Cocoa powder is the staple of many cupboards, ready to be added at a moment’s notice into cake batter or a wholesome chilli sauce. 

The ultimate source of this ubiquitous powder is a plant; the cacao tree. This means pure cocoa powder is vegan. However, does this mean it’s reliably vegan? 

And beyond that, how can you ensure it is sourced in the most ethical way possible? 

Is cocoa powder vegan? 

Yes, pure cocoa powder is vegan, but you’ll have to make sure it’s pure.

filtering cocoa powder

Cocoa powder is a common ingredient in many baking recipes, helping to add a rich chocolatey flavour without the complication of adding solid chocolate. 

Both cocoa powder and the chocolate itself come from the same starting blocks, the cocoa or cacao bean, which is composed of two main components; cocoa solids and cocoa butter. 

To make chocolate, cocoa butter and solids are mixed with sugar and other ingredients such as milk. However, cocoa powder is a much less complex product, without many additives. The main process involved in its creation is the removal of much of the cocoa butter. 

To get to this point, the beans must be fermented and roasted. The roasted beans are then ground to form cocoa liquor. 

This liquor is a mixture of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. To separate them, the mass is pressed.

Not all cocoa butter is removed, with cocoa powder typically having a range of 8-36%. More expensive cocoa powders will generally have a higher percentage of cocoa butter, making the mixture less bitter. 

Cocoa powder can come in two forms, natural cocoa powder or Dutch cocoa powder, the difference being the process by which they are made.

Dutch cocoa powder is mixed with an alkaline substance during processing, usually potassium carbonate or sodium carbonate. This helps lower the acidity of the cocoa powder, making it less bitter. It also allows it to mix into liquids better. 

Natural cocoa powder does not include this additional step in its processing.  

Therefore cocoa powder is either all cocoa bean or made with inorganic potassium carbonate or sodium carbonate. 

So the good news is cocoa powder is vegan, as no animal-derived ingredients are used. However, as you’ll see further in this article, cocoa powder is not always sold in its pure form, and sometimes, there are risks of cross-contaminations. This means you might want to look for vegan labels when shopping…

Is cocoa the same as cacao? 

No, it’s not just a typo or some American vs British English spelling.

What they have in common is that they are both vegan (as long as no animal-derived additives are added), and they both come from the cacao beans.

The difference lies in how the beans are processed.

Cacao is made much the same way as cocoa powder, but the cocoa bean is processed raw without being roasted. As a result, cacao is usually bitter than cocoa, and has more nutritional content. 

Note that sometimes, cacao is used in a branding exercise to make cocoa or chocolate products seem more natural. This inconsistency means it can be hard to be sure if the ingredients are raw or more processed. 

Is cocoa powder the same as a chocolate powder?

Many people get confused between cocoa powder and chocolate powder. However, there are significant differences. 

chocolate bar with powder

While cocoa powder generally contains nothing but cocoa solids and cocoa butter, chocolate powder includes the additions of sugar and dried milk powder and potential other additives or flavourings. 

This is because the pure cocoa powder does not mix well with liquid and is very bitter. Chocolate powder can be combined with hot water or milk to create a popular hot or cold drink. 

The good news is that vegan hot cocoa powder is available. Often vegan hot chocolate powder brands forgo the powdered milk to make the product vegan friendly, and several non-vegan brands are now bringing out vegan versions. 

Is cocoa powder always vegan?

In general, most cocoa powder is vegan in terms of the ingredients it contains. If no vegan labelling can be seen, it is worth checking the ingredients list for non-vegan additives, especially with cheaper cocoa powder brands.

The other reason why a cocoa powder might not be labelled as vegan, even though its ingredients list does not contain non-vegan ingredients, is the risk of cross-contaminations.

Cross-contamination is where multiple products are made in one place, and the producer can’t ensure a small amount of ingredients from other products haven’t entered theirs. 

For example, they may state ‘may contain milk’ if milk powder is used in other products on the same production line. 

Such products are highly likely to be vegan, but the manufacturer is not about to guarantee this.   

