The 12 Best "Clean" Dark Chocolate Bars
Last Updated: Feb 04, 2015
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Eating small amounts of dark chocolate can be good for your health. Chocolate comes from a plant -- the bean of the cacao tree -- and, like certain teas, wine and many fruits and vegetables, it boasts a high concentration of antioxidant compounds called “flavonoids,” which can help prevent heart disease and protect against cancer. Processing cacao into chocolate diminishes its flavonoid content, and milk appears to inhibit its antioxidant effects. To get the maximum health benefit it’s best to consume minimally processed chocolate in pure, dark form without additives (like corn syrup, hydrogenated oil and artificial colors or flavors). Look for a cacao (or cocoa) content of 70 percent, and be sure to watch the portion size. Although brands vary, you can assume that a one- to one-and-a-half-ounce serving of plain dark chocolate contains about 200 calories. Read on to discover the 12 top brands for clean and healthy chocolate.
Courtesy of Equal Exchange
Equal Exchange gets clean-label dark chocolate just right. Each bar is built on four foundational ingredients: chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, cane sugar and vanilla beans -- every bit of it 100 percent organic and fair trade. The 71 percent Very Dark bar contains nothing else. And an array of bars in classic flavors have only one additional ingredient each: There is orange or peppermint oil added to the Dark Orange bar (65 percent cacao) and the Mint Chocolate bar (67 percent cacao); raspberries or coconut lend something special to their namesake bars (both 60 percent cacao); and a 55 percent cacao bar holds just almonds (the Dark Chocolate with Almonds) or roasted coffee beans (the Chocolate Espresso Bean). This is what dark chocolate should be: no extra ingredients, no questionable additives -- just chocolate, sugar and an accenting flavor. With Equal Exchange, what you see is what you get. Retails for $3.75 per bar.
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Consumers of high-quality chocolate will want to look beyond its health benefits to consider the environmental and social impacts of its production. Look no further than Alter Eco, whose organic, fair-trade dark chocolate bars are part of a product line that includes quinoa, rice and sugar grown in impoverished regions throughout the world. Fair trade is a cornerstone of the Alter Eco’s mission, and it means that the company pays farmers enough to cover the cost of production of an item and make a profit. Their products are “carbon-neutral”; to achieve that, they plant trees in regions from which they source, and their packaging is compostable. Their Dark Blackout Organic Chocolate Bar is 85 percent cocoa and contains only four 100 percent organic, fair-trade-certified ingredients: cacao beans, cocoa butter, raw cane sugar and vanilla beans. This flavor, along with some of the line’s other varieties, are also vegan. Retails for $4.00 per bar.
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Courtesy of Vosges Chocolate
Another superior chocolate company that’s nudging its way onto the superfood scene is Vosges Haut Chocolat. Its new Super Dark varieties are named for their combination of 72 percent cacao dark chocolate content and added superfoods. Flavors like Reishi Mushroom and Walnut boast the anti-inflammatory properties of walnut-derived omega-3 fats along with the immune-boosting and anticancer effects of the reishi mushroom that’s been used for centuries in Chinese-medicine traditions. The health effects of the Matcha Green Tea and Spirulina Bar include potential antiviral activity of spirulina, a form of blue-green algae that’s very high in B vitamins and iron. Green tea, for its part, confers numerous benefits derived from its high polyphenol (a type of antioxidant) content, including reduced blood pressure, enhanced mood and possibly improving blood sugar control. One downside is that Vosges uses soy lecithin as an emulsifier so this is worth noting if you avoid soy in your diet. Retails for $7.50 per bar.
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In addition to using organic, fair-trade and non-GMO ingredients in their dark chocolate bars, Sweetriot’s claim to fame is their unique social mission: supporting emerging artists and artistic communities. Every few months Sweetriot engages customers in “Rock the Art Vote” to choose a new emerging artist to design their upcoming packaging. The inclusion of a 70 percent Dark Chocolate Cheeky Chia Seed bar and a 70 percent Dark Chocolate Fabulous Flax bar let the customer know that Sweetriot values health too. Both flaxseed and chia seeds are prized for their high alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) content, an omega-3 fat believed to protect against heart disease, depression and diabetes, among other conditions. One serving (33 grams) of the chia chocolate bar contains 0.67 grams of ALA -- more than half the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for ALA for women and more than one-third the RDA for men. Retails for $4 to $5 per bar.
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Courtesy of Taza Chocolate
Taza’s trademark product is stone-ground, unrefined, minimally processed chocolate. Their Wicked Dark 95 percent Stone Ground Chocolate Bar contains only organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar. If you can handle the intensity of the high cacao content, then you’ll win out on the health front -- this bar contains only two grams of sugar per 35-gram serving of chocolate, as compared to nine grams of sugar for a typical 70 percent dark bar and seven grams for a typical 85 percent bar. Taza takes ethical sourcing seriously: Their Direct Trade certification lets you know they buy directly from cacao farmers, and they “pay a premium above the fair-trade price for their cacao.” Their Stone Ground Origin bars each contain a bean of single origin and come in 60, 70, 80 and 87 percent cacao. Retails for $5 per bar.
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Courtesy of Theo Chocolates
Theo’s bars meet all the basic “clean chocolate” criteria: no GMOs, no additives (just chocolate, sugar and vanilla beans form the base) and nearly all ingredients are organic and fair trade. A minimum of 70 percent cacao content per bar means you get a lot of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of the polyphenol compounds called “flavonoids” present in high amounts in dark chocolate (remember these cancer-fighting nutrients are also found in green tea, red wine and many fruits and vegetables). For an added healthful bonus, try Theo’s Ginger or Chili bars. Ginger has antiviral activity and is used to combat respiratory infections; and chili pepper (also known as cayenne), used mainly to reduce pain in arthritis, also shows promise for improving blood sugar levels. Retails for $4 per bar.
