Is it just me, or has vegan milk chocolate escaped the fringes of the health/organic food ghetto and landed in the mainstream spotlight? The simple fact that Cadbury (famously the makers of Dairy Milk) now makes vegan Cadbury Plant Bars, and that I found these bars at a suburban supermarket in Edmonton, Canada, tells you something about how popular this whole vegan chocolate trend has become, and how companies have identified this as a market worth pursuing.
First off, it’s worth noting that chocolate itself isn’t especially difficult to make in a vegan form. If you look over the ingredients list of a straightforward, good quality dark chocolate bar, there’s a damned good chance there’s not a lick of dairy or eggs or any other animal product in there. These are, in the words of my vegan pal, “accidentally vegan” products, or foods that are technically vegan but that don’t try to draw attention to the fact.
Milk chocolate is different, as milk chocolate adds dairy to the mix to provide a richer, creamier taste than you’d get with dark chocolate. Everyone has a preference, and just because you’re vegan doesn’t mean you don’t secretly crave the creamy, melty quality of a nice milk chocolate.
Cadbury is widely known for their Dairy Milk bars, which, as the name suggests, are all about the milk chocolate. Yes, Cadbury makes bars with dark chocolate, but their standard Dairy Milk is rich, creamy and sweet. The packaging here is absolutely reminiscent of Dairy Milk’s branding, even though there’s no mention of dairy, and the only reference to milk is under the “may contain” warning under the ingredients list.
So what the hell is Cadbury doing making a dairy-less, milk-less chocolate bar? And is it even a chocolate bar? The label refers to these as a “chocolatey confection,” which is a common way to get around calling something chocolate when it doesn’t technically meet the standard definition of chocolate.
What is this, exactly?
And so on my desk, I have a dairy-less, milk-less, chocolate-less “plant bar” that should, ostensibly, taste like a milk chocolate bar.
Does your head hurt? My head hurts.
And yet I’ve had good luck with vegan and vegetarian products made by (or sold by) companies that aren’t typically associated with vegan/veggie products. I like to think it’s because they approach their products with a taste-first ethos, without health and/or ideology to get in the way of flavour. (For example, longtime Canadian meat/deli company Schneiders used to make the most incredible veggie chicken burgers in their Oh Naturel line.)
Almonds as good at the real thing
I tried two different types of Cadbury Plant chocolate bars, since that’s what they had at the store. It wasn’t clear from the front of the package if they contained almond in crunchy bits, or if the almond was a reference to the type of milk used to make them. The answer lies in the ingredients list, where “almond paste” is the only almond product listed. When I think almond paste, I think marzipan, though I’m hoping that’s not what we have here.
- Chocolatey Smooth: Harder and not as instantly melty as you’d get from a standard milk chocolate. Definitely has an almond taste to it. More one-dimensional than I’m used to from Cadbury, and the luscious fatty quality of real milk chocolate is missing in action. It reminds me of waxy dollar store “chocolate” bars where you can taste every corner that’s been cut.
- Salted Caramel: A bit more texture to this one, which makes it more enjoyable. There’s some crunchy salty bits in the chocolate, and it adds another layer of flavour that distracts from the missing dairy. Melts more rapidly, and tastes more like real milk chocolate. It’s not the same as the real thing, but it doesn’t taste like a cheap imitation, either. Of the two, this is the one I’d pick.
In the interest of science, I had another two members of the NEAROF testing team give both a taste. One taster preferred the salted caramel one, and the other taster preferred the chocolatey smooth bar, though with the caveat that both were mediocre. Tough crowd.
Price: $4.49 (on sale) for a 90-gram “plant bar” at Safeway in Edmonton.
Value for Money: Kinda spendy.
Availability: Fairly easy to find in Edmonton or online. I found these at Safeway, but they’ve been spotted in the wild at Shoppers Drug Mart and Wal-Mart. They’re also available on Amazon.ca.
Calories: 220-230 per 41 grams (11 pieces), which maths out to 483-505 for the whole bar.
Verdict: If you’re vegan and need something other than dark chocolate, I guess it’s an option. But compared to real milk chocolate, it’s not going to win anyone over who has the milk-based option available to them.