Whether you make one mug at a time or a batch for a crowd, nothing warms up a cold day quite like a cup of hot chocolate. These vegan hot chocolate recipes are so rich and creamy, you’ll never guess that they’re dairy free.
The information provided on this site is based on my personal experience living with alpha-gal syndrome. I consistently cite and link to expert sources, but nothing published on this site should be perceived as medical advice.
Alpha-gal sensitivities vary by person. You should understand your dietary restrictions, making any adjustments needed, and directing any questions to your physician.
In This Article
Origins of Hot Chocolate
Ever wonder how hot chocolate came to be? If you took a time machine to the Yucatan Peninsula back in the first century, you’d likely be served a cup of drinkable chocolate. But unlike today’s beverage, this version would have been bitter (because sugar had not made its way to the Americas), spicy (because it was often mixed with ground chiles), and served cold.
Turning the dial on our time machine to the Middle Ages, Spanish conquistadors defeated Montezuma and shook Aztec nobles down for their valuables. When a triumphant Hernan Cortes returned to Spain, he and his men brought cocoa beans with them. Over the next few centuries the drink would evolve to the hot, creamy, sweetened beverage we know and love today.
Is Chocolate Vegan?
There are three main categories of chocolate: dark, milk, and white. Dark chocolate, the most bitter of the three, doesn’t typically contain any milk. However, some brands may be up to 12% milk, so be sure to carefully read the nutrition label and ingredients list when purchasing dark chocolate. Additionally, if the dark chocolate is manufactured on the same machinery used to make milk chocolate, there may be trace amounts of milk in it due to cross-contamination.
With “milk” as its first name, it should be no surprise that milk chocolate is typically not vegan. However, some brands of milk chocolate are made with oat milk, almond milk, and other non-dairy milks.
Typically made without cocoa, white chocolate isn’t actually chocolate. Rather, it’s a confection made of sugar, cocoa butter, milk, and sometimes vanilla. As with milk chocolate, it is possible to find milk chocolate bars and morsels that are dairy free.
Related Article: The Truth About Alpha-Gal and Chocolate: Is It Safe to Eat?
If you’re following a vegan diet for ethical reasons, you may be comfortable with any chocolate listed as vegan. But if you’re allergic to dairy products or are an alpha gal who reacts to dairy, you’ll need to be more careful about the chocolate you choose for hot chocolate.
Because there is currently no FDA-endorsed definition of “vegan” in the United States, chocolate manufacturers may use the designation as they like. But when you select products that have been certified by a trusted third party – like Vegan.org, The Vegan Society, or VegeCert – you can be sure that they are completely free of animal and dairy ingredients.
Ingredients for Vegan Hot Chocolate
What Vegan Milk is Best for Hot Chocolate?
For alpha gals who cannot tolerate traditional dairy products, “regular” hot chocolate, which contains cow’s milk, is not an option. Whether you have an alpha-gal allergy, dairy allergy, or just choose to follow a vegan diet, there are a wide range of alternative plant-based milks for vegan hot chocolate.
While this nut milk isn’t widely available at coffee shops for a cup of vegan hot chocolate when you’re out and about, it is a delicious plant-based milk for a homemade cup of vegan hot chocolate. Hazelnut milk not only has a rich, creamy texture, but it lends a slightly nutty flavor to the chocolate that makes me think of Nutella.
Related Article: How to Make Vegan Nutella
My favorite milk for vegan hot chocolate is coconut milk. It’s as smooth and creamy as steamed whole milk while adding a hint of coconut that makes me think of Almond Joy candy bars (or the vegan version from UNREAL).
What Vegan Chocolate is Best for Hot Chocolate?
The chocolate you use for hot chocolate can be cocoa powder (also called cacao powder), chocolate chips, or even a chocolate bar that’s been chopped into small pieces. And provided it is dairy free, you can opt for dark, milk, or white chocolate.
