When we talk of vegan food, we tend to focus more on fresh, unprocessed veggies, fruits, grains, nuts, and the likes, but not so much in the land of packaged snacks. Have you ever wondered if vegan junk food is available? Well, the world of packaged food has more than its fair share of dairy-free and meat-free products. Some of them are our all-time favourite treats, including cookies, candies, and chips. Today we’re going to look at Oreos. Delicious cream wedged between chocolaty and crunchy wafers. I mean, who doesn’t love them? Most of us have grown up devouring this delectable cookie and don’t seem to be having enough of it. As a vegan, you must be wondering what exactly these delicious cookies are made of. You have come to the right place for answers.
Are Oreos vegan? Technically, no! Oreo cookies are manufactured without any animal-sourced ingredients, which makes them safe for vegans. However, Oreo produces other products that contain animal ingredients in the same facilities, risking cross-contamination. In my opinion, Oreos are more suitable for those with mild dairy sensitivities than it is for vegans. But still, it all depends on whether cross-contact is a concern for you as a vegan.
Veganism can be a very healthy way to live while conserving the environment and preserving animals. As if that’s not enough, there’s plenty of room to sneak in vegan junk food that focuses only on excluding animal products. Oreos have grown to be a worldwide success. With its delicious taste, vegans might be surprised that chocolate cookies with creaming frosting don’t contain animal products. One of the simplest ways to know if a product is vegan-friendly is to look at the allergen information. That’s because several animal products are in the top allergens and if a product has them, it will state so. Here’s an in-depth look at how Oreos are produced so you can make a personal decision whether or not to add it to your vegan diet.
Are Oreos vegan?
Oreos weren’t vegan in the past because they were made with lard (pig fat). After several health concerns, vegetable oil is currently being used in place of lard. To help answer the question above, let’s first take a look at the ingredients used to make these delicious cookies. While there are several varieties of Oreos, the traditional flavour consists of:
- Palm and/or canola oil
- Cocoa processed with alkali
- Soy lecithin
- High fructose corn syrup
- Leavening agent
- Unbleached enriched flour
As you can see, there’s no mention of any animal product, making it seem like a vegan-friendly treat. So, what makes Oreos a little less vegan?
The Oreo FAQ page itself states that Oreos have milk as cross-contact and are therefore are not suitable for vegans. As mentioned before, Oreo produces both vegan and non-vegan products in the same facilities. Although the equipment is generally cleaned between batches, the risk of cross-contamination still exists (however small it may be). This means that during production, Oreo cookies may or may not come into contact with milk or milk products. So, whenever you treat yourself to an Oreo, there’s no guarantee that you are not consuming traces of milk. While you may not be chugging an entire glass of milk, some strict vegans may not want to take chances.
Refined sugars found in Oreos don’t contain animal products, which makes them technically vegan. However, some manufacturers use bone char as a filter to remove impurities. Oreo is a big brand and the sugar it uses is most likely sourced from different places. It’s impossible to trace where the sugar in a particular Oreo was produced to determine if its vegan or not. If you stand by this definition, then Oreos are not vegan.
One of the main ingredients in Oreo cookies is palm oil. Even though this is a plant-based product, there are a lot of controversies surrounding its growth and production. Since it’s cheaper to produce palm oil than animal fat, palm oil has become ubiquitous in today’s processed food. The huge demand has led to the destruction of several rainforests to create room for palm oil plantations. Clearing rainforests is responsible for the deaths of many animals with some facing extinction, massive habitat loss, not to mention it’s extremely destructive to the environment. In addition to not consuming animals or animal products, veganism is also about reducing animal suffering. In that case, growing palm oil under these situations goes against what vegans stand for.
What else should vegans watch out for in Oreos?
Digging deeper… are Oreos healthy?
