“Is bread vegan?“
The question usually emerges in a panicked tone, from the mouth of a newly transitioned or prospective vegan, or even more often, a stressed out friend or family member trying desperately to prepare a vegan friendly meal for their loved one. Most of us have been there, or know people who have.
So, is bread vegan? The answer is: Yeah, usually. But not always.
Never fear though, here at Happy Happy Vegan we are dedicated to presenting you with as much information as possible to safely feed yourself and your loved ones a vegan approved meal! We’ll dive more into the different types of bread, which ones are vegan and which ones are not, below, but first…
Bread: an overview
Most of us have been eating bread for as long as we can remember. Toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, rolls as a precursor to dinner. The basic ingredients of bread are wheat flour, water, yeast, and salt.
The most basic of breads, made only from these four ingredients, is definitely vegan. However things get tricky when people begin to add other ingredients.
Before we talk about vegan and non-vegan options though, let’s get an idea of how exactly bread is made and what makes it so different from other wheat products and baked goods. (1)
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What is yeast and how does it work?
Yeast is the ingredient that gives bread its soft and fluffy rise. It’s what makes a loaf of bread very different to, say, a tortilla. It’s essentially a small fungus – like a mushroom or a mold – which means it’s okay for vegans to eat yeast. (2)
It reproduces by budding off, like branches off of a tree. The scientific name for baker’s yeast is Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which literally translates to sugar-eating fungus. The name is fairly self-explanatory for what the yeast does in bread.
The yeast feeds off of the sugar present in the flour and is added to the bread dough for a quicker rise. When the yeast digests the sugar, it gives off carbon dioxide gas.
This gas is trapped by the big stringy gluten molecules in the wheat flour, that give bread its spongy texture and allows it to keep its shape, which results in the fluffy loaf that we know and love. (3)
This interplay between yeast and gluten is the reason why unleavened or yeast free bread products, like pita bread or tortillas, are flat, and why gluten-free products are always much more dense and much less spongy than their gluten containing counterparts.
For these reasons, when you are making bread you first mix all the ingredients together and knead them really well to activate the yeast and the gluten molecules. Then you let it sit so the yeast can work its magic!
Want to know more about the science behind yeast and bread? Check out this awesome video!
What would make bread not vegan?
Ingredients which can be added to bread that would cause it to be non-vegan include honey, eggs, and milk products. Therefore it is always important to check labels thoroughly when buying bread, and check recipes thoroughly when making it.
For example, challah bread which is a traditional bread in the Jewish faith, is made with eggs, and therefore is not vegan. The good news is that there are plenty of little tips and tricks to tweak recipes and make them vegan.
For example, 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons of water is usually a suitable replacement for an egg in a recipe, and vegan milk substitutes can generally replace dairy products in a pinch!
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Some types of bread and whether they’re vegan or not
Next we will talk a bit more about specific types of breads and explore whether or not they are suitable for those following a plant-based diet:
Sourdough bread is usually vegan.
The only difference, in general, in sourdough bread from regular bread is that sourdough bread is made with a fermented “starter”. This is a mixture of flour, water, and a specific bacteria (usually lactobacillus), that has been fermenting for a while.
An instance in which a sourdough bread would not be vegan would be if the baker had used milk products in their starter. This is unlikely, but it does happen. To be sure, just read the ingredients carefully if you are buying commercially, or ask your baker if you are buying fresh.
Pita bread is another type of bread that is usually vegan.
Pita breads tend to be made from the same basic ingredients as regular bread – flour, water, yeast, salt – although since they are flatbreads they have less yeast than other breads.
Similar to sourdough, however, be on the lookout, as milk, eggs, and honey, can all be popular additions to pita bread for taste reasons.
Ezekiel bread, the brand, is produced by the company Foods for Life. All of the Foods for Life products are egg, dairy, and honey free.
Ezekiel bread is also a wonderful, completely vegan, source of protein. It is made from wheat, beans, barley, spelt, lentils and millet, all sprouted, and then combined into the bread. It contains all nine essential amino acids as well.
For more info on amino acids, check out our article on the best BCAA powder.
Here’s a fun fact for you – the word ciabatta literally translates to “slipper”, probably because of the traditionally flat and elongated shape of this bread.
