Regardless of whether you have recently made the decision to eat a vegan diet, or have been a committed vegan for years, you will inevitably need to check whether or not certain foods are suitable. After all, even foods that do not contain the obvious ingredients to avoid – meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs – may still have additives that are made from animal by-products, and foods you would never guess would contain milk or eggs can surprise you. Bagels are a great example of a food product that many vegans are unsure of, especially given the variety of options available.
So are bagels vegan? The simple answer is ‘yes’, a standard bagel will usually be vegan-friendly. While the precise ingredients and recipes can differ, a plain bagel will almost always be made from a combination of flour, water, yeast, salt and either sugar or an artificial sugar substitute.
With that being said, it is still important to check each product before making a purchase. Although it is becoming much less common, several well-known bagel brands continue to use ingredients like eggs, even for their plain bagels. You may also be wondering whether the likelihood of encountering non-vegan bagels increases once you start to seek out flavored bagels. In this article, I will cover the question of whether bagels are vegan in more detail and highlight some of the main ingredients you need to look out for in order to ensure you are buying a vegan-friendly option.
Vegan vs. Non-Vegan Bagels
Are you a bagel-lover who has recently turned to a vegan diet due to ethical concerns about animal welfare or the environment? Perhaps you are a long-standing vegan, who has recently been tempted by a bagel in your local supermarket or bakery. Either way, the good news is the majority of plain bagels are vegan-friendly and there is no reason why you would need to exclude bagels from your diet. The core ingredients of a plain bagel are usually:
It is common for salt to be added, either to the dough itself or to the surface of the bagel in order to add flavor. Additionally, bagels may be topped with sesame seeds or poppy seeds, and artificial sweeteners may be used in place of sugar. Fortunately, none of these ingredients should make the bagel off-limits to you as a vegan.
However, the question of whether or not bagels are vegan becomes slightly more complicated, because a small number of brands continue to use non-vegan ingredients, even in their plain bagels. The most common offenders here are eggs and milk. Eggs are sometimes used to add a glazed finish to the bagel and they may even be added to the dough mix itself. The use of milk is becoming less common, but it is still used by some brands and bakers in place of water. Of course, anyone looking for reasons why to become vegan would do well to read about the unethical treatment of cows by the dairy industry, as well as the horrendous treatment of both male chicks and hens by the egg industry.
Furthermore, an additive that sometimes gets overlooked – even by experienced vegans – is l-cysteine. This is an amino acid, which is occasionally used to soften or condition the dough used to make a bagel. Unfortunately, it is also perhaps the most tricky ingredient to be aware of when trying to identify vegan-friendly bagels, because vegan-friendly l-cysteine production methods do exist, yet it is usually sourced from human hair, bird feathers, or hog hair.
If sourced from birds or hogs, it should not be classed as vegan, but viewpoints differ among vegans about whether l-cysteine from human hair can be classed as safe. In truth, ingredients lists are unlikely to state how l-cysteine is produced, so many vegans simply choose to avoid it. Nevertheless, some brands, including Noah’s New York Bagels, make use of vegan-friendly l-cysteine. If you have any doubt about how the l-cysteine is produced, I would recommend that you either avoid the product or contact the manufacturer and ask them directly.
Ultimately, with plain bagels, as long as you pay attention to the ingredients list, it is perfectly possible to include them as part of your vegan diet. You will need to steer clear of any bagels that contain milk or eggs and take the appropriate action with any bagels that contain l-cysteine. Things do also get slightly more tricky once you start looking into flavored bagels, or bagels with special toppings, as I will explain in the next section.
Are Flavoured Bagels Vegan?
The quest to find vegan-friendly bagels can become slightly more complicated if you are looking for flavored bagels, or other varieties that are a little more adventurous than plain or seeded types. Some of the potential pitfalls here are more obvious than others, so it is best that I cover the main ingredients you need to watch out for.
Cheese is one of the most common ingredients used for flavored bagels and it is not always clear to the naked eye. While the cheese may be sprinkled on the top and clearly visible, it is sometimes baked into the dough, toasted onto the bagel in order to provide a more crispy texture, or paired with some additional toppings that may obscure it. Even if the bagel is not advertised as being cheese flavored, you should double-check that cheese is not an ingredient.
Another popular ingredient with manufacturers making flavored bagels is honey and this may be used on its own, or paired with dried fruit, such as raisins. A small number of vegans do consume honey, but it is generally avoided. Not only is it an animal by-product, many conventional forms of beekeeping involve selective breeding, which can lead to diseases in the bee population. Mass breeding of honey bees can also be detrimental to other insect populations.
The other main offenders to watch out for with flavored bagels are milk and eggs, which may be used to glaze the outer surface, or included within the dough mixture. Contrary to what many believe, calcium as a food additive is usually vegan-friendly. While some calcium carbonate is sourced from oysters and mussel shells, making it unsuitable for vegans, it is much more common for it to be sourced from limestone. Again, if in doubt, ask the manufacturer.
Ways to Make Sure Your Bagel is Vegan
If you are buying a packet of bagels from a local shop or supermarket, it is generally easy enough to check the ingredients list, or look for vegan certification on the packet. However, this is far from the only way to buy a bagel and it is important that you understand the various options that are available to you. If you are checking the ingredients list yourself, the obvious things to look for are milk, milk products, eggs and honey. In the case of l-cysteine, this will usually be listed using that name, but it is occasionally listed under the name E920 instead.
This all becomes harder if you are purchasing a bagel at a restaurant, at a fast-food chain, or fresh from a bakery. Generally, I would recommend asking a member of staff whether the bagel is vegan-friendly before you order. In some cases, this information may be referenced on the menu or packaging. Alternatively, you may be able to check the company website, or call a support line and ask a member of the customer services department.
One way to absolutely guarantee that your bagels are vegan is to make them yourself. While this is more time-consuming than purchasing pre-made bagels, the process is not especially difficult and you should be able to find plenty of instructions and recipes online. Aside from helping to ensure you avoid animal products, making your own bagels will also provide you with the opportunity to experiment and create interesting varieties that are not available from the shops, or within restaurants. Why not try using different herbs, spices, grains, fruit and vegetables?
Vegan-Friendly Bagel Fillings
At this point, you may be wondering what to do with your bagel once you have sourced a vegan-friendly option. After all, many of the most common suggestions for toppings or fillers contain animal products, with examples including ham, hard cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, tuna, eggs and whipped cream.
Thankfully, a number of different companies produce vegan cream cheese, which is often made from ingredients like apple cider vinegar, dairy-free yogurt, coconut oil, nutritional yeast and various nuts. If you are unable to find vegan cream cheese in the shops, you will be able to find recipes online to make your own at home. Vegan cream cheese can be used on its own, for a simple and quick option, or paired with garlic, chives or cucumber.
Peanut butter is an extremely popular alternative to the cream cheese option and the good news is that almost all store-bought peanut butter is vegan. In extremely rare circumstances, you may find peanut butter than contains honey, so it is still important to check the label, but it is unlikely you will run into any problems here. Tofu, bananas, avocado, tomatoes and hummus are also all perfectly viable toppings, as are some vegan-friendly meat replacement products.
In truth, the options here are almost endless and bagels offer an excellent opportunity to try out different taste combinations. If you are looking for something a little more adventurous, certain varieties of chocolate spread are vegan-friendly. You will need to check the labels carefully though, as many of these spreads are unsuitable for vegans, including Nutella. Generally, the ingredient you need to avoid with these products is skimmed milk powder, but I would advise you to be aware of other possible animal products too, such as bone char filtered sugar.