If you’re new to the vegan lifestyle and have been wondering if cacao is suitable to consume, here’s the lowdown.
Cacao powder has been regarded as magical and drank since Mayan times, and is still enjoyed by millions all over the world.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived to the New World, they discovered the cacao crop and that a tasty drink could be made with it. They mixed sugar in with the bitter-tasting cacao to sweeten it up, along with native spices to make for the original hot chocolate drink.
The drink became so popular that it spread to Western Europe, where confectionary chocolates would later be produced, and is how chocoholics came out of the woodworks.
It’s a light brown powder that’s made of the remnants of cacao beans after the butter has been extracted. This highly demanded food product is mainly used to add a dark chocolate flavor to various dishes and beverages.
There is quite a bit of non-vegan chocolate on the market that does have milk on the ingredients list, but it’s important to remember that it’s more than just dairy products that can categorize a food product as a non-vegan one.
Cacao Powder Ingredients
The ingredients are simple – ground up cocoa solids, nothing else. Unless, of course, the ingredients list says otherwise.
Potential Non-Vegan Ingredients
White sugar that’s not organic is more often than not processed with bone char (ground-up animal bones), which some vegans may not agree with. This is done for a whiter sugar color. Even though these animal byproducts do not end up in the final product, the fact that it’s been in contact with animals is enough for certain vegans to opt out of consuming this ingredient.
This is not always a vegan friendly ingredient, but if the sugar is organic, it’s a different story.
In any case, you could always opt for unsweetened chocolate to avoid the potential of sugar in the recipe.
As long as your cacao is 100% pure cacao, it will absolutely be vegan.
Also – if your cacao has a label on the packaging from a vegan organization, you can be assured that it’s completely vegan.
Note that sometimes cacao will have been processed in a facility that also processes food products like nuts, milk, and eggs, which is good to know if you have any allergies.
*Chocolate that has dairy blended into it results in a bioavailability reduction of beneficial flavonoids, so vegan cacao is the way to go if you’re a health freak.
What is Cacao Powder?
The cacao beans come from the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree, which is a tropical tree native to South America that also grows in West Africa.
When the fat is removed from the cacao beans during processing , the residual dry solids become ground up into a powder that’s known as cacao powder. It’s the purest form of chocolate. That’s cacao powder.
How is Cacao Powder made?
Pure cocoa powder is made from fruit-reminiscent cacao beans that have been dried, fermented, and roasted.
The cacao seeds from the bean are crushed up, formed into a paste, and the cacao butter is lastly extracted from the paste. Now you have cacao powder.
Pure cacao powder is entirely extracted from cacao beans and naturally has no animal products in it.
Types of Cacao Powder
This is cocoa powder thats been processed with an alkalizing solution. This reduces the acidity and alchemizes the taste to a less bitter one.
Dutch processed cocoa powder is ideal for chocolate drinks, as it dissolves easily into a liquid.
Natural cocoa powder is made from roasted cacao beans and has a strong chocolate flavor.
This is a vegan food, and it’s often used in baking recipes that call for baking soda, as the two ingredients react together to allow for the food product to rise in the oven.
Cacao Powder Health Benefits
Raw cacao powder boasts essential minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc, and manganese to help your body function in an optimal way.
Cocoa powder is polyphenol rich, which helps lower blood pressure, improves cholesterol, boosts brain health and helps protect against Type 2 diabetes.
This nutritious substance is also rich with immune boosting flavonoids – a type of common polyphenol, and also has some of the same naturally occurring antioxidants found in wine, fruits, and even tea.
Also, raw cacao has over 25,000 antioxidants in just one spoonful and has the highest source of antioxidants out of any food.
For those of you getting up there on the age totem pole, you may want to consider making cacao powder a new staple in your diet, as its antioxidants fight the aging process.
Plus, it literally makes you happy. Known as the bliss molecule, anandamide is a naturally occurring molecule within vegan cocoa powder. Cacao also boosts levels of serotonin in the brain, which makes us feel good.
On top of all of this, cocoa powder vegan also improves skin and oral health.
Organic cocoa powder vegan is a healthier option, too, as this guarantees that pesticides won’t be in your chocolate.
Ethical Issues with Cacao
Cacao powder may be widely consumed, but its harvest and production also has a dark side.
Depending on the origin of your cacao, there is a high likelihood that slave labor was involved in the production process. Child labor is most prominent on cocoa farms located in West Africa, where young children are forced to work and are promised imaginary pay. They are forced to work in inhumane working conditions which often involves the use of machetes, which isn’t exactly the safest working tool for young humans.
