Taste-Test: Free-From Chocolate

For many of us, chocolate is one of those guilty pleasures we don’t need an excuse to indulge in. But since when did satisfying our sweet tooth have to be so sinful? Cacao is often hailed by nutritionists as one of the most antioxidant-rich foods in the world, and now consumers are also wisening up to a world of chocolate beyond Cadburys. From raw cacao and rice milk to sweet carob and coconut cream, a number of brands are doing their best to cut out the bad stuff, producing chocolate that’s not only gluten-free but guilt-free altogether. Here’s our pick of the best:

WILLIE’S CACAO

Willie Harcourt-Cooze is a real-life Willy Wonka, transforming fine flavour cocoas from single origins and estates into superior quality chocolate blocks and bars. He was the man behind Britain’s first 100% chocolate bar and has popularised cacao as a pure ingredient, using just raw cane sugar and natural cocoa butter to preserve the natural flavours of the bean. The results are pretty spectacular. Not only is Willie’s Cacao some of the best-looking chocolate out there, it’s also some of the tastiest. The thick, squared slabs are gloriously smooth and creamy, with the varying percentage bars offering different, always-subtle flavour notes, from deep cherries and plums in the Los Llanos Gold 88% dark chocolate to gentle spice mingled with red fruit in the 70% version. Bean-to-bar chocolate at its best.

Free from: gluten, soya lecithin

Conscious

Conscious is the original raw vegan chocolate, and each handmade bar is unlike anything else on the market: soft, sumptuous and sweetened with natural agave nectar, it’s more like a slab of melt-in-the-mouth chocolate truffle than a conventional snap-off-a-square chocolate bar. You really can’t go wrong with any of the 18 flavours, but we particularly love the Essential Orange thanks to the uplifting blend of organic orange and tangerine oils which bursts through the richness of 65% cacao solids. A super-smooth, properly indulgent chocolate that’s so good it’s worth splashing out on.

Free from: gluten, dairy, soya and refined sugar. Low gi and gl index. Vegan and vegetarian. 

Adam’s Raw Chocolate

Adam’s Raw Chocolate is not only some of the prettiest chocolate but the healthiest: none of the ingredients are altered from their natural state, refined or included simply to lengthen shelf-life, with a blend of natural sugars from yacon and agave plants delivering a naturally clean flavour while registering low on the Glycemic Index – that means no sugar rushes and no nasty comedowns. We loved the tropical flavours and gooey chunks of banana in the Banana & Coconut, but our surprise favourite was actually the Mint: the subtlety of peppermint oil balancing out the richness of the raw chocolate, with a super-smooth consistency that also feels the most indulgent.

Free from: gluten, dairy, soy and refined sugar. Vegan, vegetarian and organic.

Rawr Raw Chocolate

Texture-wise, the dark, snappy bars from Rawr are probably the most conventionally ‘chocolatey’ raw bars available – with the twelve squares in each 60g slab also making them one of the biggest. Thankfully, polishing off any of the six flavours is as satisfying as it is sinless: we loved the combination of sweet goji berries and vanilla in the Passion, and found the caramel-like Lucuma Cacao Bar the smoothest of the lot. Because this is the only downside of such a dark, glossy chocolate: it’s noticeably chalkier and less creamy than the others, with a slight crumbliness that belies just how good a chocolate this really is.

*In a more recent taste-test, we found Rawr had drastically improved the texture of their bars – resulting in an all-round better chocolate. Read the review here.

Free from: gluten, dairy, artificial, hydrogenated or chemical preservatives, emulsifiers, colourings and refined sugar. Vegan, vegetarian, organic and Fair Trade. 

Ombar

Every Ombar is made from raw Ecuadorian cacao and unrefined coconut sugar, with the addition of dairy-free coconut cream making each of the nine flavours thicker, creamier and dreamier than ever before. Even the intense 90% Raw Cacao dark chocolate refuses to taste bitter, while those of us who have so reluctantly avoided sugar-laden milk chocolate can finally give into Ombar Coco Mylk, which blends raw cacao, coconut cream and caramel-tasting coconut sugar to offer a healthier alternative to your traditional melt-in-the-mouth milk chocolate. What’s more, it tastes even better than the real thing.

Free from: gluten, dairy and refined sugar. Vegan, vegetarian and organic. 

 Cocoa Libre

Founded in 2014, Cocoa Libre might be one of the newest chocolate brands but it’s also one of the finest. The handcrafted, artisan chocolate is available in standard 50g bars, beautiful studded chocolate slabs and cute mini animals, with a firm, snappable texture that quickly melts into a rich, smooth consistency. Prices start at a reasonable £1.99 for the 50g eight-piece bar and steadily creep up to £3.99 for the animal shapes and £5.99 for a set of three mini slab bars. It’s expensive – but it’s worth it.

Free from: gluten, wheat, nuts, eggs and dairy. 

