When you’re switching from an omnivorous lifestyle to a vegan one, you will often find that many of your favorite products “carry over” pretty seamlessly. Some foods are naturally vegan by nature. This is true of many sauces and condiments. Mustard, ketchup and salsa are naturally vegan. While ranch dressing and mayonnaise aren’t (they’re made with buttermilk and eggs, respectively) vegan versions of both are available. Pickles and chutneys are typically vegan too, and often very healthy. Even some sauces that are normally associated with meat, such as barbecue sauce, are often vegan in terms of ingredients.
Is BBQ sauce vegan? Generally, yes. The BBQ sauce is spiced ketchup with a smokey flavor; it does only requires plant-based ingredients. Some brands are made with non-vegan ingredients and you should always check. Brands made by mainstream manufacturers may not be compatible with ethical veganism as some ingredients may not be cruelty-free.
You’ve landed on this page because you have questions about common food products and your vegan lifestyle.
- Is BBQ sauce vegan?
- What’s in BBQ sauce?
- Are there any ambiguous ingredients you need to watch out for?
- Which brands are best for a vegan lifestyle?
- Is BBQ sauce a healthy choice?
- Can you make your own BBQ sauce?
- How can you use BBQ sauce to make tasty vegan dishes?
- What other condiments are suitable for a vegan diet?
Fortunately, we have the answers you’re looking for. Just read on to find out everything you need to know about BBQ sauce in a vegan diet.
Is BBQ sauce vegan?
The BBQ sauce is generally a vegan-friendly condiment. The sauce itself is essentially ketchup, made more savory and tailored to barbecued foods by the addition of spices and a smoky flavor. It can be poured overcooked food, brushed onto food before it’s grilled for extra flavor, or used to make lots of tasty side dishes and dips.
The BBQ sauce isn’t necessarily made with animal ingredients, and can certainly be produced without them. Unfortunately, some manufacturers use meat, fish dairy or egg-based substances in their sauces. Some of the flavorings used in BBQ sauce that you’ll need to watch out for are anchovies and, more commonly, honey. (The acceptability of honey is a matter of some dispute in the vegan world but most people choose to avoid it as an animal product.)
If you’re buying from a non-vegan manufacturer, be aware that the sauce may be produced in a facility that also handles animal ingredients. Food colorings used to give BBQ sauce a richer appearance may not be cruelty-free, having been tested on animals, or may themselves be derived from animals (such as carmine).
Some sauces use gums to give them a nice thick texture and emulsifiers to prevent the sauce from separating in the bottle. This is usually fine but vegans may want to look out for certain ingredients that may or may not be vegan. One of these is xanthan gum. This is a stabilizer and gelling agent produced by a bacteria culture. The bacteria are usually fed sugars, but may be fed on animal products instead. There are similarly ambiguous ingredients used in a number of brands that you might want to avoid.
Other potentially dubious ingredients include “natural flavors“. This is a blanket term for many different substances, both vegan and animal-derived, as well as some flavoring materials that may have been tested on animals. If you’re a very strict ethical vegan, “natural flavor may be something you want to avoid.
Another ingredient that can be ambiguous is sugar, which is used in some brands. They either use sugar as a flavoring or “caramel color” (derived from sugar). Some cane sugar is refined using animal bones (bone char), which may put it outside your ethical comfort zone.
As a rule, you should always check the packaging before you buy and don’t assume that every brand of sauce has the same ingredients. Keep in mind that different flavors of BBQ sauce will have a different composition and that the added ingredients may not be vegan-friendly. On the whole, though, BBQ sauce is a safe bet to make your vegan food even more exciting.
One more thing to keep in mind is that if you buy your BBQ sauce from a mainstream food manufacturer, you may be inadvertently supporting a business that trades in non-vegan goods. While this isn’t a problem if you’re a vegan for health reasons, it can be a real concern for ethical vegans. Some people may choose to avoid products from large corporations for these reasons, choosing instead to buy from small, vegan-centric operations when at all possible. Clearly, this is easier for people in some situations than others.
Is BBQ sauce healthy?
Whether or not BBQ sauce is healthy will depend on the type of sauce in question. Home-made or organic small-batch sauces, using fresh, simple ingredients, will usually be quite healthy, while mass-produced brands will typically be less so.