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If the antioxidant property of dark chocolate alone isn’t enough to impress your inner health nut, you may want to try Good Cacao’s line of supplement-enhanced chocolate bars. The Coconut Omega-3 bar contains the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fat DHA, which helps lower triglyceride levels (and thus the risk of heart disease). Omega-3s are lacking in the diets of most Americans and is scarcely found in foods other than certain fish -- so if you’re not a fan of seafood, you can turn to this omega-3-rich chocolate to help protect your heart and brain. Each Good Cacao bar also contains probiotics to support gastrointestinal health, and both the Mandarin Orange and the Nutriberi flavors include other functional ingredients, such as curcumin, a healthy component found in turmeric. Retails for $5.00 per bar.
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Courtesy of Dandelion Chocolate
San Francisco-based Dandelion Chocolate offers one of the purest dark chocolate experiences out there. Their 70 percent cacao bars are made with just two ingredients: single-origin cacao beans and sugar. This stripped-down approach is unique. Dark chocolate is typically produced by crushing cacao beans into a paste known as chocolate liquor and removing the fat portion, or cocoa butter, and then combining the two together again in a later step so that the end product tastes the same over multiple batches of production. The finer the quality of the cacao bean, the fewer steps are needed to produce a superior-tasting chocolate. Dandelion’s purist process lends each bar the distinct flavor of its single-source beans, which come from countries like Venezuela, Madagascar and Liberia. The high cacao content means the bars have a good dose of flavonoids, which have beneficial effects on blood pressure, insulin resistance and the blood lipids that influence risk of heart disease. Retails for $8 to $10 per bar.
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Courtesy of Addictive Wellness Chocolate
Some companies use Chinese herbs or Amazonian superfoods to boost the health properties of their chocolate; some make a “raw” (or unheated) product to avoid losing too much of the chocolate’s antioxidant activity in processing; and still others refuse to add sugar to their chocolate, preferring not to turn the healthy cacao bean into a diet-smashing, sugary indulgence. Addictive Wellness combines these elements into something like a chocolate-covered herb tonic. The Energy bar is spiked with cordyceps, a fungus used medicinally to treat fatigue and enhance immune function. The Beauty bar contains mesquite, a powder typically produced from a tree that’s rich in micronutrients like calcium and magnesium. All the bars are sugar-free and sweetened with stevia and/or birch xylitol (a sugar alcohol that’s slowly absorbed and lower in calories than sugar). Retails for $7.75 per bar.
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Courtesy of Righteous Raw
To avoid losing too much of the precious flavonoids that give dark chocolate its healthy name, Righteously Raw takes the term “minimally processed” to heart. They produce a “raw” chocolate, assuring that the cacao is never heated above 118 degrees. The low-temperature preparation means you’ll get as much flavonoid activity as possible. That’s good news, because the benefits are significant: These antioxidant compounds relax blood vessels, lower blood pressure and have an overall positive effect on heart health. Righteously Raw’s line of dark chocolate bars also includes an 80 percent cacao content Acai bar and a 90 percent cacao content Goji bar -- both “superfood” berries are praised for their own strong antioxidant power. Retails for $5.50 per bar.
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Courtesy of Coco Polo Chocolate
COCO POLO: THE STEVIA CHOCOLATE COMPANY
For all the health benefits that dark chocolate provides, it’s still sweetened with sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons (100 calories’ worth) and men no more than nine teaspoons (150 calories’ worth) of added sugar per day. While one 40-gram serving (about one-and-a-half ounces) of a typical 70 percent dark chocolate bar contains seven to 10 grams (or 32 to 40 calories’ worth) of sugar, the 70 percent dark chocolate bar made by Coco Polo contains zero grams of sugar. The bar is sweetened with calorie-free stevia, a leaf extract used in place of sugar to lessen the calorie load of sweet treats, and erythritol, a sugar alcohol that has fewer calories per gram than sugar. Although some people notice an aftertaste with stevia, it may be worth trying if you want to avoid adding sugar to your diet while still benefiting from a healthy dose of dark chocolate. Coco Polo dark chocolate bars also come in Dark Ginger, Dark Cherry, Dark Elderberry and a host of other popular flavors. Retails for $5.25 per bar.
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Courtesy of Sacred Chocolate
Sacred Chocolate may take the prize for having the widest array of health benefits of any dark chocolate on the market. First, their organic, raw, vegan, stone-ground bars are processed in a 100 percent renewable-energy facility and contain no cane sugar (maple sugar is used in most bars instead). Then, each of Sacred Chocolate’s bars has unique, health-promoting ingredients. For instance, the Reverse bar contains resveratrol, the compound found in grapes and red wine that extends the lifespan of laboratory animals; the Sun Sweet bar is sweetened only with inulin, a low glycemic index carbohydrate that’s also a prebiotic that supports gut health; and the vegan Immuno-Mushroom bar contains a variety of Chinese mushrooms, like chaga and reishi, believed in the Chinese-medicine tradition to support immunity and overall health. Retails for $8.95 to $11.95 per bar.
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DOSE OF CHOCOLATE
Dark chocolate can actually be good for you -- provided you don’t overdose on this sugary treat. One ounce per day is all you need, and the higher the cacao percentage, the better. Watch out for chocolate with unhealthy additives like oils and preservatives, and steer toward those with health-boosting ingredients like green tea, omega-3s and Chinese herbs.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you eat chocolate? What’s your favorite clean-chocolate brand? Which have unique ingredients that you love? Share your thoughts and advice with us in the comments below.
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