Healthy Dark Chocolate: Clean Ingredients

Building on my blog, Healthy Dark Chocolate: Spot the Difference between the Good, Bad and Healthy like a Pro, I’d be remiss not to address the Ingredients list. Both, what should be in your chocolate - and ingredients that should NOT be [but almost always are] found in popular, premium dark chocolate.

You only need two ingredients to make chocolate: cocoa beans and sugar

Good King, like many other makers, adds pure and natural herbs, spices and essential oils to create flavored snacks. In chocolate, these ingredients are all called inclusions - flavors paired with chocolate. Yet, there are other pesky ingredients that aren’t inclusions. Rather, they’re added to make bars more cheaply or hide flaws. Read your ingredients lists carefully and consider which of the following you want in your chocolate. When it comes to ingredients, less is almost always more.

Soy Oil (prettier than lecithin…). Photo Credit: United Soybean Board

Soy[a] Lecithin (extremely common)

Soy Lecithin is typically listed as an emulsifier in chocolate. More accurately, it is used to 1. aid manufacturing speeds, and 2. keep chocolate from blooming during temperature and humidity swings. Aside from being GMO-derived, soy lecithin is typically extracted using chemical solvents such as hexane, ethanol, acetone, petroleum ether or benzene[i]. I’m not excited about eating food extracted with chemicals that are toxic to ingest! If you feel the same, you have two options:

  • Search the ingredients label for organic soy lecithin (I’m not aware of any) or sunflower lecithin (Beyond Good, Dandelion, Divine and Charm School). Both of these lecithins are non-GMO and solvent-free.
  • Avoid Lecithin altogether with these brands: Good King, Theo, Equal Exchange, Askinosie and a plethora of craft chocolate bars from Chocolopolis.

Natural Flavors [& Spices] (extremely common)

Did you know the fourth most common ingredient in prepared / pre-packaged foods the US (behind water, sugar & salt) is “Natural Flavors”[ii]? Check your pantry – it’s EVERYWHERE! So long as there aren’t nutrient properties, the FDA allows us to combine Natural Flavors [& colors], Artificial Flavors [& colors] and spices to simplify the ingredient label[iii]. My observation: if it’s an appealing ingredient that belongs in the ingredient list, companies list it. If not, they don’t. Aside from the general transparency issues, these “catch-all” terms can hide:

  • Food allergies / sensitivities (for those allergic to something outside the top 8)
  • Animal products (for Vegans and Vegetarians on products that don’t make the specific claim)
  • Chemically processed foods (so long as they’re derived from a plant or animal)

Plus, “natural flavors” can make a HUGE difference in your experience and should be detailed! Let’s use our Love and Joy flavors as an example. From our full, unabbreviated ingredients list, you’ll be able to tell they taste NOTHING alike.

Flavor

Full Ingredients List

Abbreviated Ingredients List

LOVE

Cacao Beans*, Cane Sugar*, Vanilla Extract* (vanilla bean extractives* in water, alcohol*), Cinnamon*, Salt, Nutmeg*, Cloves*, Cardamom*, Cacao Butter*. * = Organic
Cacao Beans*, Cane Sugar*, Spice*, Salt, Natural Flavor*. * = Organic

JOY

Cacao Beans*, Cane Sugar*, Rosemary*, Salt, Dried Mint*, Peppermint Essential Oil, Spearmint Essential Oil, Cacao Butter*. * = Organic
Cacao Beans*, Cane Sugar*, Spice*, Salt, Natural Flavor. * = Organic

Can you tell the difference between Love and Joy based on their abbreviated ingredients list? I can’t (aside from one little *)…😉

Here’s the decoder for Love:

  • Spice* = Cinnamon*, Salt, Nutmeg*, Cloves*, Cardamom*
  • Natural Flavor* = Vanilla Extract* (vanilla bean extractives* in water, alcohol*), Cacao Butter*

And here’s the decoder for Joy:

  • Spice* = Rosemary*, Dried Mint*
  • Natural Flavor = Peppermint Essential Oil, Spearmint Essential Oil, Cacao Butter*

While I love a short ingredients list, I still want ALL of the ingredients to be listed! Watch for this practice on most grocery store and drug store brands (especially flavored products), no matter their price.

Vanillin (aka Imitation Vanilla, common)

While this significantly cheaper flavor may fool our taste buds, vanillin is chemically derived from wood tar or pulp waste [more specifically, guaiacol or lignin, iv]. In most cases, it doesn’t even qualify as a “natural flavor”… Therefore, we use an incredible organic vanilla extract from Cook’s (4th generation family business who primarily trades directly) made from real vanilla beans for our Love flavor.

Vanillin may be hidden in “artificial flavors” if the manufacturer so chooses. Like natural flavors, it is mostly found in grocery and drugstore brand chocolates including Ghirardelli, Lindt and Godiva. Notably, Whole Foods will not even allow the ingredient in its stores. The brands I list above are all free of vanillin.

Milk Fat (common)

I used to believe that dark chocolate couldn’t have any milk products in it. I was wrong. Lately, I’ve noticed milk fat appearing in many dark chocolate bars with high cacao content to balance and smooth out bitterness in low quality cacao (in addition to processing with alkali which you can read more about here). If you’re allergic to milk/dairy, eating a Vegan diet, trying to eat more sustainably, or trying to limit your fat intake – you’ll want to watch out for milk fat even in the darkest of chocolate bars (thankfully it WILL be listed as an allergen).

Any of the brands I mention above for not using soy lecithin do not add milk fat in their dark chocolate bars. Likewise, you can shop dairy-free online at Chocolopolis. This is, however, something you’ll want to watch out for in many grocery store brands.

Glucose Syrup (aka corn syrup, common)

Glucose Syrup is a 6-step processed sugar syrup made primarily from corn, but can also be made from potatoes, wheat, barley, rice or cassava. It adds sweetness and bulk to candy. No better or worse than other sugars (except for it being more highly processed), but it will often be listed as an ingredient separate from sugar. While glucose may make it sound more “pure” in some way, file it in the same category in your brain as sugar.

I’m beginning to feel a bit like a broken record. Any of the brands I mention above for not using soy lecithin do not use glucose or corn syrup in the chocolate. This is, however, something you’ll want to watch out for in many grocery store brands - along with high fructose corn syrup as well! Yikes.

Which of these ingredients did you find in YOUR chocolate? Any surprises? Leave us a note in the comments section below.

Footnotes:

Soy Lecithin: [i] “Lecithin” (2020) Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lecithin Feb. 12, 2020

Natural Flavors: [ii] “Natural vs. Artificial Flavors” EWG (Environmental Working Group) https://www.ewg.org/foodscores/content/natural-vs-artificial-flavors Feb. 12, 2020

[iii] eCFR Title 21: PART 101, Subpart B, §101.22 “Foods; labeling of spices, flavorings, colorings and chemical preservatives” (2020) https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=1d6f30edb6d2c34b05300cfeeae4b5bf&mc=true&node=se21.2.101_122&rgn=div8, Feb. 12, 2020

Vanillin: [iv] “Vanillin” (2020) Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanillin Feb. 12, 2020 Glucose Syrup: [v] “Glucose Syrup” (2019) Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glucose_syrup Feb. 13, 2020