Some foods easily earn the vegan seal of approval. Think of foods like leafy greens, fresh fruits, grains, and rice. These foods are easy to identify because they are often eaten in their natural forms. But the more processed a food becomes, the harder it is to tell.
That is because processed foods can contain other ingredients, and it is not always clear what is there. For example, is bread vegan? We all know that bread comes from flour or the ground form of grains, but what else is in it, and does it fit into a vegan-friendly diet?
What is Vegan?
Being a vegan or choosing vegan-friendly foods is more about making an ethical statement through food choices rather than targeting specific nutrients. Vegan diets aim to limit the suffering of animals to provide food for human consumption. This means that the diet focuses on foods from plant sources while limiting animal sources and animal by-products like eggs and honey.
What is in Bread?
The ingredients in a loaf of bread vary depending on where and how it is made. Commercial loaves of bread are more likely to contain animal products and preservatives, whereas homemade and bakery bread is more likely to have simpler ingredient lists.
Bread can be made with flour, water, yeast, and salt. A simple recipe can be vegan-friendly. These breads also tend to be denser. In fact, light and fluffy bread are a giveaway for animal ingredients like whey, casein, milk, or eggs.
Non-Vegan Ingredients to Watch For
Just because bread can be vegan-friendly doesn’t mean that all bread is. In fact, some common ingredients show up on bread labels that don’t jive with a vegan lifestyle. For example, eggs and egg whites are commonly used to give the bread an airy or fluffy texture; this is why vegan bread tends to be denser.
With some exceptions, sweetbreads often contain butter, ghee, honey, or royal jelly, and many contain dairy products like milk, yogurt, cream, or lactose. Some breads contain gelatin which is another texturizer made from animal connective tissues. And another sneaky one is L-cysteine, a dough conditioner or flavor enhancer from ducks or pigs.
A few more ingredients that are less clear and may either be from plant or animal sources include mono or diglycerides (fat), lethicin, and enzymes. The fat in the bread recipe provides flavor and texture. If it comes from soybean or olive oil, it is a plant derivative and therefore vegan-friendly.
Lecithin is an emulsifier that helps blend ingredients, and it acts as a natural preservative. Most lecithin comes from soybeans and is vegan-friendly, but animal sources do exist. Enzymes are responsible for turning bread into -- well, bread. They serve as a catalyst for the chemical reaction that occurs during the baking process, and without them, your bread just doesn’t turn out. Luckily most enzymes come from fungus and are vegan-friendly, however like lecithin, animal sources do exist.
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What Types of Bread Tend to Be Vegan-friendly?
The quality of the bread depends entirely on the recipe. However, some breads are naturally more inclined to be vegan-friendly and some that are not. Let’s take a look.
Sourdough bread tends to use yeast that naturally occurs in flour and is the ultimate limited ingredient bread. They make delicious bases for stuffings and slices for sandwiches. And sourdough bread is generally viewed as healthier than most other bread alternatives. It is full of prebiotics and falls lower on the glycemic index than other recipes.
Pitas are a limited ingredient flatbread that is popular in Mediterranean dishes. Pita bread has been around since the time of the ancient Egyptians, so it predates any modern-day food processing that takes the nutritional value out of our foods. Most pita recipes are simple, containing only flour, water, yeast, and salt.
Ezekiel bread is made from sprouted grains and legumes and naturally has more protein than other types of bread. This low-calorie baked bread is packed full of micronutrients and is a good option for those who want to compromise on cutting bread out of their diet altogether. While not typically gluten-free, Ezekiel bread fits in a vegan diet.
Ciabatta bread features a hard outer crust with a light and airy center. Most ciabatta recipes are vegan-friendly, although some are made with milk, so watch labels carefully! Ciabatta is popular for sandwiches and as a side to Italian dishes because it is hearty and soaks up sauces well.
The baguette is a french bread with a characteristically long, baton shape. The invention of baguettes came from an unusual 20th-century law prohibiting French bakers from starting earlier than 4 AM. The baguette was created so that bakeries could still provide fresh bread while following the law.
Focaccia is an Italian herb bread baked in a flat pan. Most recipes are based on olive oil, which is vegan-friendly. Savory varieties are usually a safe bet, but sweet varieties may contain honey and will not be vegan-friendly.
Related: List of Healthy Vegan Desserts
Since Jewish law does not allow the mixing of dairy and meat, kosher bread tends to be dairy-free and, therefore, also vegan-friendly.
By contrast, wheat bread, which often contains honey and biscuits, is almost never vegan-friendly. And, many specialty and sweetbreads contain additional ingredients to enhance flavor and sweeten, which make them not vegan-friendly. The good news is that more food manufacturers are eager to label their foods vegan-friendly to market to plant-based diet trends.
The Takeaway on Vegan-Friendly Bread
So, the bottom line is that simple bread recipes are naturally vegan-friendly. That is good because it also means that there are plenty of vegan-friendly options at the bakery and supermarkets. However, there are many variations on individual recipes, so you cannot make any assumptions, even with relatively safe bread like sourdough. The biggest culprits will be sweeteners and fats like honey, milk, and gelatin.
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