Vegan Chocolates You Should & Shouldn't Buy

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As the popular internet meme-slash-groanworthy dad joke goes, "Chocolate comes from cocoa which is a tree. That makes it a plant. So chocolate is salad."  While it's true that cacao, the bean from which cocoa is made, is a plant, chocolate as we know and love it isn't vegan by nature. With milk and butter adding creaminess to the chocolate, fillings, and toppings, finding a decent animal product-free chocolate bar can be a tricky task. Even well-known dark chocolate selections like Hershey's Special Dark that sacrifice creaminess for a sophisticated snap and sharper flavor profile contain some amount of milk, a disappointing bait-and-switch that can leave herbivorous cocoa lovers in the dust.

Thankfully, the vegan food explosion has inspired a radical expansion in the chocolate market, making it easy for plant-eaters to find treats to satisfy their chocolate cravings without compromising their principles. Innovations in alternative dairy (like oat milk and cashew milk) have given creative confectioners workable substitutes, and organic sugars and flavorings make it possible to replicate beloved candy bar combinations in vegan versions that are sometimes better than familiar favorites ... but not always. It's a bittersweet subject that calls for a bit of unpacking.

Should: Gatsby Almond Dark Bar

Gatsby Chocolate prides itself on providing a healthier version of decadence, with thoughtful plant-based confections that minimize calories and unhealthy ingredients while bringing delicious goodies to a hungry market. The Almond Dark bar is a stand-out in the collection, offering a rich indulgence at 70 calories and two grams of sugar per serving. With three servings in each 80-gram bar, eating an entire Almond Dark will net you half the calories and one-fourth the sugar of a Hershey's Special Dark Bar with Almonds. Not a bad prospect for vegan chocolate lovers with their eye on healthy eating, especially when it comes to their sugary snacks.

It's no surprise that this start-up has figured out the magic formula for vegan treats that make mindful eating delicious. Doug Bouton, Gatsby's founder and CEO, is also the originator of Halo Top, another health-conscious treat that took the ice cream market by storm with high-protein, low-sugar gourmet sweetness. It's exciting to imagine what sorts of plant-based indulgences he'll dream up next. For now, sweet-toothed vegans can handily raise an Almond Dark bar in the finest tradition of all the great Gatsbys and give a hearty, "Cheers to you, old sport!"

Should: Hu Crunchy Mint Dark Chocolate Bar

Hu is short for "human", which sums up the philosophy of this craft chocolate company. Their bars are all free in the best possible way: cruelty-free, dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free, making them vegan and paleo simultaneously. With seven dark chocolate bar varieties in the mix in flavor combinations that mirror name-brand candy bars, plant-eaters can enjoy the full spectrum of chocoholic bliss. The stand-out in this collection is the Crunchy Mint Bar, a sophisticated temptation for the tastebuds. There are a whopping five minimally processed ingredients, all organic, and not a single name unpronounceable. The minty zing is courtesy of organic peppermint oil, while the crunch comes from organic cacao nibs that are also certified Fairtrade. It couldn't be any more tempting if it came with a Ferarri attached!

As so many great small brands are, Hu was acquired by food giant Mondelez to expand their reach. Time will tell if their standards can maintain. For conscientious vegans, the social responsibility of a craft chocolate company like Hu is paramount. More than just enjoying plant-based treats, vegans know their candy money is funding an organization that takes their devotion to helping the planet to heart.

Should: Alter Eco Quinoa Crunch Dark Chocolate Bar

If you're hoping to contribute to saving the forests, you can start by picking up Alter Eco vegan chocolate. This company's dedication to regenerative agriculture drives its mission to produce plant-based chocolate you can feel good about eating, for more than just the sumptuous blend of taste and texture. Its agroforestry process emulates whole ecosystems around its cacao plants, which is highly beneficial for the surrounding forest. Hand-in-hand with crop land regeneration are the compostable wrappers that leave a smaller carbon footprint than traditional candy bar packaging. Add this to their fair-trade practices, and you have a nearly perfect model for chocolate factory with modern sensibilities.

As for the candy bars themselves, not all of Alter Eco's offerings are vegan. The plant-based recipes are reserved for the dark chocolate collection, one of the best of which is Quinoa Crunch. A contemporary take on the crisped rice bar, this little beauty is 60% cacao and crunches in all the right places. For vegan eaters in search of a more highbrow yet responsible way to enjoy a sweet treat with a bit more tooth, this one is a must-try. There's never been a tastier way to help heal the planet.

Should: Endangered Species Cinnamon Cayenne & Cherries + Dark Chocolate

You have to love a company that puts its mission in its name. Endangered Species wears their love of animal conservation on its sleeve as well as its label, with 10% of profits benefitting wildlife and habitat protection organizations through strategic partnerships around the world. In addition to being environmentally sensitive, many of their chocolate creations are certified vegan and include mindfully chosen ingredients with an emphasis on purity, health, and fair trade, all of which are desirable inclusions when it comes to plant-based treats.

