Cocoa butter is a very versatile product that is both culinary and has a big presence in the skincare industry. Technically it derives from the cocoa plant, so it should be vegan right?
Well, as with many of our favourite products, there can be a bit of fuzziness and a “yes and no” element to it. So, let’s delve a bit deeper and find out if all cocoa butter is vegan.
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What is Cocoa Butter?
Cocoa butter, also called Theobroma oil, is the creamy-yellow fat (or butter) extracted from the cocoa bean. It is most commonly used to make chocolate, as well as some skincare products and pharmaceuticals.
Cocoa butter has a cocoa flavour and scent. Its melting point is just below human body temperature. It has many benefits for humans, particularly topical.
What is Cocoa Butter Used For?
Cocoa butter is one of the main ingredients in practically all types of chocolates (white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate). This application continues to dominate consumption of cocoa butter and its cultivation.
Pharmaceutical companies use cocoa butter’s physical properties too. As a nontoxic solid at room temperature that melts at body temperature, therefore it is considered an ideal base for medicines needing to be taken as a suppository.
Beauty companies love it too, as it contains many properties that are beneficial for our skin.
For a fat that can melt at body temperature, cocoa has surprisingly good stability. This quality, coupled with its natural antioxidants prevents decomposition, providing a storage life of two to five years, meaning it doesn’t rely heavily on artificial preservatives.
The smooth texture, pleasant fragrance and emollient properties of cocoa butter have made it a popular ingredient in products for the skin, such as soaps, moisturisers, and other lotions.
Is Cocoa Butter Vegan?
In its natural form, yes, cocoa butter is vegan. But there is a murky area when it is used within food or skincare products.
Cocoa butter is often combined with dairy to make milk or white chocolate, meaning in that context it is not vegan.
In addition to dairy, cocoa butter is often combined with other non-vegan ingredients such as eggs, honey, beeswax, or gelatine. This is the case with many chocolate bars, baked goods, or chocolate-covered sweets, so always check the packaging.
Theobroma Cacao Plant
“Cocoa beans are grown by large agro-industrial plantations and small producers, the bulk of production coming from millions of farmers with small plots. A tree begins to bear when it is four or five years old.
A mature tree may have 6,000 flowers in a year, yet only about 20 pods. About 1,200 seeds (40 pods) are required to produce 1 kg of cocoa paste.” [source]
Is Cocoa Butter Ethical & Sustainably Sourced?
There is no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to this question. The sustainability depends on the company using the product and their transparency about how the cocoa butter has been cultivated.
If you’re ever in doubt when purchasing products with cocoa butter in, always look for the Fairtrade label.
Vegan Cocoa Butter Alternatives
It depends on whether you’re using cocoa butter for cooking or as a skincare product, but there are alternatives for both.
Food Product Alternatives
Skincare Product Alternatives
What is Cacao Butter?
What is the difference between cocoa butter and cacao butter?
Cocoa powder and cacao powder are very similar, as they both derive from the same plant. The only difference being that cocoa is processed at a much higher temperature (and often packaged cocoa contains added sugar and dairy).
Both start out as beans from the cacao plant, which are then separated from the fatty part (the butter). During its harvest, cacao beans are fermented to develop flavour and texture.
How to Make Vegan Cocoa Butter at Home
Ingredients – 25 servings
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan on a regular heat, without it burning. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the rest of the ingredients.
- Put the mixture in a bowl and place it in the fridge, stirring while it cools.
- Put the cocoa butter in dessert glasses and place in the refrigerator overnight. Serve the chilled cocoa butter with biscuits or bread for a brunch or afternoon treat.
(Keep your cocoa butter refrigerated to prevent it from melting.)
Is Cocoa Butter Healthy to Eat?
Cocoa butter is high in fat (mostly saturated fat), just like coconut oil. The amount of saturated fat it contains (as opposed to unsaturated fat) is between 57 percent to 64 percent of the total fat content.
Among the different types of fatty acids are:
- stearic acid (about 24 percent to 37 percent of total fat content)
- palmitic acid (24 percent to 30 percent)
- myristic acid (0 percent to 4 percent)
- arachidic acid (around 1 percent)
- lauric acid (only about 0 percent to 1 percent)
Cocoa butter can be part of a healthy diet, but due to its high fat content (albeit healthy fat), should be eaten in moderation.
So, we have learned that cocoa butter (which derives from the Theobroma Cacao plant) in its purest form is vegan, however, when combined with milk to make chocolate products or various beauty products that may have questionable ethics, it isn’t.
To be sure that the cocoa butter you purchase is ethically sound, always look at the ingredients as well as keep an eye out for the Fairtrade logo.
Conversely, you can make your own easily at home.