Butter has been synonymous with semi-solid but creamy, and velvety, melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Hence the word “buttery”, a signature description.
It’s also common knowledge that butter is made of animal fats (from milk). But what about the new types of butter you probably aren’t as familiar with? These new types of butter are getting more popular, so it’s time to take a closer look. Case in point: cocoa butter.
Is cocoa butter vegan? What’s it made of?
Well, say hooray, vegans, because cocoa butter is vegan! But, how much do you know about it?
Let’s learn about it!
What Is Cocoa Butter Made Of?
Butter owes its unique, spreadable texture and consistency to a lot of milk fats. On the other hand, although the name might suggest a dairy content, cocoa butter does not contain butter at all.
Since it is the first of its kind, butter has become a name for any food product that has the same appearance and use. But today, there are more kinds of butter that aren’t really from milk and don’t even contain any bit of real, dairy butter.
Vegan butter, as you might expect, can come from either plant-based milk products or plant oils. In the case of cocoa butter, it’s the latter.
Also known as theobroma oil, cocoa butter is the oil extracted from cocoa beans. Cocoa beans are so rich in fat (oil) that it in fact takes up about half of its weight. This can be more or less depending on the variety and the environmental conditions it was grown in.
Do not confuse it with cacao butter, though, which is the raw version.
To extract the oil or butter from the cocoa beans, it undergoes some or all of these methods:
- Alkalization (with potassium carbonate, may reduce flavonoids)
Some manufacturers may use solvents to maximize the extraction process. The solvent of choice is important, as it affects not only the costs but also the preservation of bioactive compounds.
Most methods use different forms of carbon dioxide and ethanol, which manufacturers remove via evaporation after the extraction process. In case you’re curious, both solvents typically come from organic sources and are vegan-friendly, so there’s nothing to worry about.
After processing, what remains of the seeds after extraction is what becomes cocoa powder.
Following its typical production process, pure cocoa butter is definitely vegan! But you also have to watch out for cocoa butter products that have other oils in it. In other words, they’re not pure.
Characteristics and Properties
Cocoa butter is a unique type of vegetable fat. It’s characteristics make it ideal for chocolate-making, but also, it makes it hard for producers to find a suitable alternative. Here’s a quick list of what makes cocoa butter unique:
- Solid at room temperature
- Melts at body temperature (why chocolates melt in your mouth!)
- Narrow melting point (90°F – 93°F)
- Almost tasteless, with a hint of chocolate
- Complex crystallization behavior
Methods of manufacture and processing may also change these properties, but only up to a certain point.
Health Benefits Of Cocoa Butter
Cocoa butter is well known in the world of skincare. And then chocolates, especially the dark ones, which are made of cocoa butter (and powder) also have a good-for-you reputation. But how, exactly, can we benefit from the consumption of cocoa butter?
Here are some of the benefits that science and research studies can back up for you:
As a high-calorie food, cocoa butter is an excellent source of energy. A 100-gram serving of cocoa butter contains 884 calories. That’s already about half of the calories an active woman needs in a day! But of course, if you’re trying to keep some pounds off, this is not really a benefit for you.
A 2016 study confirms that the flavanols in cocoa do have strong anti-inflammatory properties. It can reduce the inflammation markers, which can also slim down your chances of getting diseases.
Cocoa butter’s superior moisturizing properties are not the only reason it’s good or the skin. As it turns out, phytochemicals are shown to be effective in protecting the skin against damaging UV rays and antioxidants. The polyphenols also activate “multiple defense genes” and “upregulate antioxidant defenses”.
Do you know that the fatty acids abundant in cocoa butter contain antioxidants? But don’t fret about the fatty acids just yet. I’ll tell you why later.
Going back, the antioxidant properties of cocoa flavanols and procyanidins go a loooooong way! These antioxidants help protect the cells from free radicals. Damaging free radicals, as you know, can cause health problems from heart disease to cancer.
The polyphenols in cocoa butter, which are flavonoid antioxidants, can influence the immune system by enhancing antibodies from the gut. Along with its anti-inflammatory properties, it can boost the adaptive immune system, the mechanism responsible for eliminating disease-causing organisms.
Improves Heart Health
Although cocoa butter is literally made of fats from cocoa beans, its nutrients provide positive effects for the cardiovascular system. Contrary to what one might expect, cocoa butter does NOT raise cholesterol levels.
