Are onion rings vegan?

Are onion rings vegan? You’d certainly think so. After all, they’re just slices of onion dipped in flour and fried… Right? Well, unfortunately not. Onion rings are coated with batter before being fried. This batter usually contains egg and often contains milk, making onion rings entirely unsuitable for a vegan diet.

The majority of onion rings found on the menu at fast food restaurants contain non-vegan ingredients. Of course, batter can be made with vegan ingredients. If you can find a vegan restaurant that serves onion rings, they’ll use an egg and dairy-free recipe.

Are onion rings vegan? No, they’re usually not. The batter used to make onion rings typically contains a number of non-vegan ingredients, such as eggs and milk. Onion rings can be made with vegan ingredients but usually aren’t. They are, however, simple to make at home.

You’re here on this page because you have questions about your favourite fast-food side dishes and whether they are vegan. What ingredients make onion rings non-vegan? Can you make onion rings with vegan ingredients? How can you make onion rings at home? Do any popular chains sell vegan onion rings? Keep reading, because we have the answers.

Are onion rings vegan?

The answer, in many cases, will be no. Onion rings certainly can be vegan, but frequently aren’t. This is a bit annoying, because the recipe only requires a few tweaks to make it completely vegan. I generally avoid the onion rings when I’m eating out as they will almost certainly be made with non-vegan ingredients.

Some outlets do go the extra mile and try to make their onion rings vegan. Even if they do, though, it’s not always guaranteed that the food won’t come into contact with non-vegan ingredients. Some places fry their onion rings in the same oil as meat and dairy products.

The main issues with onion rings, from a vegan perspective, are the eggs and milk used in the batter. It’s entirely possible to make delicious, crispy vegan batter without either of these ingredients, yet few manufacturers seem willing to try.

Even if a manufacturer omits eggs and dairy from their recipes, you may not be out of the woods. Many processed foods, onion rings included, use palm oil. This is nasty stuff from a health perspective, and it’s even nastier from an ethical point of view. Palm oil is extracted from palm fruit, which certainly sounds innocuous enough.

The farming methods used to grow the palms in question, though, are environmentally deleterious. They often involve the destruction of large tracts of jungle and wilderness, destroying animal habitats and killing endangered species. The labour practices involved are shameful too. Until a serious effort is made to regulate the palm oil industry and create sustainable, humane growing operations, most vegans choose to leave palm oil alone.

So I can’t have onion rings?

You certainly can! Read on to find out about some great options for vegans. While I avoid onion rings when eating out, I certainly enjoy them at home.

The easiest option if you’re craving onion rings is to grab a bag of frozen rings and cook them yourself. Check out the freezer section in your local health food store; you can often find onion rings produced by companies that specialise in vegan and vegetarian food. These will usually be free of nasties like palm oil and artificial ingredients too.

In your usual supermarket, take a look at the own-brand frozen onion rings. While big supermarket chains aren’t exactly palaces of ethics and righteousness, it’s in their best interests to appeal to the broadest possible customer base. They know that vegans and vegetarians will be looking for snacks in the freezer section, and so you’ll often find that generic onion rings are made with a vegan recipe.

My favourite generic onion rings are the Co-operative’s Loved By Us Highway Onion Rings. They’re a bit on the oily side but really tasty. You’ll find them in the chiller rather than the freezer. They’re fully vegan. The Co-op also makes decent frozen onion rings, although I found them a bit bland.

Some brands also make a vegan onion ring product or two. Aviko’s onion rings are “vegan” in the sense that they’re free of eggs and dairy; I don’t buy these, though, as they’re made with palm oil.

A better option is a packet of Bird’s Eye onion rings. These are free of eggs and dairy. They do contain sugar, however, and it’s not 100 per cent clear whether this is cane sugar refined with bone char. Since sugar is a minor ingredient and it’s very likely to be beet sugar in any case, I let that one slide.

My stand-out favourite frozen onion rings are Aunt Bessie’s Real Onion Rings. These are super tasty and free from any non-vegan nasties. I haven’t found a better variety; they’re the closest thing around to the fast-food onion rings I miss.

Are onion rings healthy?

One of the major upsides to a vegan lifestyle is the boost to your overall health. Although I was largely motivated to become a vegan out of concern for the environment and animal welfare, the health benefits are not to be sneezed at. It would be a shame, therefore, to compromise that by eating an unhealthy diet.

Onion rings are a dubiously healthy food. Onions themselves are pretty healthy: they contain lots of fibre, including valuable prebiotic fibre, along with important nutrients. In their natural state, onions help detoxify the body, support positive intestinal flora, and generally boost your well-being. Many of these health benefits are lost when you cover them in white processed flour and toss them in a deep fryer.

Onion rings are fun and tasty, but they should be an occasional treat rather than a regular part of your diet. You can improve matters by oven-baking or air-frying your rings, so that at least you won’t be consuming quite so much saturated fat.

Home-made vegan onion rings

Honestly, I love to make as much of my food as I can at home. I get to tweak the recipe so it tastes just right, and I know precisely where each ingredient has come from. It’s a bit more effort but the results are worth it in my book. You can also adjust the recipe to avoid gluten or other allergens if you need to.

My preferred recipe for vegan onion rings uses breadcrumbs for a nice crispy texture. If possible, I try to use panko breadcrumbs from my local Asian store. Otherwise I make breadcrumbs from ordinary bread and toast them a little under the grill. I make up a mix of flour, unsweetened plant milk (nut milks work well), and nutritional yeast. I also toss in a pinch or two of salt and some paprika — smoked is really good. Then it’s just a matter of dunking sliced onion rings in the milk/flour mix, dunking them in the breadcrumbs, and then baking them in a hot oven for around ten minutes.

If you want onion rings with a crispy, bubbly batter, you’ll probably need to get your deep fryer going for a really satisfying result. I’ve tried battered rings in an air fryer and they just don’t seem to pack the same punch. If you want to air-fry them, though, that’s fine. They’ll still be good and crispy, and a lot more healthy.

My favourite kind of batter for this is beer batter. Pour one 12-oz (340-ml) bottle of vegan beer, such as Grolsch, into a bowl. In another bowl, sift together 300 grams (1.5 cups) of flour, a pinch or two of salt, a pinch or two of paprika, and garlic powder to taste. Sift the dry ingredients into the beer, whisking as you go for plenty of bubbles. Dip your sliced onion rings in the batter and drop them into your pre-heated deep fryer to cook for a couple of minutes. Not something you should be eating every day, but great for an occasional treat.

Robert Van De Ville

Robert Van De Ville is a registered nutritionist, he earned his degree in nutrition from California State University. Now based in London UK. An author of the upcoming book, researcher and dedicated vegan activist.

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