Made from the seed of a cocoa tree, dark chocolate is one of the best sources of antioxidants in the world.
Not only that but the more cocoa content you have in the chocolate, the more nutritionally rich it becomes, namely in terms of fiber and vital micronutrients like iron and magnesium.
Is dark chocolate vegan? Dark chocolate, for the most part, is vegan. In fact, dark chocolate is essentially a form of chocolate that contains cocoa solids, cocoa butter, without the milk or butter found in milk chocolate. Dark chocolate has a considerably higher cocoa content than milk chocolate, with most vegan-friendly dark chocolates containing upwards of 70% cocoa content.
However, that’s not always the case, and you can clearly see that by reading this blog post I wrote on the different Lindt dark chocolate varieties. While Lindt has over 10 dark chocolate varieties, the ones that are NOT vegan usually contain less than 70% cocoa content.
With that being said, you should ALWAYS check the label for any dark chocolate, regardless of the cocoa content.
In this article, we’re going to provide you with more detail into why not all dark chocolates are vegan (because milk and butter are not always culpable), and we’ll also provide you with suitable vegan alternatives that you can easily find online.
Why Not Every Dark Chocolate Is Vegan
Yes, not all dark chocolate is vegan, as some varieties may contain dairy-based ingredients such as milk or butter, but whether or not that accounts for the majority of dark chocolate is debatable.
From my personal experience, finding vegan dark chocolate has always been easy, and I live in a country where only a tiny portion of the population (around 0.6%) is vegan. For someone living in nations like the United States or the United Kingdom — I’m positive that finding vegan dark chocolate is even easier.
Let’s look at the ingredients of one of the most popular dark chocolates:
This dark chocolate represents a legitimate example of dark chocolate according to sources such as Wikipedia and the USDA, which demonstrates that real dark chocolate should typically be made without dairy-based ingredients.
However, it’s also true that Lindt’s Lime Intense (also labeled as dark chocolate) contains animal-based ingredients:
For this reason, it is always a good thing to check the ingredient label for surprises.
There’s also the fact that not all sugar is suitable for vegans.
Why Sugar May Not Be Vegan
Sugar typically comes from two sources: sugar canes and beets.
While they taste the same and share an identical texture, their refinement process is completely different. Sugar that is derived from sugar beets is ALWAYS vegan, but the one derived from sugarcane isn’t always so.
When refining the sugar extracted from sugarcane, the sugarcanes are crushed and the juice is separated from the pulp. Then, half of the time, that juice is filtered, refined, and bleached using a decolorizing agent called bone char, which is essentially obtained by incinerating the bones of cattle.
According to PETA, most of the bones used are from cattle derived from countries like Afghanistan, Argentina, India, and Pakistan. These bones are sold to traders in Egypt, Brazil, and Scotland who then resell them to sugar suppliers in the United States.
Not All Sugar Suppliers Use Bone Char
It’s important to emphasize that not all sugar suppliers use bone char as a decolorizing agent. Some use alternatives that are vegan-friendly, namely granular carbon or ion-exchange resins.
However, the issue is that there’s no way to distinguish that by simply looking at labels, so it’s hard to figure out if the sugar being used is vegan or not. To actually know whether or not their sugar is vegan, you must contact them directly. Not all companies are willing to disclose that information, however.
Mondelez International, a multinational company that owns brands like Oreos and Red Bull has disclosed that information in an email.
Assuming that other big companies operate similarly, then that means they’re getting their sugar from various suppliers, including ones that filter their sugar with bone char.
In any case, it’s important to seek confirmation, especially if that’s something that worries you. Obviously, if you’re someone that isn’t particularly strict about the use of bone char, this information may not be relevant, but I still had to mention this since it’s important to spread the word so that companies actively seek alternatives.
Vegan Dark Chocolate Brands
In this section, we’re going to look at vegan dark chocolate options from brands that advertise themselves as being vegan. Even though I know that most of us consider dark chocolates without milk or butter to be vegan, others may be preoccupied with the type of sugar used.
As a result, I’m going to include below dark chocolates from brands that claim to be 100% vegan.
Hu Chocolate Bars
Hu Chocolates is a brand of 100% vegan chocolates. While the one in the image above is dark chocolate, they have a variety of chocolates, including diverse flavors like Crunchy Mint and Hazelnut Butter.
Their dark chocolate, in particular, is made from organic house-ground cacao, unrefined organic coconut sugar, and organic fair-trade cocoa butter, all of which are 100% Vegan.
If you’re in the United States, you can easily find their chocolates on Amazon US.
K’UL Chocolate Bars
KU’L Chocolate is a brand that creates organic chocolates with five ingredients or less, avoiding what they consider the be unnecessary ingredients such as emulsifiers and genetically modified ingredients.
Their pure dark chocolate contains 80% cocoa but is incredibly smooth and creamy, with small hints of dark cherry and blackberry that make its flavor unique.
