Although it's common to associate the word butter with animal fat, don't worry - butter extracted from cocoa beans, known as cocoa butter, is entirely plant-based and 100% vegan. So, despite its name - there's no dairy or animal-derived butter in cocoa butter.
But, what's the best way to use it in cooking and how to store it properly? Keep reading to find out some other useful facts about this flavorful plant-based butter.
What is Cocoa Butter, and How is it Made?
Cocoa butter is made with cocoa beans, which come from the big cacao plants known as Theobroma cacao.
After cocoa beans have been taken out of the plant, they get roasted and stripped of their hulls. What remains are cocoa nibs, which then get squeezed into a kind of paste, also known as cocoa liquor.
Finally, after this paste gets pressed, we get cocoa butter. What's left is cocoa powder, another favorite ingredient among candy lovers worldwide.
Despite what some may think, cocoa butter is pale yellow and has a strong cacao aroma, sweet taste, and a texture that makes chocolate treats melt in your mouth.
Cocoa Butter Uses
Cocoa butter is a commonly used ingredient in making sweets, such as regular and dark chocolate, and can often be found in many regular or vegan-friendly cookies or chocolate bars.
However, it's often used in combination with non-vegan products, such as gelatine, whey, lecithin, milk solids, milk powder, and similar dairy products in the production of chocolate bars and other sweets.
So, it's not surprising that many people think cocoa butter isn't vegan, and that's why many turn to dark chocolate instead. After all, they're full of nutrients and are widely known to benefit your health.
However, it's worth noting that dark chocolate isn't always dairy-free either, so it's essential to check the label every time.
1. Baking and Cooking
Although often associated with chocolate and sweet treats, cocoa butter can be used in savory dishes as well.
What's great about this plant-based butter is that it can tolerate very high temperatures, so it's a good replacement for vegetable oils or coconut butter in cooking.
In cooking, cocoa butter is often used for thinning chocolate and for making cake coatings. Since it hardens at room temperature, it's rarely used in baking. It's not the best tool for creaming either unless used combined with other liquid fats.
Cocoa butter has a somewhat sweet flavor and an aroma that is very similar to chocolate. However, the scent is stronger than the taste, which means it's rarely eaten on its own and used more often as an ingredient in cooking.
Also Read: Is Smart Balance Butter Vegan?
2. Skincare and Beauty Products
The application of cocoa butter extends beyond food. You'll often find it in skincare and beauty products for a variety of its benefits.
For one, it has proven to be an excellent moisturizer that's useful for healing skin and helping fight aging. Specialists recommend it for use on scars and stretched skin due to its healing properties.
What's even better - cocoa butter moisturizers are often entirely natural, meaning you can avoid applying harsh chemicals to your sensitive skin.
Another everyday product that contains cocoa butter is lip balm.
Since cocoa is an excellent source of natural oxidants, it adds a protective hydrating layer to your lips, which can protect them from extreme weather and keep them from drying out.
Thanks to its moisturizing properties, it's also popularly used in shaving creams and hair products. Some people also mix it with other oils, like coconut or vitamin E oil, to make a shampoo mixture.
Does It Contain Gluten?
The great news for all gluten-intolerant vegans is that cocoa butter is actually gluten-free.
Gluten is the kind of protein found in grains such as wheat and barley, so cocoa butter on its own is vegan and gluten-free.
That being said, it's not uncommon for food containing cocoa butter or cocoa powder to also contain gluten.
Many chocolate bars are made by mixing chocolate with wheat or some other similar non-vegan ingredient, so keep your eyes open when checking the list of ingredients of your favorite chocolate treats.
How to Check if Chocolate is Vegan?
Things to pay attention to when shopping for vegan chocolate is to check the percentage of cacao or cocoa. Dark chocolate labels will often tell you just how much cocoa butter or cocoa powder are present in a bar.
The higher the percentage of cocoa, the higher the chance that the chocolate is vegan. If the product contains pure cocoa, this means cocoa powder in its purest form, without any animal products.
"If you happen to prefer white chocolate, you should know that these are mostly not vegan. This is because white chocolate usually has to contain 3.5% milk fat and 14% milk solids."
- Jason Vishnefske, at santabarbarachocolate.com 
However, there's an increasing number of brands offering vegan white chocolate, and you can even make vegan white chocolate on your own by using pure cacao butter and organic sugar.
Usually, most bars with almonds, mint, or dried fruit are vegan-friendly, and some examples of great vegan chocolate brands include UNREAL, GoMacro Bars, Larabar, and think! chocolates.
Chocolate truffles and toffee often contain ingredients like peanut butter and caramel, which include dairy and, as such, are not considered vegan unless otherwise stated. Luckily, nowadays, even vegans can enjoy dairy and gluten-free versions of these chocolate delights.
Is It Healthy?
Yes, aside from its aroma and chocolate flavor, cocoa butter comes with several health benefits:
- It keeps the skin moisturized. Since cocoa butter contains large amounts of fatty acids, it is a perfect ingredient in skin cream products. It helps moisturize your skin and create a protective layer that holds moisture and prevents drying skin.
- It may help in managing diabetes - This may come as a surprise since we all know that too much chocolate can cause blood sugar to increase. Despite this, cocoa butter itself can help lower the risks of diabetes. Some studies have shown that this is due to flavanols in cacao.
- It may help maintain cholesterol levels - The very same ingredient, flavanol, that helps balance sugar levels in your system can be potentially responsible for reducing high cholesterol: "Chocolate contains a chemical often referred to as flavonoids, which are the same chemicals found in red wine. This has been found to lower LDL cholesterol as well as to exert a protective effect against heart disease." -Dr. Marcus J. Cox from Greenville Health System.
- It protects against the Sun. Exposing skin to UV radiation can damage skin and change its texture, or worst-case scenario, increase skin cancer risks. Cocoa butter's phytochemicals protect against harmful UV radiation and decrease the risks of skin diseases.
- It improves the health of your bones. As it carries a small amount of vitamin K, cocoa butter also directly helps your bones and, as a result, your body to build.
However, there may be side effects. One study found that a product containing cocoa butter contains anti-estrogenic results, which means that it reduced and blocked the effects of estrogen (the female hormone) on the body.
Should You Add Cocoa Butter to Your Diet?
If you came here with the common "is cocoa butter vegan" question, you'll be happy to know you can add another ingredient to your life.
It's entirely dairy-free and gluten-free, fit to support every vegan's lifestyle. And it comes with some health benefits to boot.
Along with a balanced diet and active lifestyle, healthy, plant-based fats of pure cocoa butter can potentially improve your overall health and, at the same, boost your mood when you bite into that luscious, satisfying vegan chocolate.
So what's your favorite vegan chocolate? Have you used cocoa butter before, and how? If you have some great ideas on using cocoa butter in vegan recipes, leave a comment below.