Is Chocolate Vegan?

How to Find and Use this Plant-Based Treat

High angle view of chocolate bar with chips on kitchen counter

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Chocolate is a delicacy that has been consumed for centuries. Ancient Mayans enjoyed cacao as a frothy drink. Europeans added sugar and honey to sweeten the bitter taste. Today, chocolate (including dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate) is manufactured into bars, beverages, and powders for a variety of uses.

Many of us indulge in a chocolate treat from time to time, but vegans may wonder if the food can be included in their plant-based diets. The good news is that some–but not all–chocolate is vegan. Chocolate is considered vegan if the ingredients used to make the product do not contain dairy or any other animal by-products.

Is Chocolate Vegan?

Depending on the type that you buy, chocolate can be vegan. However, many chocolate products have dairy added to them, which would eliminate them from a vegan diet. Milk chocolate obviously contains dairy, but even dark chocolate may contain dairy.

Non-vegan ingredients to look out for include butter, cream, or milk by-products such as whey, casein, milk fat, or milk solids. If you see cocoa butter listed as an ingredient, don't worry. Cocoa butter does not contain butter and is vegan-friendly.

There are other non-vegan ingredients that you might want to look for when searching for vegan chocolate or finding vegan chocolate recipes. Certain chocolate bars, baked goods, or candy might use honey in the ingredients as a sweetener. Some vegans choose not to consume honey. Other non-compliant ingredients that may be in some chocolate products include eggs and gelatin.

If a chocolate product does not contain dairy, dairy by-products (whey, casein, milk fat, or milk solids), or honey, then it is vegan. It is very unlikely that chocolate would contain any other animal by-product, but you can check the ingredients list to be sure.

Nutrition and Health Benefits

Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has been widely studied for the health benefits it may provide. The food may even provide some nutritional benefits.

Nutrition

The USDA provides nutritional information for certain vegan chocolate products, like muffins, brownies, and cakes, but there is no generic listing for vegan chocolate. However, you can get nutritional information by looking at the nutrition facts label of your favorite vegan chocolate bar.

For example, Raaka is a brand that makes vegan chocolate products, including vegan dark milk chocolate. These are the nutrition facts for one serving (25 grams or a half bar) of their Coconut Milk Unroasted Dark Chocolate bar:

  • Calories: 139
  • Fat: 10g
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrates: 11g
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Sugars: 8g
  • Protein: 2g

As a basis for comparison, a 25-gram serving of a commercially produced chocolate bar (made with dairy) is likely to contain 110.2 calories, 3.2 grams of fat, 43.8 mg of sodium, 19.3 grams of carbs, 0.4 grams of fiber, 16.5 grams of sugar, and 0.4 grams of protein.

Depending on the type you consume, dark chocolate can be a good source of iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus. Vegan dark chocolate is not likely to be a good source of calcium. Even though it is likely to contain dairy, commercially produced chocolate is not likely to be a good source of calcium either.

Health Benefits

There are several studies documenting the health benefits of chocolate. The benefits are usually associated with polyphenols that are abundant in cocoa and dark chocolate. Since dairy is not associated with polyphenol content, vegan chocolate can provide the benefits associated with chocolate.

May Improve Heart Health

Specifically, polyphenols in chocolate have been shown to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by promoting vasodilation and supporting anti-inflammatory and vasoprotective properties in the body. Some studies have shown a link between chocolate consumption and a lower risk of heart attack and heart disease. But other studies have found no association, and a few have even found an inverse relationship.

May Help Manage or Prevent Diabetes

Chocolate may provide some benefits in managing or preventing type 2 diabetes, but the relationship is complex. Cocoa and flavanols (a type of polyphenol) have been shown to improve glucose sensitivity, reduce serum insulin levels, and homeostasis.

These findings suggest that cocoa may be a natural and economical approach to prevent or potentially contribute to the treatment of type 2 diabetes. But the benefits are associated with the flavonoids in cocoa, and most commercially produced chocolate provides low levels or no flavonols.

May Help Prevent or Manage Other Diseases

Lastly, cocoa can also play a role in treating cerebral conditions, such as stroke. Cocoa has also been investigated for its role in preventing or managing obesity and certain types of cancer, but findings are often controversial and conflicting.

Using Vegan Chocolate

You're likely to find that there are plenty of delicious vegan chocolate products on the market. Find out what to look for when shopping and how to use these goodies.

Brands and Shopping Tips

Always read the small print, specifically the list of ingredients, when searching for a vegan chocolate product. Some brands put the word "vegan" front and center on the product label. Others don't include the word 'vegan' at all on the package but are free of dairy and other animal products.

Vegan chocolate brands include:

Chocolate aficionados and experts often advise that you search for products with a higher percentage of cacao when looking for chocolate—usually between 55% and 85%. Cacao is the pure form of cocoa. Higher levels of cacao will help you to take advantage of health-promoting polyphenols.

Recipes, Preparation, and Storage

You can use vegan chocolate in any recipe that calls for high-quality baking chocolate or simply enjoy it on its own. Use it in cookie recipes, cakes, brownies, smoothies, sorbets, or puddings. To prepare your chocolate bars for use in a recipe, you'll probably need to melt them. To do so, use one of these methods:

  • Microwave: Chop chocolate bar into uniform pieces and place chocolate in a microwave-safe dish. Heat for about one minute on 50% power. Remove and stir. Repeat if necessary.
  • Stovetop: Use a double boiler to melt chocolate on the stovetop. If you don't have one, make your own by placing a heat-safe glass bowl on top of a saucepan filled with a few inches of water, but make sure your bowl doesn't touch the water. Melt chocolate, while continuously stirring, over low heat.

Regardless of the method you use, be sure that water does not touch the chocolate. Water interacts with the oil in cocoa and makes it lumpy and hard.

If you need to store your packaged or opened chocolate, seal it in an airtight container and keep it in a cool, dark, place. Do not keep it in the refrigerator. It may absorb moisture and odors from other foods, leading it to taste or look bad. Chocolate can be frozen for up to six months.

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Article Sources
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