As people tend to immediately think of chocolate as a dairy product, and therefore off-limits to vegans, it may be surprising to hear that its main ingredient, cocoa beans, are actually the seeds of a tropical evergreen tree. Because of this, vegans and omnivores alike can enjoy Theobroma cacao, or “cacao, the food of the gods.”
Described as something more than a food but less than a drug, most dark and high-quality chocolate is completely vegan, as it usually contains a high amount of cocoa and no milk or dairy products.
While there are many chocolate brands that market themselves specifically as vegan, organic, and fair trade, there are also plenty of traditional brands you can buy in any drugstore or supermarket whose products happen to be completely vegan.
Dark chocolate is rich and pleasantly bitter than milk chocolate, and its depth of flavor allows you to taste earthy and fruity notes, comparable to the way one might taste different wines.
You’ll see it described in “percent cacao,” which tells you what percent of the recipe is cocoa as compared to sugar and other add-ins. As a general rule, the higher the percentage, the less sweet the chocolate. This ranges all the way up to 99% cacao, which usually serves as baking chocolate.
From baked goods to eating straight from the bar, the brands listed below offer all the delicious health benefits of chocolate without the use of animal products or exploitation.
Vegan Chocolate Bar Brands
Available in nearly every supermarket, convenience store, and online retailer, Lindt products are accessible, easy to find, and a good balance between high-quality and affordable.
Their Cocoa Excellence bars are 3.5 ounces each and range from 70% cocoa all the way to 99%, so there is an option available no matter how bittersweet you like your chocolate.
I find the 85% bar to be the perfect balance between sweet, rich, and pleasantly bitter – because it has such a deep flavor, a 1-2 square serving perfectly satisfies my cocoa cravings. If you’re just getting into dark chocolate, Lindt’s 85% bar is a great place to start.
Lindt’s Cocoa Excellence bars, including the 70%, 85%, 90%, and 99% varieties, are entirely vegan and gluten-free.
As its name suggests, Endangered Species Chocolate is committed to giving back – 10% of the net profits are donated each year to a network of wildlife conservation partners. Each partner is guaranteed a minimum annual donation of $10,000 and can use those funds on projects they deem important. The company has raised over a million dollars in the past three years.
The company is also conscious of the human cost of producing chocolate and makes moves to choose only ingredients that ensure farmers are supported, and species are protected.
The company is fair trade and gluten-free certified, and select products are non-GMO verified and certified vegan. Those products that are vegan are clearly and conveniently marked on the packaging.
Endangered Species offers the standard rich dark chocolate varieties, as well as unexpected add-ins like cinnamon and sage. Their products are perfect for the chocolate lover who likes to keep things interesting with different flavors and textures.
The following Endangered Species chocolate bars are vegan:
- Natural Dark Chocolate
- Natural Dark Chocolate with 88% Cocoa
- Natural Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs
- Natural Dark Chocolate with Cinnamon, Cayenne, and cherries
- Natural Dark Chocolate with Blackberry Sage
- Natural Dark Chocolate with Lemon Poppy Seed
- Natural Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans
- Natural Dark Chocolate with Raspberries
- Natural Dark Chocolate with Blueberries
- Natural Dark Chocolate with Cherries
- Natural Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Almonds
- Natural Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint
- Natural Dark Chocolate with Cranberries & Almonds
Those who do not wish to consume products that have been on the same machinery as milk and dairy-based products can feel good about biting into a Chocolove bar – the company uses separate equipment for processing and molding their dark and milk chocolate.
While the products do exist in the same buildings, Chocolove has less cross-contamination than other chocolate brands.
Each 3.2-ounce bar contains a love poem inside and comes in colorful packaging reminiscent of a postcard.
The company offers bittersweet dark chocolate, but also has a variety of less intense flavors that have great add-ins like orange peel, cherries & almonds, and raspberries, for those who want to choose a dairy-free chocolate, but don’t love the bitterness of the higher cacao content varieties. For example, the cocoa content of the raspberry flavor comes in at a mild 55%.