Kinnerton

At the other end of the spectrum is Kinnerton. Kinnerton was the first food company to separate its production facilities into nut and nut-free zones, and it’s Luxury Dark Chocolate is not only one of the most widely available free-from chocolate bars but one of the cheapest, costing from just £1.45 per 85g  bar. No real surprise then that Kinnerton has become the go-to brand for cooking and desserts. Dark but not bitter, sweet but not sickly, this might not be the most sophisticated bar of chocolate but it’s certainly the one you’re most likely to return to again and again. A fuss-free, gimmick-free bar of everyday dark chocolate.

Free from: dairy, gluten, egg and nuts. 

Moo Free

Winners of over 19 FreeFrom food awards, Moo Free replaces cows’ milk with rice milk for a child-friendly, allergy-friendly alternative to milk chocolate. The chocolate itself isn’t the most accomplished free-from chocolate out there, but it’s plainer flavour is well-suited to younger palettes and comes alive when sprinkled with crunchy pieces of (vegan) honeycomb toffee, zesty orange or mint crystals – as is the case with Moo Free Mini Moo chocolate bars.

Free from: gluten, dairy, lactose, casein, wheat and soya. Vegan and vegetarian.

Lindt

From Chilli and Coconut to Dark Caramel & Sea Salt, Lindt’s highly-refined range of dark chocolate bars offer proper, grown-up luxury: smooth, flat squares, delicately fragrant with a rich chocolate content ranging from 60% right up to a whopping 99%. And it’s these premium, higher cocoa content products that are manufactured without any cereal or barley malt. From the Excellenge range, this includes the 70%, 85%, 90% and 99% bars, which have all the crisp snap and characteristic creaminess that makes Lindt Swiss chocolate just so impossible to resist. 

Free from: gluten. NB: these are produced on the same line as products that do contain barley malt extract, so there is a potential for cross contamination. Please always refer to the ingredient list on the product’s packaging for definitive advice.

Supertreats

Blending naturally sweet carob, rich cocoa butter and coconut blossom nectar, Supertreats provides the sort of healthy chocolate treat many parents have only ever dreamed of. Both flavours (Silky Milky and Merry Berry) are as smooth and creamy as any childhood chocolate favourite, with more calcium per bar than a 100ml glass of milk but without the high levels of refined sugar and stimulants. An organic, ethical and sustainable sweet treat that’s so yummy kids won’t even know it’s not chocolate.

Free from: Refined sugar. 100% natural and organic.

Free’ist

Using a mix of cocoa butter, milk powder and the sweetener Maltitol, the clever folk at Free’ist have created a range of sugar-free, gluten-free chocolate bars in Milk, Dark, Hazelnut and White Chocolate with Strawberries. It’s sweet, smooth and impossibly moreish, with a taste and texture that’s barely distinguishable from the real thing. The only real problem is knowing when to stop.

Free from: No Added Sugar 

Sukrin

This is another sugar-free chocolate, and one that’s better geared to the dieting market at only 160 calories per bar. There are two flavours available (Milk Chocolate and Milk Chocolate with Almonds & Sea Salt), both low-carb and low-calorie. How? Sweetened with Sukrin all-natural zero carb and zero calorie sweetener and stevia plant extract, what’s surprising is how good it actually tastes. Developed in Switzerland for that authentic Lindt-style touch, this is a sugar-free milk chocolate with all the smoothness and sophistication of the real thing.

Free from: gluten, no added sugar. Vegetarian and suitable for diabetics. 

Pulsin’ Raw Choc Brownies 

Using only the finest ‘Criollo’ cold-pressed cacao, Pulsin’ Raw Choc Brownies are bursting with antioxidants and feel-good flavours. Do they taste like your typical brownie? Admittedly – and reassuringly – no. Proper chunks of juicy raisins, berries, nuts and Peruvian maca cut through the  raw chocolate to make Pulsin’ more like a sweet but satisfying snack or breakfast bar than a sugar-laden brownie, with a dense and deliciously heavy texture that’s entirely gratifying, if not exactly indulgent.

Free from: gluten, dairy, added sugar, soy, trans fats and GMO ingredients. Vegan and vegetarian. 

The Raw Chocolate Pie Company

Dense, chocolatey and delicious, Raw Chocolate Pies are like the decadent older sister of Pulsin’ chocolate brownies – and they’re certainly more like a brownie than a pie. The chunky 60g bars have a heavy texture with enough bite and natural sweetness to convince any skeptic. They’re certainly rich, but the slight crunch and grainy texture steers them away from the sort of sickly-sweet clagginess you’d expect from polishing off a Mars Bar or ‘real’ sugar-loaded brownies. Too good to share.

Free from: gluten, dairy, soya and refined sugar. Vegan, vegetarian and suitable for diabetics. 

Twitter @franklygf

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