August 14, 2021
From Vegan Foundry
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Many more people are going vegan these days, out of concern for the planet or the animals, or for health reasons. If you’re thinking about or actively trying out veganism, you’re probably struggling with a plethora of things you can no longer eat, and that might leave you with some key questions.

For example – is chocolate vegan? Can vegans actually eat chocolate? Or does chocolate contain animal products that make it unsuitable for vegans to eat?

The answer is that it really depends on the chocolate. A lot of chocolate is not vegan, because it contains milk or other animal products, but chocolate itself is made from cocoa, and that, fortunately, is vegan. It is during processing that animal products are sometimes added, but these are not necessary ingredients, and vegan chocolate is widely available.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about chocolate and what might make it unsuitable for vegans. 

What Is Vegan Chocolate?

chocolate
Simon A. Eugster, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Vegan chocolate is chocolate that is made without using animal products – and some people expand this definition to include “without exploiting animals.” That means that vegan chocolate must, at the very least, not contain any animal products, and ideally, it will be made with techniques that do not involve animal exploitation.

Vegan chocolate should not contain milk, eggs, butter, cream, or any other animal products, or ingredients that have been derived from animal products. How strict you wish to be about this will depend on your own feelings on the subject, however.

You’ll find it helps to learn the names of some common ingredients that are derived from animal products, so you can watch out for these as well as the basic dairy and eggs. We’ll cover those shortly.

What Stops Chocolate From Being Vegan?

There are quite a few things that can be added to chocolate that make it unsuitable for vegans, and you need to learn what to watch out for.

Let’s explore the many different ingredients that you, unfortunately, need to look out for when choosing vegan chocolate because unfortunately, a lot of chocolate has had animal products added for one reason or another.

Milk

Most commonly, you will see milk and milk derivatives. These are used in the creation of milk chocolate and white chocolate, and these confectioneries are therefore not suitable for vegans unless otherwise labeled.

It is possible to make either of these kinds of chocolate without milk, but a plant milk must be swapped in. Because it is an active substitution, chocolates that are made with plant milks will usually be specifically labeled as vegan because the manufacturer is trying to meet the needs of vegans.

Dark chocolate is less likely to contain milk because it does not require it for the recipe, so it is often the best way to get your hands on reliably vegan chocolate. There is no need for milk or milk products, so it’s more likely to be vegan.

However, bear in mind that this isn’t guaranteed, and even if it is free from milk, it may contain other animal products in some circumstances.

Before we look at those, let’s cover some of the names of the different milk products you should watch out for on the ingredients list. These include:

  • Milk
  • Casein
  • Lactose
  • Milk powder
  • Milk solids
  • Milk fat
  • Whey powder that comes from milk
  • Any other “from milk” products

You should also keep an eye out for any cream products, which may be used in some chocolate, especially chocolate with filled centers.

Unfortunately, a lot of chocolate contains milk products and it can be hard to find chocolate without, especially if you don’t like dark chocolate. In general, the high-quality, dark chocolates are much more likely to be vegan, as low-quality chocolates are often bulked out with cheaper ingredients derived from animals.

Eggs

The other common animal product that gets used for chocolate is egg. It is not as widely used as milk, but it does get in there, partly because it makes chocolate melt better and prevents the sugar from turning into crystals.

Unfortunately, it also means that the chocolate is not vegan, and so you need to look out for eggs in your candy. Egg, fortunately, is usually less confusingly named than milk, so you should look out for:

  • Albumin/albumen
  • Cholesterol
  • Egg protein
  • Lecithin
  • Methionine
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D

Of course, many of the above can be taken from products other than egg, so if you see one listed, don’t assume it is definitely egg. However, don’t assume that it isn’t, but instead, contact the manufacturer to check.

Some of these things can be derived from plant products, but unless you are sure, try to check before consuming it, just in case,

Refined Sugar

You may or may not be aware of how refined sugar is whitened, but often, it is not vegan because charred animal bones are used to bleach the sugar. This practice certainly makes it unsuitable for vegans, and unappealing for many people.

Fewer sugar producers are using this technique now, but unfortunately, it is very difficult to know whether the sugar is vegan or not. The only true way to tell in most cases is to get in touch with the manufacturer directly.

Otherwise, all you can do is choose chocolate that is labeled vegan, as there is no other way to know for sure.

Can Chocolate Be “Naturally” Vegan?

Perhaps you’re wondering whether you really have to choose chocolates that are specifically made to be vegan, or whether some chocolate is naturally vegan. Fortunately, the answer is that some chocolates don’t use animal products even if they aren’t specifically marketed as vegan.

If you’re looking for this, you need to look at dark chocolates, and usually the more expensive, high-quality options. Cheaper options have often been bulked out with other things because cocoa nibs are expensive. Including more cocoa in the chocolate makes it pricier to create, and thus pricier to buy.