The best of the vegan bars in the Endangered Species chocolate menagerie has to be the Cinnamon Cayenne & Cherries + Dark Chocolate bar. This upmarket palate teaser pulls out all the stops, tantalizing the taster's palate with soft fire from the cinnamon, full-blown heat from the cayenne and the playful tang of the cherries, all layered among the earthy richness dark chocolate containing 60% cocoa. The effect is as much a festival of flavors and feelings as you're likely to find in a candy bar. Knowing such a peak chocolate experience exists for the vegans of the world is cause for celebration. And of course, non-vegans are free to join in the festivities, too.

Shouldn't: Raaka Strawberry Swirl Bar

An all-vegan chocolatier must be a good thing in the world of plant-based candy, right? It may seem like a dream come true, but the real answer is more complicated. Raaka makes its best attempt at applying plant-based-only guidelines to their inventive chocolate creations. Where things get a little sticky is in the company's ambition to keep their cacao pure by leaving it unroasted, relying only on fermentation to raise the temperature to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This distinctive process may set Raaka apart from the chocolate crowd, but it also imparts a very particular flavor profile to the bars. And a vegan looking for chocolate is usually looking for a familiar flavor made cruelty-free.

The resulting chocolate bars have a harsh aftertaste that Amazon reviewers describe as tasting "... like sour milk" and "really, really sour and gross." The flavor called out specifically as "The best sounding one was the worst tasting bar" is Strawberry Swirl. The ingredients certainly sound promising, and the description of dark chocolate blended with strawberry and vanilla white chocolates could be a vegan chocolate lover's dream. Unfortunately, the overreach for undercooked chocolate comes up short in Raaka's attempt to be innovative.

Should: Lindt OatMilk Classic Recipe Bar

Lindt is a leader in the silky-smooth chocolate sector, if such a sector even exists. If not, it should, even if Lindt is also the only member. Their luscious Swiss-style confections have been around since 1845, a fact proudly stated in the logo. But the dairy-heavy recipes kept vegans on the outside, staring through the windows of the chocolate shop and wondering if the chocolatiers would ever turn their attention to the plant-eaters. It took more than a century, but Lindt finally created an entry in the vegan chocolate arena that was entirely worth the wait.

Though not certified vegan, Lindt's OatMilk Classic Recipe is a plant-based variation on their quintessential chocolate that feels like a cloud on your tongue and tastes like a bite of heaven. Vegans eating for health should know that this bar offers nine 170-calorie servings, which is not the right choice if you're staying the course as far as nutrition goes. But if you're looking for a treat that can soothe the savage sweet tooth and only creamy milk chocolate will do, Lindt is one of the rare entries in the vegan chocolate game that doesn't keep its best offerings in the dark.

Should: Unreal Dark Chocolate Coconut Bars

The name doesn't lie: These vegan chocolates are Unreal, both in branding and in flavor. This candy producer tweaks the expected and changes the game with plant-centered analogs of all the best candy bars on the shelf. Even the packaging mimics the brands whose flavors Unreal replicates. Whether it's quinoa crispies standing in for a Nestle's Crunch Bar or chocolate and candy-coated peanuts substituting for Peanut M&Ms, the resemblance is uncanny. And the flavor is out of this world, not just for vegan chocolate but for chocolate of any kind. Not only does it taste incredible, it's also lower in sugar than regular chocolate.

Since all of Unreal's offerings are certified vegan, they're all worth trying, but the best of the bunch by far is the Dark Chocolate Coconut bar. Anyone with a taste for a Mounds bar will relish this delicious doppelgänger. It's a creamy, toothy combination that has worked so well for years that it's nice to finally have a version that's plant-based. With only dark chocolate, coconut, and cassava syrup on the ingredients list, it's a simple pleasure that hits the spot every time. If you're tempted to exclaim "Unreal!", feel free to do so now.

Shouldn't: Dallmann Vegan Chocolates

Dallmann is less a candy maker and more a purveyor of fine artisan chocolates. These multi-hued truffles shine like jewels, artfully presented for a premier chocolate experience. The vegan collection is no exception, with dazzling chocolate shells housing cruelty-free fillings for plant-eaters to enjoy. Dallmann's chocolate case also offer more elegant combinations like cardamom and rosewater ganache for chocolate lovers who favor a gourmet nosh. And the bars offer star anise and Valencia orange or lavender with fleur de sel to make things even more luxe.

The temptation of a vegan version of sea salt caramel may seem too enticing to pass up. These dark chocolate cubes are bite-sized gems of plant-based beauty, and a chocolatier who elevates vegan offerings with thoughtful artistry is one to consider. The holdback that puts them in the "do not buy" column is the price. While other vegan chocolates have been kept relatively affordable, Dallmann's price reflects its high-end aspirations. A single bar goes for $8.00 on their website, while a truffle two-pack is $6.00. At $3.00 a bite, you barely begin the enjoyment before the experience is over. Your money is better spent on a balance of quality and quantity.

Shouldn't: Thrive Market Dark Chocolate Cashew Butter Bar

The thoughtful nature of Thrive Market provides concerned consumers a marketplace for buying all sorts of responsible foods, including their own line of vegan chocolate bars. The cacao used is grown under ethical standards, which is always a welcome element in the vegan chocolate game. These recipes use coconut sugar, a favored sweetener in the vegan community, due to the use of animal bone char in the processing of cane sugar. With awareness like this, Thrive is definitely covering all the plant-based bases and cruelty-free touchpoints.

