Vegan lifestyles are healthy, environmentally responsible and ethically sound, but there is no doubt that sticking rigidly to the diet presents challenges, and I am continually amazed by the number of foods that contain animal products, often for no good reason. As a result, many vegans are constantly searching online for foods that are acceptable and a common enquiry relates to whether or not various bread types are permissible. In particular, pita bread is a variety that causes a lot of confusion, possibly due to its association with kebabs and other meat-based dishes.
So is pita bread vegan? The simple answer is ‘yes’, it is considered to be vegan in the vast majority of cases. Nevertheless, there are a small number of commercially-produced pita bread products which do contain animal products like milk, eggs and honey, so you should watch out for these.
What this means is that there is absolutely no reason for a vegan to miss out on pita bread entirely. Vegan-friendly pita bread is widely available, while pita bread can be easily made at home too, using no animal products and without a need to substitute any core ingredients. Yet, it is important to point out that it is unsafe to simply assume pita bread is vegan and you will need to check. Furthermore, there are a few ingredients that are less common, but which represent something of a grey area for vegans, as I will touch upon later in this article.
Typical Pita Bread Ingredients
Pita bread is a type of flatbread, which is either split open or baked in such a way that a pocket is formed. This pocket then allows fillings to be placed into the pita bread, functioning in a similar way to a sandwich or a wrap. The name pita bread is also sometimes used more generally, in order to describe other conventional flat bread varieties, which are made using the same core vegan-friendly ingredients: wheat flour, water, yeast and salt.
These basic ingredients are sufficient to make your own pita bread at home and they may be all that is contained within some pita bread served in restaurants too. However, it is important to understand that there are also some common additives, which are especially likely to be found in pre-made pita bread that is purchased from supermarkets.
The vast majority of these additives are perfectly vegan-friendly too. For example, citric acid is one of the more prevalent listed ingredients. Although this is now usually industrially produced, rather than extracted from natural fruits and vegetables, this kind of citric acid is still perfectly in-keeping with veganism and is typically made from fungus and a simple sugar. Similarly, it is common for vitamins and iron to be added to the flour used to make the bread.
Generally, you will find that pita bread – regardless of whether it is bought fresh from a bakery, sold in a restaurant, or bought from a store – will be perfectly safe for vegans to eat. With that being said, in a small number of cases, you may find that animal products have been added to the pita bread, usually for the sake of flavouring or preserving the bread for longer. The main ingredients you will need to watch out for here are the use of milk, eggs or honey.
If you are in any doubt, take a look at the ingredients list to check that these animal products have not been used. The fewer ingredients in the ingredients list, the better. If at all possible, look for a pita bread brand that has vegan certification. If you are buying your pita bread fresh from a bakery, it is best to ask whether or not the pita bread is suitable for vegans, although it usually will be. The same is also true in most restaurants.
Some of the thickening agents that may be found on ingredients lists for pita bread are a cause of concern for vegans, with guar gum, cellulose gum and xanthan gum being the main three examples. The good news is, guar gum is a guar bean extract, which is completely vegan-friendly and even used in vegan-certified products. The main reason some vegans are concerned is because it is also used within animal products, such as meat and yogurt, but it is added to these afterwards. Cellulose gum, meanwhile, is also vegan and is derived from the organic compound cellulose.
So what about xanthan gum? This ingredient is slightly more of a grey area, as I will cover in the next section.
Possible Issues With Pita
Xanthan gum is one of a few possible ingredients within pita bread that could potentially be a problem for some vegans. This is a thickening agent, which is most commonly produced through a fermentation process involving simple or common sugars, with examples including glucose and sucrose. However, it can also be obtained through fermentation of whey, which is a byproduct of cheese manufacturing. Most xanthan gum is fine for vegans to eat, but it does represent a grey area. Pita bread containing xanthan gum is sometimes classed as “vegan by most standards” but unless it is clearly labelled as a vegan product, strict vegans may wish to steer clear of it.