Moreover, cocoa can reduce blood pressure, improve vascular circulation and platelet function.
Reduces Diabetes Risk
This is according to a 2014 study on the bioactive compounds of cocoa: “The antioxidant effects of the cocoa components may influence insulin resistance” and therefore “reduce the risk for diabetes.”
Diabetes is an inflammatory disease. With cocoa being anti-inflammatory, it’s safe to say that it can cut your risks at the root.
Better Brain And Memory Function
Cocoa’s flavonoids, mostly in the form of epicatechins also have neuroprotective effects. It can help to improve mood, preserve cognitive abilities, and even enhance learning and memory! Now you know how chocolates can make you happy!
Uses Of Cocoa Butter
There is no doubt that cocoa butter is an extremely popular active ingredient in skincare products. But just how useful is it? Take a look at these:
- Chocolate making
- Butter alternative
- Controls viscosity
- Superior moisturizer
- Repairs skin damage and scars
- Speeds up skin healing
- Lip balm
- Fights skin aging
- Protects against sun damage
- Shaving cream alternative
Medical & Pharmaceutical
- Soothes minor burns
- Rash remedy
- Treats eczema and dermatitis
- Relieves mouth sores
- Suppository base
That’s one versatile butter! But, a bit of caveat though…
Do NOT use cocoa butter if:
- You have allergies or sensitivities. It’s rare, but it happens!
- You are trying to reduce caloric intake. Trying to lose weight, that is.
Is Cocoa Butter Healthy?
At this point I’m sure I’ll get a resounding YES!
Well cocoa butter is definitely a healthier option, but there are limits of course.
From Nutrition Advance, here’s a closer look at cocoa butter’s nutritional profile.
Calories and Macronutrients
Macronutrient / Calories – Amount Per 100 Grams
Calories – 884 kcal
Carbohydrate – 0 g
Fiber – NA
Sugar – NA
Fat – 100 g
Saturated Fat – 59.7 g
Monounsaturated Fat – 32.9 g
Polyunsaturated Fat – 3.0 g
Omega-3 – 100 mg
Omega-6 – 2800 mg
Protein – 0 g
Vitamin / Mineral – Amount (% RDA)
Vitamin K – 31% RDA
Vitamin E – 9% RDA
Fatty Acid – Type – Amount (%)
Stearic Acid – Saturated – 33.2%
Oleic Acid – Monounsaturated – 32.6%
Palmitic Acid – Saturated – 25.4%
Linoleic Acid – Polyunsaturated – 2.8%
As for cocoa butter being a popular skincare ingredient, these fatty acids are what make it a great moisturizer.
Now I know fatty acids, especially saturated fats, have a reputation for being unhealthy. However, there’s a big difference here because fats from plants do not work in the same way animal fat does. Also, with it’s high oleic acid content, cocoa butter is in fact heart-healthy.
Let’s look at each fatty acid in more detail.
- Stearic Acid – a surfactant that is useful in skincare; also considered a healthy saturated fat as it can lower bad cholesterol.
- Oleic Acid – the same fatty acid found in olive oil that makes cocoa butter heart-healthy; also known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits.
- Palmitic acid – may raise bad cholesterol and reduce caloric burn.
- Linoleic acid – offsets or neutralizes palmitic acid’s effect in raising bad cholesterol.
Other Plant Compounds
Cocoa has more theobromine than caffeine. A 50-gram dark chocolate would have 250mg of theobromine and only 19mg of caffeine. In cocoa butter, these numbers are much smaller, often in trace amounts only.
You’ve heard of all the many names of plant nutrients that make cocoa butter a healthier butter. If you find all the names confusing, this diagram will help you understand better:
Dairy Butter Vs Cocoa Butter
While both kinds of butter are high in saturated fats, the effects are not the same. This is according to Alice Lichtenstein, Tufts University’s director of Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer U.S.D.A. Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
This is because the blend of fats in cocoa butter is actually heart-healthy. Now let’s summarize both butters in comparison:
- Longer shelf life
- Does not affect total cholesterol
- More difficult to find
- Easy to find
- Shorter shelf life
- Increases bad cholesterol
1. Is cocoa butter a dairy product?
No. The name butter is only a term for its appearance, but cocoa butter does not contain butter from milk. Just like butter, it’s also made up of oil or fat, but from cacao beans, to be exact.