The primary ingredient of BBQ sauce is often tomato paste, although some brands list high-fructose corn syrup as the main constituent — hardly ideal. Many big-brand sauces rely heavily on processed starch for their thickness, which may not be desirable in a healthy diet. BBQ sauce will also contain a few kinds of acidic compounds. This usually means vinegar but sometimes lemon juice or simply acetic acid may be used instead. Other common ingredients include pineapple juice, and tamarind paste, which adds sweetness, bites and pleasant fruity flavors. The last two are quite healthy and certainly not a concern.
Another possible health concern is the presence of smoke flavoring. This is used to give BBQ sauce its evocative flavor. It’s completely vegan, being derived from burning wood. However, smoke flavoring have raised serious health concerns in recent years, chiefly in relation to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In large concentrations, these compounds may indeed be carcinogenic to humans according to the World Health Organisation.
That said, to make a realistic safety assessment you need to consider the quantities involved. A teaspoon of so-called liquid smoke contains a tiny fraction of the PAHs you might find in, say, a portion of smoked food — smaller than 0.1 percent for some foodstuffs. A bottle of barbecue sauce contains only about a teaspoon of liquid smoke and you’ll only be using a small amount at a time. While it’s reasonable to restrict the amount of PAHs you consume, BBQ sauce probably isn’t a major source of these compounds.
Which brands of BBQ sauce are vegan?
Specifying whether or not a particular brand of BBQ sauce is vegan can be difficult. Even if a brand uses all-vegan ingredients in one version of its product, a different version may contain non-vegan constituents. Brands often change the composition of a product for different countries, due to local preferences, regulations or the availability of particular ingredients. For example, a company might formulate a product with (vegan) beet sugar in the UK, where beet sugar is plentiful; but use non-vegan cane sugar elsewhere. Products may also be reformulated over time, with non-vegan ingredients being added to previously vegan food.
With all that said, let’s take a look at some tasty vegan BBQ sauce brands. Note that most of the following does contain “natural flavors”, which makes them a little ambiguous.
Guy’s Award Winning Sugar-Free BBQ Sauce turns up on many lists of favorite vegan sauces. It contains no animal ingredients; however, the ingredients do include sucralose which is not cruelty-free.
Sweet Baby Ray’s original barbecue sauce is another popular brand among vegans. Note that it does have sugar listed as an ingredient.
Heinz Original barbecue sauce is made with non-animal ingredients. It is sweetened with sugar, which may not be vegan. Be aware that while the Original flavor doesn’t have any ingredients of animal origin, some flavours include ingredients like anchovies and honey.
Organicville Organic BBQ Sauce is a tangy sauce with lots of sweetness, coming from the agave nectar used to replace sugar. Outside of the US, you can find this in specialist stores or online.
Can I make my own BBQ sauce?
If you want your BBQ sauce to have the perfect balance of sweetness, tartness, spices and smoke, as well as ingredients that are in line with your personal take on the vegan lifestyle, there’s no better way than to go home-made. Home-made BBQ sauces are delicious, easy to make, and will give you instant bragging rights at the next cook-out.
The ingredients are up to you. Everyone has their own personal idea of how BBQ sauce should taste and their own favorite herbs and spices. Most popular recipes call for tomato paste, vinegar, (apple cider is the best), a concentrated fruit juice (usually pineapple), spices and tamarind paste. Popular spices include black pepper, paprika, and chili. Most recipes call for garlic and onion; some use these in powder form but others use fresh.
You’ll also need something to give your sauce a smoky flavor; you can purchase liquid smoke or, with a bit more effort, make your own. Liquid smoke is easy to come by, doesn’t cost much and lasts a long time. Another option is to look for smoked herbs and spices, such as smoked chili peppers or smoked paprika.
For the sweet flavor usually associated with BBQ sauce, you could use vegan molasses or black treacle. Vegan brown sugar is also popular. White sugar is usually avoided as it contributes less richness to the flavor.
Most recipes suggest putting the ingredients in a pan, mixing thoroughly, boiling briefly and then simmering until the sauce has the desired flavor and consistency.
Once you’ve made the sauce, pour it into clean jars and seal. It should keep in the fridge for a few weeks. You can also decorate jars of homemade sauce to give as gifts.