Is cacao powder OK for vegans?
The short answer is a resounding YES! However, that’s just the shorter answer.
There’s a longer answer: “It depends”.
It’s the same answer you’ll get from us if you asked if chocolate is OK for vegans.
In their natural forms, cacao powder and chocolate are vegan-friendly. They’re products of Theobroma cacao, the chocolate tree.
But, not all chocolate is created the same. As not all cacao powder is packaged the same. The basic manufacturing process is the same, but the content of the final product will determine which is vegan and which is not.
Cacao powder comes from the seed of the cacao fruit. After the fruit is harvested, the seed (also called bean) is removed, fermented, and dried. Dried beans are then crushed (roasted or not) and pressed to extract the fat known as cocoa butter. The resulting cake of dry cacao solids is ground into a fine powder known as cacao powder.
You may be wondering at this point, “Is cacao powder the same as cocoa powder?”
Not really. Sometimes used interchangeably, these two terms also mean differences in manufacturing process, cacao content, flavour, and price.
The 5 key differences between cacao powder and cocoa powder are:
1. Processing: Cacao powder is made by cold-pressing raw cacao beans, while cocoa powder is made by roasting cacao beans at high temperatures. Some cacao powders are also made from roasted beans at low temperatures.
2. Nutritional Composition: Cacao powder retains a higher concentration of antioxidants and nutrients due to minimal processing. Which makes it a superfood. Cocoa powder usually has lower levels of antioxidants.
3. Flavor: Cacao powder has a rich and slightly bitter flavor, while cocoa powder has a milder taste. Cocoa powder also comes as either natural and Dutch-processed cocoa powder, which may affect flavor and acidity levels.
4. Recipes: Cacao powder is commonly used in raw desserts and health-conscious recipes, while cocoa powder is more commonly used in baking and cooking applications.
5. Cost: Cacao powder is usually pricier than cocoa powder.
Let’s now look at the different labels of cacao powder and their relation to veganism.
Pure cacao powder, also known as 100% cacao powder, contains only pure cacao solids without any additives, sweeteners, or additional ingredients. It has a deeply rich and intense flavor. As the most unadulterated form of cacao available, it is vegan-friendly.
People choose veganism for various reasons, two of which are the health of animals and the health of the environment, especially the preservation of biodiversity and wildlife. It is not a secret that there’s animal (human) cruelty and deforestation in the cacao/chocolate industry.
Over a million children work in cacao farms with hazardous and dangerous equipment. Millions of cocoa farmers do not earn a living income despite their hard work.
Vegans should not stop only at looking for the absence of animal product in their cacao powder. Seek to understand how the cacao beans were grown or sourced. Did the farming practices respect the environment. Were farmers paid a decent wage? Was there child labour involved?
That’s where ethical cacao becomes your friend. Cacao farmed with utmost respect for the environment and the farm worker.
It is possible for vegan cacao powder to get contaminated in factories that also create products with non-vegan ingredients.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to know from product labels if vegan products have been contaminated. Vegan-only brands are your sure hope.
Buy only pure unsweetened cacao powder. Pure means no other ingredients apart from the cacao solids.
Know the brand you’re buying from. How do they source their cacao beans? Fairtrade, direct trade, farm-to-bar (tree to bar) brands, guarantee a higher chance of you getting ethical cacao.
Ensure to get non-contaminated vegan cacao powder. One surefire way to do that is buying from vegan-only brands.
Cacao powder in its pure form is vegan and dairy-free. The versatile ingredient can be used in various vegan recipes, such as desserts, smoothies, and hot beverages. However, always read product labels or reach out to manufacturers for specific dietary information, as formulations may vary. To guarantee that you get purely vegan products, only buy ethical cacao from vegan-only brands.
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