Cocoa butter, also known as theobroma oil, is derived from the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree, which are more commonly referred to as cocoa beans. 

This tree is native to the Amazonian region but now cultivated in many humid tropical regions across Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The fat extracted from its seeds is a popular ingredient in skin care products and chocolate.

Due to its name, some people may wonder whether cocoa butter suits a vegan diet.

This article reviews whether cocoa butter or foods derived from it can be considered vegan.

What is cocoa butter

Humans have consumed foods and beverages made from cocoa beans for centuries, both for pleasure and their potential medicinal properties (1).

Cocoa butter is a pale yellow edible fat extracted from cocoa beans. It’s solid at room temperature and melts easily when applied to your skin, making it a popular ingredient in skin ointments.

This fat has a rich cocoa flavor and is one of the three main ingredients in chocolate.

To make cocoa butter, freshly harvested cocoa beans are first fermented, dried, and roasted. Their oil is then extracted to make cocoa butter, while the remnants are used to make cocoa powder (2, 3).

summary

Cocoa butter is made by extracting the fat that’s naturally present in cocoa beans. It’s typically used to make skin care or food products, such as chocolate. 

Can vegans eat cocoa butter or products made from it?

Veganism is a way of living that tries to avoid all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty. As such, a vegan diet excludes meat, fish, eggs, dairy, honey, and any other animal-derived ingredients. 

Cocoa butter is fully sourced from a plant. Therefore, it’s considered vegan in its natural form. That said, not all foods containing this ingredient are suitable for vegans.

Does cocoa butter contain dairy or other animal-derived ingredients?

Cocoa butter is often combined with dairy to make milk or white chocolate.

Dark chocolate is made by combining cocoa butter with cocoa liquor and sugar. Most dark chocolates are dairy-free and a suitable treat for those following a vegan diet. 

However, milk and white chocolates require the use of condensed or powdered milk, making both of these cocoa-butter-derived products unsuitable for vegans (1).

In addition to dairy, cocoa butter is often combined with ingredients like eggs, honey, or gelatin. This is the case with many chocolate bars, baked goods, or chocolate-covered candies.

To tell whether a cocoa-butter-derived product is vegan, be sure to check the label for ingredients like eggs, dairy, honey, whey, casein, lactose, gelatin, cochineal, carmine, and animal-derived vitamin D3 or omega-3 fatty acids. 

summary

Cocoa butter is naturally free of dairy, eggs, honey, and other animal-derived ingredients, making it suitable for vegans. However, many products made with cocoa butter aren’t vegan, so it’s best to check a food’s nutrition label before eating it. 

Does cocoa butter contain gluten?

Gluten is a type of protein found in grains, such as rye, barley, and wheat. Therefore, cocoa butter is naturally gluten-free. 

However, some foods containing cocoa butter may happen to also contain gluten, or have come in contact with this protein during manufacturing. 

For example, crispy chocolate bars or candies are often made by combining chocolate with gluten-containing ingredients, such as wheat or barley malt. 

Moreover, chocolate is often used to cover baked goods made from gluten-containing flours, such as those made from wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and triticale.

Checking a food’s nutrition label is the best way to tell whether a cocoa-butter-containing product also contains gluten or may have come into contact with it during manufacturing. 

summary

Cocoa butter is naturally free of gluten. However, products derived from it may contain gluten or have come into contact with it during the manufacturing process. 

The bottom line

Cocoa butter is a fat extracted from the seed of the Theobroma cacao plant. 

In its natural form, it’s free of gluten, dairy, or any other animal-derived ingredients, making it suitable for people following a vegan or gluten-free diet. 

That said, products derived from cocoa butter often contain gluten or animal-derived ingredients. Checking a food’s nutrition label before eating it remains the best way to avoid these ingredients.