Whether you’re attempting Veganuary or are one of the 1.5 million veteran vegans in the UK, you’ll be pleased to hear that chocolate is not completely off the table: Quite the opposite! Chocolate can be a bit of a milky minefield, so here is a handy guide on choosing the right bar.
It is estimated that a staggering 68% of the world’s population is unable to properly absorb lactose, a.k.a. milk sugar.
Whether you’re vegan, lactose-intolerant, allergic to dairy, or just craving a dairy-free tea-time snack, craft chocolate is your ally.
How we feed ourselves has an undeniable impact on CO2 emissions; the dairy industry alone counts for 2% of total US greenhouse gas emissions. Choosing your chocolate carefully is one simple way to help fight climate change.
When it comes to all things cocoa, unfortunately the vegan certification is not a very good indicator.
Firstly, not many bars have a certification. Secondly, just because a bar does, it doesn’t mean that it’s any good!
Likewise, many craft chocolate makers dedicated to creating amazing vegan chocolate alone do not have the certification. Among their number are crafters and full-time vegans Solkiki and Forever Cacao. So, how to choose?
Firstly, dark chocolate should be vegan. The pure stuff should only ever be made from cocoa beans and sugar, with the optional addition of cocoa butter. Don’t be tricked; cocoa butter is the natural fat of the cocoa bean. Used to enhance the mouthfeel and texture of the final product, it’s completely plant-based. Phew!
Even so, animal products often sneakily slip into supermarket dark chocolate, most commonly under the guise of ‘whey powder’ or ‘butterfat’. Whey, a by-product of cheese, is used as a bulking agent; butterfat creates a rich mouthfeel.
But we’re having none of that. Indeed, the vast majority of dark chocolate in our chocolate library is vegan so have a browse. And the brilliant news is that milk chocolate is not off the books either.
Supermarket milk chocolate may be a definite no-go area, but vegan milk chocolate (often dubbed mylk chocolate) exists and is delightful! It makes sense. Chocolate producers jumped on the milk alternatives bandwagon to create some fabulous bars, making the most from coconut milk’s natural creaminess.
Over the years, we’ve had many a mylk bar suitable for vegans. These are among our current favourites. We’re constantly on the lookout for more.
White chocolate is a bit more tricky; milk in some form features among the three main ingredients, alongside sugar and cocoa butter. There is the occasional vegan white chocolate bar; but watch this space in the years to come…
It may be difficult ground but with a few pointers hopefully we can make vegan chocolate buying and savouring less puzzling:
Vegans and people with dairy allergy or lactose intolerance can still have chocolate!
It’s just a question of taking a little extra time to check the ingredients.
Dark chocolate should be vegan:
Supermarket dark chocolate sometimes has dairy-based fillers.
Stay away from any chocolate, even dark, that has ‘whey’, ‘milk powder’, ‘butterfat’ hidden on it’s ingredient list, or that has ‘milk’ as an allergen.
With a tiny number of exceptions, dark chocolate from craft makers is normally vegan.
Milk chocolate is not off the table.
…and neither is white chocolate.
Finally, if we stock the bar, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions, ingredient-related or otherwise.
Walk into any specialty coffee store or health food store and you’ll be accosted by a dizzying array of plant based ‘mylks’ (read on for an explanation of this spelling). And craft chocolate is increasingly in on the act too (a hat tip to the likes of Solkiki and Forever Cacao whose vegan background inspired this move many moons ago).
What’s extraordinary is why this is only happening NOW: Why has it taken so long for people to discover the delights of alternative, plant based mylks? The answer, is that these plant based mylks aren’t new, and there has been some super smart marketing.
And what is even more extraordinary is why, and how, we ever came to drink animal milk. Only a few adults living in Northern Europe, along with the Masai in Africa, and a few other people in Asia, can comfortably drink animal milk. Most human adults struggle to drink milk for want of the lactase enzyme. And even for adults with this enzyme, for most of recorded history, until pasteurisation was developed, drinking milk was a pretty risky proposition. Indeed, the Romans viewed the way “northern barbarians” drank animal milk as a sign of their depravity and lack of hygiene.
