the time your chocolate bar reaches you, there is a good chance that it has gone through extensive processing that has made it more animal-based in nature.
Most chocolates, including milk chocolate and white chocolate, contain things like additives, artificial sweeteners, and milk fat. MIlk fat, of course, is not vegan.
Vegan chocolate will instead contain very few ingredients, using things like coconut oil to add a rich, creamy texture rather than things like lactose, casein, whey, or other milk derivatives.
Most dark chocolates are vegan, not containing any milk-based additives. However, that’s not always the case, so reading the label is key.
Chocolate that is vegan tends to have a higher concentration of sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa, and other plant-based ingredients. Often, vegan chocolate is dark chocolate, but there are also milk chocolates that have vegan substitutions for milk products, like almond milk.
You may find chocolate bars with ingredients like soy lecithin and vanilla, too, but don’t worry - these are also vegan.
Of course, vegan chocolate can have all of your favorite mix-ins, too, like almonds, mint, and more. Just steer clear of things like caramel and toffee. While these can be made vegan, more often than not, they are made with milk.
Which Chocolate Brands Are Vegan?
There are dozens of brands of vegan desserts out there so it can be a bit tricky to find the best option for you.
However, know that there are essentially two categories to choose from - dark chocolate that doesn’t contain any animal-based products but isn’t vegan on purpose, and chocolate made with alternative dairy-free milk.
Look at the cocoa percentage on your package of chocolate. In most cases, chocolate that has more than 66% cocoa is vegan, though that’s not always the case. Milk chocolate and white chocolate are rarely vegan unless they’ve used coconut milk or another plant-based milk to offer that sweet, creamy flavor.
Many companies specialize in vegan chocolates, including places like Whole Foods and Endangered Species. However, the best vegan option that you can rely on to satisfy your sweet tooth every time is made by MidDay Squares - we’ll tell you more about why this is the best brand at the end of the article.
What is the Best Vegan Chocolate?
When you’re shopping for vegan chocolate, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from - you can even make your own vegan candy bars!
However, the best vegan chocolate is made by Mid-Day Squares. These organic chocolate bars are made with non-GMO ingredients that are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and of course, 100% vegan. They’re great for people who are lactose intolerant, watching their sugar because they are diabetic, and even for folks who just aren’t interested in eating animal products.
The natural ingredients in Mid-Day Squares - we’re talking things like cocoa butter, yacon butter, maple syrup, and Jerusalem artichoke powder - will give you energy and as much fiber as three full servings of broccoli! It’s real chocolate with real benefits and real flavor.
These chocolate squares even have as much protein as two medium eggs!
With all of those benefits, you’re probably expecting Mid-Day Squares to taste like cardboard, but they don’t. These super food, plant-based chocolates are not only 100% vegan but they’re 100% delicious - perfect for combatting that midday energy slump.