There’s an age-old saying that goes something like, “Chocolate makes the world go round.”
To be fair, chocolate is one of the most popular substances in the world and has spread from South America throughout almost every country on the globe. Dark chocolate happens to be my favorite type of chocolate!
Is dark chocolate vegan, though?
Most dark chocolate, by itself, is 100% vegan-friendly. However, certain ingredients added to dark chocolate may not be vegan. Chocolatiers often add non-vegan ingredients like milk solids, caramel, gelatin, or whey to dark chocolate candy to add texture or flavor.
The good news, though, is that most plain dark chocolate is perfectly safe to eat on a vegan diet!
In today’s post, I’m going to show you what’s in dark chocolate, explain how it’s made, and answer some of the most common questions about eating dark chocolate on a vegan diet.
Are you ready to activate your sweet tooth?
Is Dark Chocolate Dairy-Free?
If you go to your local supermarket, walk down the candy aisle, and read some of the nutrition labels, you’ll notice that many of the chocolate options on the shelf contain added dairy. Some of the most popular dairy additives in chocolate candy include:
- Milk solids
When milk is added to chocolate, it does two things:
- It makes the chocolate sweeter
- It gives the chocolate an extra-creamy texture
However, the presence of these milk additives is precisely what makes milk-containing chocolate non-vegan. That being said, milk is usually only added to milk chocolate.
Dark chocolate, on the other hand, rarely contains any dairy. The allure of dark chocolate is to enjoy the bittersweet earthy undertones that real cacao and chocolate are known for instead of masking them with extra sugar and dairy.
What Is Dark Chocolate Made From?
If you look at most milk chocolate, you’ll notice that the labels usually indicate that the candy contains 50% or less cacao. Although you may find some milk chocolate that contains up to 60% cacao, 50% is the most common.
Conversely, most dark chocolate contains at least 60% to 70% cacao. The darkest, most bittersweet dark chocolates contain upwards of 90% cacao.
The higher the concentration of cacao, the less sweet the chocolate will taste.
Now that you know what dark chocolate is, you’re probably curious about what goes into it… So, here’s a brief list of the most common ingredients in dark chocolate.
Cacao solids are just a fancy way of saying cacao powder. Cacao is an ancient substance that’s harvested in the jungles of Mexico and South America. The ancient Mayans and Aztecs were the first to bake the cacao seeds, grind them into a fine powder, and make chocolate drinks and food.
Today, you can find 100% pure cacao powder on the shelf at any grocery store. It’s often used for baking and can also be used for cacao rituals, a trending new ritual rooted in ancient tradition.
Dark chocolate usually contains between 70% and 90% of pure cacao powder. By itself, cacao is known for having a nutty, slightly bitter, slightly sweet flavor.
Consuming high concentrations of cacao is linked to improved mood and energy, which is another reason why so many people love dark chocolate!
Before cacao is turned into powder, the cacao seeds are roasted and pressed through a hydraulic machine designed to push all of the oils and fats out of the seeds.
The extracted oil is known as cocoa butter and is a great source of healthy fats.
When the cocoa butter is added back into the dark chocolate mix, the resulting dark chocolate will have a thicker, creamier texture. It will also be a little bit more filling and nutritious.
Sugar or Chocolate Liqueur
Last but not least, a little bit of sugar is added to the chocolate. Typically the sugar content of dark chocolate ranges between 7% and 30%, depending on the concentration of cacao in the final product.
While sugar is the most commonly used sweetener, some chocolatiers may use chocolate liqueur instead. Using liqueur instead of cane sugar can give the dark chocolate a richer, more complex flavor.
Difference Between Dark Chocolate & Milk Chocolate
If this is your first time learning about chocolate, I understand that this can be a lot to take in all at once. So, here’s a quick table breaking down some of the key differences between dark chocolate and milk chocolate:
|Typically contains less raw cacao. Most milk chocolate uses a mixture consisting of less than 50% cacao powder.
|May contain up to 90% cacao powder. Most dark chocolate ranges between 70% and 80% pure cacao powder, though.
|Contains milk, cream, or another milk derivative used to create smoother, creamier chocolate.
|Usually dark chocolate doesn’t contain dairy. Instead, dark chocolate is traditionally made using raw cocoa butter extracted from the cacao seed.
|Milk chocolate tends to be high in sugar. For this reason, milk chocolate is the most commonly used type of chocolate in candy and consumer goods.
|Dark chocolate is usually very low in sugar. Most people eat dark chocolate to enjoy the subtle bittersweet notes without all of the extra sugar.
|Since milk chocolate contains less raw cacao, it doesn’t contain as much tryptophan (the compound responsible for chocolate’s feel-good effect).
|Dark chocolate contains more raw cacao, which means it contains more tryptophan. This is why eating dark chocolate is associated with an improved mood.
Is Lindt Dark Chocolate Vegan?
If you’re looking for high-quality vegan dark chocolate, you can’t go wrong with the raw, bittersweet flavor of Lindt dark chocolate.
It’s made using five simple ingredients: cacao, cocoa butter, demerara sugar (raw and unfiltered), bourbon vanilla beans, and soy lecithin (used as an emulsifier).
While soy lecithin isn’t exactly the healthiest thing in the world, it helps to make the dark chocolate bar a little smoother.
How Can You Tell If Dark Chocolate Is Vegan Or Not?
Although you may find some vegan-certified dark chocolate on the market, the majority of dark chocolate has never been certified. That’s mostly because the certification process costs companies extra money.
The only way to tell if a dark chocolate bar or candy is vegan is to read the ingredients. If you’re just buying a plain dark chocolate bar, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s vegan.
However, if you’re buying dark chocolate candy, it could contain added dairy, caramel, and other non-vegan ingredients.
Are Dark Chocolate Brownies Vegan?
If you like dark chocolate, there’s a good chance that you also enjoy a good dark chocolate brownie from time to time. Thankfully, there are lots of vegan-friendly dark chocolate brownie mixes on the market.
Just watch out for milk chocolate brownie mixes, as they almost always contain milk solids.
Like dark chocolate bars, most dark chocolate brownie mix is dairy-free. Of course, you should always double-check your labels, just to make sure.
You’ll just need to substitute any required eggs or butter for a plant-based oil. For a complete list of the best vegan brownie mixes, check out this post I made last month!
While homemade dark chocolate brownies can always be made vegan, store-bought or fresh-baked brownies may not be vegan. Most bakeries include eggs or dairy in their dark chocolate brownies, so it’s best to avoid fresh brownies unless you know exactly what’s in them.
I hope the chocolate lovers out there are more than happy with this post! While you may have to skip out on the milk chocolate and chocolate-caramel bars, dark chocolate is perfectly safe to eat on a vegan diet.
Whether you’re eating it raw, mixing it up with your granola, or cooking it, dark chocolate is a healthier, more natural alternative to non-vegan milk chocolate.
If you’re looking for some delicious vegan milk to wash your dark chocolate down with, be sure to check out my list of the best plant-based milk brands next!