Chocolate chips are one of the most common baking items in the store. Whether you’re making vegan chocolate chip cookies, brownies, or another tasty pastry, there are lots of recipes (both vegan and non-vegan) that call for chocolate chips.
At first, most people assume that chocolate chips are always vegan. However, that’s not always the case…
So, are chocolate chips vegan?
It depends on the type of chocolate chips you’re looking at. Some chocolate chips are vegan while others contain animal by-products, such as milk, butter, or milk-derived flavoring.
Sweeter chocolate chips may also contain white sugar, which many vegans try to avoid. Bittersweet or dark chocolate chips tend to be the most vegan-friendly chocolate chips.
There are a number of different types of chocolate chips that you’ll find on store shelves; milk chocolate, bittersweet, semi-sweet, dark chocolate, and white chocolate chips are the most common.
In today’s post, I’m going to answer all of the vegan-related questions you’ve ever wondered about chocolate chips.
I’ll outline some of the most common non-vegan ingredients in chocolate chips, explain the difference between different types of chocolate chips, and give you a full breakdown of the main ingredients used to make chocolate chips.
Plus, I’ll even show you some of my favorite vegan-friendly chocolate chip brands! Let’s take a deep dive into the wonderful (if confusing) world of chocolate.
How Do You Know If Chocolate Chips Are Vegan?
When it comes to chocolate chips (or really anything with chocolate in it), vegans need to be aware of the ingredients. Like most sweet chocolate candy, chocolate chips are rarely ever made from pure chocolate.
They often contain a number of animal by-products designed to enhance the flavor and give each brand a unique taste.
The best way to tell for sure if a brand of chocolate chips is vegan or not is to read the ingredients label.
I know I say this a lot, but the point still stands. Since food companies are constantly changing the ingredients they use in their products, what’s vegan this year might not be vegan next year.
I’ve watched some of my favorite vegan-friendly foods turn into non-vegan foods. Conversely, I’ve also seen non-vegan foods like Twizzlers change their ingredients and become vegan.
Of course, one of the easiest ways to find vegan chocolate chips is to look for vegan-certified chocolate chip brands. These are typically branded with the vegan “V” symbol or have another label on the packaging that says vegan-friendly.
The only problem is that many mainstream grocery stores aren’t that vegan-friendly and may not carry specialty vegan brands. If you’re looking for specialty vegan products, your best options are going to be Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, and Amazon.
That being said, most grocery stores do carry vegan-friendly chocolate chips. You’ll just have to get used to reading the ingredients labels to know for sure.
Common Non-Vegan Ingredients In Chocolate Chips
So, why are some chocolate chips vegan while others are not? As I said, it all comes back to the ingredients.
Generally speaking, the more natural the brand of chocolate chips is, the more likely they are to be vegan. The more sweetened and sugary the chocolate chips are, the less likely they are to be vegan.
To help you know what to look out for, here’s a simple table breaking down the key non-vegan ingredients that you may find in chocolate chips:
|Non-Vegan Ingredients In Chocolate Chips||Where They Come From|
|Refined White Sugar||Cane sugar, by itself, is almost always vegan. It’s just pure sugar crystals that have been extracted from sugarcane juice. The problem lies with refined white sugar, which is the most common sweetener used in mainstream chocolate chips. To turn the natural brown sugar into white sugar, it must first be filtered through animal bone char. This means that white sugar directly supports the meat industry, and therefore isn’t vegan-friendly.|
|Milkfat||One of the most common ingredients in semi-sweet chocolate chips and milk chocolate chips is milkfat. As the name implies, this product comes directly from milk, which is non-vegan as it exploits cows. Milkfat is essentially just the pure fat that’s taken from whole milk and heavy cream. It’s added to give chocolate chips a creamier texture but is unfortunately not vegan.|
|Milk||Pure milk is another ingredient that’s often found in milk chocolate, white chocolate, and other sweetened chocolate chips. As I mentioned, though, milk is not vegan.|
|Other Milk By-Products||Milk and milkfat are pretty easy to identify as non-vegan products. However, there are several other milk by-products you should look out for. These include whey, casein, and sodium caseinate. All of these are proteins that are separated from the milk during the cheese-making process.|
|Butter||Although it’s not very common, you may find butter used in some brands of chocolate chips. Butter is a dairy product that’s the result of churning cream, milk, and salt, so it’s non-vegan.|
Is Cocoa Vegan?
The main ingredient in all chocolate chips is cocoa (or chocolate). Thankfully, cocoa is 100% plant-based and is okay for vegans to consume. In fact, cocoa is actually the healthiest ingredient in chocolate chips.
Some of the key benefits of consuming cocoa include:
- Improved mood
- Light energy boost
- Decreased inflammation
- Lower blood sugar levels
That’s because cocoa, by itself, is a natural bean that’s often been used in herbal medicine throughout history. In fact, ancient Aztecs consumed a cocoa drink as part of a ritual to thank the land for its bounty. It’s a bit bitter-tasting, but you can make your own using raw cocoa and chili:
If you want to learn more about cocoa, be sure to check out my last post on using cocoa in your vegan diet.
Is Cocoa Butter Vegan?
Cocoa butter is often a stumbling block for some vegans due to the latter part of the word – butter. Some vegans mistakenly assume that cocoa butter is some type of mixture of cocoa and dairy-based butter. At least, that’s what I used to think before I started researching my food.
Lucky for us, this isn’t the case.
