Friday is International Chocolate Day! Animal lovers, rejoice: there are so many craveable choices that are free of animal products. Here I review just a fraction of them. I pressed my vegan husband and five non-vegan friends into service as tasters — not that I had to press too hard. None of us had any idea what we were doing — not a gourmand in the lot — but we all appreciate chocolate. I came away with the conclusion that in chocolate, as in life, it’s different strokes for different folks, except that we all like crunch.
Here are my and their opinions in no particular order.
Pink Pepper & Citrus
Madecasse doesn’t just source its cocoa from Madagascar; it makes the chocolate there. The company says “this creates 4 times the impact of fair trade cocoa.” The†Food Empowerment Project, which has a non-comprehensive list of vegan chocolates that are not made with foreign slave labor,†okays Madecasse Chocolate. (The chocolate products I review that don’t mention the FEP were not necessarily dinged by it; it may just not have gotten to them yet.)
This bar was a little hard, but melted quickly in my mouth. I enjoyed the gentle, sweet citrus flavor, derived from combava fruit. Though hubby doesn’t go for chocolates with fruit, he thought this one combined the citrus well with the pepper.
The motto of Rescue Chocolate, which hand crafts its goods in Brooklyn, is “The Sweetest Way to Save a Life.” 100 percent of the chocolate’s net proceeds go to animal rescue groups. After sampling just about everything on this list, hubby called Rescue Chocolate “far and away the best.”
Peanut Butter Pit Bull
This bar is billed as “luscious dark chocolate with crispy peanut butter,” both of which it delivers. The sweet chocolate gives way with the gentlest bite to a filling of creamy peanut butter blended with crispy toasted rice. I was sluggish from downing scads of chocolate by the time I got to this one, yet I kept on eating it. It’s addictive. Hubby: “divine.” He said it was the best one he tried, and I think the same goes for me.
The label says that proceeds from Peanut Butter Pit Bull sales help make “dog fighting a thing of the past,” ensure “that dog laws focus on deed not breed,” and help “those working hard to place pit bulls in loving, responsible homes.”
Mission Feral Fig
Solid and harder than the Peanut Butter Pit Bull, this bar has a mild bitter taste. The whole almonds make it crunchy, and little figs add a welcome burst of sweetness. Sales of this variety bring “awareness to feral cat colonies. If there is a feral cat colony in your neighborhood, you can contact your local cat rescue group to find out about Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs for reducing the population humanely.”
The wrapper promises “a striking pastiche of coffee, hazelnut,” and dark chocolate. †I don’t like drinking coffee but I feel more fondly towards it when it’s been smothered in chocolate. The bitterness of the coffee complements the sweet chocolate of this bar nicely. Hubby likes coffee a lot, and he said this one “hit the spot.” He barely tasted the hazelnut; I can’t say I did either. “But the coffee-chocolate combination works very well,” he concluded. Then he ate some more of it.
The wrapper says, “With Forever Mocha, we remember that our animals will love us forever. All dogs and cats deserve permanent, loving, life long homes.”
70% Dark Chocolate with Quirky Quinoa Crunch
I liked the mild chocolate taste and the texture, which was crunchy and not hard or dry. Hubby said, “Now thatís yummy. Best one Iíve had so far. Most likely for me to finish a whole bar in a single sitting. Sweet, creamy, crunchy.” This bar was one of my friend’s favorite: “crunch is great!”
Hu’s Manhattan restaurant offers an extensive menu with many vegan options. The philosophy is “to get back to the way humans ate before industry ruined food,” so their chocolate, which is “handcrafted in Brooklyn” like Rescue Chocolate, contains “no refined sugar, cane sugar, gluten, dairy, emulsifiers, stabilizers, soy, or GMOs.” (If you haven’t deduced it yet, all we do here in Brooklyn is sit around handcrafting stuff.)