Is it vegan?Why?
Is Tesco cocoa powder vegan?NoThe warning label states it may contain milk. 
Is Cadbury Bournville cocoa powder vegan?NoThe warning label states it may contain milk. 
Is Asda cocoa powder vegan?YesIt carries a vegan label.
Is Dr Oetker cocoa powder vegan?YesIt carries a vegan label.
Is Aldi cocoa powder vegan?YesBut no vegan label, so better check the ingredients.
Is Lidl cocoa powder vegan?YesIt carries a vegan label.

How to make sure it’s 100% vegan? 

  • The good news is most cocoa powders have very few ingredients, meaning it’s a relatively quick check down the ingredients list to be sure it doesn’t contain any non-vegan ingredients. 
  • Another thing to look out for is any allergy information listed for dairy products. 
  • Vegan certification is another good way to be sure your cocoa powder, or other chocolate products, are vegan.
  • Oh, and make sure you’re not picking some “instant cocoa” by mistake 😉

Vegan, yes, but is your cocoa powder ethical?

There are multiple reasons for choosing vegan products, from animal welfare to environmental considerations. 

Therefore, along with ensuring no animal products are used within your cocoa powder, you should be aware of other environmental and ethical considerations. 

The growth of the cacao tree has been associated in the past with the clearance of important natural forests. Additionally, the cocoa industry has been linked with human rights violations such as slave and child labour. 

However, new growing techniques are showing the benefits of growing cocoa under the canopy of the forest. And as always, you can look for logos to make sure your cocoa powder is ethical.

The Rainforest Alliance logo, a little green frog, demonstrates the cacao has been grown in an environmentally sustainable and ethical manner. 

Fairtrade and other ethical labels such as Cocoa life can ensure that the brand you are buying from is working to help cacao farmers and stamp out unethical labour practices. 

100% Vegan & Ethical cocoa powder picks

Cocoa powder and cacao powder are having an ethical revolution, with many brands popping up in the last decade to sell sustainably harvested and socially responsible cocoa, giving you plenty of brands to pick from. 

Note: The first 2 products we’ve listed are cocoa power, while the others are cacao powder. Why? Simply because we tend to prefer cacao powder, as it has more nutrients and is generally considered more natural than cocoa.

Divine chocolate cocoa powder

divine chocolate cocoa

Divine chocolate is a well established Fairtrade chocolate brand, meaning that cacao farmers get a fair price for their product. Their cocoa powder is vegan, intense and sustainable, what more can you want.

Nomu cocoa powder

nomu cocoa powder

Nomu is a brand that believes in social responsibility in all that they do, which is why they support a number of charities and are Rainforest Alliance certified. They produce authentic, high-quality foods that they test on their staff, friends and families.  

Naturya cacoa powder (cacao)

naturya cacao powder

Naturya is a health food brand that sources food from all over the world to provide the best quality products to its customers. Organic and vegan, their cocoa powder is also Fairtrade. 

Sevenhills wholefood organic cacao powder (cacao)

sevenhills cacao powder

Sevenhills produce organic wholefoods and superfoods. They work closely with their farmers to provide seasonal foods and have a sustainable income. Their products are vegan certified. 

Green origins organic cacao powder (cacao)

green origins cacao powder

Green origins produce ethically sourced superfoods, always working towards being as environmentally sustainable as possible. They carry both vegan and organic certification. 

Vegan cocoa powder recipes

There are plenty of vegan cocoa powder recipes for you to take advantage of, from cakes to milkshakes. 

  • There are many great vegan dessert recipes with cocoa powder; one straightforward and tasty one can be vegan chocolate pudding.
  • In vegan brownies, cocoa powder is a crucial ingredient, giving them that rich chocolatey flavour. 

To conclude

The excellent news is cocoa powder is almost always vegan; the bad news is that cross-contamination means many brands cannot guarantee this. 

Still, there are many ethical vegan brands out there that go the extra mile for you and the planet. Look out for certification like the Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade, as well as vegan logos.  

So when it comes to vegan cocoa powder you really can have your cake, or brownie, and eat it.

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