Many families are struck with poverty in Africa, and children have no choice but to work to help support their loved ones.
Fair trade is the way to go if you want to ensure that there is no child labour going on. Remember – every dollar you spend goes toward supporting business practices. So, if you smell a whiff of any immoral or cruel labor conditions, be mindful of how you vote with your dollar.
Some cacao powder brands have the label “slavery-free” printed on the label, so these companies are great ones to support.
Fair Trade Cacao
The Fair Trade organization permits organic farmers to organizer into cooperatives so they can earn fair wages for their work.
This label prohibits GMO’s and advocates for environmental sustainability, of which is regulated through inspections.
If you’re unable to find fair trade cacao in the store, then the next best best is to opt for an organic cacao powder, as it’s less likely to have been affiliated with forced child labor.
Remember that when you buy fair trade cacao, it helps ensure that kids will be able to stay in school instead of being forced to work.
Navitas Organic Cocoa Powder
This rich tasting cocoa powder is made with unsweetened dark chocolate, and is ideal to have in your kitchen cabinet for when those chocolate cravings hit.
This brand of cocoa powder vegan retains its antioxidants and minerals since the powder isn’t roasted at high temperatures.
The Navitas cocoa is made from single origin and 100% pure cacao, with no added sugars or filler ingredients.
This company sources its beans from Sierra Leone, Africa, and is a fair trade certified product.
This unsweetened cocoa powder has 49 milligrams of caffeine per serving. To give you an idea of how much caffeine that it – one shot of espresso contains 75 mg of caffeine.
And lastly, this can be yummy in smoothies, chocolates, or sprinkled over a fruit bowl.
Enjoy Life Mini Chips
This company offers chocolate chips that are great for baking or added into a trail mix with almonds and dried cranberries.
The ingredients are simple – cane sugar, unsweetened chocolate, and cocoa butter.
If buying cocoa powder doesn’t seem practical for you, perhaps chocolate chips sound more attuned to your frequency.
This is one of the cocoa products that’s free of allergens like gluten and dairy.
Enjoy Life offers their vegan products in semi sweet mini chips, semi sweet mega chunks, and in dark chocolate morsels.
Navitas Organics Cacao Nibs
These cocoa nibs have a dark chocolate taste, and are considered a superfood, for those of you that love to take care of your health.
This brand uses unroasted, organic and fair trade cacao beans in their recipe, and these nibs are gluten-free, dairy-free, and keto and paleo friendly.
These are yummy when sprinkled over oatmeal, added to trail mix, or mixed into some non-dairy yogurt . You can also munch on them by themselves for an energy boost.
Get back to Human Dark Chocolate Bar
This company offers a 70% cacao dark chocolate bar, and is one of the healthiest chocolate bars on the market that’s absolutely delicious.
This chocolate is vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, paleo, and soy-free, and sources fair trade cocoa butter and cacao.
It’s also made with unrefined organic coconut sugar, and without preservatives, emulsifiers, or artificial ingredients.
This brand offers its bars in cashew butter, hazelnut butter, and banana dark chocolate flavors. If you like s’mores, you could try experimenting with chunks of your favorite flavored bar in between a graham cracker and a marshmallow.
How to use Cacao Powder
Cacao powder can be added to smoothies, granola, ice cream, on top of a slice of Tiramisu, or as a hot chocolate base.
For some self-care, you could even use cacao powder to make a face mask by mixing a couple spoonfuls with coffee grinds and coconut oil. It’s pretty easy to whip up whenever you need with these common kitchen ingredients.
Vegan Hot Chocolate Recipe
If you’re a fan of hot chocolate, you might enjoy making some in the kitchen on your next weekend off as a project with the kids. Or maybe you’d prefer to buy it in the store – and that’s okay, too.
Cacao Powder Alternative
A caffeine-free alternative to vegan cocoa power, carob powder looks just like cacao powder – except it’s a little bit lighter in color.
This powder is made from carob tree pods, and is used as a natural sweetener – so you don’t have to add any extra sugar into your recipe if you’re following a low sugar diet.
This option is perfect for those of you that are either allergic to chocolate or that just don’t like it.
Carob powder also has a high fiber content which will help keep you fuller for longer and helps reduce cholesterol.
Cacao powder can be an essential ingredient to have in your vegan diet, especially for those of you that experience frequent chocolate cravings. Or maybe Nutella does it for you. Either way – chocolate is chocolate.
Do remember that cacao is a stimulant – so, if you want to be ready to rendezvous with Mr. Sandman at an appropriate hour, it would be advisable to drink cacao earlier in the day if caffeine keeps you awake.