Cocoa or cacao powder is a versatile option that’s easy to keep on hand in your pantry. This non-GMO and fair trade-sourced cacao powder contains nothing but certified organic cacao powder. Same for this Dutch processed French cocoa powder from Valrhona. Or stick with a well-known American brand, Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder.
If you are a household-name shopper, Nestle has you covered. Whether you select their allergen-free dark chocolate or semi-sweet morsels, they are certified vegan by Vegan.org. I’m also a big fan of San Francisco-based Ghirardelli’s bittersweet baking chips and these organic cacao nibs that The Vegan Society has certified as vegan.
When it comes to chopping a chocolate bar into pieces to make your hot chocolate, I love Ghirardelli’s intense dark 72% chocolate bar. While there are no dairy-based ingredients on the label, most of their chocolate products contain a “may contain” warning indicating that there could be cross-contamination. So choose this option carefully if you have a dairy allergy or are a highly reactive alpha-gal. You can also use one of these uniquely flavored dairy-free dark chocolate bars, with flavors like spicy cayenne with cinnamon, black lava salt with turmeric, and maple toffee with moringa, to make an exotic cup of vegan hot chocolate.
What Alpha-Gal Friendly Sweetener is Best for Hot Chocolate?
To sweeten your cup of hot chocolate, you can use granulated sugar, coconut sugar, or agave syrup. Some recipes use maple syrup as a sweetener, but some hot chocolate drinkers feel it gives the beverage an odd aftertaste. While vegans don’t consume honey (because it is made by bees), it is another alpha-gal friendly sweetener.
Vegan Hot Chocolate Toppings
What makes any cup of hot chocolate better? Delicious toppings like marshmallows and whipped cream! But, unfortunately, marshmallows typically contain gelatin, and whipped cream is hard-core dairy. Here are some vegan toppings to finish off your cup of cocoa.
If you’re following a vegan diet but do not have alpha-gal, then you can add a handful of vegan mini marshmallows to your mug. But, unfortunately for alpha gals, the most popular vegan brands – Dandies and Trader Joe’s – contain carrageenan. Although it is plant-based, this red seaweed extract contains the alpha-gal epitope and can cause a reaction.
While they’re not vegan (because they contain fish gelatin), Paskesz marshmallows are an alpha-gal friendly option.
Related Article: What is Carrageenan (And Why Should Alpha Gals Avoid It)?
Even before I had alpha-gal, I was a big believer in whipping up fresh cream. It always tastes infinitely better than frozen whipped topping or the stuff you spray out of a can. But if you want convenience, Whole Foods has a plant-based non-dairy whipped topping that you can keep in the freezer, and Reddi Wip makes a non-dairy whipped topping made with almond milk that you can keep in your fridge. (But, alpha gals beware, this product contains carrageenan.)
My recommendation is to whip up your own non-dairy whipped cream. It takes two ingredients and two minutes to make this delicious non-dairy whipped topping using coconut cream. Or you can whip up this alternative hot chocolate topping using cashew cream and maple syrup.
Other Hot Chocolate Toppings
Whether you top your hot chocolate with marshmallows, whipped cream, or both, keep going to add even more glam to your goblet with candy pieces, crushed cookies, and spices like:
- Crushed candy canes to add a hint of peppermint to your cup
- Chocolate candies, like these dark chocolate peanut candies that are certified vegan by Vegan.org
- Mini chocolate chips
- Crushed OREO chocolate sandwich cookies
- Crushed graham crackers for a s’mores style drink
- Mini sunflower butter cups
- A sprinkle of cinnamon
- Grated dark chocolate shavings
- Cacao nibs
Related Article: Sweet! 50 Alpha-Gal Safe Candy Treats
Hot Chocolate Stir-Ins
You can also add stir-ins to your hot cocoa before you top it off. These are some of my favorites:
Hot Chocolate Variations
As the cold winter drags on, you may be looking for ways to add a special twist to your standard cup of hot cocoa. Here are a few delicious variations to consider, including how to make a grown-ups only version of each.