See below for a selection of alternative mylks and animal milks that make for some intriguing comparisons. But please do note that whereas the taste and texture of an oat mylk latte is pretty similar to a latte made with cow’s milk latte, ‘alternative mylk’ chocolate bars aren’t really substitutes for ‘classic milk’ bars. They are more like “inclusion”, bars with distinct flavours and textures.
How did we come to consume so much animal milk?
Quite how humans first stumbled across making yogurt, cheese, etc. isn’t recorded. But we do know that in about 5000BC enterprising farmers in modern day Croatia were making cheese out of goat’s milk. And it’s now thought that various tribes in Northern Europe were drinking milk even earlier (possibly as early as 8000BC). Indeed, it’s even suggested that being able to secure this extra source of nutrition is what enabled these tribes in the North to prosper and survive.
But drinking milk really only took off in the 20th century with the advent of pasteurisation and, ironically, war time rationing. During (and after) World War I and II, both the UK and US governments faced all sorts of other food shortages and realised that drinking milk provided a great source of calcium, protein and vitamins. So drinking milk was actively encouraged; indeed in 1946 both Attlee’s government in the UK and Truman’s in the US made milk available for free in schools (and this continued in the UK up until Mrs Thatcher’s premiership in 1971).
Why did alternative, plant-based milks (re)appear?
Plant based mylks aren’t a new invention. Drinking (and cooking with) coconut milk may well predate Northern Europe’s habits with animal milks. In 14th-century China, a soy milk called ‘doufujian’ was a popular breakfast drink where it was consumed alongside crisp, savoury doughnuts. And published references to almond and soy milk can be found as far back as 1226 and 1365 respectively (and they were clearly being drunk before this).
But it wasn’t until the late 20th and early 21st centuries that ‘alternative mylks’ really took off again. In the UK various attempts were made by The Vegan Society to make plant based milks including cabbage (which REALLY didn’t boom) and soya milk (which did a little better) in the 1940s and 1950s.
What really seems to have fuelled the growth of alternative mylks was some smart marketing and genius (re)positioning. For example, in the US in the 1960s and 1970s, soya milk sales boomed after it was packaged in ‘Tetra Paks’ and sold in supermarkets’ refrigerated aisles to be next to cows milk. Although (most) soya milk doesn’t need refrigeration, placing it next to ‘normal’ milk meant that consumers saw it as an alternative for cereals, coffee, etc.
Even more cannily, over the last decade, marketeers have enlisted the support of specialty coffee stores to market a dizzying array of mylks; varying from tiger nut to cashew, pea to hemp, oat to soya. Appealing to customers via baristas is genius; it offers an upsell to valuable consumers, a new means for baristas to demonstrate their skills (it’s hard to steam, and then combine, many plant milks with coffee), highlights environmental concerns and creates ‘vibe’ and ‘buzz’. Indeed, the Swedish behemoth of oat based mylks; Oatly; initially only supplied specialty coffee stores in the US market, and created such demand that they accidentally spawned an underground market where loyal coffee store customers were occasionally allowed to purchase Oatly for home use.
Dairy farmers have not taken this onslaught lightly. They’ve formed various initiatives (including the wonderfully named 2017 bill called the Dairy Pride Act (Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk and Cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday). And, after extensive lobbying, EU law now prevents dairy alternatives from using the word milk if “it isn’t produced by a lactating mammal“; hence the use of “mylks” and “m!lks” (hat tip to Original Beans).
But despite these efforts, plant based mylks (and “m!lks”) continue to grow. And the same now looks to be happening in chocolate.
Animal and plant-based milks with chocolate.
Chocolate bars owe “lactating animal” based milk chocolate a huge debt. Indeed, without innovations around milk chocolate, we might still be mainly drinking chocolate (up until the mid-nineteenth century, chocolate was always consumed as a drink; mainly with water, but sometimes with milk). But then in the mid nineteenth century a series of technical developments changed all this, culminating in milk chocolate (for more details see here).
