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Whether you're making a hot chocolate or want to make your baking a little more decadent, finding a good vegan cocoa powder is one of the most important concessions for those making the switch to a cruelty-free life.
But is cocoa vegan?
Technically chocolate is naturally vegan. It's only when we mess with it and add milk and other animal ingredients that it becomes tainted. Unfortunately, milk chocolate is now normal, and pure organic dark chocolate is getting harder and harder to find on shop shelves.
Let's take a closer look at vegan cocoa powder and what you should look out for.
Cocoa powder is generally considered vegan, and if you see it as an ingredient, it would be reasonably safe to assume it doesn't contain animal products.
That being said, there are still plenty of cocoa powders on the market that have either been sweetened with sugar or creamed with milk.
So in case you see it is an ingredient in other products, the best thing you can do is check for any allergy warnings.
If it does indeed contain dairy or cocoa powder, that fact needs - no, must be highlighted on the label.
But those who buy pure cocoa powder won't have any trouble with unwanted dairy - they don't call it pure for nothing!
But worst thing of all is when cocoa is unethically and unsustainably sourced, which we'll look at in more detail now.
Most people view being vegan as eliminating animal cruelty in all its forms, yet they often forget that we're animals too—giant furless monkeys in denial.
A lot of chocolate is produced in terrible conditions. The cocoa powder is harvested and processed with forced child labor, and the working conditions are horrible.
This is largely centered in West Africa, where due to extreme poverty, children have to work to support their families. They are promised a good wage, which they never get, and some are even sold (literal slavery) by traffickers to other cocoa farms.
The actual harvesting of cocoa is incredibly dangerous and often involves using machetes and chainsaws, not a job you would want a child to be doing. Accidents are depressingly common.
Even if they manage to avoid harm from the job itself, they are often beaten if they don't complete tasks quickly enough.
With this level of cruelty and misery at the heart of it, you can see why many find simply labeling cocoa powder as vegan problematic. There are a few ways to try and ensure that your cocoa powder is cruelty-free, though.
Looking out for organic and fair-trade labels on your cocoa doesn't just make them more expensive it also ensures they are a lot more ethically sourced. This, for most vegans, is a small price to pay. Let's look a little closer at what each label means in detail.
The majority of organic cocoa beans originate from Latin America, which, for the most part, doesn't have the same child labor and slavery concerns as West Africa. The farms operate as naturally as possible to grow and process their cocoa powder and sell it for a fair price, passed onto the farm and its employees.
The fair-trade and slavery-free labels also have some fairly strict guidelines on what a cocoa producer has to do to earn those pretty little badges on their labeling. While they might not be foolproof, any sneaky attempts to bypass their minimum requirements are usually found.
In the past, there have been attempts by farms that use child labor to sell on either pure cocoa or cocoa powder to fair trade suppliers in West Africa. Still, they are usually discovered fairly quickly based on the reports and research I've looked into.
If you want an ethical and vegan cacao powder why not check out our Navitas Organic Cacao Powder review as it’s one of the best I’ve found so far.
If you are buying vegan dark chocolate bars or cocoa powder, another thing to keep an eye out is added sugar. This isn't just for the health of your teeth and waistline, either.
The fact is that sugar is another problematic ingredient that shouldn't necessarily be considered vegan.
A lot of processed sugar is given its pure white hue by using bone char. So while the end product might not have actual traces of animal products in it, they are certainly used in its production.
You cannot have bone char without dead animals, and so for most vegans, sugar is on the no-no list.
Like cocoa powder, sugar also has a long history with slavery. While that has largely been stamped out in the modern world, sugar produced in poorer countries still runs the risk of child labor or unfair wages for those that harvest and process the product.
If you are going to buy sugar, it's best to purchase fair-trade, organic, brown sugar, which should ensure the workers' ethical conditions and less of a chance that they used bone char during the product's processing.
While they sound similar in name and originate from the same source, cacao and cocoa are vastly different in taste, nutrition, and cost.
But what is the actual difference between the two?
Essentially cacao is the rawer and less processed form of pure cocoa powder. It is said to be one of the richest sources of antioxidants and provides a very healthy dose of magnesium .
Cacao contains more fiber and calories than cocoa or cocoa powder does, but also significantly more nutrients.
Cocoa powder is made from heating and processing the cacao beans. It has fewer calories and a bit more protein due to the process. It retains some of its health benefits when consumed in moderation and is typically cheaper and more easily sourced.
Yes, cocoa powder is vegan as long as you understand what to look for.
Avoid sugar and always reach for fair-trade and organic labels. If possible, cacao powder is a more natural and organic form, and the cacao beans provide a little more nutrition for your baking needs.