Don't get too excited about the new vegan Galaxy, there are much better (and more ethical) vegan chocolate bars out there

New Mars Galaxy bars
Good for a sugar hit, but are Mars missing the point when it comes to veganism? Credit:  Claudia Riccio Photography

There is great excitement among vegans at the news that Mars is to launch a vegan version of its bestselling Galaxy bar in this country. Fans of proper chocolate may find it hard to understand what the fuss is about – since most decent bars of dark chocolate do not contain dairy ingredients – but those who regard a bar or a few chunks as an indulgent sugar rush rather than a gourmet experience will no doubt be keen to try the new products.

The new Galaxy bars have been presented as the first move by a mainstream manufacturer to offer consumers a plant-based alternative to milk chocolate, but it is telling that they are not actually attempting to imitate milk chocolate as such.

The new bars come in caramelised hazelnut, caramel and sea salt, and smooth orange flavours, so they are not passing themselves off as the original. And testers report little flavour of chocolate itself, although that is largely absent from the original as well.

What the manufacturers are doing is replacing some kinds of derivative ingredient with others: the current mainstream Galaxy contains not milk as such but skimmed milk powder, milk fat, and lactose and protein derived from whey, making up in total around 14 per cent of the bar’s contents. Cocoa mass - a form of actual chocolate - constitutes about 25 per cent of the bar. The largest ingredient by volume, of course, is sugar.

In order to mimic the effect of a bestselling confectionery bar, then, manufacturers just need to find another flavour to accompany the hint of cocoa, and make sure that they maintain the “melt” characteristics. What customers crave most in these bars is a wallop of sugar and the sensation of a bar dissolving in the mouth.

No doubt the bars will bring pleasure to vegans who feel that they have been denied the joys of mass-market chocolate-flavoured confectionery. But vegans are, by definition, people who think about their food and where it comes from, and many worked out long ago that the chocolate bars produced by vast multinationals contain other items of concern beyond animal-derived products: palm fat, for example, often fingered as a major culprit in deforestation, is prominent in the ingredients list of the original Galaxy.

Solkiki (left) and Divine (right) are both naturally vegan and ethically made

The truth is that many vegans realised long ago that the best chocolate is naturally vegan, and switched to responsibly sourced dark chocolate, which at its best contains only cocoa and sugar.

Makers of good quality chocolate – already alive to ethical concerns – also heard long ago the pleas of their vegan customers for milk alternatives, and have made bars with coconut milk, almond milk and other plant-based “mylks” that are delicious in their own right without seeking to imitate mass-market milk chocolate bars.

One of Britain’s most innovative little chocolate companies, Solkiki, has always produced only vegan chocolate, and in a startling range of flavours. Its bars, produced by a family team in a small-scale kitchen in rural Dorset, contain only ethically sourced ingredients and have won countless awards when tasted blind against non-vegan rivals.

There are others working along similar lines in similarly modest set-ups, and they deserve support. In supermarkets, concerned consumers can seek out Divine’s organic range, which is ethically immaculate, vegan and good value.

These bars may not able to compete with the Galaxy on price – although the new Galaxy bars is £3 for 100g. But their ingredients are not sourced in vast bulk and combined by machines in colossal factories staffed largely by robots. They are made on a human scale for thoughtful consumption and on that basis they are worth every penny.

But if you want a cheap, sugary hit with no animal involvement, give the new Galaxy bars a try. You are unlikely to be disappointed.