I see it as my job to check the chocolate shelves of my local health food stores daily, at least, to scope out any new and exciting chocolate brands or products. My job for you, to keep you informed, my job for the company in question, to keep vegan products turning over a healthy profit, and my job for my own wellbeing.
If my observation skills serve me right (bearing in mind that I didn’t notice the giant church opposite our house until a full day after we had moved in), there are two brands with similar packaging: partly black and partly colourful designs, stylish and screaming “organic”, both six-letter words ending in an “i”. Both are at the higher end of the price range, and neither are fully vegan. One of those is Vivani.
Unfortunately, because those two brands exist side-by-side in my local health food store, and much of their range is not vegan, I had totally ignored them both – for months and months. I’d love to tell you what first made me buy a bar of Vivani chocolate, because it would make for a much more entertaining blog post, but I have no clue. Maybe because it was Easter and it seemed like the right thing to do?
The important thing is that I remember the world slowing down a little as that first bite of White Nougat Crisp melted in my mouth. You guys, it was so good.
Although dark chocolate is my drug of choice, white chocolate and I go way back: every Christmas, when I was young enough to be pawned off on my grandparents for the holidays, it was my job to dress up as “Mother Christmas” after (or before?) Christmas lunch, and go round the table to hand every family member their individual treat. These were usually a box of fancy chocolates, or marrons glacés (candied chestnuts), both of which were considered too refined or rich for a child. I remember my special treat being a bauble of latticed white chocolate, beautiful and delicate. Meanwhile, at Easter, family members would arrive for lunch each carrying a huge and generously-filled box of some chocolate animal shape (bunnies, of course, but also hens or fish) filled with bags of chocolates and sweets – more often than not, these were also white chocolate.
So when I first tasted that Vivani white chocolate, all those memories came pouring back so vividly, the way that only a truly excellent food can make happen. I told you it was good!
Anyway. With a vegan product that show-stoppingly excellent, I couldn’t imagine why on earth Vivani would feel the need to continue selling cow’s milk-based chocolate treats.
I still can’t, really, but when I contacted them to ask, I received a very friendly and reasonable (albeit disappointing) response that they were a long-standing company dedicated to producing high quality, organic chocolates, and had only added the vegan range in response to the growing popularity of plant-based diets.
As such, they didn’t feel that converting their existing products to vegan alternatives would sit well with their loyal customers. Fair enough.
Despite me being a pesky vegan, Vivani very kindly offered to send me a pack of their new dedicated range of vegan rice drink-based chocolates. I eagerly accepted (oh, the things I do for this blog!), and after a big kerfuffle with the courrier, I finally got my hands on their sleek-yet-fun range of iChoc bars.
A couple of these were already part of the existing range: the aforementioned White Nougat Crisp, and a juicy-smooth Almond Orange. The other two were just as promising: crunchy-fun Choco Cookie and velvety White Vanilla.
So let’s start with the Almond Orange. You might think that vegan “milk” chocolate is nothing new, but once you have tried this you will realise it’s unlike anything else on the market. I thought I preferred dark chocolate for its own sake; turns out, I preferred it because vegan milk chocolate alternatives tend to be cloying, leave a sticky paste at the back of your palate, and in some of the worst cases are even slightly grainy. This Almond Orange chocolate has all the refined qualities of a dark orange chocolate – a tried and true combination – with the creaminess of a good milk chocolate.
The odd chunk of almond adds a satisfying texture without deterring from the smoothness of the chocolate. I’m trying to fault it for the purpose of a balanced review, but I can’t.
Now, take that top-quality rice “milk” chocolate, and instead of sunny warm orange and grown-up almond, stud it with soft chunks of Oreo-style cookie.
The flavour isn’t distinctly different from a simple milk chocolate, which is fine by me; the result is just subtly comforting, the sort of thing I’d have curled up in a beanbag with to read a magazine on a rainy day. This would also be great pulsed into home-made ice cream or a milkshake.
Well, you already know what I’m going to say about the white chocolates. And I don’t even like white chocolate! The “plain” White Vanilla chocolate is super creamy, but melts perfectly in your mouth, with no pasty residue. Being anything but plain, the high-quality vanilla adds a luxurious warmth and velvety quality to what I had previously dismissed as a sugary chocolate impostor.
As for the White Nougat Crisp… So, you take that soothingly velvety white chocolate, and you combine it with decadently buttery hazelnut praline – my mouth is watering again – stud it with chewy nutty nougat chunks… and you’ve got perfection. Non-vegans will enjoy it too, but don’t let on… chocolate this good isn’t for sharing (OK, at a push, buy them a bar and scoff your own!).
I love that Vivani, in addition to committing to be organic and dedicating a range to their vegan customers, they commit to using environmentally-friendly packaging, and to buying from organic cocoa-farming cooperatives in the Dominican Republic, who pay their workers a fair wage (in contrast, child labour has been raised as a concern on West African cocoa farms). All that, without compromising on quality! They may be a touch more expensive than your basic chocolate bar, but I am more than happy to pay the price for a product of this standard.
Although I was sent products to sample, I was free to choose not to review them and I was certainly free to voice my honest opinion. And frankly, even I was surprised by how much I fell in love not only with the products, but with Vivani as a company – as far as I can see, they are doing everything right. The good news, is that supporting them means eating chocolate! Get yours direct from them, from Vegan Town, from Ethical Superstore who currently only stock the original range (some of those are reviewed here) or, if you’re lucky, your local health food store.
I would so love to know that you have treated yourself to a bar or four, please let me know what you think of them!