Firstly, Bristol based Joseph Fry discovered that if he added cocoa butter while he was grinding roasted cocoa nibs he could create a stable solid chocolate bar. And so, in 1847, he launched what is now described as the world’s first chocolate bar for eating.
And then a a series of inventions by the Swiss during the last few decades of the 19th century turbocharged the transition from ‘drinking’ to ‘eating’ chocolate. Firstly, Rodolpe Lindt accidentally discovered ‘conching‘ and how to create smooth and silky textured bars. Next, and arguably of even great importance, was the creation of milk chocolate bars by Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle. Daniel Peter’s perseverance here was extraordinary. For over twenty years he strived to find a way to add milk to chocolate, despite the fact that chocolate violently, and rapidly, spoils if it comes into contact with any liquid as it’s being ground and conched. The answer was to use Nestle’s dried milk powder and thereby create one of the world’s first ‘bliss point‘ foods that we now know to be irresistible.
One other side note: this propensity of milk to curdle partially explains the difference between American and European preferences in milk chocolate bars. While working out how to create powdered milk, Henri Nestle also worked out how to prevent this dried milk from undergoing lipolysis (i.e., curdling). But when Hershey copied Nestle and Daniel Peter’s milk chocolate, he apparently missed this trick and so his bars acquired a somewhat different aroma. Americans, however, fell in love with these milk chocolates and their ‘tanginess’ (technically this is called ‘butyric’). And even though today American milk doesn’t have any problem with lipolysis, because American consumers enjoy a tanginess in their milk chocolate, butyric acid is added. Consequently, over here in Europe, many of us find the smell a little suspect (Google for more graphic descriptions; and do come to a virtual tasting to find out more).
Unsurprisingly, given their environmental passion, craft chocolate makers are increasingly interested in experimenting with plant based mylks. And they too have run into some interesting labelling laws. For example, Original Beans‘ new ‘Vegan M!lk‘ (note the spelling) made with almonds contains a far higher percentage of chocolate than its milk alternative (Esmereldas Milk) which is made with the same beans. This is because to call this M!lk chocolate “chocolate” it needs to have, under EU rules, at least 14% of “dry non-fat cocoa solids” which in turn means that you need 45% cocoa or more in a bar to be “chocolate”.
Comparing plant based mylk (or m!lk) and animal based bars.
One heads up: Whereas an oat cappuccino isn’t a million miles away from a cappuccino made with full fat milk in terms of texture and taste, an oat, almond, rice or coconut milk chocolate bar is VERY different from a classic or dark milk bar (a dark milk craft chocolate is over 50% cocoa, most classic milk craft chocolates are 38-48%… mass produced bars can be as low as 20% chocolate).
A craft chocolate mylk or m!lk bar is better approached as an inclusion bar. The ‘mylk’ creates distinctive flavours and aromas that are intriguing to savour. Don’t judge them as failing to replicate classic milks; that’s not what they are about.
Health and environmental considerations.
Although the dairy industry has made various attempts to improve its environmental credentials, it’s facing an uphill battle. To summarise from a recent BBC report:
CARBON EMISSIONS (Per Litre Produced)
WATER REQUIRED (Per Litre Produced)
LAND REQUIRED (Per Litre Produced)
Note: It can be claimed that some of these comparisons may not be comparing “apples with apples” in that whereas a pint of milk is a pint of milk, a pint of almond mylk can be as low as 2% almonds (the rest being various additives, emulsifiers and of course water, which is also in cow milk).
And it only gets more complex when you look at the health claims. At the risk of promoting a tonne of furious email responses, I’d like to suggest that some of the health claims for alternative milks may be even more “out there” than some of those made over the years for chocolate. Indeed you can find can find studies arguing that (tick any of the below):
Chocolate / Cashew Milk / Raw Cocoa Nibs / Oat Milk / Tiger Nut Milk / Soya Milk etc.
…can help you with (again tick as you want):
Cleaning your teeth / Improving your mental health / Matching your blood type / Fortifying your bones / etc.