Whether their bars hold up to the high standards of vegan chocolate fiends is a matter of taste. The Dark Chocolate Cashew Butter bar blends 72% cacao with organic cashew butter and Himalayan pink salt for a creamy concoction that's both vegan and paleo. Sounds tasty, right? However, according to one reviewer on the Thrive site, "I like the Hu brand of this item better but this is good for the price." If affordability is a factor, this vegan chocolate bar that's finding its place in the market might work. But if you have candy money to spare, it could be better spent on more established brands.

Should: Rad Vegan Milk Chocolate with Maple Sugar

It's hard not to love Rad chocolate. The lacy graphics and minimalistic packaging are like yoga for your eyes, mesmerizing yet energizing. The flavors are traditional, made with organic ingredients that include maple sugar, something unique in vegan chocolate channels. The company's laid-back humor shines through in the FAQ page and their quick rundown of the history of chocolate, which are must-reads for anyone who visits the site. A brand that surprises customers with wit and easygoing spirit is starting off on the right foot, especially when its product is something of a specialty item.

As for the chocolate, the most enticing flavor in the small-batch selection has to be the Milk Chocolate with Maple Sugar Bar. Rad's use of an alternative sugar is a unique move that brings a gourmet vibe to the company's otherwise earthy Zen. Amazon reviewers sing its praises, proclaiming that "[i]t ranks up there with the finest Godiva chocolates." For a vegan chocolate that doesn't take itself too seriously, Rad serves up a seriously good confection.

Shouldn't: JoJo's Peanut Butter Delight Bars

Though the packaging doesn't proclaim vegan certification, Jojo's assures customers that their products are indeed vegan-friendly. They're also diabetic-friendly and soy-free, expanding the audience to include healthful eaters outside of vegan circles. But plant-eaters will find much to rejoice about in Jojo's collection of craft chocolate bars. Rather than nesting their fillings amid the chocolate, these beautiful bars proclaim them proudly with a top layer that shows off almonds, raspberries, pumpkin seeds, and coconut, among others. The resulting chocolate bars are rustic works of abstract art lovely enough to tempt non-vegans to the greener side.

However, the healthful features stop at the cruelty-free ingredients for Jojo's. At a whopping 190 calories and 14 grams of fat per two-ounce serving, the popular Peanut Butter Delight bars are a bit of a dietary disappointment. Sure, it's a candy bar, and it's meant to be more of a treat than a daily habit. But Jojo's stuffs seven peanut butter-filled bars into a single pack, which means inspiration to indulge more than necessary is a real possibility. Other vegan brands dole out their goodness in single bars, so you know when you're finished. For the temptation factor alone, Jojo's is a no-no.

Shouldn't: Nebula Snacks Dark and Oat Milk Chocolate Bars

Outer space-themed vegan chocolate, like the bars from Nebula Snacks, is difficult to resist. The whole website carries the cosmic theme, with a low-sugar profile for the candy that's "Good for Humans" and a production profile that's "Good for Earth", including plant-based chocolate made via sustainable methods and innovative biodegradable packaging to ship it in. Add in the fact that Nebula's vegan space-speckled chocolate formula includes no sugar, dairy, soy, or artificial ingredients, and you have a real moonshot of a candy bar that can change the world for the better.

Nebula Snacks is the new kid on the chocolate block, though. It was brought to market in mid-2021 as a pandemic brainchild of its creators. Customer reviews seem to range from "really freaking good" to "just okay", and with prices starting at $28 for a eight-pack of Dark Chocolate and Oat Milk Chocolate, launching this chocolate rocket is a bit of a risk. Though the layout sounds promising and the future may be bright for Nebula Snacks, there are more proven vegan chocolates in the world to stake your flag in. Here's hoping that this spacey little brand can expand, live long, and prosper.

Should: Schmilk Toffee Bar

Originally known as Chocolate Hollow, this non-dairy chocolatier has been around since 2012 and touts its bars as the world's first vegan chocolate bars. The rebranding is a wink-and-nod to the idea that chocolate needs dairy milk to be good, inspiring the name, as in "Milk, schmilk!" The dairy replacement of choice in Schmilk's formula is cashews, a popular substitute in milk- and cream-based recipes among vegan cooks. This helps keep the chocolate super rich and creamy, while keeping the plant-based guardrails in place.

Schmilk's plant-based treats come in a variety of bars, bon-bons, and seasonal candies, but the Toffee Bar is the unicorn of vegan candy bars, and it's all due to the toffee bits. The bar is made with organic cane sugar, organic cane syrup, and organic and fair-trade cocoa liquor, but the inclusion of toffee in this tasty vittle makes Schmilk's, as one reviewer on the site puts it, "Life changing chocolate." It doesn't hurt that the company has been perfecting their formula for so long, putting them out in front of the vegan chocolate pack. Just knowing there are people putting in the work to better the world of plant-based confections is a treat in itself.