“All sorrows are less with bread.” So said the great Spanish writer, Cervantes, and he was certainly onto something. Bread, in one form or another, has been the staple food for people in many parts of the world for thousands of years, and its high carbohydrate content has sustained populations through many a time of need and woe.
Its versatility, convenience and relative good value has meant the popularity of bread has waned little over the centuries. But, with a growing number of people opting to follow a vegan diet, many have begun to question, is bread vegan?
What is Bread Made From?
In its most basic form, bread is made from four very simple ingredients: flour, yeast, salt and water. There are so many different varieties of bread from all over the globe though and many include additional ingredients, such as sugar, butter, buttermilk, oil, baking soda, or indeed basically anything the baker fancies throwing in to vary the flavour or texture of the bread including fruit, nuts, vegetables, herbs and spices.
Here though, we will focus on the four main ingredients of bread and assess each in turn for their vegan credentials:
Let’s start with the easiest. Water is an inorganic chemical compound made up of hydrogen and oxygen with the chemical formula H2O. Water occurs naturally on earth (as you might have noticed last time it rained!) and is, indisputably, vegan friendly, which is really quite handy!
Another inorganic chemical compound, this time composed of sodium (an alkali metal) and chlorine (a halogen gas), with the chemical formula NaCl. It is a wonder of science that a gas that is poisonous to humans and a highly reactive metal can combine to give us the perfectly edible table salt. But wonderment aside, salt is vegan. So far, so good.
Flour is the powdery substance that is produced by crushing or grinding cereal grains or roots. As we explored in our Is Flour Vegan? article, grains and roots are both vegan friendly and so all flour produced with just these ingredients can be classified as vegan.
Problems have arisen in the past with various non-vegan additives to flour, including L cysteine, but this is very rarely added to flour these days. In almost all cases, flour that you pick up in the supermarket will be vegan friendly.
Yeast is a confusing entity, partly because it is alive, and some people have suggested that it is animal based. This is not the case, however, as we explain in detail in our Is Yeast Vegan? piece.
Yeast, while alive is a fungus rather than an animal, and – as things stand at least – eating fungi is perfectly acceptable to vegans. So, there’s not mushroom for doubt here: yeast is vegan (as are jokes, funny or otherwise).
Surely Bread Is Vegan, Then?
That settles it then: bread is vegan friendly! Or is it? If all bread was made in the same way using those four basic ingredients everything would be fine and dandy for those following a vegan diet. But given the many types of bread available, and perhaps more tellingly, the weird and wonderful substances that can find their way into modern foods, some bread will contain ingredients that are not vegan.
As well as recognisably animal-based substances, there are also various harder to spot non-vegan additives and preservatives that may be used in some bread that vegans should be aware of.
Non-Vegan Additions to Bread
Here are some of the main non-vegan ingredients that are commonly added to one or other of the countless types of bread eaten throughout the world.
|Ingredient||Why It’s Not Vegan|
|Butter||Butter, which is made from milk, usually from cows, is definitely not vegan. While it is not an ingredient in most standard breads, it is often added to bread products, such as muffins.
There are many vegan alternatives for butter for when you are making your own bread, and there are also many muffins and other such products on the market that are vegan friendly.
|Eggs||Eggs are used in some specific types of bread, such as the traditional Jewish bread Challah and brioche, thus rendering them unsuitable for those following a vegan diet. Eggs may also be used in some commercial loaves as fillers or stabilisers.|
|Lecithin||Egg in bread may be listed on the ingredients as lecithin, a product that is used for a range of purposes, including to increase volume and aid preparation. To make this issue even more complex, lecithin can be obtained from soybeans and other plants, but equally, it may be taken from egg yolks.|
|Whey or Casein (Milk Proteins)||Proteins derived from milk are often added to bread to up its protein content, increase shelf life and sometimes for flavour. These are worth looking out for in the list of ingredients.|
|Honey||Added to some (often sweet) breads for flavour, as we have explored in our Is Honey Vegan? article, many vegans are not happy with eating honey and so they would want to avoid getting stung by its presence in any bread they purchase.|
|Sugar||Sugar is added to various breads, and not just those that would be classified as sweet. The problem with sugar – or at least some refined sugar – for vegans is the use of bone char in the refinement process.
Sugar will be listed in the ingredients if present but ascertaining if it was bleached with animal bones is often virtually impossible.
|Buttermilk||Used in some specialist breads, such as Irish soda bread, buttermilk is the liquid that remains after butter has been churned. Therefore, it is a dairy product and not vegan.|
|Milk or Cream||Dairy products are out of bounds for those following vegan diets, and so it always worth checking labels to ensure no milk (or dried milk) or cream has been added to your favourite loaf.|
|L-Cysteine||Derived from duck feathers, pig hair or even human hair, the non-vegan additive, L-Cysteine, was once a relatively common addition to bread (and flour), but its use is rare these days.|
More Obvious Non-Vegan Additions
As with beer and other products, sometimes the thing making bread non-vegan will be reassuringly obvious. You won’t need to scour the ingredients in a forensic manner with the assistance of a food chemist. Sometimes the clue will be in the name.
Those that eat meat and animal products really do like to put them into just about everything. Some of the fairly obvious ones to look out for when it comes to bread are listed below. Thankfully, these will often be included in the name of the bread or at the very least clearly marked among the ingredients.
- Bacon & Other Meats
- Beer (may or may not be vegan)
Other Flavourings & Preservatives
There are so many animal-derived additives that pop up in many foods, from gelatine to cochineal, lanolin to lysozyme. It can be a real task trying to keep on top of what’s what. As such, when it comes to bread at least, the easiest way to avoid any unwanted non-vegan ingredients is to either make your own bread, or find specifically vegan-friendly brands/varieties at your local shop or baker’s. Neither option is particularly difficult or expensive.
Sometimes, it pays to gets your hands dirty and just get stuck into making your own bread, and if you make your own bread, you can be secure in the knowledge that you’ve only used ingredients that are vegan friendly. You can also let your imagination run wild as you come up with your own vegan bread recipes by simply throwing your favourite berries, nuts or any other vegan food into the dough before you bake your loaf.