Unwrapping these claims and making sense of them is hard, time consuming, and controversial. It may well be that matching your blood types to different milks may help you feel better (yes, this really is claimed by some mylk marketeers). But it’s hard to get the science sorted and feel comfortable about these assertions.
As ever, the best advice is to check the ingredients. Different soya or almond or oat milks will have radically different ingredients, additives and even use different processes. Repeated studies show that organic milk has less pesticides, antibiotics and added hormones than many supermarket milks. So, as with craft chocolate, read the small print.
And from a health perspective; don’t panic. Take comfort in the expert advice of the great nutritionist Marion Nestle (no relation of Henri):
[while] milk is not essential for health… milk is a food like any other, meaning that its effects depend on everything else people are eating or doing. People who like milk can continue drinking it. Those who don’t like it don’t have to.
And it’s the same with chocolate. We are now (fortunately) increasingly spoilt for choice. Enjoy these milk, mylk and m!lk bars!
Christmas may be over, but our love of chocolate is unremitting. Brits eat on average 11kg of the stuff each year. We love it. But you’ve signed up for Veganuary and you’re worried you’ve bitten off more than you can chew…
We would happily bet a bar of the stuff that chocolate won’t be the thing that breaks your pledge – it may even keep you going if you’re struggling!
Veganism and craft chocolate is surprisingly and wonderfully simple (with a small caveat – read on to find out more). Pure dark chocolate should only ever be made from cocoa beans and sugar, with the optional addition of cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter? No fear – this is the natural fat of the cocoa bean. A texture-enricher and mouthfeel-magnifier, it’s completely plant-based. Phew!
That said, supermarket chocolate is not always vegan; manufacturers often sneak in milk as ‘whey powder’ or ‘butterfat’. This is the stuff to avoid.
Unlike the supermarket shelves, we have a great collection of actually vegan-friendly dark chocolate ready to explore. What’s more, we have a bunch of makers who produce vegan milk and white chocolate by using coconut milk instead of cow, goat, or sheep milk. Cue these two brilliant bars from Forever Cocao and Soliki.
The Take Home Message
The global food system is responsible for around 30% of emissions worldwide. So firstly, it’s great that you’ve signed up to Veganuary and Good Luck! Secondly, chocolate – far from being outlawed – is your wingman, especially if it’s craft dark or vegan milk chocolate.
Last but not least, you’re sure to have some supermarket milk chocolate kicking around after the festive season. Forewarned is forearmed! Sidestep any chocolate-centred kerfuffle by asking for a bar or two of craft dark or vegan milk for Christmas or Hanukkah.
Milk chocolate. With a name like that, it couldn’t possibly be vegan. But how about mylk chocolate, as it’s sometimes dubbed? If you’re one of the 1.5 million vegans in the UK, or simply a curious dairy-alternative dabbler, there’s good news: plant-based alternatives have landed on the craft chocolate scene.
We often parallel the craft chocolate movement to the specialty coffee scene. A selection of oat, soy, almond, and rice milks are now a given, chalked up onto the menu board of any self-respecting indie coffee shop.
Although the wonderful world of craft chocolate is several years behind specialty coffee, we are making up ground. Chocolate bars are seeing the introduction of milk alternatives, meaning ‘milk’ (or mylk!) chocolate bars, suitable for vegans, will soon be more widely available.
How It’s Made
If you’ve read our Vegan Milk Tasting Article you’ll know that we like to compare craft chocolate to recent speciality coffee movement. After an incredible boom in dairy milk alternatives, no hip coffee joint nowadays could contemplate an oat or soy milk shortage.
The craft chocolate industry is a couple of steps behind; it’s only just recently that producers have started experimenting with plant-based milk in their chocolate. Coconut milk or oat milk often replaces the usual cow, sheep or goat, working brilliantly alongside the cocoa.
There aren’t any great differences in how you craft milk or vegan milk chocolate bars. In both cases the maker will add dried milk or dried coconut milk when they’ve ground the beans and are starting the conching process.
Is There an Increase in the Amount of Vegan Bars available?
