A good ol’ takeaway is a delicious and necessary part of life. Sometimes we just don’t feel like cooking and we reach for the greasy comfort of takeaway curry, noodles, pizza, or whatever else sounds good on the commute home from work. For me, vegan Chinese food is up there with the best
But after going plant-based, it’s hard to know which takeaway favorites are still OK to eat. One such food has got to be spring rolls. Hot and crispy parcels of joy dipped in sweet-and-sour sauce? Sounds heavenly to me!
But are spring rolls vegan? The answer, as with many things, isn’t as clear cut as you were probably hoping for.
Let’s delve into this question so you can know what to order the next time you get take-out.
What are spring rolls?
You might feel silly asking this question, especially as you’ve probably eaten spring rolls before. But in all honesty, most people don’t know exactly what they’re eating.
Spring rolls are a type of Asian appetizer originating from East Asian and South Asian cuisine. The “spring” part of a spring roll is literal: originally, they were eaten in the spring season to celebrate the spring harvest. (1)
Spring rolls usually contain mostly vegetables wrapped in a rice wrapper. Common filling options include cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, green onion, and more. They can also be eaten cold and uncooked, but these versions of spring rolls are also often called “summer rolls” or “garden rolls”.
More often, however, spring rolls are fried to a golden crisp. They can then be dipped into sweet-and-sour sauce, soy sauce, or just eaten plain.
RELATED: IS SOY SAUCE VEGAN?
So, are spring rolls vegan?
Everything so far sounds pretty good for the vegan cause: rice wrapper and veggies. What could be not vegan here?
Well, unfortunately, there are a few different things that can make spring rolls vegan-unfriendly. As with many of our favorite foods, the answer to “are spring rolls vegan” is an annoying “it depends.”
Non-vegan ingredients to look out for
When buying spring rolls, there are a couple of things to be aware of that can make them not vegan-friendly.
Many types of rice or flour wrappers that form the casing for spring rolls are vegan. However, sometimes they can contain egg, which would make it not vegan-friendly.
Egg can also be used to seal the wrapper before the roll is fried.
There’s no standard when it comes to egg-containing vs egg-free spring rolls. You should ask each establishment you order from if there’s any egg used in the wrappers or in the making of the spring rolls.
Less frequently used is milk, but it can rear its ugly head from time to time, especially in products made in the West.
Look out for spring rolls that have been sealed with a brush of milk along their seams. As mentioned above, egg is the more common ingredient used for this purpose, but milk is sometimes used instead.
Vegetable filled spring rolls found on most menus, but that doesn’t mean that spring rolls with meat don’t exist.
In fact, meat spring rolls are quite common, especially ones with pork. It’s also not always easy to tell whether there’s meat in the spring roll or not. The meat and veggies are both chopped up or shredded into tiny, unidentifiable pieces.
Instead of biting into a spring roll and discovering (in horror) that you’re eating tiny chunks of meat, it’s best to ask the restaurant whether there’s meat in the spring roll before taking a bite.
As with meat, some spring rolls will contain seafood, usually in the form of tiny shrimps. Again, read the packaging carefully if buying in-store or ask the restaurateur if you are dining out or ordering a take-home meal.
I wish there was a standard “yes” or “no” answer for a lot of these “are/is vegan” questions. Wouldn’t that make life a lot easier?
Unfortunately, there is no standard, and people sneak meat, dairy, and eggs into a lot of food. Because of this, it’s always best to check (and double-check) before eating something that isn’t homemade.
Are spring rolls healthy?
When asking yourself whether something is vegan or not, you should also ask whether it’s healthy. There’s a strange vegan misconception that all plant-based food is healthy, which couldn’t be more untrue (looking at you, Oreos).
When spring rolls are fried, they aren’t particularly good for you. Fried foods are notoriously unhealthy, which makes sense since “frying” means cooking something in oil, which is pure fat. Cooking something in this way (like frying spring rolls) will pack on hundreds of extra calories.
Not only are fried foods higher in fat and calories compared to non-fried foods, manufacturers and restaurateurs may also use unsaturated fat to do the frying in, which could leave you unwittingly consuming deadly trans fats.
Trans fats are much harder for the body to digest and metabolize and they have been repeatedly proven to be harmful for our health. High trans fat intake has been linked to an increased risk of high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart disease. (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
Even very small amounts of trans fats can induce these negative health effects, so be wary with how many trans fats, including those in fried foods, you consume.
Healthy vegan spring roll ideas
Of course, many people will still indulge in fried foods sometimes. The key is to keep your intake low and indulge in moderation.
When it comes to spring rolls, there are some healthier vegan options that you can go for instead of always going for the greasy fried ones (even though the fried ones are delicious and a nice treat once in a while).
Try filling a vegan spring roll wrapper with all your favorite veggies and herbs like cabbage, carrot, green onion, red pepper, cilantro, bean sprouts, etc.
Baked and seasoned tofu would be another great addition. You can eat them plain like this paired with a peanut or sweet-and-sour dipping sauce to avoid any unhealthy frying.
If you’re really craving the crispy crunch that you get from frying but want to save yourself from eating unhealthy trans fats, you can try baking the spring rolls. This will give them a nice crunch and a warm deliciousness without having to fry them in pure fat.
Similarly, you could also try air frying your spring rolls. While air fryers do still use oil, the amount they use is just a fraction of what is needed when deep frying them.
While fried foods like spring rolls aren’t the healthiest things out there, they hold a special place in our hearts. The memories of Chinese takeaway almost always include these crispy fried cylinders of deliciousness, and the good news is that you can indulge in them from time to time, as they can be (and often are) vegan.
Want some more info? Don’t hesitate to leave me a comment or question down below!
About The Author:
Lisa Williams is a committed vegan, passionate animal welfare advocate, and keen follower of too many v-friendly food blogs to mention. She started happyhappyvegan.com back in 2016 because she felt there was a need for more straightforward information on plant-based living.
Back then, too many sites seem to either concentrate solely on recipes or be too intimidating or inaccessible for the v-curious, and she wanted to change that. The landscape is certainly a whole lot different now!
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- Cindy | Spring Rolls — a Popular Chinese New Year Food | https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-food/spring-rolls.htm
- Harvard Health Publishing | The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between | https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good
- Joe Leech, MS | What Are Trans Fats, and Are They Bad for You? | https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-trans-fats-are-bad
- Ronald P. Mensink, Ph.D., and Martijn B. Katan, Ph.D. | Effect of Dietary trans Fatty Acids on High-Density and Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels in Healthy Subjects | https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199008163230703
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- BreastCancer.org | Trans Fats May Increase Risk | https://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/20080411b
- Esther Lopez-Garcia, Matthias B. Schulze, James B. Meigs, JoAnn E. Manson, Nader Rifai, Meir J. Stampfer, Walter C. Willett, Frank B. Hu | Consumption of Trans Fatty Acids Is Related to Plasma Biomarkers of Inflammation and Endothelial Dysfunction | https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/135/3/562/4663700