After living a vegan lifestyle for a short time, you quickly learn what to grab and what’s off-limits at the grocery store. You know to load your cart in the produce department, and stay away from the butcher counter.
But there is definitely a grey area when it comes to vegan cuisine. Some foods — like chocolate — contain questionable ingredients in some varieties, but are perfectly vegan in others.
We’re here to guide you through the wide world of vegan chocolate.
Learn what to look for when you’re reading the labels of that chocolate bar, what to buy when a craving hits, and how to bake your favorites at home.
Is Chocolate Vegan?
Have you ever wondered, "Is chocolate vegan?" I’m excited to tell you that, yes, chocolate is vegan. But, as with all good things, there’s a catch.
If you’re craving vegan candy, search for confections made with dark chocolate. The best vegan chocolates will have a high percentage of cacao — your best bet is bars containing at least 55%.
As always, check the ingredients. Dark chocolate can sometimes contain ingredients derived from dairy, like whey, casein, milk, milk fat, and milk solids.
You might also want to check the label to make sure your goods are made with organic sugar, as bone char — made from animal bones — is often used during the refining process. It’s not considered an organic ingredient, so sugar marked “organic” is safe.
As you’re reading the labels, another question probably comes to mind:
Is Cocoa Butter Vegan?
Yes, cocoa butter is vegan! Don’t let the word “butter” fool you — you won’t find any dairy here.
The only ingredient in cocoa butter is, well, cocoa. It’s a vegetable fat extracted directly from the cacao plant (more on this in a sec).
The velvety texture of cocoa butter makes it the perfect fat for chocolate bars. Its low melting point is slightly higher than coconut oil, which is why cocoa butter will stay solid at room temperature, yet still melt in your mouth.
What Is Cocoa Butter?
Cocoa butter is a vegetable fat that comes from the cacao beans. The whole beans are fermented, roasted, and separated from their hulls. Next, they're crushed by a hydraulic machine. This separates the solids from the liquids, also known as chocolate liquor.
The leftover solids are used to make cocoa butter through the Broma process. Crushed cocoa beans are heated to very high temperatures, melting the cocoa butter and causing it to drip from the beans.
As an added bonus, cocoa butter is filled with antioxidants and will last anywhere from two to five years. The benefits of cocoa butter stretch beyond chocolate. It's also an excellent moisturizer, which is why it's a key ingredient in body butters and lip balms.
Vegan Chocolate Taste Test
We tried a range of dairy-free desserts, looking for a variety of adapted favorites and sweets that just so happen to be free of animal products.
Here’s what we liked — and what we didn’t.
Daiya Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake, $8.99
Daiya knows what’s up. The jalapeño havarti we sampled in our vegan cheese tasting set the bar high for this dessert, and I’m excited to say it didn’t disappoint.
Frost-covered and semi-frozen, the vegan cheesecake reminded us of a fudgesicle when we sliced into it. The creamy chocolate flavor was similar to the frozen dessert, and the texture was a bit lighter and more airy than a typical cheesecake.
Out of all the dairy-free chocolate desserts we tried, this was our favorite.
Whole Foods Bakery Brownies, $7.00
Brownies are one of the easiest desserts to veganize, so I also had high hopes for these. Moist and gooey right out of the container, the brownies seemed like they should be rich and fudgy. As it turned out, they were anything but.
These chocolate-ish squares fell firmly into the uncanny valley of brownies. They were close enough in texture to the real thing, but the flavor missed the mark just enough for us to declare these brownies a hard pass.
A colleague aptly summed these up: “It’s like they took a brownie and removed all the joy.”
Pamela’s Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookies, $3.99
In theory, store-bought chocolate chip cookies seem easy enough to veganize, but this brand failed in practice. Sandy and bland, these mediocre cookies were just … blah.
“These have no taste. What’s the point?” one coworker asked another.
“There is no point,” she answered.
Amella Grey Sea Salt Caramels, $7.49
With dark chocolate and coconut milk surrounding sweet, smooth caramel, these candies seemed like a decadent treat. As it turned out, these were the most divisive of the vegan desserts we tried.
The center of the candy caused the biggest debate. Its texture tore our group apart, with some calling the ultra chewy caramel just plain wrong, and others not minding the sticky consistency.
“The flavor isn’t bad now that it’s stuck to my teeth,” a coworker quipped.
Vegan Candy Bars, $2.50-$3.99
Dark chocolate feels like cheating, but it’s perfect. The next time you’re craving a chocolate fix, reach for the candy bar. We promise you won’t be let down.
We tried three varieties of dark chocolate: Madécasse 70% Cacao, Theo Cranberry Orange, and Theo Peppermint Stick. All received rave reviews from our group.
If you put the finest pint of a boozy, rich chocolate stout into a candy bar, you’d end up with the Madécasse.
A single bite of Theo’s Peppermint Stick bar tasted just like the holidays, making it almost feel like winter here in sunny San Diego. The Christmas feeling of this chocolate bar was enough to inspire my editor to drop a square in the bottom of her afternoon espresso and call it “the best thing ever.”
Theo’s Cranberry Orange bar has all the fruity flavors of winter desserts wrapped up into one delicious package.
Vegan Chocolate Conclusions
With the lone exception of the Daiya Chocolate Cheesecake, the best vegan desserts from the grocery store don’t try to copy confections containing animal-based ingredients.
Our best advice is to skip the vegan desserts at the supermarket, and fire up your oven.
DIY Vegan Chocolate Desserts
Turning your favorite desserts into vegan concoctions is much easier than you probably thought. All it takes is a few simple swaps!
Before you get baking, this great guide from Bon Appétit shows you how to avoid some of the most common mistakes.
Once you’ve found the perfect recipe, these substitutes will make it vegan.
- Mashed bananas
- Flax seeds
- Ener-G Egg replacer
- Alternative milks, like almond, rice, or soy
- Coconut milk
- Dairy-free yogurts
- Coconut oil
- Vegan margarine
- Dark chocolate chips or bars
- Carob chips
- Pure cocoa powder
What are your favorite vegan chocolate desserts? Share your favorites in the comments, and check out these 12 recipes to elevate your vegan dinner.