Visit the Google Trends website, and you’ll find that before 2010, the term “plant based” barely existed. Before 2010, people either chose to eat a hamburger, or they did not. Before 2010, you could buy a “veggie” burger (whether any veggies were actually in that burger remains a mystery), or you could simply order a grilled portabella sandwich with fries and call it a delicious lunch. The term “plant based” is a very recent trend, spiking in 2019 after Burger King announced it would start selling the Impossible Whopper, using the newly popular “plant based” Impossible Burger as a substitute for its meatier cousin.
Just a few short years ago, Plant Based entered our collective consciousness and became our go-to term for anything that didn’t contain meat. Coffee? Plant Based. Chocolate? Plant Based. Wine? You get the idea.
Interestingly enough, the term “vegan” also spiked in 2019, around the same time we became a plant-aware society. And thus, the transformation from “vegan” to “plant based” is beginning.
Vegetarians have been around for a very long time. In fact, a quick check of google trends shows us that the term has been steady for nearly 20 years.
Add “plant based” to the list of trendy lingo and wait for it to go away. Right?
Maybe. Enter the newest trend: Plant Based Chocolate. That’s right, companies are scrambling to rebrand themselves with products derived from plants. But wait, isn’t cacao already a fruit (answer: yes)? So isn’t all chocolate plant based (also: yes)? Then why now are companies jumping on the plant wagon? Two words: marketing shift. Hershey’s (along with other popular chocolate brands) have just announced new plant based chocolate! Have you met Reese’s plant based peanut butter cups? Using plant based cacao, plant based peanut butter and plant based sugar, they’ve replaced the dairy in milk with oats.
While vegan’s may disagree, the term “vegan” appears to be getting a sexier make-over. And apparently, vegans may now indulge in dairy-free-milk chocolate, rather than eating only dairy free dark chocolate. As chocolate companies scramble to repurpose their already vegan-friendly (dairy-free) chocolates as plant-based chocolates, the terms are becoming more interchangeable and more confusing. Here’s a beginner’s guide to these terms:
Vegetarian: a person who does not eat meat, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons. Using this definition, 99% of chocolate products are vegetarian (remember that chocolate-covered-bacon fad that was all the rage in 2009? There’s your 1%. FYI, almost nobody is googling about bacon chocolate today.
Vegan: a person who does not eat any food derived from animals and who typically does not use other animal products. Using this definition, a lot of dark chocolate is vegan, but milk and white chocolate are not. This only refers to the chocolate. Since caramel and ganache (truffles) typically contain cream, those products are not usually vegan.
Flexitarian: a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish. Using this definition, we can assume that flexitarians will eat any kind of chocolate.
Pescatarian: a person who does not eat meat but does eat fish. We can assume pescatarians have no issue with chocolate whatsoever.
Plant Based Diet: A plant-based diet is a diet consisting mostly or entirely of plant-based foods. In other words, a flexitarian or a vegan.
Despite these definitions, the rise of Plant Based Chocolate will likely peak over the next two years. Choosing a dairy-free chocolate is a personal decision, of course. As always: be informed, read the ingredients, and know that just because you’re suddenly seeing the term appear on more food products doesn’t necessarily mean more choices.