Is Cocoa Powder Vegan?
If you’re new to a vegan diet, figuring out what you can and cannot consume can be a challenge. When it comes to chocolate products specifically, it can be hard to decipher if they include animal products, especially with names like milk chocolate.
Cocoa powder is a chocolate product that fits in the category of “hard to figure out” as it requires close examination to see if it is or is not free of animal products.
Traditionally, it is created by taking cocoa nibs from cocoa seeds and creating a paste that then turns into cocoa butter. From there, that butter is ground into a powder, which we know as cocoa powder.
So, is cocoa powder vegan? Pure cocoa powder made only from cocoa nibs and cocoa seeds is vegan. However, some brands deviate from the traditional preparation process, resulting in a product that isn’t vegan. It is very important to check the ingredient lists and consider potential cross-contamination before purchasing.
Keep reading to learn more about the process of how cocoa powder is formed, the difference between the Dutch and Broma processes, how cocoa powder is used, and which popular brands are and aren’t vegan.
We’ll also take a look at if cocoa powder is or isn’t vegetarian, kosher, and gluten free.
Let’s get going!
What Is Cocoa Powder?
Cocoa powder is smooth textured, and a rich and dark brown powder that is made from cocoa seeds.
Through a mechanical process of transforming the cocoa nibs into a liquid form, then to cocoa butter which eventually gets grounded up, cocoa powder is formed.
Cocoa powder is known to give food and drink items that infamous chocolatey taste we have all become familiar with.
It can be made two different ways: through the Dutch or the Broma process and, if pure, it is considered vegan.
Cocoa powder is also known to be relatively acidic coming in at a pH level anywhere between 5.3 and 5.8. Depending on the level of acidity the flavor and dissolubility of the product is affected.
How Is Cocoa Powder Used?
The number one way cocoa powder is used is to produce chocolate or chocolate flavored things.
So, you will see cocoa powder listed in the ingredient list of chocolate bars, ice cream, hot chocolate, brownies, chocolate protein bars and protein powder.
If the food or drink is meant to taste like chocolate, you can almost guarantee cocoa powder is responsible.
How Cocoa Powder Is Made: Dutch Process vs. Broma Process
There are two different ways cocoa powder can be produced: through the Dutch Process or the Broma Process.
The Broma process is when roasted cocoa beans hang in large bags in an extremely warm room to extract the cocoa butter.
Because the bags of beans are hanging, the cocoa butter drips from them and is collected to eventually be ground into cocoa powder.
When cocoa powder is made through the Broma process, the biggest difference from the Dutch process is the acidic level.
The Broma process ensures the cocoa powder keeps its natural pH level of anywhere between 5.3 and 5.8. This results in the powder being a lighter brown in color and extremely strong and rich in flavor.
For the Dutch process, the cocoa beans are washed in an alkaline solution to remove any acidity before being transformed into a powder. Often, the solution used is potassium carbonate.
Unfortunately, when cocoa powder goes through the Dutch process, it loses some of its health benefits. When bathed in an alkaline solution the antioxidants, or flavanols, in cocoa powder are greatly reduced.
The Dutch process also results in a much darker and milder tasting cocoa powder.
What Is The Difference Between Cocoa Powder And Cacao Powder?
If you are at a grocery store or do a quick Google search for cocoa powder, you may be surprised when a plethora of cacao powders are what pop up.
Both cocoa and cacao powder are very similar and are made through the same process, minus the temperature at which they are processed.
Cocoa powder is made at an extremely high temperature and are fermented and roasted resulting in a more acidic taste.
Cacao powder is made at a low temperature and is fermented but not roasted resulting in a more bitter taste. Like cocoa powder, in its pure form cacao powder is also vegan.
Because of the difference in processes, cacao powder has more nutrients and antioxidants than cocoa powder and is often deemed as the “healthier” choice.
The two can be interchangeable depending on how you are using the powder. However, it is not always the case, so it is important to read the recipe.
You also can look for cacao powders that can be substituted for cocoa powder in recipes.
Is Cocoa Powder Vegan?
Both the Broma and the Dutch process produce pure cocoa powder that is definitely vegan.
As long as you are consuming pure cocoa powder, you can be sure you are consuming a vegan product.
However, if you are looking for a vegan cocoa powder, it is extremely important to look at the ingredient lists as many brands add non-vegan products to enhance the flavor or change the texture or other properties in the product.
Non-Vegan Ingredients To Look For In Cocoa Powders
There are a few ingredients that tend to show up in cocoa powders that you want to beware of if you do not consume animal products.
If you are not vegan but use the dietary title to help you shop because you are allergic to animal products like dairy or eggs, these ingredients may need to be avoided for you too.
Remember to keep an eye out for them.
Here are the big ingredients that make some cocoa powders non-vegan:
1. Dried Milk
Dried milk is one of the most added ingredients to cocoa powder.
As dried milk comes from milk, and before that a cow, it contains dairy making it non-vegan, but also an issue for those with a dairy allergy.
Keep an eye out for dried milk in your cocoa powders if you are vegan.
Lecithin is another ingredient that you may see on the ingredient list of cocoa powder.
Lecithin is used as a food additive that is traditionally used as an emulsifier in the product that uses it. It also has properties that help keep the flavor of the food it is added to.
Lecithin is derived from two sources: plants or eggs. This makes it a bit difficult for vegans when trying to figure out if the specific lecithin added is consumable.
If Lecithin is derived from plants or soy, (also labeled as soy Lecithin) then it is edible for vegans.
However, if the Lecithin is derived from egg yolks, it is not edible for vegans.
The big issue here is that some cocoa powder ingredient lists will not specify which kind of lecithin they are using.
This is an issue for vegans or even people with an egg or soy issue when deciding if they can or cannot consume a certain cocoa powder.
