Chocolate itself is vegan, unless animal milk or other dairy is added. So don’t worry, dear reader, you can find plenty of plant-based and dairy-free chocolate. And we’re here to help.
It’s a safe bet to say that either you or someone you know is a serious chocoholic. So it should come as no surprise that chocolate is the single most popular sweet treat around the world! We go through more than 3 million tons of cocoa beans every year, according to the World Cocoa Foundation. Holy cacao, that’s a lot!
The good news for all your sweet lovers is that there are more tempting vegan candy and chocolate options than ever before, whether you’re baking, snacking, or downright indulging.
Believe it or not, all raw, unrefined chocolate is naturally vegan.
Made from fermented cocoa beans, the seeds are dried, roasted, and ground. When placed under such intense pressure, the resulting cocoa mass separates into cocoa powder (which is the same as what you might bake with) and cocoa butter (unrelated to dairy butter and completely plant-based.) Pure chocolate is then created by combining cocoa solids and cocoa butter in a very specific ratio, depending on the desired output.
This chocolate has nothing added and is thus very bitter. You might understand the flavor if you’ve ever accidentally bitten into a bar of baker’s chocolate, which is 100% cacao. In most cases, sugar is added to enhance the flavor along with an emulsifier like soy lecithin or sunflower lecithin, to keep the texture consistently smooth. You can expect to find this basic formula for most dark or semi-sweet chocolate.
If you’re looking for a specific type of chocolate—such as chocolate chips, dark chocolate, or white chocolate—check out the following guides.
If only the issue was as easy as black and white, or dark and milk chocolate. Some manufacturers still add milk fat, milk solids, cream, lactose, or whey to “dark” chocolate, so always double-check labels.
Conventional milk chocolate incorporates powdered milk, which is an obvious nonstarter, but now there are many innovative chocolatiers using dairy-free alternatives, including soymilk powder, coconut milk powder, rice milk powder, oat flour, cashews, hemp seeds, and more.
Most mainstream white chocolate options do involve dairy, but vegan white chocolate brands are coming to life and we share several below! White chocolate relies primarily on milk solids for its creamy consistency. But as we know, milk can come from plants as well as from cows!
Vegan options will typically rely on more cocoa butter along with the same dairy-free components you might find in vegan milk chocolate, with an extra dose of vanilla, but without the cocoa liqueur that creates the classic dark color and full chocolate flavor. When in doubt, check and double check those labels!
This opaque phase shows up all too frequently like a veiled threat on many chocolates. Even when there are no dairy ingredients listed on the label, manufacturers often use shared equipment to process all their confections, including those that contain milk. To be safe on the offhand chance that there might be minuscule cross contamination, that little disclaimer is a way of warning those with severe allergies.
For the sake of ethical veganism, it shouldn’t be a deterrent. However, if you’re extremely sensitive or highly allergic to all traces of dairy, seek out 100% certified vegan brands to be safe.
When you want to indulge without any worries, invest in the highest quality brands that produce only vegan products and can ensure purity throughout. Every single option in the lineup for these brands is free of animal products and many other common allergens. Let’s hear it for the makers of the best vegan chocolate in the world!
There’s definitely room on the dessert menu for more sweet options, and these brands should be applauded for their efforts to be more inclusive and offer vegan treats alongside pre-existing options with less suitable ingredients. These are the brands that have something for everyone:
When a plain chocolate bar just won’t cut it, there are plenty of richer treats to enjoy. Whether you’re craving a nostalgic classic candy bar or high-end gourmet truffle, these are just a few drool-worthy treats you’ll want to tear into ASAP.
The first major brand of vegan chocolate chips in the U.S. was Enjoy Life, but today there are dozens of options for dairy-free chocolate chips! Here are a few brands that have vegan options.
Beloved the world over, Nutella is the hazelnut and cocoa spread that goes on everything, even breakfast toast. Unfortunately, the original namesake contains milk, but there’s an abundance of alternate options on the market today:
You can also make your own with our homemade vegan nutella recipe!
If you’re craving some cacao goodness after reading through this list, don’t worry! We’ve got plenty of chocolate filled, dipped, covered, and drenched recipes for you to enjoy right now:
Chocolate has been around for over 4,000 years, beginning in ancient Mesoamerica, which is also known as Mexico today. For many centuries, it was only a beverage, not a candy or confection, used largely during rituals as medicine or an aphrodisiac.
The real chocolate revolution started in 1828 with the invention of the mechanized chocolate press, making mass production of solid bars possible.
Unfortunately, when Swiss confectioner, Daniel Peter, developed the first solid milk chocolate using condensed milk in 1875, future vegans suffered a severe setback. Wildly popular especially with children for its milder, sweeter, and fudgy flavor, almost all chocolate products had a dairy component for many years to come.
Only in the past decade or so have we seen incredible strides forward by established brands to meet the demands of changing dietary preferences. Hot off the presses in mid-2021, industry giant Hershey’s launched a commercially available oat milk chocolate bar, free of all animal products. Hot on their heels across the pond, beloved British staple Cadbury has announced that 100% plant-based bars will be hitting store shelves soon.
What does the future of vegan chocolate hold? It’s hard to say for sure, but at this rate, it seems safe to say that it’ll be sweet!
For such a sweet treat, there’s a shockingly unsavory underbelly to some chocolate production. Child labor, human trafficking, and outright slavery is par for the course when bigger brands scale up production while keeping costs low. It’s estimated that eight million children in the Ivory Coast and Ghana may be trapped in a lifetime of toil on cacao farms, earning less than $2 per day while living in squalid condition. Chocolate slavery is a very big issue and unfortunately, unless a brand is very vocal about ethical sourcing and making It abundantly clear that they’re a slave-free chocolate brand, you can only assume the opposite.
You can find our which vegan chocolates are slavery-free using the Food Empowerment Project chocolate list. They have done (and continue to do) extensive research to determine which vegan chocolate brands are truly ethical. Their online chocolate directory makes it easy for consumers like you and me to put our dollars toward companies with kind, ethical, and worker-friendly practices.
Just like coffee beans, bananas, sugar, and cotton, the Fairtrade label can be applied chocolate. This certification ensures better prices and decent working conditions for farmers and workers in developing countries. When you see that label on a package, it’s more than just a nice insignia; it’s a promise that you’re helping support a more ethical and sustainable approach that guarantees benefits to everyone involved.
This guide to the best vegan chocolate brands and options is not sponsored and thoughts are our own. The plant-based chocolate brand status is subject to change. We’ll update this often but please always double-check ingredient lists in case. Please note that this article may contain affiliate links which supports our work at World of Vegan.