The bars are made in Boulder, Colorado, and contain at least 20% IMO For Life ingredients, which means the beans in the product can be traced directly back to a farmer in the program.
The following Chocolove varieties are suitable for vegan diets:
- Orange Peel in Dark Chocolate
- Cherries & Almonds in Dark Chocolate
- Ginger Crystallized in Dark Chocolate
- Raspberries in Dark Chocolate
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A company dedicated to producing delicious products through ethical relationships with small-scale farmers around the world, Alter Eco’s products are a good choice for those who enjoy interesting textural elements in a chocolate bar.
Alter Eco is well-versed in the needs of its vegan customers and notes that the sugar used in their recipes is not processed with animal ingredients. They are also deeply committed to using organic, Fair Trade ingredients, becoming involved in the communities that source and create their products, and empowering women in each of the communities.
Beans are picked in the Peruvian Amazon and Ecuadorian Coast, are transformed into cocoa products in the Andes, and are crafted into chocolate bars in Switzerland.
The following Alter Eco products do not contain dairy ingredients, and are suitable for vegan diets:
- Dark Blackout 85%
- Deep Dark Sea Salt
- Dark Quinoa
- Dark Almond
- Dark Twist
- Dark Cacao
- Dark Mint
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Wrapped in sleek, matte,environmentally conscious packaging, Green and Black’s chocolate is made from USDA organic, fair trade, and UN-certified ethically sourced cocoa.
It uses trinitario cocoa beans to create a rich, full flavor in the 3.5-ounce bars.Green & Black’s is extremely aware of dietary restrictions and food sensitivities, so they tend to over-label their products to prevent a reaction from anyone with an allergy.
Because the dark chocolate is made on the same production line as the milk chocolate, they do not label it as vegan or dairy free, but the recipes do not contain any dairy products.All products in the dark chocolate line except for the Burnt Toffee flavor from Green & Black’s are vegan-friendly.
Flavors range from original dark chocolate in varied cocoa concentrations to fun twists like ginger, mint, and hazelnut & currant.
Also known for their coffee, tea, and bananas, Equal Exchange’s chocolate bars have been sourced from and created by small-scale farmers and co-ops for over 25 years.
Small farmer sourcing is an integral aspect of the mission, and the company is dedicated to using the best-tasting, high-quality ingredients without having to sacrifice the dignity of human beings around the world.
Equal Exchange chocolate partners include farms and co-ops in Peru, Paraguay, and Ecuador. The products are available in chocolate minis, which are great gifts for vegans, all the way up to baking cocoa and bars.
The lemon-ginger flavor is my personal favorite chocolate bar – it’s such a burst of intriguing and complex flavor – but Equal Exchange offers several other varieties that are suitable for vegans:
- Organic Extreme Dark 88% Cacao
- Organic Panama Extra Dark 80% Cacao
- Organic Very Dark 71% Cacao
- Organic Ecuador Dark 65% Cacao
- Organic Dark Chocolate Almond
- Organic Dark Chocolate Mint Crunch
- Organic Dark Chocolate Orange
- Organic Dark Chocolate Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper
If you’re a dark chocolate purist (or, lover, as the bar would suggest), Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Lover’s Bar is one of the best around. For an 85% cacao bar, this is not as bitter as one would expect, smooth, and is a good “starter bar” for someone trying to wean themselves off milk chocolate and see what the dark side is all about.
With beans sourced from Colombia’s Tumaco region, the chocolate has a delightful fruity flavor that pairs well with red wine. The beans are grown and harvested by Colombian farmers before being brought to the supplier, who roasts, creates, and packages the chocolate all in one place. This helps keep quality up and costs down.
The chocolate comes in a beautifully designed box and contains two individually-wrapped bars of chocolate. While this product is available from online retailers, it is the best value when directly purchased from Trader Joe’s.
Why Fair Trade?
