If you’re new to the vegan lifestyle, getting accustomed to the many ingredients in your desserts and goodies that you can and can’t eat can sometimes prove to be a challenge.
Lucky for you, if you’ve been considering adding cocoa powder into your diet, it is indeed considered to be vegan.
Pure cocoa powder is extracted from cacao beans, meaning it will not contain any animal products…so yes, it’s safe for vegans to eat. Pure cocoa is always vegan. There are, naturally, some caveats to this, though, that we will explore in this article.
But first, let’s explore how cocoa powder is made.
How is Cocoa Powder made?
Cocoa powder comes from the cocoa beans that are found inside the pods that hang from the cacao tree. When the fat, or the cocoa butter, is removed from the cacao beans during the processing, you’re left with leftover dry solids that are then ground up into cocoa powder.
You’ll sometimes see the words cocoa powder and chocolate powder being used interchangeably as if they’re the same thing, but this isn’t true.
Is Cocoa Powder considered Vegan?
Cocoa powder is made from crushing up cocoa seeds, making a paste, and then taking out the fat or cocoa butter from the paste. This leaves behind cocoa solid crumbles, which can be ground down into a fine powder – which is your cocoa powder.
Pure cocoa powder is extracted from cocoa beans – there are zero animal products involved in this process. With that said, cocoa powder is safe for vegans to eat.
Dutch-process cocoa is also vegan. This sort of cocoa processing uses an alkalizing agent to treat the powder, which lowers the acidity level. This results in a more mellow taste overall, which can be nice for chocolatey drinks (compared to pure cocoa, which falls on the more acidic side of the scale).
Do know that there is a difference between cocoa powder and cocoa powder used to make instant drinking hot chocolate. With the latter kind that is used to make hot cocoa, there can oftentimes be many additives in it, one of which is usually dried milk powder. So, the milk solids would not constitute for vegan cocoa in a traditional cocoa mix.
In the same way, if you’re buying pre-packaged cocoa, screen the ingredients list for milk ingredients. Again, milk products are commonly found in these products to enhance the flavor of the powder. So, just be sure there isn’t anything on the ingredient list that resembles milk – dried milk, milk powder, milk fat, etc if you want to adhere to your veganism. It’s not always safe to assume that just because something has cocoa powder in it that it’s vegan.
While it’s pretty well known that for a food item to be vegan, it must be free from animal products or dairy, it can still be a shocker for some that milk-chocolate is off-limits. Many chocolate-based foods don’t necessarily have to contain milk, though, and that is even more so true of food recipes that contain cocoa powder.
Also, note that it’s a possibility that your cocoa may have been produced in a facility with the same machinery that was used to make hot chocolate, which contains milk solids. So, the potential for cross-contact is something to be aware of.
With all of this information, how can you be sure that the cocoa powder you purchase melds with your vegan eating regimen?
How to avoid Cocoa Powder that isn’t Vegan
-Check the packaging and ingredients list.
*If it’s 100% pure cocoa powder, then it’s 100% vegan.
-Avoid lecithin as an ingredient. If the lecithin is soy lecithin, it’s fine for vegans to eat, but if it’s lecithin that’s been derived from egg yolk, it’s not ok for vegans to consume. Some manufacturers will not outright specify the source of the lecithin on the ingredient list – you can always reach out to the company with an email or check the product website, too.
-It’s best to find a cocoa powder that has a vegan certification somewhere on the packaging, as this will ensure there was no cross-contact during the manufacturing process, and that your cacao powder is totally vegan.
-In the U.S., if there is a milk product in a food item, you’ll often see a label that says “Contains milk,” or “contains milk ingredients.”
-You can always contact the manufacturers for any further questions.
Why are some Cocoa Products avoided by Vegans?
Just because your cocoa powder is vegan, doesn’t mean it’s cruelty-free. Cacao is one of the most heavily demanded products in the entire world, and there can be a bit of a darker side to that.
Many cacao beans come from the Ivory Coast or Ghana in West Africa, and there have been many cacao farms there found to have been linked with child labor, human trafficking, and slavery.
Let’s just get into it.
Children as young as 12 are exposed to toxic chemicals, as they are forced to spray the cacao pods without proper protective clothing. Children even as young as 7 are being found in the fields carrying machetes to chop down cacao pods, sometimes with scars from having been injured in the past from the blades. On top of this, the bags that are full of cacao pods that they carry are very heavy, and if the children are caught not carrying them quickly enough, they will be beaten. If you think about it – this is child slavery.
So, unless your cacao powder is fair trade certified, there is no guarantee that your cacao powder wasn’t produced without child labor. Thus, some vegans do not wish to support this and choose not to purchase a cocoa powder that is not fair trade cocoa.
Hershey’s and Mars companies have been affiliated with sourcing their chocolate from farms that support child labor, so just remember to be conscious of where your dollars go. These companies use child labor to produce their goods as cheaply as possible, which isn’t very ethical. Your dollar might be going toward child labour, even though you might not see it happening, the cocoa powder has to get processed somehow.
How to Identify Fair-Trade Cocoa
In order to verify your cocoa is fair trade certified, check your product label for the yin and yang shaped green and blue Fair Trade Certification logo. This is your golden ticket. Now you can be guaranteed that no human exploitation happened on the cocoa farms where your beans were sourced.
What does fair trade mean, exactly?
For a business to be considered fair trade, it needs to follow these basic guidelines to receive approval for this certification:
- It allows farmers to organize into cooperatives so they can earn fair prices for their products.
- Fair trade organizations regularly inspect farms to ensure they meet child labor standards.
- Environmental Sustainability of the farm and production of the cacao is promoted. Dangerous chemicals and GMO’s aren’t permitted to be used.
- Since fair trade cacao is more expensive, this ensures that farmers are paid a sustainable price.
Fair trade regulations help farmers and children both who live in the area – child labor is actually banned via fair trade standards. If you buy fair trade anything, your dollars go toward helping keep children in school instead of working on farms where they are mistreated.
Navitas Organics Cacao Powder
With many options of cacao powder to choose from, it can sometimes be tricky to decide on which one is the best one.
This animal cruelty-free and child slavery-free, fair trade, non-GMO, USDA organic, plant-based superfood is made from single-origin fair-trade cacao beans. This powder is sourced from a farm in Sierra Leone, West Africa where fair labor practices are upheld. Nativas company is committed to transparency and accuracy, and invests in cacao co-ops and reforestation planning. This is one of the cocoa brands that has no added sugar, and is packed full of magnesium, fiber, iron, and antioxidants. If you have an allergy, know that this product has been packed in a facility that also processes tree nuts.
There are over 25,000 antioxidants in one spoonful of cocoa powder (one of the most antioxidant dense foods out there), so if you’ve been looking to add a vegan, healthy, decadent ingredient to your kitchen cabinet, perhaps you might want to look into cacao. Just remember that if you want to be absolutely sure it’s vegan and has zero animal ingredients- do your due diligence, be mindful of potential cross-contact, while also remembering that each and every one of your dollars supports the manufacturing practices of these global companies.