Is white chocolate vegan?

White chocolate is one of those things that people either love or hate. Personally, I am a fan: the sweet, creamy flavour has been a favourite since I was a kid. Technically, confectionary made without a certain proportion of milk solids can’t legally be labelled as chocolate, meaning that any candy sold as “white chocolate” isn’t vegan.

Before you resign yourself to a white-chocolate-less existence, though, there’s some good news. You can get that delicious white chocolate taste in vegan form. Vegan white chocolate flavoured sweets are made with the same cocoa butter and sugar that give white chocolate its flavour and texture, without the dairy ingredients.

Is white chocolate vegan? No, it’s usually not. In many regions, white chocolate can’t be vegan because white chocolate is defined as having a certain percentage of milk solids. You can, however, find very similar confectionary with equivalent ingredients, omitting the milk products.

You’ve landed on this page because you have questions about white chocolate and other confectionary. Maybe you’ve recently become a vegan and you’re trying to find out more about your new lifestyle. Perhaps you’re an established vegan and you just want to broaden the range of foods you eat. You might just be looking for a treat for a vegan friend. Does white chocolate contain non-vegan ingredients? What are the ingredients in white chocolate that aren’t vegan? If white chocolate isn’t vegan, what similar confectionary is available? Is this confectionary healthy? Read on to find out more about white chocolate and vegan alternatives.

Is white chocolate vegan?

It depends on the region where you live and what the food labelling standards are, but usually the answer will be “no”. Something marked white chocolate is almost certainly not vegan. In a lot of regions, food standards prohibit confectionary from being labelled as “white chocolate” unless it contains a minimum of dairy ingredients. Thus, if a candy is labelled “white chocolate”, it isn’t vegan. This is probably very disappointing for vegans who enjoy white chocolate, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Vegan white chocolate flavoured confectionary is available — it just can’t be called “chocolate” under the laws governing food labelling in most regions.

If you’ve been a vegan for a while, you’ve probably found vegan chocolate (hands up if your mind immediately went to Fry’s Chocolate Cream bars, everyone’s favourite vegan sweetie). The absence of white chocolate that’s okay for vegans might be a bit confusing. If plain chocolate can be made vegan, why not white chocolate?

Really, it just comes down to labelling regulations. Some regulatory body decided that, just as candy labelled milk chocolate has to have a certain amount of milk, a product has to contain milk to be deemed white chocolate (even though the name doesn’t mention milk at all). It’s great to have these regulations so we can all know what we’re putting in our bodies, but sometimes they don’t make a great deal of sense.

The good news is that you can certainly get the white chocolate flavour you love without milk products. The cocoa butter that gives white chocolate its subtle taste and velvety texture is vegan, and the other ingredients can be vegan too. Vegetable fats can replace the milk fats, and dubiously sourced ingredients can be swapped for ones with a more ethical origin. White cocoa-based products for vegans are usually labelled as “white chocolate flavour” or marketed as confectionary bars instead of chocolate bars. Read on to find out more about white chocolate flavour candy for vegans.

What’s in white chocolate?

White chocolate confectionary can contain all sorts of ingredients, but the basics are cocoa butter, sugar, and some kind of fat. For non-vegans, this last ingredient would be milk solids. For us, it might be soy milk, coconut oil, or another plant-based ingredient. You’ll probably find vanilla and other flavourings in the mix, as well as ingredients that help keep the confectionary shelf-stable.

There are still concerns for vegans, however. The biggest worry is going to be the sugar. Much of the cane sugar produced in the world is still refined using a substance called bone char. If the name is unappealing, the reality is even less so: bone char is made from the bones of animals that have been burned and turned into a charcoal-like substance, which is used to filter the sugar. Clearly, most vegans are not going to be okay with this.

Luckily, you don’t have to use bone char to refine sugar. Synthetic or plant-based materials can be used instead. In addition, beet sugar can be used in place of cane sugar; this is refined using a different process that doesn’t rely on bone char. In short, sugar can certainly be vegan.

The next consideration is the source of the cocoa butter. Cocoa is a notoriously problematic crop, associated with unsustainable growing practices, environmental damage, and the exploitation of those who grow the crop. Most vegans are motivated at least in part by environmental concerns, and will of course want to choose products that use ethically sourced cocoa butter.

Another potentially problematic ingredient is the vanilla flavouring used in most white chocolate confectionery. Synthetic vanilla flavourings often come with a history of animal testing, so you’ll want to look for natural vanilla. Unfortunately, vanilla beans are often farmed unsustainably and using exploitative labour practices. Even fair-trade vanilla beans can have a dubious ethical background. Look for products that carefully source their vanilla beans, ideally buying direct from the growers.

White chocolate sounds so simple! Could I make it at home?

Yes, you can. A delicious white vegan chocolate is surprisingly easy to make yourself. You don’t need any special equipment. If you create your own white chocolate, you have total control over everything that goes into it and can decide exactly which ingredients are most in line with your values.

There are a couple of recipes I like, one using coconut oil and the other relying on soy milk powder. I prefer the smooth, velvety, coconut-flavoured version but a lot of my friends like the milkier-tasting soy variety. The soy-milk version is also more stable and travels better (the coconut one really needs to be kept in the fridge). Obviously, you can use any powdered plant milk.

The key is a really good food-grade cocoa butter. The better quality your cocoa butter, the more successful your chocolate will be. All your utensils need to be made of metal — whisks and forks, not wooden spoons or spatulas. The reason for this is that any trace of moisture will ruin the chocolate.

If you flavour your chocolate with vanilla, choose an alcohol-based extract or use vanilla beans or vanilla paste. A water-based vanilla flavour will completely wreck the chocolate.

For coconut chocolate, you’ll need 2 cups of cocoa butter, one cup of icing sugar, and 3/4 cups of coconut oil. For the plant milk version, leave out the coconut oil and add three tablespoons of plant milk powder. To help keep the chocolate more stable, add a quarter teaspoon of soy lecithin. A pinch of sea salt will make the flavour more interesting.

Mix your dry ingredients in a bowl. Use a sieve, and whisk to combine everything evenly.

Next, chop up the cocoa butter into small bits. Melt the cocoa butter and the coconut oil (if you’re using it). You’ll need a double boiler or a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan full of hot water. Alternatively, you can melt everything in the microwave.

Take the bowl off the saucepan. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the melted cocoa butter and oil, whisking as you go for an even mix. Add the vanilla. Return the bowl to the heat and melt your chocolate, then pour it onto a tray or into candy moulds.

You can jazz up your chocolate with other ingredients, such as natural colours and flavours, or use it to dip fruits, nuts and snack foods like vegan mini pretzels. Store your chocolate in the fridge to keep it in good condition.

Robert Van De Ville

Robert Van De Ville is a registered nutritionist, he earned his degree in nutrition from California State University. Now based in London UK. An author of the upcoming book, researcher and dedicated vegan activist.

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