A similar grey area also exists with the use of lecithin, monoglycerides and diglycerides. Lecithin is a type of fat, while monoglycerides and diglycerides are both acylglycerols. In all three cases, they can be obtained from soybeans or other vegetables and this is often the case. However, lecithin can also be obtained from egg yolk, while monoglycerides and diglycerides can be obtained from animal fat, which would make them unsuitable. Again, the source can be difficult to know without clear vegan certification on the packaging, representing a potential difficulty.
It is worth pointing out that none of the three ingredients are especially common with pita bread, but they are used in some varieties. In all three cases, there is significantly more chance of them being vegan-friendly than not, but it cannot be guaranteed. Opinion varies among vegans about whether products containing these ingredients need to be avoided.
When you first decided on why to become vegan, you likely established your own moral lines and I would not wish to challenge these, but for the strictest vegans, these ingredients may be best avoided.
What About Pita Chips?
Pita chips, otherwise known as pita bread crisps or pita crackers, are an increasingly popular snack, made using very similar ingredients to pita bread. They are most often seasoned using salt, although garlic, chilli, cheese and sour cream flavours are also common. In most cases, pita chips are vegan-friendly, but the same potential pitfalls exist as with pita bread. A number of brands specifically market their pita chips as a vegan snack, which is helpful, but if this is not the case for the brand you are looking at, you will need to check the ingredients list for yourself.
In my experience, the main ingredients you may find that would make pita chips unsuitable are the use of whey protein and the use of milk as a flavouring. Salted pita chips are more likely to be vegan-friendly than pita chips with other flavours added. For instance, sour cream flavoured pita chips often use a sour cream powder made from milk, while cheese flavoured pita chips will almost always use cheese flavouring that is made using real cheese.
A small number of pita chips brands also use egg, either for the chips themselves, or as part of the flavourings, so it is important to be mindful of this. It is also common to eat pita chips with a dip, so you will need to make sure you purchase one that is also vegan-friendly. This can be difficult with the more creamy dips found in stores, which often use milk and egg as ingredients. Some dips also contain xanthan gum, requiring a judgement call. However, other dip varieties are often perfectly in-keeping with a vegan diet, using no animal products.
If you are struggling to find a suitable dip, hummus serves as a both a tasty and healthy vegan dip replacement.
Are Other Breads Vegan?
Most other varieties of bread follow similar principles to pita bread, in that they are usually vegan-friendly, but there are a few potential pitfalls to be aware of. Again, the best thing to do is check the ingredients list for any animal products and to buy products that are certified vegan, when possible. As an over-arching rule, the less processed the bread is and the fewer ingredients it has, the more likely it is to be vegan-friendly.
Aside from the aforementioned grey area connected to ingredients like xanthan gum, lecithin, monoglycerides and diglycerides, the main ingredients you will need to look out for are milk, eggs and honey, while butter is also an ingredient in some bread types. Some of the less common ingredients to look out for are whey, royal jelly, buttermilk, casein and gelatin, and some bread is flavoured using either cheese or animal fats.
Certain bread types are more likely to contain animal products than others. For example, white sandwich bread, brown sandwich bread, sourdough, rolls, bagels and tortillas are usually vegan. Most ciabatta bread is vegan-friendly, although a variety called ciabatta al latte is off-limits, as it is made using milk.
By contrast, Indian naan bread is much more likely to present problems, as it is often made using milk and/or ghee and sometimes flavoured using yogurt. Honey wheat bread is off-limits for obvious reasons, while crumpets and pikelets may not be vegan, due to the widespread use of milk or buttermilk within their recipes.
As with pita bread, the best approach is to check the ingredients list, look for any of the mentioned ingredients to avoid, and keep an eye out for certified vegan brands. If you are in a restaurant or bakery, ask whether or not the bread is vegan-friendly and if information is unavailable for any reason, it is probably better safe than sorry.