Is chocolate vegan?

Chocolate Bar

Image courtesy of Lisa Salamida at flickr.com

You’re at the grocery store to purchase goodies for a vegan baking spree. You look at your list and think, “Vegan Chocolate … that’s easy, I’ll get dark chocolate. It’s vegan.” Although that sounds like a no-brainer, unfortunately it is not always the case. It would be nice if it were true, but since it’s not here are some pointers to lead you to the vegan stuff.

You will want to stay away from milk chocolate, as you realized with your initial instinct to buy a dark variety. To find a viable dark version, PETA recommends to “always look for a high percentage of cacao, between 55 and 85 percent—the higher the percentage, the purer the bar. Also, be sure to check the ingredients, as some brands’ dark-chocolate bars still contain dairy products. Avoid chocolate that has a long list of ingredients, because chances are that some of them are fillers.”

While you are looking at the ingredient label, also keep in mind that quality chocolate will have “pure ingredients and no additives. The ingredients will be simple: cocoa, cocoa butter, lecithin, sugar and sometimes vanilla. And that’s it.”

By now you have read the ingredients, checked for the short-list, and deemed your chocolate worthy. But there is one last step – look for food crossover warnings. These might say “Manufactured on the same equipment that also makes products containing milk” or “May contain milk.” If you don’t see these sentences proclaimed in tiny print, you should be safe.

By now you are thinking that chocolate comes from a plant (Theobroma cacao to be precise), so why isn’t it vegan? Good question. It was simpler in the past, but in recent years manufacturers have been adding butterfat for a creamy “mouth feel.” So now some varieties of dark chocolate are no longer non-dairy.

This is making my head spin. Maybe I should just stop baking with chocolate. Hmm, not likely.

Food Allergy Awareness Week

food allergy week

food allergy week

May is Allergy Awareness Month, with this past week being devoted to Food Allergies. It seemed like a good time to examine the humble beginnings of Vegan Baking Up High. I began the blog to work out the kinks of baking dairy-free at high altitude. This reflected my long-standing allergy to dairy. Then, when my husband went vegan a few years later, the blog became vegan. Nowadays I am approached by people with a variety of food allergies and they ask if I have recipes for their dietary needs. For them, I am trying to expand my baking horizons.

I realized I was allergic to dairy in 1995 when food allergies weren’t widely accepted or understood. Back then it was almost impossible to find a baked good that came close to resembling anything I would ever want to eat. I am seeing that same pattern of inadequate baked items offered for people with other allergies, such as those to nuts or gluten. I don’t think that anyone should accept sub-par treats just because they have an allergy, so I have widened my experimental baking realm.

You will note that I am extending my recipes to include other allergies, such as gluten-free, nut-free and soy-free, in an effort to offer tasty treats for a wide range of allergies. The easiest fix is to use the non-dairy milk alternative you prefer in place of the non-dairy milk listed in a recipe. There will be changes in taste and texture but the recipes should still work. Now I am tackling the task of removing gluten and nuts. It is slow going because of the inherent high altitude challenge, but I and my taste buds will persevere.