Ciabatta is distinguished from other types of bread by its hard and brittle crust, and its soft and airy interior. The great news is that ciabatta breads are also usually vegan. The only time you’ll need to be careful is with the variation “ciabatta al latte” – this version of ciabatta bread is made with milk.
Naan is a traditional Indian flatbread, that is often served with Indian cuisine. Naan is delicious, but alas, it is often not vegan!
Traditional naan is made with eggs, yogurt, or other dairy products, and then usually brushed with ghee, or clarified butter. The good news is that there are lots of vegan options on the market, and sometimes even in restaurants. Just always be sure to ask about ingredients!
Remember: vigilance is key.
Rye is a cereal crop that is closely related to wheat, but is not actually wheat. It has a different, stronger taste, and is often used to make a heartier bread.
Rye breads are very popular in traditional Scandinavian and Germanic cuisine. Similar to the other types of bread, rye breads are usually gluten free, but occasionally will have milk or eggs added to try to lighten up the bread a bit. Always check the ingredients or ask your baker!
Focaccia is an Italian flatbread. It is usually baked in large flat pans, and topped with olive oil and herbs. Rosemary is one of the most popular herbs for making focaccia.
The nice thing about focaccia bread is that since it is made with olive oil instead of butter or eggs, it can usually be counted on to be vegan. It never hurts to ask and check though!
Speaking of checking, take a look at our post which asks, Can Vegans Eat Olive Oil?
Garlic bread is a rich bread which has usually been brushed with a mixture of butter and garlic, and occasionally also topped with cheese. It doesn’t take much working out, then, that most garlic bread you buy in supermarkets, or at restaurants, is not going to be vegan due to the dairy content.
The good news is that vegan garlic bread is super easy to make on your own. You can easily replace the butter in the garlic mixture with olive oil, brush it onto a fresh baguette, pop it in the oven for a few minutes, and voila! You have your very own, easy, vegan, garlic bread. Tasty!
If you want to try and make your own bread at home, take a look at my roundup of Vegan Bread Recipes.
A note about breads
If the above section stressed you out a bit, never fear! Just because your favorite bread doesn’t tend to be vegan, doesn’t mean that it can’t become vegan! Even challah bread which traditionally contains eggs and is often referred to as “egg bread” has a vegan counterpart: water challah.
Holy Cow Vegan also boasts a killer vegan brioche recipe for the sweet-bread lovers among us. This recipe replaces butter and eggs with olive oil and aquafaba – so much better for your arteries and your conscience! (Aquafaba is the water in a can of chickpeas. What else were you going to do with it?) (4)
Try eating it with some cashew cream cheese and raspberry jam. Incredible!
Also, don’t be afraid to experiment! Lots of culinary breakthroughs were made by fearless cooks going nuts in their kitchen. If you can’t find vegan recipes you like for a certain kind of bread, make one!
Go crazy. As stated above, flaxseed and water make a great egg replacement, most oils (especially coconut oil) can substitute for butter, almond milk or oat milk is a solid stand in for cow’s milk, and maple syrup will do where honey won’t.
Get in the kitchen!
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A quick “is bread vegan?” recap
So, let’s summarize what we know about bread.
Bread, especially simple and freshly baked bread, is often vegan. However, we need to be on the lookout for sneaky extra non-vegan ingredients that might be tossed in!
Common offenders are honey, milk, butter, and eggs.
Flatbreads, drier or crustier breads, and savory breads are much more likely to be vegan. Breads that are usually not vegan include any bread brushed with a buttery sauce, brioche type breads, or challah bread. Remember that the most important thing is to always read the ingredients, and if you don’t know, ask!
Do you have any favorite kinds of vegan bread? Maybe a great vegan bread recipe that you’d like to share? Feel free to leave it, or any other questions, thoughts, or concerns, in the comments section 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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- Carolyn Scott-Hamilton | 5 Tips for Baking Healthier Goodies | https://healthyvoyager.com/5-tips-for-baking-healthier-goodies/
- Red Star | The Science of Yeast: What is Yeast? | https://redstaryeast.com/science-yeast/what-is-yeast/
- Alina Bradford | What Is Gluten? | https://www.livescience.com/53265-what-is-gluten.html
- Vaishali | Vegan Olive Oil Brioche With Aquafaba | https://holycowvegan.net/vegan-olive-oil-brioche-aquafaba/