The 2021 Vegan Chocolate competition, sponsored by TasteTV, featured a lot of familiar faces — and some submitted the same chocolate that they submitted for this year’s Chocolate Bar competition. That made my judging task a little easier, and maybe the entries got double the awards.
Vegan is always an interesting competition with people trying all sorts of ingredients and techniques to approximate traditional chocolate taste and texture without using dairy or other vegan no-nos like honey. Some have been fairly successful, and if you like dark chocolate and coconut, you will have a lot of vegan choices. Otherwise, I think you have to be sort of adventurous and optimistic to not let the many bad/weird/just plain disappointing vegan versions of chocolate turn you off to the possibilities.
Since I am taking the high road this year and (mostly) not talking about entries I don’t like, I am only covering entries that I rated 3 stars or higher.
Local most-improved award
When they impress me, I like to start with SFBA entrants to brag a bit on our local chocolate scene. As I said in the Chocolate Bar competition, I saw a radical improvement in the enjoyment level of Endorfin Foods’ chocolate. They submitted the same bars, Turkish Coffee and Coconut Cream, and they were so good — more like traditional chocolate than I have ever experienced with their bars, that I have been sharing them with other chocolate lovers to an almost evangelical level. Whatever changed there, I hope they keep it up.
Since they did not submit different bars for the competitions, I don’t know if only these 2 Endorfin bars have improved. But I would be interested to see if their whole line of bars has been revamped from closer to raw to closer to traditional.
Endorfin’s Turkish Coffee won Gold for Best Taste and Best Dark Chocolate; Silver for Best Flavored Chocolate; and Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Texture. It rated 4.5 stars.
The Coconut Cream won Silver for Best Taste and Best Texture; Bronze for Best Dark Chocolate; and Honorable Mentions for Best Vegan Milk Chocolate and Best Flavored Chocolate. It rated 4.5 stars.
Endorfin products are available online, and their bars are sold in stores across the country.
While there were other SFBA entrants this time, their submissions didn’t make my cutoff, so I won’t mention them. Now onto remarkable vegan chocolate from around the world:
Treat Dreams, Sydney, AU, who we first tried in last year’s Vegan Chocolate competition, submitted 3 entries this time. One, the Aussie Pavlova Bar, they submitted in the Chocolate Bar competition, and it was worth submitting twice.
It is a limited edition bar that riffs on the classic Pavlova dessert in white chocolate with marshmallows and dried fruit. It did well in the Chocolate Bar competition with a Gold, Silver, Bronze, and 4 Honorable Mentions, but it dominated the Vegan competition, winning Gold for Most Unique and Top Vegan Chocolate; Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, Best Flavored Chocolate; Bronze for Best Texture; Honorable Mention for Best Vegan Milk Chocolate. It rated 4.5 stars. With those kinds of stats, maybe Treat Dreams will see fit to make this a regular part of their offerings.
But what enchanted me were their Hazel Bunnies. First, Treat Dreams packaging is positively joyous with gentle colors decorated with patterned white bubbles — simple but eye catching. Second, the mold used for the bunnies themselves is super cute. If not for the melting hazard, I would’ve broken the “don’t play with your food” rule.
Third, they tasted great. While they were vegan milk chocolate, they didn’t taste vegan. I think it helped that the bunnies were filled with a crunchy almond and hazelnut praline inside the smooth chocolate. The small crunch and pronounced hazelnut flavor made for an excellent treat.
The bunnies won Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Texture, Best Vegan Milk Chocolate, and Top Vegan Chocolate; Bronze for Best Taste and Best Flavored Chocolate; and an Honorable Mention for Most Unique. They rated 4.5 stars (but I give them a 5). I’d put a reminder on the calendar around Easter to check for these limited edition cuties.
Treat Dreams’ third entry was their Caramel Filled Bears. Luster dusted molded dark chocolate filled with liquid caramel, these were the only disappointment from Treat Dreams — they tasted vegan, even though they were dark chocolate (probably the coconut cream ingredient). They also were not as cute as the bunnies; their molds were more in the vein of ugly cute. They won Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture. They rated 4.5 stars.