Caramel Hot Chocolate
Stir a pump or two of vegan caramel syrup into your cup of hot chocolate. Top with vegan whipped cream and drizzle a little more caramel syrup on top. Make a grown-up version by adding a shot of Van Meer’s stroopwafel liqueur. (Note: While I can confirm that this liqueur is lactose-free, I cannot confirm that it’s vegan or dairy free.)
Sage Advice: Never heard of stroopwafels? Here’s the answer.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
For a cup of hot cocoa with a little kick, stir in ½ tsp of ground cinnamon, a pinch of chili powder, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Then top with vegan whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon. Make adulting easier by adding a shot of Corsair spiced rum.
Mocha Hot Chocolate
Peppermint Hot Chocolate
Add a few drops of peppermint extract or a single drop of food grade peppermint essential oil to a warm mug of hot cocoa. Top with vegan whipped cream and crushed candy canes or confectioner’s sprinkles. Did the in-laws extend their holiday visit an extra week? Keep things jolly by adding a shot of peppermint schnapps.
Pumpkin Spice Hot Chocolate
As temperatures drop across the country, America becomes the land of everything pumpkin spice. Here’s how to convert your cup of cocoa into a national favorite. Whisk two tablespoons of pure pumpkin puree and ¼ teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice into your favorite hot chocolate recipe. Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg. Say no to tricks and yes to a special treat by adding a shot of spiced rum.
S’Mores Hot Chocolate
Put a campfire favorite in a mug by topping a cup of hot cocoa with vegan marshmallows, crushed graham crackers, and a drizzle of dairy-free chocolate syrup. Give the grown-ups an extra hit of flavorful fluff by adding a shot of V Gallery marshmallow vodka.
Sage Advice: Not sure if your favorite hot chocolate shot is vegan or alpha-gal friendly? Do your research before you drink using Barnivore. Just remember that while beer, wine, and liquor clarified with egg whites aren’t vegan, they are still safe for alpha-gals to enjoy.
Is Starbucks Hot Chocolate Vegan?
Because it’s made with 2% milk and topped with whipped cream, the hot chocolate at Starbucks is not automatically vegan. But you can make it vegan with two simple customizations:
- Substitute the steamed 2% milk with your favorite plant-based milk – coconut, oat, soy, or almond. Important Note: While all four of those milk options are vegan, alpha gals should know that the coconut and soy milk used at Starbucks both contain carrageenan, so I recommend choosing oat or almond milk.
- Skip the whip. Typically applied generously to each cup of cocoa, Starbucks whipped cream is not vegan.
Sage Advice: Want to make a cup of Starbucks hot chocolate at home? Their double chocolate hot cocoa mix is vegan. Just add your favorite hot non-dairy milk.
Best Vegan Hot Chocolate Recipes
From a classic cup to exotic options, here are some of my favorite vegan hot chocolate recipes.
Classic Vegan Hot Chocolate Recipes
3. Traditional French Hot Chocolate
Want to know the simplest way to make a steaming cup of vegan hot chocolate? Use only dark chocolate, water, and a cinnamon stick or vanilla bean. That’s right! This French-style vegan hot chocolate recipe from Go Healthy with Bea includes no milk of any kind, traditional or plant-based.
Vegan Hot Chocolate Mix
To make hot chocolate prep fast and easy, consider preparing your own hot chocolate mix in advance. Put one part cocoa powder and two parts sweetener into an airtight container. (This one is my favorite, because it comes with a ⅛-cup scoop and a place to store it on the side of the canister.)
When you’re ready for a comforting cup of hot chocolate, all you have to do is stir in one scoop (two tablespoons) of mix into a warm, 8-oz cup of your favorite dairy-free milk, stir, and enjoy!