Almond Butter & Puffed Quinoa Chocolate Bar
Yum. Soft, crunchy and rich. I liked the faint roasted flavor. Hubby said “nice and creamy,” and praised the heartiness and the crispy quinoa. A friend agreed that it was “delicious,” with a great texture. She also loved the quinoa crunch.
Crunchy Fig Chocolate Bar
This bar looks a lot like Rescue Chocolate’s Mission Feral Fig, but doesn’t pull it off as well. The embedded whole almonds were a tad soft, which distracted me from the chocolate, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because the chocolate was too bitter. I didn’t taste much fig. A friend disagreed, praising the flavor and noting that the fig imparted a nice texture.
Equal Exchange Chocolates
Mint Chocolate With A Delicate Crunch
I loved the mint, which was not overwhelming, and the crunch was delicate and satisfying.†A friend liked this bar’s creaminess and mint flavor, and another called it sweet and good but may have felt differently after she caught a bitter aftertaste. A third friend (they really went for this bar, the only mint one we sampled) thought it tasted like a York Peppermint Patty.
Dark Chocolate with Brown Rice
Organic and ethically traded, this bar is a bit hard, a bit dry, but satisfyingly crispy. The flavor is strong and a little bitter for me — I almost felt a sting. One friend said it was “okay” but “a bit too bitter.” Another agreed that it was bitter, but “in a good way.” She called this bar delicious and said she never would have known it was vegan. The Food Empowerment Project endorses Nibmor.
Salazon Chocolate Co.
Sea Salt & Organic Turbinado Cane Sugar
This organic dark chocolate tasted a little sour to me, with occasional strong bursts of salt. A non-vegan friend couldn’t tell there was no dairy in it but wasn’t thrilled with the flavor, noting a bit of aftertaste; another called it her favorite, with a slight salt flavor and “very smooth” texture. A third thought the “salty/sweet combo” made for a “great flavor.” Salazon is on the Food Empowerment Project’s good list.
I popped a segment into my mouth and thought immediately of cinnamon chewing gum, and I love cinnamon chewing gum. I liked the delicate crunch, which may come from the ground cinnamon; hubby called it gritty, but didn’t seem to mind. He thought it was delicious and creamy and thought the cinnamon, while subtle, made the whole thing “delightful.” He could not stop eating it. A friend gave a one-word review: “Yuck!”
A crumbly texture with tiny granules of crunchy crystallized ginger. The flavor is rich and not too sweet.
Fine & Raw Chocolate
I liked the soft texture and strong flavor, which tasted like cocoa powder smells. I never would have guessed it was raw. Hubby, who prefers bittersweet to milk chocolate, at first thought it could use more sugar, though he liked the creamy texture. He kept reaching for it, though, and soon said, “Itís growing on me.” A friend found it delicious with a “really rich truffley filling.”
These gluten-free treats are raw, but you wouldn’t know it.
Coated with shaved almonds, this is a fudgy one-biter. Hubby’s verdict: “Nice.” He found it creamy with a tart or bitter flavor. Both of us sensed and disliked a wine flavor, but couldn’t figure out where it came from — there isn’t any alcohol in the ingredient list.
Dark Chocolate Crunch
This flavor excited hubby more than the almond. He liked the crunchy nib coating. I liked the richness and creamy mouth feel, but again with the wine flavor.
Raaka Virgin Chocolate
This bar tasted like tea to me, which is to be expected — rooibos is the plant whose leaves are brewed to make red tea. A friend with a more sophisticated palate than mine found it sweet with “cherry notes.” Hubby also tasted cherry but thought there was too much of it. The Food Empowerment Project okays Raaka.
Limited Reserve Vanilla & Smoke
Hubby said this bar was hard and a little crumbly, with a sweet, tangy flavor. His verdict: “Okay, not great.” I would have upgraded “okay” to “good” until the sour aftertaste hit. A friend noted that it was “slightly bitter,” and, for good measure, added, “Not sweet.” Another person was more receptive, saying the flavor was interesting, but didn’t include vanilla. The Brothers get a seal of approval from the Food Empowerment Project.