A 100% vegan chocolatier, Treat Dreams makes vegan bars and filled molded chocolates. UPDATE November 2022: Treat Dreams has closed.
Pretty & unique
New-this-year contestant, Coco Jolie, Englewood, NJ, that we also saw in the chocolate bar competition, submitted a box of attractive, tasty vegan bonbons. The pretty hand-painted shells were pleasingly thin and held some unique flavors. I also liked that the pieces were not too sweet.
The Black Forest bonbon was a good example. A shiny burgundy dome decorated with dramatic black and pink brush strokes/splashes, it featured a big cherry in the middle, but this is not your grandma’s chocolate covered cherry. The liquidy cherry center was soft and a little tart —instead of being chewy, the cherry basically melted in my mouth. With a dark chocolate ganache in dark chocolate shell, it had a nice blend of cherry and chocolate, and wasn’t boozy.
The Pecan Butterscotch bonbon was most unusual. The distinctive orange lozenge with brown and white strokes featured a dark chocolate ganache in a dark chocolate shell. It smelled of pecan, but had a different take on butterscotch: It had a sugary grainy texture and tasted boozy, not sweet and buttery —like maybe it was scotch instead of butterscotch.
The swirled globe of Passion Fruit had a soft center fruit purée inside a dark chocolate shell, so it had an immediate tart passion fruit flavor, which I found unusual — most people don’t do tart passion fruit. The boldness was a good balance with the dark chocolate shell, which was also unusual in my experience. People usually pair passion fruit with white chocolate. But it was a good match, making it extra chocolatey tasting.
The Cookie Butter had a gooey caramel center with little bits of cookie layered on a thin layer of soft praline in dark chocolate. It tasted like Speculoos cookies dipped in chocolate.
Even a more common flavor like Salted Caramel had something extra — a really interesting extra burnt caramel flavor. The only piece that lagged was the straight up ganache piece. It was well made and flavorful; I just would’ve liked another flavored piece to see what else Coco Jolie would have invented.
Coco Jolie bars, bonbons, and other chocolate treats are available online and at their shop in Englewood, NJ.
Return competitor, Honduras Chocolate Company, Denver, CO, submitted the same bars that they entered in the chocolate bar competition this year. While the results were slightly different — their 75% won Gold for Best Dark Chocolate Bar in the bar competition, while their 80% won the comparable award in this competition —all of their 2-ingredient dark chocolate bars are reliable chocolate experiences.
Honduras Chocolate Company uses only 2 ingredients — cacao and cane sugar — and advertise that their chocolate is never bitter. I think if you like dark chocolate, their chocolate won’t hit as bitter as a lot of other chocolates. But if you’re firmly in the milk chocolate camp, you might disagree.
If you’re dark chocolate-curious, the Honduras bars could be a good entry into the different percentages and finding your cacao level of comfort. Their bars are well made with a good snap and a slightly grainy, but mostly smooth texture. They offer a flight of 4 bars of different cacao percentages, including a 65% that I haven’t seen in these competitions yet.
Their 70% won Silver for Best Dark Chocolate and Bronze for Best Texture. Their 75% won Bronze for Best Texture and Best Dark Chocolate. In addition to the Gold for Best Dark Chocolate, their 80% won Honorable Mention for Best Taste. All 3 bars rated 4 stars.
You can buy Honduras Chocolate Company bars online. They sometimes include a free 8 oz. bag of cocoa powder with your order, which is an excellent cocoa powder for baking.
Veteran competitor, Delysia Chocolatier, Austin, TX. submitted a couple of boxes of truffles and a bark. I don’t know what happened, but this year Delysia submitted several entries to the different competitions that I really liked. Usually, I find their flavor combinations unappealing and their barks and truffle shells too thick. Their truffle shells still need work, but I liked more of their flavor combos than ever before.
Their Almond Butter Coconut bark was surprising in 2 ways: First, it had small crunchy almond butter bits and coconut flakes in a coffee flavored dark chocolate. Since coffee was the most pronounced flavor, I think they should have included that in the name.
