The difference between vegan chocolate and normal chocolate
The story of a genuine vegan treat, from cultivation to production
© EcoFinia, Sebastian Brand
28 April 2023
Two new vegan VIVANI products – “Creemy Classic” and “Almond Nougat Crisp” – have recently been launched. These two chocolate bars are similar to milk chocolate in flavour and texture, and are just a small part of our vegan range, which now features a total of 32 different products. The difference between vegan chocolate and “normal” chocolate seems fairly obvious: vegan chocolate doesn’t contain any animal products as, for example, the recipe doesn’t include any milk. This is of course true, but vegan chocolate has more strings to its bow that sets it apart from classic chocolate. There are also specific criteria that need to be adhered to during cultivation and production in the factory.
On the fields
Vegan chocolate doesn’t begin its existence when a vegan alternative is added to the chocolate bar rather than milk. In fact, the moment chocolate becomes fully vegan occurs much earlier: namely, during cultivation in the cocoa’s country of origin. Of course, you can’t claim that vegan chocolate not bearing an organic label isn’t vegan: if it doesn’t contain milk and other animal products, then the “vegan” label is correct. But for serious vegans for whom veganism represents more than just a fashionable way of eating and is instead a way of life, environmental issues, sustainability and organic farming are also important.
“Genuine” vegan cocoa can only grow on farms that protect biodiversity and the natural habitat so the cocoa cultivation can be truly sustainable. In large monoculture farming, the cocoa plants can only be kept alive by using large quantities of pesticides, and this in turn kills millions upon millions of insects. And this isn’t just terrible for the local nature, but it makes cocoa farming itself far more difficult too.
Pesticides also destroy the natural foliage and undergrowth layers in forests, which are home to microorganisms and insects. The problem here is that these habitats are home to tiny gnats – the only creatures able to pollinate the minute flowerheads of the cocoa flowers. The destruction of these creatures means that, on conventional (i.e. non-organic) cocoa plantations, cocoa flowers need to be hand-pollinated by workers.
Chocolate is considered to be even more vegan when it can be shown that no animals were harmed in the farming of any of the ingredients, for example nuts. Coconuts are a touchy subject here. In Thailand especially, monkeys are still being trained, held captive and forced to harvest coconuts.
The recipe: just remove the milk?
Is vegan chocolate just chocolate without the milk? It sounds simple and, when it comes to dark chocolate at least, it is. Dark chocolate doesn’t contain milk anyway and, besides the cocoa itself (both in the form of cocoa mass and cocoa butter), only contains sugar.
In Germany, the “Regulation on Cocoa and Chocolate Products” stipulates that milk chocolate must contain milk in addition to cocoa and sugar. This leads to a confusing issue when it comes to naming vegan “milk” chocolate: instead of the word “chocolate”, companies are only permitted to use terms like “couverture chocolate” or “cocoa preparation”.
And what do you put into vegan chocolate bars instead of milk during this so-called cocoa preparation? Ever since the early days of vegan “milk” chocolate and right up to the present, chocolate companies have generally used milk substitutes such as powdered oat milk, rice milk or almond milk. But this alters the taste of many of these chocolates so that they either don’t taste as good as milk chocolate or they are simply too sweet.
Our two new VIVANI chocolate bars “Creemy Classic” and “Almond Nougat Crisp” are leading the way and pioneering vegan “milk” chocolate 2.0. Buckwheat flour and ground tiger nuts are combined with a high hazelnut or almond content and used as an alternative to the classic everyday non-dairy milk substitutes. This switch has elevated the taste to a whole new level and massively improved the creamy texture. A whole host of blind tastings have shown that it is now almost impossible to tell the difference between vegan chocolate and “normal” chocolate.
So, that’s the milk issue sorted. Is the chocolate vegan? If you want to commit to a vegan diet, you’ll need to keep an eye out for the following ingredients, which often find their way into chocolate bars alongside milk: clarified butter, yoghurt powder, cream powder and honey.
But cocoa butter is a different matter here. The word “butter” often leads people to think that cocoa butter is butter from milk mixed with cocoa. But this is actually incorrect: cocoa butter is the pure fat extracted from the cocoa bean and is 100% vegan.
The production stage
Once the cultivation and recipe boxes have been ticked, attention turns to the way the chocolate is produced. As far as we are aware, there is still no chocolate factory that is solely dedicated to producing vegan chocolate (not including small-scale producers). This means that mass-produced vegan chocolate has to be produced using the same equipment as non-vegan chocolate. As such, strict hygiene measures need to be in place and the products must be carefully separated within the factory. Our production partner, the Weinrich chocolate factory in the East Westphalian town of Herford, Germany, has separate tanks which can only be used to store vegan chocolate mass.
The machines are cleaned using a so-called flushing mass. However, this flushing mass doesn’t include any detergents or chemicals as the name might suggest. Instead, a mass of vegan chocolate is run through machines that have previously been processing non-vegan chocolate. This results in a blend of two different types of chocolate mass. This isn’t disposed of as it still contains high-quality ingredients, despite the mixing of the two different masses. The product is instead utilised for cheap chocolate, such as the kind handed out for free at carnival processions and events.
This elaborate and expensive cleaning process ensures that the machines are now ready to produce vegan chocolate. Despite this, the fact that both vegan and non-vegan chocolate is produced on the same site means that, even when the recipe is 100% vegan, you can never completely rule out the inclusion of ingredients such as milk. And this is an important point for those with extreme allergies, who can be susceptible to reactions to even miniscule traces of an ingredient. But this is an issue shared by all other allergens that are processed in factories, whether they are vegan or not.