Cocoa butter is actually a creamy substance that’s made from the gooey butter that coats the outside of the chocolate beans. To help you understand, here’s a quick rundown of how chocolate and cocoa butter are made, from harvest to shelf:
- Cocoa starts off as large pods that grow from the cacao tree, a tropical plant that’s indigenous to South and Central America.
- These large pods are chopped off when they’re ripe and split open.
- There’s a thick layer of opaque-colored cream covering small cacao beans at the center of the pod.
- The cream is separated from the beans and used to make cocoa butter.
- The beans are sun-dried (or baked) before being crushed into cocoa powder.
It’s a pretty cool process. Check out this cool video to learn more:
All of that being said, cocoa butter is 100% vegan, as it’s an all-natural, plant-based cream that’s extracted from cacao pods. It’s a healthy fat that’s often used in vegan lotion, soap, and shampoo. It’s also used for baking and is often added to chocolate chips!
Is Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chips Vegan?
Trader Joe’s is one of the best vegan-friendly grocery store chains in the country. There aren’t a lot of locations; but if you’re lucky enough to live close to one, you should check it out! Even though they aren’t exclusively vegan, they have some of the best vegan snacks you’ll ever try.
To top it off, Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chips are 100% vegan!
They’re made using cane sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, and vanilla extract. So the next time you need to bake some vegan chocolate chip cookies, swing by Trader Joe’s to pick up all of your baking goods.
Are Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chips Vegan?
Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chips are easily the most popular brand of chocolate chips, and they can be found in almost every grocery store in the United States. Unfortunately, though, Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chips are NOT vegan.
That’s because they are semi-sweet chocolate chips that are made with white sugar, milkfat, and milk-derived flavoring.
Are White Chocolate Chips Vegan?
Sadly, white chocolate is never vegan. This is because, by regulation, it’s required to contain at least 14% milk.
What Are Chocolate Chips Made Of?
To give you a better understanding of what exactly is in chocolate chips, here’s a full breakdown of the ingredients in Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips.
Refined white sugar is the number one ingredient in most semi-sweet chocolate chips. As I mentioned above, though, the process used to refine cane sugar into white sugar involves animal bone char. This is a special type of charcoal that’s made from the fire-baked bones of cows and pigs.
Chocolate (pure cocoa) is the second main ingredient used in chocolate chips. It’s vegan-friendly and is a plant-based powder made from roasted cocoa beans.
3) Cocoa Butter
To give the chocolate chips a creamier texture, cocoa butter is added to the mixture. The flavor blends very well with the cocoa powder, as both substances come from the same plant.
Milkfat is the second non-vegan ingredient used in most semi-sweet chocolate chip brands. It’s the pure fat that’s skimmed off of milk. This substance is very similar to butter and is used to give chocolate chips an even creamier texture.
5) Soy Lecithin
Soy lecithin is a vegan-friendly oil that’s derived from soy. It’s used both as a natural preservative and an emulsifier. The soy lecithin changes the pH of the food so that bacteria can’t feed on it.
The oil also acts as an emulsifier and helps hold the chocolate chips together in their perfect shape.
6) Natural Flavors
Last but not least, there are “natural flavors” added to these chocolate chips. This is kind of a tricky area, as Nestle isn’t exactly forthcoming about what flavors they use in their product.
There’s almost certainly some natural vanilla flavoring, as it’s a common ingredient in semi-sweet chips.
However, there’s also a good chance that the chocolate chips contain natural flavoring from milk.
Pro Tip: Go For Dark Chocolate Chips
The truth is, that most of the sweet, light-colored chocolate chips on the market are going to contain some type of dairy or white sugar. There are several different brands of vegan-friendly semi-sweet chocolate chips, such as Trader Joe’s, however, it’s not the norm.
Dark chocolate chips are almost always vegan, as they don’t contain milk or milk fat.
That being said, some dark chocolate chips do contain white sugar, so be sure to look for dark chocolate chips that are made with cane sugar.
What’s The Difference Between Dark Chocolate & Milk Chocolate?
I guess this is a good place to break down the difference between the different types of chocolate. Thankfully, there are clearly defined differences that apply to all chocolate, no matter what brand you’re buying:
- Dark Chocolate: 30-80% cocoa, while the rest is a chocolate liqueur, cocoa butter, and sugar.
- Milk Chocolate: 10-40% cocoa, while the rest is sugar, milk, and cocoa butter.
- Semi-Sweet Chocolate: Around 35% cocoa, while the rest is sugar, cocoa butter, and milkfat.
- Bittersweet Chocolate: 35-80% cocoa, more sugar than dark chocolate, contains chocolate liqueur.
- Unsweetened Chocolate: This is a pure mixture made from cocoa powder and cocoa butter that’s used for baking.
The Best Vegan Chocolate Chips Brands
Here’s a list of some of my favorite vegan chocolate chips brands so you can see for yourself:
- Trader Joe’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
- Evolved Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
- Lily’s Dark Chocolate Chips
- Equal Exchange Organic Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
The Verdict – What Chocolate Chips Are Vegan-Friendly?
Your best bet to find vegan chocolate chips is to look for organic semi-sweet chocolate chips or try to find dark chocolate chips, as they usually don’t contain any dairy. Thankfully, vegan chocolate chips are relatively easy to find at your local health foods store or online from Amazon!
If you love chocolate chip cookies and don’t want to go through the time it takes to bake them, be sure to check out my list of the best vegan cookies next!