The second surprise for me was that I liked it so much. I feel like Delysia has improved their couverture, plus the barks aren’t so hard to bite as before. And the coffee/almond butter/coconut combo worked for me. It seemed like it was vegan without even trying to be. It did well in the competition, winning Gold for Best Taste; Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Texture, Best Dark Chocolate, and Best Flavored Chocolate; and Bronze for Top Vegan Chocolate. It rated 5 stars — the highest rating possible and the only entry to receive 5 stars.
Of the 2 boxes of truffles Delysia submitted, I liked one flavor: the Green Juice Chocolate Truffle in the Juicing Cleanse collection. It was a bittersweet chocolate truffle flavored with lemon, ginger, kale, wheatgrass, and green tea, but it was basically a ginger truffle: It smelled like ginger and tasted like ginger, and had a ginger heat that built up as the truffle dissolved. I didn’t taste the grass flavors, but the lemon and green tea did come in to moderate the ginger.
Delysia’s Juicing Cleanse collection won Silver for Most Unique; and Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Texture. It rated 3.5 stars.
Delysia chocolates are available online only currently, while their shop in Austin is closed due to COVID.
Better than expected
New competitor, Ruah Chocolates, is a Bolivian chocolate maker that sweetens their high-cacao-percentage Ruah Fit bars with stevia. They entered 3 bars of different percentages in the competition.
Their bars were eye-catching with a distinctive triangle shape and pretty custom mold of leaves and flowers. It’s always interesting to try different cacao percentages, especially from the same maker, to experience how percentages affect taste. The 3 bars all had different flavors, and of the bars Ruah entered, I liked the 75% best.
It was a fudgy chocolate with an almost unnoticeable cooling from stevia, but it did dull the taste: It started chocolatey but ended blunted. As I’ve said on the site before, I’m not a fan of sugar substitutes in chocolate, and in this case I would drop the stevia and use real sugar. It was better than I expected, but I think this cacao would be better in a traditional bar. It won Honorable Mentions for Best Taste, Best Texture, and Best Dark Chocolate; and rated 3 stars.
Their 85% was more fermented tasting, definitely darker with a hint of raisin but more savory and smoky, but again I think it suffered from the blunted ending from the stevia. It also received an Honorable Mention for Best Dark Chocolate and rated 3 stars.
The 100% had no stevia, of course, but it was extremely bitter with a drying, acerbic sensation. I did not care for it at all. It won Honorable Mentions for Best Taste and Best Texture; and rated 3 stars.
First time competitor, Panda Chocolate, Jerusalem, Israel, makes kosher vegan chocolate. They submitted 3 bars to the competition, and I was a little turned off by the photos of their chocolate on their packaging: the chocolate and other ingredients looked dull, not appetizing. And while the bars were not horrible, they seemed more like candy to me — they weren’t very chocolatey tasting.
This is also the first time I’ve seen tofu listed as an ingredient in chocolate. As I said earlier in this article, chocolatiers can get pretty inventive when trying to make vegan chocolate happen if dark chocolate or coconut as a sweetener are not enough for their vision, so ingredient lists can be entertaining to read. (The tofu is part of the soy powder replacing milk in their “milk chocolate” bars.)
Of Panda’s 3 entries, only one made my cutoff of 3 stars, and that was just barely: The Peanut Butter Creamy Chocolate Vegan Treat with Peanuts Cream was a too sweet 32% cacao bar filled with a soft peanut butter cream. To me it was definitely a nostalgia taste, but I couldn’t quite place it. It reminded me mostly of old fashioned peanut butter filled hard candy my grandfather used to like.
It won Gold for Best Vegan Milk Chocolate; Bronze for Best Taste and Best Texture; and Honorable Mentions for Best Flavored Chocolate and Top Vegan Chocolate. It rated 4 stars.
Panda Chocolate’s bars and treats are only sold online.
The chocolate I reviewed here were all ones I rated 3 stars or higher. To see the complete list of winners and all the vegan chocolate that was rated by the entire panel 3 stars or higher, visit the 2021 Top Vegan Chocolate Awards page.