June 27, 2022
With National Chocolate Day on July 7th, we have more than enough reasons to talk about how much we love this tasty treat in all of its forms. But first, we have one question to settle: is chocolate vegan?
From the colorfully wrapped bars lining grocery store shelves to cheeky quotes plastered on wall art, tee shirts, and memes we share over our social media accounts– we’re a world of chocolate lovers, and we love it loudly!
And we have– for thousands of years. Over 5,000 years ago, ancient Mesoamerican people regularly consumed chocolate and cacao. It evolved over the centuries from their frothy chocolate–chili-vanilla drinks to modern mass-produced milk chocolate bars, like the ones famed industrialist Milton Hershey debuted in 1903. Our love for chocolate has existed almost as long as humankind.
With an endless variety of flavors and textures, from chewy, caramel-filled chocolates, to smooth and creamy milk chocolates, to bars peppered with crispy, crunchy rice, it’s no wonder this sweet treat has endured! There are chocolates out there for every appetite.
More than ever, that means vegans can get in on the chocolate-eating action and indulge in all the yummy offerings out there! Need proof? The National Confectioners’ Association reports that in 2021 chocolate sales earned $21.1 billion in the US alone.
So, here’s the question. Is chocolate vegan?
The answer to that is: sometimes, but not always. Here’s the thing: actual chocolate is entirely plant-based, BUT many chocolate bars and candies often include animal products like cow’s milk.
In this quick guide, we’re going to break down:
- The basics of making chocolate
- What non-vegan ingredients to look out for
- (Hint: you’re in the right place.)
It all starts with the beans that make up those bars!
How is chocolate made?
If you’re anything like us, you’ve come across the comical quote, “Chocolate comes from cocoa, which is a tree. That makes it a plant. Chocolate is salad.”
This isn’t just good for a giggle, it’s also sort of true!
Chocolate does come from plants! It is entirely vegan in origin!
This is because chocolate is made up of cacao beans that grow on Theobroma Cacao trees in Central America, South America, and West Africa. Up to a pound in weight, these leathery football-shaped pods contain between 40 to 60 cacao beans– the key ingredient in chocolate.
Once the beans are hand-harvested from the trees they’re put through an extensive nine step process which includes cleaning, drying, fermenting, roasting, and grinding.
Once the “shells” from each bean are removed, the bits that are held inside, the cacao nibs, are separated out.
These cacao nibs are then finely ground and become cocoa mass.
Cocoa mass is then transformed into cocoa solids, semi-solids, or liquids– such as cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and cocoa liquor.
Cocoa butter, contrary to the name, doesn’t contain any cow’s milk. It gets its name from the buttery appearance and texture of the fats extracted from the cacao beans.
What are the other ingredients in chocolate?
There’s not a chocolate company out there that only uses cocoa or cacao butter, powder, or liquor in their recipe.
How boring would that be?!
Common ingredients added to chocolate recipes include sugars, emulsifiers, flavorings, extracts, nuts, dried fruits, seeds, and even grains like crisped rice or quinoa.
At Trupo Treats, we use cocoa butter and cacao liquor as our base. In our Mylk Chocolate Classic bars, we add organic cane sugar and vanilla extract for sweetness and coconut milk powder to create our irresistibly creamy and rich melt-in-your-mouth texture. Sunflower lecithin holds it all together. Our new Mylk Chocolate Caramel Truffles are filled with a dreamy, chewy, dairy-free blend of coconut cream, brown rice syrup, and organic cane sugar with a dash of vanilla and sea salt.
So what about chocolate isn’t vegan?
The dairy ingredients, of course!
When milk meets cocoa: the rise of the milk chocolate bar
In America, the chocolate market is overwhelmingly crowded with milk chocolate. After all, the excess of dairy-filled chocolates is what led our founders Brian and Charlie Trupo to dream up vegan alternatives that conjure up the nostalgia of our favorite childhood chocolate bars.
Here’s the thing–in some of the most recognizable mass-marketed chocolates in the US, there’s more cow’s milk than the cocoa butter that makes chocolate what it is! This is because the US Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, dictates that in order for a chocolate product to be marketed as milk chocolate it needs to contain at least 12% milk solids and 3.39% milk fats with a minimum of 10% chocolate liquor. Yes, you read that correctly! Milk chocolate in the US requires more milk than cocoa, and it doesn’t need to have any cocoa butter– just liquor, in other words, liquified cocoa beans!
Because of this, for decades dairy-free people were limited to dark chocolates . . . and even then sometimes manufacturers would stealthily slip some animal products like milk fat, butter oil or casein into their recipes. (We’re looking at you Brookside and Lindt.)
When did cow’s milk become a must-have ingredient in chocolate bars and candies?
It all began in 1875 when Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé created the first commercial milk chocolate bar. By adding condensed cow’s milk to their base recipe they created a new sweeter, creamier variety of chocolate. It quickly became a hit among everyday chocolate eaters and soon dominated the entire chocolate market.
Even in 2022, as more milks, cheeses, creams, butters, and other traditional dairy products turn to plant-based ingredients like oats, and cashews, more often than not cow’s milk is still the top ingredient in standard chocolate bars.
What should you look out for when avoiding non-vegan chocolate?
Even the most skilled label reader can sometimes get caught up with just how wordy chocolate bar ingredient lists have become. To save you the trouble of puzzling out which ingredients come from animals when you check the ingredient list, here’s a handy list!
Beyond “milk” here are other cow’s milk ingredients and derivatives to look out for:
- Whole milk powder
- Butter and butter oil
- Milk solids
- Milk fat
- Cream and heavy cream
Are there other ingredients I need to look out for?
Yes! When you check the ingredients on many commercial chocolate products you might come across confectioner’s glaze. Also known as candy glaze, confectioner’s resin, or the food additive number E904, this is another troublingly non-vegan ingredient in many chocolates.
What is confectioner’s glaze?
Confectioner’s glaze sounds elegant but in reality, it’s a fancy way of saying beetle juice! This “glaze” is fashioned from the secretions of female lac beetles, and is what gives certain chocolate confections – like chocolate-covered nuts– their glistening shine and hearty crunchy shell. No thanks!
Luckily, Trupo Treats is disrupting the milk chocolate game by making an animal-free chocolate bar we can all enjoy!
Why choose our chocolate?
Here at Trupo Treats, we launched ourselves into the chocolate industry determined to make a vegan milk chocolate worth obsessing over. Driven by the desire to capture the nostalgia of all our favorite childhood chocolate bars while avoiding dairy products that harm cows, our chocolate has become beloved in vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, and plant-based communities.
Our irresistibly smooth and creamy vegan milk chocolate bars and truffles put cocoa before cows. Ditching dairy is just one of the ways we show our compassion for and commitment to making kind choices for animals, people, and the planet. We use only the finest ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients and we give back part of our proceeds to farmed animal sanctuaries and rescues.
These rescues and sanctuaries provide homes and lifetime care for animals rescued from factory farms and other cruel, abusive, and neglectful situations. To date, we’ve partnered with over 80 animal rescues, and given more than $10,000, and counting!
Whether it's your first time trying vegan milk chocolate or you're a seasoned veteran at plant-based chocolate eating, you can try Trupo Treats here.
Written by Victoria Tomis
Content Writer and Editor specializing in veganism, plant-based living, and feline health and wellness blogging.