If you are vegan, it is best to simply avoid any cocoa powders that list lecithin as an ingredient.
Though not an ingredient, it may be important to note that cross-contamination is possible in cocoa powders.
Depending on the company, the machines used to produce cocoa powder may also be used to produce products like hot chocolate, which most likely contain milk products.
For some vegans, this may not be an issue as they are not actually consuming the animal product.
But for those with an allergy, or for some vegans, this could be a serious issue.
Regardless, cross-contamination may be something you need to keep in mind when looking for a one hundred percent vegan product.
Tips for Avoiding Non-Vegan Cocoa Powders
Though it may seem overwhelming on how to choose a non-vegan cocoa powder, here are a few tips to help you through the process:
Check The Ingredient List
Though we have mentioned this a few times in this article, checking the ingredients in a cocoa powder is the safest way to ensure it is actually vegan.
Remember to specifically look for milk or dried milk and lecithin.
The safest cocoa powder to consume is one that has only one ingredient: cocoa powder.
Look For A Vegan Label On The Packaging
Oftentimes, products will have a “vegan” label on the product to help make choosing ingredients easier on vegan consumers.
This vegan label means it has been certified through a vegan certification process often done by a vegan society.
Not only does this certification mean the product does not contain animal products like milk or eggs, but it also ensures there was no cross-contamination during the manufacturing process.
Therefore, when looking for a vegan cocoa powder, look for one with a vegan label to help avoid consuming any animal products.
Utilize Other Resources
If the ingredient list is confusing or misleading (for example, if lecithin is listed but the type is not specified) or you cannot find a cocoa powder with a vegan label, you may need to utilize other resources to ensure you are consuming a vegan product.
Checking reviews of the product or common questions online may help you figure out whether or not the cocoa powder is vegan.
Contacting the manufacturer or the company that produces the product can help you understand if they use the same machines to produce their cocoa powder and other items, like hot chocolate, that use animal products.
If the specific type of lecithin is not listed on a cocoa powder, contacting the company can clear that up for you as well.
Cocoa Powder Brands: Which Ones are Vegan?
To help make picking a vegan cocoa powder easier on you, here is a list of both vegan and non-vegan cocoa powders:
Vegan Cocoa Powders
Buy these brands with confidence if you’re vegan or dairy-free.
1. Anthony’s Organic Raw Cocoa Powder
Anthony’s Organic Raw Cocoa powder has one ingredient: cocoa powder.
It is also labeled as vegan to help make it easier on the consumer.
2. 365 by Whole Foods Market Organic Cocoa Powder
Check Current Price on Amazon.
The 365 brand of cocoa powder not only contains just cocoa powder, it is also sustainably harvested.
This brand is also extremely affordable and accessible as you can get it online or at your local Whole Foods.
3. Chatfield’s Cocoa Powder Unsweetened
Chatfield’s Cocoa Powder is the only one on this list that has a vegan certification label.
This ensures that this cocoa powder is indeed safe for vegan consumers.
Non-Vegan Cocoa Powders
Steer clear of these brands if you’re following a vegan or dairy-free diet.
1. Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
When looking at Ghirardelli’s cocoa powder, it seems like it would be vegan as it is advertised as 100% cocoa.
However, when looking at the ingredient list it includes a warning against the cross-contamination of other products like milk, soy and eggs most likely because Ghirardelli is responsible for making hundreds of different types of products.
This makes Ghirardelli’s cocoa powder non-vegan as you cannot guarantee it is free of animal products.
2. Nestle Toll House Cocoa Powder
Nestle Toll house Cocoa Powder does only list the powder as its only ingredient and, though the packaging does not specify whether or not it is vegan.
It is important to note that Nestle is a large manufacturer of many baked goods which could lead to cross-contamination in this product.
Because of the mass production and the wide array of products Nestle produces, it would be best to pick a cocoa powder from the above list that is definitely vegan and does not have the potential of cross-contamination.
Keep reading to find out if cocoa powder is suitable for other dietary parameters.
Is Cocoa Powder Vegetarian?
Because cocoa powder is vegan, it is also vegetarian. To follow a vegan diet, you cannot consume any animals OR animal product like milk or eggs.
To follow a vegetarian diet, you cannot eat animals but you can eat animal products.
Vegetarians have it a little easier when picking a cocoa powder as they do not have the same worry of cross-contamination as vegans do.
Is Cocoa Powder Gluten-Free?
Cocoa powder in its purest form is gluten-free (as are a majority of the brands listed here in this article).
However, if you have a gluten allergy or intolerance, you may want to check for cross-contamination.
For example, the Ghirardelli cocoa powder has a warning against wheat as they produce may types of products in their factories.
To ensure your cocoa powder is completely gluten free, look for a gluten free certification on the packaging.
Is Cocoa Powder Kosher?
If we are talking about pure cocoa powder, then it is deemed kosher.
There is one caveat: to be kosher the cocoa powder must be produced domestically and not overseas in Europe.
So, to ensure your cocoa powder is Kosher, check where it is manufactured.
Is Cocoa Powder Ethical To Consume?
There are some companies who produce cocoa powder that are more ethical than others.
What this means is that some companies cannot trace their entire production line and cannot guarantee the workers who are harvesting the cocoa seeds are not children or paid proper wages.
Many times this is not purposeful, but it can still be an issue for those who are against consuming products by companies that do not take these factors into consideration.
If this is of concern to you, do some research on the company to see if their standards meet yours. Companies that are transparent about the entire process prove to produce cocoa powder ethically.
Another way to ensure the cocoa powder you are buying (or any product for that matter) is ethically sourced is to look for a fair-trade certification on the package.
The symbol is circular and colored blue, green and black.