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Is Dark Chocolate Vegan?

Jason Hughes
Published by Jason Hughes
Fact checked by Markus Oliver, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: May 25, 2022

Who doesn’t love chocolate? Adopting a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to get rid of chocolate; it just means you have to choose your chocolate more carefully. Dark chocolate is a delicious vegan treat loaded with health benefits. However, there are many brands of dark chocolate that still use milk and butter. Additionally, some mass-produced brands use the same equipment to make dark chocolate as they do milk chocolate, which means you’re risking cross-contamination. 

So in short, yes–dark chocolate can be vegan. By understanding the process in which dark chocolate is made and looking for the right ingredients, you can choose a healthy vegan dark chocolate to add a sweet treat to your diet. 

How is Dark Chocolate Made?

The history of chocolate dates back to 2000 BC, when the Mayan people of Central America first drank chocolate as a bitter, fermented beverage mixed with spices or wine. 

Here’s a brief overview of how dark chocolate is made:

  1. The cacao pods are cut from the cacao tree, which grow near the equator and are typically harvested in Latin America and Africa. The pods grow up to 12 inches long.
  2. The seeds are then extracted from the cacao pod, usually 30-50 seeds per pod.
  3. The seeds (also called beans) are then cleaned and fermented for 2-9 days, typically under banana leaves on the ground. During this stage, they develop the dark brown/purplish color and chocolate flavor. 
  4. The beans are then dried and roasted before being shipped out and traded on the international market. 
  5. The shells of the beans are separated from the cocoa nibs (also called the meat).
  6. The cocoa nibs are then ground into a chocolate liquor and separated from the cocoa butter (the fatty portion).
  7. This liquid is refined and mixed with cocoa butter and sugar. 

This intensive process shows just how delicate making chocolate can be. It requires patience, care, and a deep understanding of the cacao tree and the land. 

Are Chocolate Chips Vegan?

Yes, dark chocolate chips and dark chocolate are wonderful, vegan-friendly treats! 

How to find the best vegan dark chocolate: 

  • Avoid mass-produced brands, which may cause cross-contamination with non-vegan chocolate and other products.
  • Choose vegan chocolate with 70% cocoa or more
  • Check the labels to make sure no milk or butter is added. Look for ingredients that only include cocoa, cocoa butter, and sugar. It’s best to choose unrefined sugar or coconut sugar, as some white sugar is not vegan and uses bone char during the refining process.
  • Select chocolate with a “Fair-Trade” label, which certifies that the chocolate does not use child labor and pays a fair wage to workers.

The Health Benefits of Vegan Dark Chocolate 

There are numerous health benefits to eating vegan dark chocolate. Unlike most desserts heavy in sugar and saturated fat, dark chocolate only has a few ingredients and comes from natural, plant-based sources. Avoid brands that contain refined sugar and artificial flavors for the best quality of vegan dark chocolate.

Dark Chocolate is Rich in Nutrients

Dark chocolate is a good source of iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and flavonols. Studies show that flavonols may help prevent heart disease, as they support the production of nitric oxide in the inner cell lining of blood vessels. 

Can Help Reduce Risk of Heart Disease and Inflammation

The high concentration of flavonols in dark chocolate improves blood flow, which in turns reduces inflammation and lowers blood pressure. In the long run, this could reduce the risk of diabetes. It is well-documented that pure dark chocolate is good for the heart. 

In a study conducted with the Kuna tribe off the coast of Panama, research showed that their population had extremely low rates of hypertension, cancer, and diabetes. It was reported that they consumed up to 5 cocoa beverages a day.

Lower in Sugar

Compared to milk chocolate, dark chocolate has far less sugar because it contains more cocoa. Ten grams of dark chocolate (or 1 big square) contains about 2 grams of sugar, while the same piece of milk chocolate contains 5 grams of sugar. The sugar content is even less the higher the percentage of cacao. Dark chocolate may taste more bitter because of this, but it’s an acquired taste that many people enjoy. 

Contains Anandamide, The “Love Ingredient”

Chocolate is rich in anandamide, a compound that triggers a serotonin response in the brain. This is why chocolate is associated with Valentine’s Day and other love-filled holidays. When serotonin is released in the brain, we experience feelings of love and pleasure. This feel-good chemical can help us relax and reduce stress, which in turn is good for our physical and emotional health. 

The history of chocolate dates back to 2000 BC, when the Mayan people of Central America first drank chocolate as a bitter, fermented beverage mixed with spices or wine. 

Vegan Dark Chocolate FAQs

Is Dark Chocolate Gluten-Free?

Yes, dark chocolate in its purest form is gluten-free, which means it does not contain any wheat products. However, some chocolate is made in the same factories where wheat gluten is used, which means there could be cross-contamination. Additionally, many dark chocolate products may add other ingredients, such as graham crackers, cookie crumbles, or pretzels. Always check the labels to be sure. 

Is Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Vegan?

No, most of Hershey’s chocolate products are not vegan. Their popular “Special Dark” chocolate contains milk fat and regular milk. While they did release an “Oat Made” plant-based chocolate in select retailers, none of their chocolate is traditionally vegan.

Is Lindt Dark Chocolate Vegan?

Similarly, most of Lindt’s chocolate products are not vegan and their dark chocolate contains milk. However, with the popularity of plant-based products, you can find non-dairy Lindt chocolate made with oat milk. They do sell a 99% cocoa dark chocolate bar that is vegan, due to the fact that most of the bar is simply cocoa and cocoa butter, and does not contain extra ingredients. 

Is Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Vegan?

Most Ghirardelli chocolates contain milk, which means they are not vegan. However, their 72% Cacoa Twilight Delight Bar is in fact, vegan. This bar contains unsweetened cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar, and soy lecithin. 

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