Often, the fewer ingredients the chocolate has, the more likely it is to be vegan. This is not a hard and fast rule, but you will generally find that chocolate bars that contain lots of extra ingredients have animal products somewhere in them.

You should look for chocolate that is over fifty percent, as this is more likely to not contain milk (though you still do need to check, because that isn’t guaranteed). If you don’t like dark chocolate, you will have to look at the tailor-made vegan milk chocolates.

It’s also worth noting that dark chocolate is thought to be quite healthy and contain some nutritional benefits. It lacks the quantity of sugar found in many milk and white chocolates, so if you’re trying to find healthy eating options, this is a good one.

What About Filled Or Flavored Chocolates?

vegan chocolate
Marco Verch, CC BY 2.0, via Flicker

If you’re someone who loves flavored chocolates rather than the plain confectionery, where do you stand? It depends on what flavors you like, really. Certain fillings are more likely to be naturally vegan, while others will be unsuitable for vegans unless they specify otherwise.

Good Options

So, which flavors are you likely to be able to enjoy?

Mint chocolates are often vegan-friendly, since they only use plants for the flavoring. Almond is also naturally vegan, as are any of the fruit chocolates, such as orange or lemon. You may also find that more exotic chocolates such as ginger, lemongrass, or raspberry are suitable for vegans. Vanilla is also fine, as this comes from the fruit of a kind of orchid.

Do bear in mind that you should always check ingredient lists, just in case. Occasionally, chocolate that looks like it ticks all the right boxes will have some hidden ingredient that makes it unsuitable for vegans.

Complicated Options

How about chocolates that aren’t so promising? What do you need to look out for?

On the whole, chocolates that contain toffee, caramel, or truffle are not suitable for vegans unless they say so. Toffee generally contains milk, butter, and cream, while caramel will usually be made with cream and butter.

Truffles are a more complicated one, and some vegans would be fine with eating them, while others would not. That’s because truffles are a kind of fungi, and therefore are considered acceptable in themselves – but their harvesting method is one that some vegans would disagree with.

Truffles are harvested using dogs or pigs, which locate the truffles with their sense of smell. Because truffles grow beneath the soil, they can only be found by scent. Humans then dig them up and sell them, and to many vegans, this means that the animals have been exploited, because their labor has been used to find the truffles.

Whether you are happy to eat truffle chocolates or not will depend entirely on how you feel about the use of dogs and pigs in harvesting, and you may want to do further research into what this entails before making a decision. However, on the whole, truffles are not considered vegan.

Honey is another tricky ingredient, because it is a natural sweetener that is thought of as very healthy by most people. However, it is a topic of hot debate among vegans, and many do not consume it because it involves stealing food from and exploiting bees.

Some argue that because the bees are not harmed by the process, it is okay to take the honey, while others feel that this is not the case at all. You will have to make up your own mind about what feels right to you.

What About Cocoa Butter?

Vegans will quickly notice the word butter in any ingredient list, and it might instantly put you off purchasing the chocolate, since it looks like butter is involved in the making of the chocolate.

However, you don’t need to worry about this when it comes to cocoa butter. This is not butter at all, but is just a butter-like substance that has been made from cocoa beans. It is totally plant-based and does not involve any animal exploitation at all.

Cocoa butter is a good ingredient to find, because it means there is plenty of cocoa in the bar, with fewer unpleasant filler ingredients that could contain animal products. It is also found in high-quality chocolates and makes for a delicious melting texture that is just perfect for chocolate.

So, cocoa butter is not one to worry about when choosing your chocolate! On the whole, if the ingredients list is composed of something like cocoa butter, cocoa, vanilla, soy lecithin, and sugar, you are likely onto a winner there!

Does Vegan Chocolate Taste Bad?

The answer to this is definitely no, it doesn’t have to. While it can’t depend on some of the ingredients that non-vegan chocolate can include, vegan chocolate can be just as delicious. In fact, it often uses better quality ingredients, which arguably makes it a nicer option.

If you are used to non-vegan chocolate, you may find that it takes some time for your taste buds to adjust to the vegan version and that you have to hunt around to find a brand that you enjoy. After all, it is not exactly the same product, and we often prefer flavors that we already know – so it will probably take a while to get accustomed to vegan chocolate.

However, it is frequently a healthier and higher quality option, so don’t be afraid of trying it out. There are many excellent suppliers of vegan chocolate, such as Hotel Chocolat, Montezuma, Moo Free, and Green and Blacks. Do always double-check ingredients before purchasing, however, to make sure that you are getting their vegan options.

Summary

Chocolate certainly can be vegan, but a lot of chocolate is not. If you have recently swapped to veganism and you are struggling, watch out for milk, cream, butter, and eggs, as well as lecithin and casein when reading ingredients lists.

With a bit of care, you’ll soon learn which brands you can buy and find something that you really enjoy, safe in the knowledge that no animal exploitation is satisfying your sweet tooth.

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Source: Veganfoundry.com