More importantly, every single chocolate they sell is vegan and manufactured ethically, without exploitation.
Like the HU brand, you’re able to find KU’L chocolates on Amazon US.
Nib Mor Chocolates
Nib Mor Chocolates are organic, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, and fair trade certified. They’re available in a variety of shapes and flavors, including wild Maine blueberry, tart cherry, dark chocolate mind, and more.
Their chocolates are high in cocoa (making them dark chocolate), and while you can find pure dark chocolate, you’ll find that the different flavor varieties are certainly more flavorful and appealing.
They’re also available through Amazon US, or via their official website shopnibmor.com.
How is Dark Chocolate Made?
Above you have a video on how to make dark chocolate from scratch, and while it may differ slightly in scale from how large companies make their chocolate, it still follows the same logic.
The video is 20 minutes long, so you may not have the time to watch it. Alternatively, I’m going to explain below the different steps in chocolate production without delving into too much detail.
Chocolate production can be divided into nine stages:
- Cacao Cultivation
- Drying and Shipping
- Preparing Cocoa Mass
- Producing Chocolate
- Tempering & Moulding
And for every single chocolate, the origin is the cacao tree.
The cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) grows within 20° north and south of the Equator and thrives in a tropical climate, where a mix of hot temperatures, rain, and shade allows them to grow.
One tree bears fruits that are 5-12 inches long, with each one containing 30-50 seeds. These seeds are known as cacao (or cocoa) beans as they bear the cacao used to make chocolate.
Cacao pods are ripe when they show a mix of yellow and orange. They hang from the trunk and largest branches on small stems, the ripening pods being harvested twice a year, even though they can be harvested continually.
After being chopped off the tree, the pods are sliced open and their seeds are removed, with each one being roughly the size of an olive. The seeds are surrounded by a pulp (also referred to as baba), which has been used throughout history to make fermented cacao wine.
The beans are cleaned by hand but the pulp isn’t removed, as it aids in developing the flavor. The beans are exposed to sunlight, which turns them purple.
At this stage, they’re ready to be fermented in one of two ways: following the “heap method”, which is popular in Africa, where beans are heaped in piles on the floor; or following the method used in Latin America, where a system of cascading boxes is used.
Regardless of the method, the beans are always covered with banana leaves. In the 2-9 days they take to ferment, the beans begin to acquire color and flavor that is very similar to chocolate.
Drying & Shipping
The fermented cacao beans are then placed on bamboo mats or wooden floor to dry for anywhere from 7 to 14 days under the hot sun. However, it takes work, as they must be turned from time to time.
Once dried, the beans are graded and packed into sacks, bundled, and labeled based on their quality. They can then be sent to be traded in an international market or exported directly to the chocolate maker.
Cocoa Mass Preparation
Once received by the chocolate maker, the beans may be blended with other origins to achieve a desirable characteristic, or it can also be kept separate as chocolate derived from a single origin.
The beans are cleaned and roasted at low temperatures to develop flavor, and the shells are separated from the nibs through a process called winnowing. The nibs are finely ground into cocoa mass, which is solid at room temperature. When placed under extremely high-pressure, it yields what is known as cocoa powder and cocoa butter.
Cocoa mass can also be combined with more cocoa butter and sweetener to make chocolate. However, oftentimes, the combination of ingredients is dependent on the type of chocolate being made.
Dark chocolate only requires cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and sugar. However, some chocolate makers also include milk powder and convert the dark chocolate into milk chocolate.
Conching refers to a careful process in which rolling, kneading, heating, and aeration take place in a large agitator that stirs and smooths the chocolate mixture under heat.
According to Lake Champlain, this a crucial step that allows them to produce consistent, delicious, and pure gourmet chocolate. It’s through this process that the final aroma and flavor are defined.
Tempering & Moulding
At this point, the chocolate is prepared and needs to undergo final processing so that it can be sold. To be delivered to the chocolatier (the seller of chocolate), it must be put into blocks or drops.
The tempering process is basically bringing the chocolate down to a certain temperature so that a more stable form can be attained. This is what gives chocolate its “snap”, as well as its smooth and shiny surface.
Not all finished chocolate looks the same.
While we usually only see chocolate available in one form, the truth is that chocolatiers, bakers, chefs, and pastry experts all across the world often employ creative methods to transform chocolate, giving it different shapes and flavors, while also including it in many imaginative recipes.
Summary: Not All Dark Chocolate Is Vegan
From my perspective, most “real” dark chocolates are vegan.
I’m referring specifically to any dark chocolate that contains between 70% and 100% cocoa content. If you examine Lindt’s dark chocolates, you’re going to find that pretty much every dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or above doesn’t have any animal ingredients.
Any chocolate that contains milk should actually be considered milk chocolate, not dark chocolate.