Most definitely. But remember, the Vegan certification is not a good indicator. Many of the best craft chocolate makers aren’t certified and the certification on supermarket brands doesn’t mean that they are any good for you or taste good!
With vegan milk chocolate, craft is the way to go. There are a host of great makers to explore, from Marou in Vietnam and Raaka in the USA to Forever Cacao, Solkiki, and Chocolate Tree based here in the UK. Take a look at our current favourites.
And if You’re Still Not Convinced, Here’s a Taste of Two of Our Favourites:
Over the years, the Cocoa Runners Chocolate Library has seen it’s fair share of vegan milk chocolate bars. Bars previously crafted by Solkiki and Endorfin featured. Two stars from our current vegan milk bar collection are Forever Cacao’s 55% Coconut Milk chocolate and Marou’s 55% Ben Tre Coconut Milk bar.
Forever Cacao’s 55% Coconut Milk is crafted by Pablo Spaull who creates his unroasted chocolate deep in the Welsh countryside. Pablo uses Peruvian beans in all of his bars. With the help of Ecotribal, he buys his beans directly from Ashaninka co-operatives living in the rainforest and on the banks of the Rio Ene.
The sweet and aromatic flavour of the coconut gives the bar a refreshingly floral note. The unroasted Peruvian cocoa beans have an earthy, grassy profile, which complements the much lighter, sugared flavours of the coconut. Both rich and cooling, the chocolate bar finishes with an earthy sweetness.
Next up is Marou’s 55% Coconut Milk bar crafted in Vietnam using cacao harvested in the Ben Tre region. When fans requested a milk chocolate bar from French chocolate crafters Samual Maruta and Vincent Mourou, they decided to capitalize on Vietnam’s coconut-growing history and culture.
The flavour is distinctly coconutty with a fudgy texture. We found this bar’s coconut milk beautifully complements the spicy and fruity flavour profile of the Ben Tre cacao. Expect an aromatic bouquet of raisins, coconut, honey and delicate spices. A vegan milk chocolate dream!
If in doubt about the vegan-ness of any bar, it’s always a good idea to check the ingredients (with careful scrutiny). And if it’s one of ours, but you’re still unsure, feel free to get in touch!
Yes! In fact, pure dark chocolate should only ever be made from cocoa beans and sugar, with the optional addition of cocoa butter (which, despite its name, is just the natural fat of the cocoa bean and so 100% plant-based).
We are delighted that almost all of our dark chocolate bars are suitable for vegans – have a browse. A few of our chocolate makers do add sunflower or soy lecithin to their bars to reduce the viscosity, so keep an eye out if you are severely allergic to soy!
We do have a few exceptions within our Chocolate Library with two bars that go off the beaten track a bit. The natural Carmine dye that is sprayed onto Mucho’s Carmin’s bar with cochineal derives from an insect in the suborder Sternorrhyncha of Mexico, and for TCHO’s Mint Chip Gelato it’s the milk within the freeze-dried gelato that makes it not suitable for vegans.
Although dark chocolate should be inherently vegan (besides bars that are doing something innovative like those above), this is not always the case.
Supermarket mass-produced dark chocolate sometimes has milk listed within its ingredients. Take Lindt’s Excellence Dark Touch of Sea Salt or Morisson’s 85% Dark Chocolate as examples.
Whilst we strongly believe that these ‘dark’ bars that actively contain milk solids within the chocolate cannot really be called a dark chocolate, unfortunately this is the case for many mass-produced bars.
A Side Note
If you are looking to cut down on sugar, a word to the wise: sometimes chocolate manufacturers use lactitol as a sweetener – and yes, lactitol is derived from cow’s milk.
Dark chocolate is nearly always vegan, although animal products often find their way into supermarket chocolate ingredient lists as ‘whey powder’ or ‘butterfat’. But we’re having none of that. The vast majority of dark chocolate in our Chocolate Library is vegan.
Vegans and those intolerant to lactose or allergic to dairy are very good at checking the labels of their chocolate bars. And what delight! almost every single dark is very much on the tasting table!
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