Is cocoa powder vegan? Yes, it is! But read on to learn more about potential ethical and contamination issues.
What is cocoa powder anyway?
Cocoa powder is an unsweetened chocolate powder that comes from ground cocoa beans of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao).
The cacao tree yields huge pods with beans that are then harvested, strained, dried, ground, and packed to make cocoa powder, a favorite ingredient in many chocolate recipes. When the beans are harvested, they are usually strained to remove the fat, which is known as cocoa butter or cacao butter.
The remaining solid of the bean, which has minimal cocoa butter, is ground into a powder, which means that cocoa powder is basically solid cocoa beans. Cocoa powder is used in making different types of chocolate, sweets, cakes, hot cocoa mix, and so on.
So is cocoa powder vegan?
Yes! If we’re talking about unsweetened cocoa powder without any added ingredients, then yes! But some hot chocolate drinks, which contain cocoa powder, likely contain some non-vegan ingredients.
Not all cocoa powders are created equal, which makes things a little more complicated.
While pure cocoa powder is vegan, the production of cocoa powder and chocolate has certain ethical issues. And if you’re worried about trace amounts of non-vegan ingredients in your cocoa powder, read on for more.
Although pure cocoa powder is vegan, cross-contamination could be an issue if the cocoa powder is packaged in a facility that produces non-vegan ingredients. It comes down to just how strict you are.
Oftentimes, naturally vegan products such as cocoa powder are packed in a facility that packages non-vegan products. Sometimes they’re even processed using the same equipment as non-vegan products.
That equipment may or may not be cleaned when they switch from product to product. Some manufacturers are careful when switching between products, but some aren’t. This could lead to cross-contamination.
One more thing – food processing equipment isn’t easy to properly clean, that is unless the manufacturer dismantles everything. I think it’s safe to assume that very few facilities do this.
Unfair trade and agricultural practices
Workers on the cocoa farms are subjected to extremely unsafe working conditions and are not paid fairly as a result of these unjust farming methods. Research has shown that manual laborers handle pesticides without protective clothing, use unsafe farming tools and even spend long hours working in hazardous conditions.
One of the top issues surrounding cocoa farming is that the people who put the most effort, the farmers, only receive a small share of the profit from cocoa bean sales. While chocolate businesses are raking in record profits, farmers are struggling to make ends meet.
Farmers have been given thoroughly unfair deals presumably because of the quality of their beans, taxes, fluctuations in the value of cocoa, and unfair trade systems.
Because farmers do not make enough money and the demand for cacao beans is high, they frequently employ children laborers. This helps them to lower their capital investment in their business.
A study conducted at Tulane University in 2015 revealed that in Ghana and the Ivory Coast alone, almost 2 million children (5 to 17 years old) work on cocoa farms, with over 500,000 of them working in abusive conditions.
Brands labeled as vegan + Fairtrade
If you’ve ever strolled through a supermarket’s coffee aisle, you’ve probably seen bags with ‘Fairtrade’ written on them. Fairtrade is a system for establishing long-term, equitable trading ties with developed-country businesses. Here are some vegan + Fairtrade brands:
- Black Velvet Cacao Powder – this is responsibly sourced USDA-certified organic premium cacao (cocoa) powder. It’s free of allergens and is produced in a totally allergen-free environment. The top eight allergens aren’t allowed on site. It’s also keto, paleo, gluten-free, and vegan. Furthermore, it is grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or artificial agents, and it is grown in a way that promotes ecological balance and biodiversity conservation. It also donates a portion of its profits to organizations that support a range of issues.
- Organic NuNaturals Cocoa Powder – It’s packaged in a resealable bag with 76 servings of cocoa powder inside. The item is Fairtrade certified, so you can be assured that your purchase helps farmers earn higher prices, therefore improving lives, protecting the environment, and making the world a better place.
- Navitas Organic Cacao Powder – This one doesn’t say vegan on the bag, but it does say dairy-free. And the product page says vegan. It’s prepared from single-origin, USDA organic cacao beans that have been farmed and processed to benefit the farmers, the environment, and your body! With no additional sugar, it boasts a beautifully rich, robust chocolate flavor. It’s gluten-free, vegan, kosher, non-GMO, Fairtrade, and USDA-certified organic.
So! Cocoa powder is vegan as long as no other ingredients or animal products have been added. Just remember there are a lot of ethical issues underlying the chocolate farming industry. So you might want to use Fairtrade cocoa powder if that’s something that’s important to you.
Vegan recipes with cocoa powder
Here are some of my favorite vegan chocolate recipes with cocoa powder!
- Vegan Mug Brownie
- Chocolate Avocado Smoothie
- Paleo Vegan Brownies
- Vegan Chocolate Cake
- Vegan Chocolate Pudding
I hope I’ve answered your question! If you have any others, feel free to comment below and I’ll be happy to answer them. :)