Sweet Chocolate Dream
Creamy Sweet Chocolate Bar
A milk chocolate junkie in my previous, vegetarian life, I can’t get enough of this stuff. After all the high cacao content, more or less bittersweet bars, I welcomed the blast of, as advertised, creamy sweet. No one else reviewed this one because I hoarded it for myself.
Drinking Chocolate and Cocoa Powder
After two vegan friends extolled the virtues of drinking chocolate, I had to include this section.
Jasmin Singer, Executive Director of Our Hen House (full disclosure and plug: I write a monthly column on OHH), has been vegan for ten years. She says, “Every morning we have a mug of unsweetened cocoa powder and water. No milk, no sweetener. It is our drug of choice and I canít imagine my life without it. We travel with it.”
“Chocolate has a lot of nutritional properties. Itís an acquired taste that I have acquired. Whenever I offer it to someone else they think Iím insane for drinking it, but once you round the bend and appreciate the moodiness of it and the slight pick-me-up and the slight thickness of it, you canít not drink it. And itís not nearly as physically addicting as coffee. It has a lot of the same benefits for me as coffee does: it has the same ritual of having it every morning, it gives me a minor buzz, and it also fills that deep-seated need for chocolate.”
Jasmin notes that the Food Empowerment Project recommends Frontier and Navitas. She has been to the Grenada Chocolate Company (it is located in — wait for it — Grenada) and recommends visiting.
Nibmor Organic Drinking Chocolate
Robyn Lazara, a vegan of seven years, adores both the traditional and mint flavors, and notes that there is “also a six-spice variety flavored with organic cayenne, cinnamon, fennel, cloves, anise, and white pepper. The ingredient list of the cocoas are simple, primarily just low-glycemic coconut palm sugar (not to be confused with palm oil) and cacao powder. †The cacao gives the drink a rich, deep flavor geared for those who prefer dark chocolate. †It’s sold by the individual packet or the six-pack, and is best prepared by heating up a favorite plant-based milk and whisking in the powder. †I’ve found that soy milk is the creamiest. These drinking chocolates are fair-trade and organic.”
Local Treasures in Connecticut
Jessica Greenebaum, Professor of Sociology at Central Connecticut State University and 17-year vegan, will go out of her way for sublime chocolate. She found some at Divine Treasures in Manchester, Connecticut, 40 minutes from her home. Many vegan businesses’ products are available only in their locality, so it pays to explore your area and not limit yourself to nationally distributed brands. Here is Jessica’s review of her almost-local hangout.
ďDivine Treasures makes dozens of unique, hand-crafted vegan and gluten free chocolates onsite, all with organic Belgium chocolate, and some without sugar. My favorites include caramel cashew with sea salt, peanut butter melts, and turona, a chocolate made with coconut and almond flour. The only thing better than their caramels and truffles is the vegan soft serve in vanilla, chocolate, pumpkin, and a sugar-free flavor, such as Kahlua. You can enjoy it in a gluten-free cone or devour a sundae smothered with homemade caramel, peanut butter, or fudge and topped with nuts, pieces of their chocolates, or sprinkles. They also have a variety of vegan ice cream cakes topped with more of their chocolates!Ē
Veg News readers agreed with Jessica, nominating DTís product line as one of their favorite vegan chocolates of 2013. Stop by the store or order online at www.dtchocolates.com.
Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt
When I pay $8.99 for a bar of chocolate I expect it to be really good. This wasn’t. Mostly it was sour. I tasted coffee briefly and noticed that the texture was crumbly as I choked it down. One friend said it was sharp and added, “not good. Blech.” Another, however, called it “smooth,” and appeared not to spit it out. Different strokes, folks.
Happy Chocolate Day!
Many of these brands have additional vegan flavors, and some also make non-vegan flavors. Some of the products reviewed “may contain traces of milk” or are made in facilities that also process dairy; read the fine print before buying to make sure they meet your standards.
Photo credit: Thinkstock/iStockphoto