Is Cocoa Powder Vegan?

Is Cocoa Powder Vegan?

Many food products are clearly unsuitable for vegans, like milk or eggs. However, it isn’t as clear whether other food items, like cocoa powder, are considered vegan-friendly. 

The process of producing cocoa powder involves refining cocoa nibs into a liquor, which is compressed to withdraw cocoa butter. The remaining substance is then processed into cocoa powder. 

This method doesn’t employ animal products, so cocoa powder may seem vegan. However, some exceptions mean cocoa powder will not be suitable for some vegans, particularly those with strong ethical beliefs. 

We’ll go over these exceptions in this post, so you can figure out whether your brand of cocoa powder is or isn’t vegan. 

Cocoa Powder: The Basics

Cocoa powder is an unsweetened powder that is sourced from refined cocoa beans. These beans are taken from a cacao tree and are then strained, dried, processed, and compressed to produce cocoa powder. 

As mentioned above, after the beans have been harvested, they are often compressed to extract the fat, a substance which is known as cocoa butter.

The remaining matter is then pulverized into powder, which is then used to make various kinds of cakes, chocolate, and sweets. 

Is Cocoa Powder Vegan-Friendly?

The unsweetened cocoa powder which hasn’t had any additional ingredients added to it is vegan. However, many hot chocolate beverages which use cocoa powder can include non-vegan elements. Cocoa powders can vary a lot between brands, which makes it difficult to tell whether one is vegan or not.

Pure, unsweetened cocoa powder may not contain any animal matter, but some brands may include trace quantities of non-vegan substances in their product. The production methods used to extract the powder may also have ethical concerns. 

Cross Contamination

Cross-contamination may be a problem if the product is packaged in an establishment that handles non-vegan substances. There may be instances where the product is processed with the same tools that handle non-vegan items.

It’s hard to know whether the equipment has been cleaned and decontaminated properly when they switch between products. 

Even if the manufacturer does clean the food-processing tools, this equipment can be difficult to clean thoroughly, unless the apparatus is completely disassembled. There aren’t many facilities that take this extra step.

All of the scenarios above may cause cross-contamination, which could be a problem depending on how strict a vegan you are. 

Unethical Agricultural And Trade Customs

The people that work on cocoa farms are often exposed to unsafe working conditions. These workers are also not paid well after being subjected to inequitable farming practices. 

Manual laborers often manage pesticides without wearing protective gear, spend extended periods working in dangerous conditions, and handle farming gear that isn’t safe to use. 

A primary concern related to cocoa farming is that the farmers that work the most receive a tiny portion of the profit gained from the cocoa bean business.

Chocolate manufacturers may be making amazing profits, but the farmers that work for them are finding it difficult to get by. 

Employment Of Minors

As the farmers do not make a lot of money, but as the cacao bean industry is in high demand, these farmers often employ children to work for them. This helps them reduce their capital expenditures in their trade. 

Tulane University carried out a study in 2014 and found that roughly 2 million children worked on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and Ghana. These minors were aged between five and 17, with around 500,000 of them working in an abusive environment. 

Locating Ethically Made Cocoa Powder

Locating Ethically Made Cocoa Powder

A lot of well-known businesses that handle cocoa may not produce their products ethically. The popular brand Nestle can only track 49% of their worldwide cocoa supply back to farms. Mars and Hershey can only track less than that.

We can assume that these businesses’ cocoa is sourced from West African farms. Many of these may be dependent on child labor, as this reduces the cost of production. 

Some small cocoa brands are attempting to make the industry more ethical. This involves using farms that pay their workers good wages, as well as farms that aren’t dependent on child labor.

The products from these brands may cost more as a result, but switching to ethical products is currently the only way to avoid contributing to these moral problems. 

Ethically sourced products, like cocoa powder, tend to have a ‘FAIRTRADE’ label on the back. They should also have a clear explanation about their whole distribution chain on the brand’s website. 

Fairtrade is a system that warrants a minimum cost for goods, which allows workers in emergent nations to be paid more than they would have been able to earn.

The price of these articles may decrease, but the system ensures that the workers are paid a minimum price for their goods, giving them a decent support system.

Fairtrade does have its pros and cons, but switching to these products is a lot better than ignoring the current conditions. 


Cocoa powder is suitable for vegans as it’s taken from plant-based matter. However, it can be hard to guarantee against cross-contamination, so stricter vegans may have an issue with certain brands. 

Vegans that have ethical concerns about cocoa powder can opt for Fairtrade products, as this ensures that the powder isn’t produced with exploitative practices.  

Brandon White
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