2. Is organic cocoa butter vegan?
Pure cocoa butter is vegan, whether it’s organic or not. As long as there are no additives that may contain animal products, cocoa butter is vegan.
3. Is Palmer’s cocoa butter vegan?
Palmer’s carries a lot of cocoa butter products for skincare. I found an old forum thread that says their mineral oil base is from pig fat. However, I couldn’t verify this.
The brand does not indicate on their website which of their products are vegan, but here’s their statement:
“While we strive to use plant-based ingredients whenever possible, some of our products do contain animal-sourced ingredients like milk, beeswax, honey, hydrolyzed silk, and Lanolin. Many of our products are 100% free of animal products, so if you have a specific product question, please contact our Customer Service department and we will be happy to help you find the right product for you.”
To get a more specific answer, I had to ask Palmers directly. I sent them an email but I’m yet to hear from them. I will update this post as soon as I get an answer.
4. Is Queen Helene cocoa butter vegan?
Queen Helene is known as a cruelty-free brand. However, as you know, not all cruelty-free brands are vegan, and this brand is an example. Their cocoa butter products contain beeswax and lanolin, so they’re NOT vegan.
5. Is Vaseline cocoa butter vegan?
Vaseline’s cocoa butter ingredients seem vegan-friendly. However, I have seen countless blogs claim that being under the Unilever company, Vaseline isn’t vegan. This is because Unilever has been known to conduct animal testing in a lot of their products.
However, I also know that brands under the same company may have completely different rules with their products. So to be fair, I went to ask Vaseline and here’s their answer:
“In response to your query I would like to give you the following information. I can confirm that all Vaseline Cocoa range does not contain any animal ingredients.”
So, Vaseline cocoa butter is vegan!
Choosing Your Cocoa Butter
Cocoa butter is naturally rich in nutrients that benefit human health in many ways. However, it is important to note that certain processing methods can strip off its valuable nutrients.
So how do you make sure you’re getting the most of what this healthier butter alternative has to offer? Here are some criteria for better and truly vegan cocoa butter:
animal testing is usually common with skincare products. While it’s starting to be a thing of the past, there are still companies, even big ones, that still practice it.
You may not know it but there are actually diluted and adulterated cocoa butters sold inconspicuously. So if you’re buying one especially for household use, choose pure cocoa butter only.
Avoid highly processed and refined cocoa butter products. Processing reduces cocoa’s valuable nutrients and the more processing it goes through, the more nutrients are lost.
4. Ethically sourced
Substitutes For Cocoa Butter
The increase in demand for cocoa butter has led to its volatile price in the market. Did you notice how it seems to have a premium price? One of the reasons is because its unique characteristics make it difficult to find alternatives.
Nevertheless, here are some good alternatives for food and skincare use:
As edible butter or spread:
- Almond butter
- Soy butter
- Coconut butter
- Nut butter
- Other vegetable oils
Cosmetics & Skincare
- Shea butter
- Coconut butter
You might also hear of alternatives with vague names like substitutes and replacers. These are alternative preparations made to address the growing demand and rising costs of cocoa butter. They’re mostly vegan too! Here they are:
CBR or Cocoa Butter Replacers – uses non-lauric fats like cottonseed and soybean oil; part replacer only.
CBS or Cocoa Butter Substitutes – mostly made from lauric fats (coconut or palm kernel), it doesn’t have the same chemical composition with cocoa butter but has similarities in physical properties; however, it can only be a part replacer.
CBE or Cocoa Butter Equivalents – a mixture of vegetable fats (usually illipe and shea butter); full or part replacer.
According to Confectionery News, none of the current alternatives “can meet the exact demands of cocoa butter”. These alternatives are somewhat suitable only when combined with other fats and enhancers.
Well, that’s how unique cocoa butter is!
Although the name might suggest otherwise, pure cocoa butter is vegan. It’s also a healthier alternative to dairy butter. However, it’s also high in calories, so you have to control your consumption if you don’t want to gain weight.
There are no perfect substitutes for cocoa butter that would have the same chemical and physical properties. While this may be the case or a long time, there are suitable individual substitutes for each specific use.
What are your favorite ways to use cocoa butter? Is there a brand you trust? Let me know in the comment section below. And don’t forget to share this article on your favorite social media platform.