Crockpot and Instant Pot Hot Chocolate
6. Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate
By whisking all of the ingredients in a crock pot and letting it cook on low for two to three hours, this slow cooker hot chocolate recipe from Little Sunny Kitchen is about as easy as it gets. It’s perfect to serve a crowd, like when the neighborhood kids end up at your house on a snow day.
7. Instant Pot Vegan Hot Chocolate
Using a combination of coconut cream from the top of a can of coconut milk plus another dairy-free milk, this Instant Pot vegan hot chocolate recipe from Veggie Fun Kitchen has the creamy texture and mouthfeel that a traditional cup of hot chocolate achieves with whole milk and cream.
Vegan Specialty Hot Chocolates
While the classic recipe is certainly comforting on a cold or rainy day, you may want to spice things up from time to time. With flavors like pumpkin, peppermint, and coconut chai, these vegan specialty hot chocolate recipes range from holiday classic to exotic.
9. Coconut Chai Hot Chocolate
With a bag of black tea and a ½ teaspoon of chai masala, this coconut chai hot chocolate from Indiaphile is an exotic option inspired by the largest country in south Asia.
10. Superfood Maca Hot Chocolate
Made with maca powder, a malty-flavored powder derived from a Peruvian root vegetable, this hot chocolate recipe from Salted Plains feels connected to the original recipes for drinkable chocolate from centuries ago. It even includes a pinch of cayenne pepper that would make the Mayans proud!
11. Champurrado (Mexican Chocolate Drink)
12. Vegan Mexican Hot Chocolate
13. Dairy-Free Peppermint Hot Chocolate
With just four ingredients and 1-½ teaspoons of peppermint extract, this dairy-free peppermint hot chocolate recipe from Food Sharing Vegan takes you from kitchen to drinkable comfort in just ten minutes.
14. Healing Tahini Hot Chocolate
You may think of ground sesame seed paste as a mandatory ingredient for hummus, but this tahini hot chocolate recipe from Strength and Sunshine will have you thinking about tahini in a whole new light. Accented with a teaspoon each of turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger, it puts the XOXO in exotic.
15. Pumpkin Hot Chocolate with Homemade Almond/Coconut Milk
This delicious specialty hot chocolate recipe from Living Healthy with Chocolate uses a homemade blend of almond and coconut milk. If you want to speed things up by using store-bought milk, replace the almonds, shredded coconut, hot water, pinch of salt, and vanilla extract with one cup each of almond and coconut milk.
17. Healthy Vegan Gingerbread Hot Chocolate
19. Vegan Mulled Wine Hot Chocolate
Just like dark chocolate pairs with a vintage port, this mulled wine hot chocolate recipe from Wallflower Kitchen combines dairy-free hot chocolate and mulled wine for a decadent treat.
20. Vegan White Hot Chocolate
Although I describe white chocolate as fake chocolate because it doesn’t contain any cocoa, it’s still pretty darn delicious. And that’s especially true when you melt certified vegan white chocolate chips into non-dairy milk and add a teaspoon of real vanilla in this white hot chocolate recipe from Strength and Sunshine. Make it with these carrageenan-free white chocolate chips.
Spiked Hot Chocolate Recipes
While grown-ups have coffee, hot chocolate is often used to warm up the kiddos on a cold, dreary day. Make adulting easier by adding a shot to your mug with these boozy recipes.
22. Hot Chocolate with Liquor
While rum and peppermint schnapps are classic ways to spike a cup of hot chocolate, this hot chocolate recipe from Cooking with Elo explores several other intoxicating options. From almond-flavored Amaretto to citrusy Triple Sec, there are several fresh options to stir into your cup of cocoa.
Do You Love Hot Chocolate?
What’s your favorite way to enjoy a steaming mug of hot cocoa? Do you have a favorite plant-based milk? What vegan stir-ins or toppings do you like to add to finish it off before you start sipping? Any additional tips and tricks to pass along? Share your experiences in the comments section below.