When it comes to that very real human need to eat something sweet, chocolate remains one of the most popular choices for millions of consumers. Historically, milk chocolate has been the top choice for many, but as more consumers eschew dairy for health and environmental reasons, the vegan chocolate industry is growing. And in our humble opinion, it always makes a good gift for the holidays (or you, know, just a regular Tuesday night). But, what’s the best vegan chocolate?
Why gift vegan chocolate?
When it comes to chocolate, there are a number of reasons why vegan is the best choice. It’s more sustainable, it’s often more ethical, and it may even be better for you too. Here are all the reasons why you should give vegan chocolate a go, plus our top brand picks. (We think they’re some of the best vegan chocolate brands in the world.)
It’s better for the planet
Made with cacao beans, chocolate has a long history. Historians believe it was the Olmecs, the first known major Mesoamerican civilization, who consumed the beans for the first time. Exact details are unknown, but some evidence suggests they may have used the fruits in a ceremonial drink recipe. The method of consumption may be very different now, but cacao beans are still a go-to treat for many, in the form of all those chocolate bars that line supermarket shelves.
The vegan brands listed below have commitments to ethical cocoa bean sourcing. Without proper management, harvesting cocoa beans can negatively impact the planet. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), cocoa farmers often cut down large areas of tropical forest to plant cocoa trees. In Ivory Coast, more than 70 percent of the country’s illegally deforested land is linked to cocoa farming.
It’s (often) kinder to people
Unfortunately, human rights abuse is rife in the cocoa industry. According to WWF, an estimated two million children were used for labor in the 2013-2014 cocoa-growing season in Ghana and Ivory Coast.
Major confectionary brands, like Mars, have been linked with using cocoa beans farmed using child labour. According to a 2019 investigation by The Independent, the chocolate giant can only trace 24 percent of its cocoa, so there is no way to know the extent of child labor used in its supply chain. The company is not alone; any brand that cannot trace its cocoa beans back to the source carries the same risk.
To ensure your chocolate (vegan or not) is as ethical as possible, you can look for the Fair Trade certification, which all of the vegan brands below have.
The 5 best vegan chocolate brands to gift
Vegan chocolate is everywhere now—from gourmet markets to your corner store, to online marketplaces. We’ve picked our favorite dairy-free options, ranging from creamy milk chocolate to rich, tart dark chocolate, each of which have commitments to boycotting child labor in the industry.
Available to buy in the U.S. and the UK, many of Divine’s chocolate bars are completely free of animal products. The British brand is committed to creating smooth, delicious, dark chocolate bars using only Fairtrade ingredients.
Divine takes its commitment to ethics seriously; it’s the only Fairtrade chocolate brand to actually be co-owned by farmers. Kuapa Kokoo Farmers’ Union, a co-operative of 100,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana, is one of its shareholders. It’s also a certified B Corp, which means not only is it committed to “achieving best practice in terms of social, economic, and environmental sustainability,” but it has also undergone rigorous assessment to ensure it is upholding these values.
While some of its products contain milk, much of its offering is vegan. For example, its Organic range, which is made with high cocoa content (85 percent and above), is completely vegan.
Tony’s Chocolonely is known for its commitment to 100 percent slave-free and child-labor-free chocolate. It has five sourcing principles for its cocoa, which include traceable beans and a higher price so farmers can earn a living income. The Fairtrade brand never accepts cocoa beans from farmers that participate in illegal child labor, modern slavery, or exploitation of any form.
The brand has openly stated that it will not be launching vegan milk chocolate in the future, as all of its efforts are focusing on creating a more ethical cocoa supply chain, but some of its dark chocolate is vegan anyway. Its Extra Dark Chocolate bar is dairy-free, and so is its Dark Almond Sea Salt bar.
Update: Since the time of publishing, Tony’s Chocolonely has come under scrutiny for its involvement with Barry Callebaut. The major chocolate manufacturer, which processes (but does not source) Tony’s cocoa beans, is facing legal action over child labor practices.
While many have alleged that Tony’s only works with Barry Callebaut to bring costs down, Paul Schoenmakers, the company’s director of impact, says this is not the case. He told Metro that working with the chocolate giant actually adds more cost. Despite this, Tony’s deliberately works with Barry Callebaut “to show it is possible to be fully traceable while working with a large processor,” he explained.
‘Ultimately, we want to show the biggest chocolate brands that it is possible to make delicious chocolate that is free from modern slavery and illegal child labor,” he added. However, he also noted that Tony’s Chocolonely may now consider building its own manufacturing plant.
Barry Callebaut has announced it is working to eliminate child labor from its supply chain by 2025.
Colorado-based chocolate brand Chocolove offers a wide range of dark chocolate bars in unique flavors, like Chili Mole and Almonds & Sea Salt. The company takes great care to ensure that its products are both delicious and ethically sound. Its chocolate is certified by the Rainforest Alliance, an international non-governmental organization that ensures farms follow sustainable practices.
Two of Chocolove’s bars are certified Fairtrade: Organic Dark Chocolate and Cherries in Dark Chocolate.
The brand is also a member of the World Cocoa Foundation. The organization educates farmers on “issues of labor, proper use of soil amendments and plant treatments, crop management, and post-harvest handling.”
While its dark chocolate products do not contain milk, the brand does not label them as vegan due to cross contamination risks.
Endangered Species Chocolate
Based in Indianapolis, Endangered Species Chocolate is as much about the social and environmental impact of its chocolate as it is about the taste. It donates 10 percent of its net profits every year to conservation efforts around the world. Since 2016, it has donated more than $2.6 million to the National Forest Foundation and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. The former helps to conserve the U.S.’s forests, and the latter is the largest gorilla conservation organization in the world.
In the spirit of minimizing harm to animals and the planet, all of Endangered Species Chocolate’s products are vegan, non GMO, and Fairtrade. Notable products include its Oat Milk Mixed Berries + Dark Chocolate and its Bold + Silky Dark Chocolate.
Longtime vegan favorite Vego has come a long way since it launched back in 2010. Now, the brand, which started in Italy, is based in Berlin, and sells its signature creamy hazelnut chocolate bars in more than 12,000 stores around the world. It has also added more products into the mix: Vego Spread (which tastes similar to Nutella), Vegolino (Hazelnut Chocolate Pralines), Vego Dark (with nuts and berries), and Vego White (with almonds).
All of its chocolate is organic, dairy-free, Fairtrade, and completely free of palm oil. Every year, it donates at least 10 percent of its profits to NGOs committed to animal rights, human rights, and environment conservation.
These are just a handful of the ethical, vegan chocolate options out there. As the market grows, there are sure to be even more dairy-free, ethical chocolate bars thrown into the mix. We encourage you to check your local supermarkets, health food stores, and small businesses for more tasty vegan chocolate options. Happy snacking.
LIVEKINDLY is here to help you navigate the growing marketplace of sustainable products that promote a kinder planet. All of our selections are curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, LIVEKINDLY may earn a commission.