Although most adopt a vegan lifestyle purely for ethical reasons, some are motivated by health. Regardless of your reasons, veganism is generally associated with healthy living. Excluding animal products like meat and eggs from your diet can help reduce a wide range of health issues related to animal products such as heart disease, obesity, certain cancers, and so on. That being said, not all vegan food equals healthy living. As a result, we have to answer the next logical question: Are Oreos healthy?
First off, none of the ingredients used to make Oreos is WFPB. Like most processed food, these cookies contain mainly of genetically engineered and highly processed ingredients. An example is soy lecithin, which is an emulsifier derived from soybeans; and high fructose corn syrup, which is an omnipresent sweetener. Both of these ingredients may be plant-based but they are far from being healthy as their production process uses chemicals. Another example is the fact that three Oreo cookies contain about 13 grams of sugar. That’s already half the recommended daily sugar intake. Eating several packages of Oreos weekly will definitely affect you. Too much sugar consumption can increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and much more.
While Oreos have nothing glaringly offensive to vegans, they are not the healthiest collection. Indeed, this is a perfect example of the fact that just because a particular food item is vegan-friendly doesn’t make it healthy. If you’re watching your health, try to indulge in Oreos in moderation.
Should Vegans Avoid Oreos
People adopt a vegan lifestyle for different reasons: some do it for health reasons, others for animal welfare, while others want to reduce their environmental impact on the planet. Therefore, whether or not these cookies are vegan-friendly depends on your definition of veganism. Oreos are vegan in the traditional sense of not containing animal products. However, as we’ve seen throughout the text, there are a few grey areas that may be of vegan concern. For starters, they may contain milk traces as a result of cross-contamination from the shared factory equipment. They also contain controversial ingredients such as palm oil and sugar (may be refined using bone char).
The goal of being vegan is to reduce animal suffering whenever possible and practicable. Doing this 100% is nearly impossible. Your mere existence is bound to cause harm to another animal whether directly or indirectly. For this reason, it may not make sense to dismiss otherwise vegan food just because it may or may not contain very small traces of animal products. Would you insist on a restaurant to make your vegan dish in cookware that has never come into contact with animal product? If not, you probably don’t need to cut Oreos from your vegan diet. But then again, it’s totally up to you!
However, if you are a strict vegan, it would be best to steer clear from them. After all, the manufactures themselves say Oreos are not vegan, who am I to argue with that? The beauty of veganism is that it’s not a cut and dried concept.
One last thing, consider your health when eating vegan junk food like Oreos. Just because they are vegan-friendly doesn’t mean they should be part of your vegan diet daily. Eating them as occasional treats is okay, but consuming them daily can lead to health issues as discussed earlier.
Make Your Own Vegan Oreos
Now that you know your favourite cookies aren’t exactly vegan-friendly, what can you do? You don’t have to stop eating them altogether. You can make vegan-friendly cookies at home, free from any traces of animal products but with the same great taste of Oreos. Homemade vegan Oreos also have way fewer processed ingredients compared to the commercial variety.
Your favourite packet of Oreos may have an extensive list of ingredients, but these cookies are actually easy to make. All you need to make vegan Oreos at home is rolled oats, baking powder, vegan-friendly cocoa powder, cornflakes, and maple syrup.
Mix these ingredients wet to form a dough
Roll the dough into little balls and press down on each one to form a disc
Bake for about 10 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit
Remove and allow them to cool while you make the filling
For the filling, beat together some coconut cream with a bit of vegan sugar/maple syrup/agave syrup until completely smooth
Sandwich the filling between two cookies
Refrigerate for about an hour to harden them like a classic Oreo
That wasn’t so hard now, was it? There’s so much scope to experiment when making vegan Oreos at home. You can choose to add various chopped nuts, seeds, raisins, dates, cinnamon, ginger, and so on. Basically, anything you would like from the broad range of vegan-friendly ingredients. Making Oreos at home ensures every ingredient is vegan and that there are no artificial additives or preservatives. A quick search online will open up a whole range of homemade vegan Oreo recipes that you can try out.