Many of the companies mentioned above note that their ingredients are fair-trade, but many people may not know exactly what this certification means.
Buying fair trade products means the farmers and workers who grow, source, and create the ingredients and products are paid fair wages and are provided with safe and healthy working conditions.
The workers also have a say in how their workplace is run, and are treated with dignity and respect.
Fair Trade is also better for the environment, supporting sustainable practices that respect the natural landscape of where those ingredients are found, as well as resulting in better, higher-quality goods, thanks to the pride the artisans take in their work.
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
As if chocolate couldn’t get any better, research has shown that dark chocolate (the high percentage stuff) actually has positive effects on health.
While traditionally considered a candy, dark chocolate is actually highly nutritious, containing plenty of fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese in the 70-85% cocoa varieties.
Dark chocolate, like berries and pomegranates, also contains a high concentration of cancer-fighting antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins, and some research has shown the antioxidant activity in dark chocolate was higher than that of blueberries and acai.
Those who are looking to improve their circulation and blood pressure can also feel good about including a square or two of dark chocolate in their daily diet, as the flavanols in dark chocolate stimulate the endothelium, which plays a role in reducing blood pressure.
Of course, all these health benefits come from high-percentage dark chocolate with 70-99% cocoa content – you won’t get these same benefits from a product with lots of sugar and vegetable fat substitutes. Additionally, you’ll want to be mindful of the calories that come with your dark chocolate treat – while 100g of dark chocolate (which, granted, is a lot of chocolate for one person) packs in plenty of antioxidants and nutrients, it also contains 600 calories, so be mindful of the quantity you consume.
While the products listed above are some tried-and-true favorites, the reality is that many chocolate products also happen to be “accidentally vegan”, or don’t market themselves as vegan despite containing no animal products. It’s easy to discern if the chocolate bar you’re considering is vegan with a quick scan of the packaging.
While milk chocolate is clearly not vegan-friendly, many dark chocolate varieties are perfectly suitable for a vegan diet. If a product contains skimmed milk, milk fat, or any ingredient containing the word “casein”, it is not vegan and is best put back on the shelf. The higher percentage of cacao you choose, however, the less you should run into these kinds of ingredients.
Some companies offer products that combine chocolate with fun add-ins like fruits or nuts. These are usually plant-based, and therefore vegan, but chocolate bars with additions like caramel, butterscotch, or toffee should be avoided, as these additions are made with butter, milk, and cream. To ensure you’re purchasing a dairy-free bar, opt for chocolates with mix-ins like fruits, nuts, and seeds instead of processed textural elements.
You may see cocoa butter on the list of ingredients, but rest assured this is entirely plant-based and vegan-friendly. Cocoa butter is the fatty portion of the cocoa bean and is responsible for giving your chocolate bar a smooth, meltable texture.
If all else fails, and you just want to keep things as simple and foolproof as possible, look for the “certified vegan” logo on the back of the package. This will ensure you that all the ingredients in the chocolate bar are free from dairy, eggs, and other animal products.
Chocolate on a Vegan Diet
Giving up animal products like milk and eggs doesn’t mean you have to give up the simple joy of a square or two (or three) of good chocolate after dinner.
Most high-quality, high-cocoa-content chocolate bars are vegan by nature, as the high amount of cocoa in the chocolate simply doesn’t leave room for unnecessary fillers like milk and butter.
In fact, with a high enough concentration of cocoa, the addition of chocolate in your diet can actually be a healthy one, as it contains cancer-fighting antioxidants, improves blood circulation, and can play a role in lowering blood pressure.
We know that what we choose to spend our money on acts as a vote, a way to speak up for what we view as acceptable and unacceptable in our world. By choosing a chocolate bar that is both vegan and fair trade, you are telling companies that it is possible to indulge in a delicious, high-quality product while still respecting animals and our fellow humans.
The ability to speak for the dignity of others truly adds a layer of luxury to an already decadent treat.