From duck feathers to pancreatic enzymes, commercial bread provides a whole new collection of reasons for everyone to learn how to decipher an ingredients list.
Any processed food, including bread, is likely to have a block paragraph of polysyllabic ingredients printed on its packaging. Many of these are not household words, so it can be difficult to recognize whether or not many of the ingredients are animal-derived and, unfortunately, many of them are. What follows is a list of some of the most common nonvegan ingredients found in bread and other commercial baked goods.
Whey & Casein
Whey is possibly one of the most common nonvegan ingredients you will come across in bread. Both casein and whey are by-products of milk and cheese production, and therefore involve the same cruelty associated with any other dairy product.
Ghee is clarified butter found in some Indian products, including naan and roti bread.
While modern lecithin is usually derived from soybeans, it can be made from egg yolks, so make sure you know which type you’re getting.
Although the enzymes used in bread seem to generally be fungal-based, there are several non-vegan enzymes used in commercial bread production. This includes one such ingredient called phospholipase, an enzyme derived from pig pancreatic tissue.
Determining whether or not various enzymes are vegan can be a challenge on its own since they can be derived from a number of sources, including animal, vegetable, bacterial, or fungal.. The Vegetarian Resource Group provides a few helpful examples: lactase (fungal), lipase (animal or fungal), papain (vegetable), pectinase (fruit), protease (animal, vegetable, bacterial, or fungal), rennet (animal), and trypsin (animal). Even so, many labels will not elaborate past “enzymes”, meaning a call to the company is in order before purchase.
“Omega 3 Enriched”
Omega 3 can be derived from plant sources or from fish. If the product contains any fish or fish-derived substances, it should be indicated somewhere on the packaging. If you don’t see it on the ingredients panel, take a look immediately below for allergy information.
Lactate and Lactose
Lactate and lactic acid may sound like they’re dairy-derived, but many “lac” ingredients are created through a fermentation process using cornstarch or beet sugar. There are, however, some exceptions. Sterol lactate is not vegan due to the stearic acid, derived from animal fat. Lactose is always milk-derived.
Mono & Di-Glycerides
Mono-Glycerides and Di-Glycerides are emulsifiers to help a bread’s texture. They can be derived from a variety of sources including animals or plants, and they can also be synthetic. Much of the time they are made from soybean oil.
These ingredients are very common in mass produced bread products. Dough conditioners are used for many reasons, but primarily they’re included to improve the texture and appearance of the bread.
- L-cysteine ~ L-cysteine is used as a dough conditioner and flavor enhancer. It is most commonly derived from duck feathers and, less frequently, from pigs’ bristles and hooves. In some Asian countries, L-cysteine is also derived from human hair.
- Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate & Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate ~ These ingredients can be either animal or plant-derived, and their source will not be immediately obvious from the packaging.
- Datem ~ DATEM, an acronym of Diacetyl Tartrate ester of Monoglyceride, is a blend of several different emulsifying agents. While many of these agents are plant-derived, many are also animal-derived. Unfortunately, this will not be clear from the ingredients list.
This is an antimicrobial agent derived from dairy cultures, which is added to food products to act as a preservative.
Enriched flour: Folic Acid, Niacin, Riboflavin, Thiamine, and Iron
When a product claims to contain “enriched” or “fortified” flour, it’s generally referring to the ingredients listed above. (Folic acid, Niacin, Riboflavin, and Thiamine are B vitamins.) Now, this will sound frustratingly repetitive, but these ingredients can be derived from vegan or nonvegan sources. However, they are most often synthetically produced and considered to be vegan ingredients. It is also worth noting that terms like “enriched” and “fortified” can be misleading. The reason these vitamins are added to the flour in the first place is to offset the effects of the refining process during which the naturally occurring nutrients are stripped away.
Note: In some countries such as Australia, all flour millers are legally bound to add Vitamin B1 and Folic Acid to bread. This is proposed as a public health matter and is not voluntary.
This is by no means an exhaustive compilation of the ingredients you may encounter in the bread aisle. The Vegetarian Resource Group offers an extensive ingredient dictionary, and there are many smartphone apps for looking up ingredients.
Thankfully, there are many vegan breads sold at health food stores, and some even in grocery stores (such as Alvarado St Bakery’s vegan products – note: some flavors contain honey). Some farmers’ markets also have good-quality vegan breads for sale. (Just make sure you get a full ingredients list before buying.) Many brands of tortillas and pita are also vegan. For those who are lucky enough to have access to them, One Degree Organic Foods has delicious-looking vegan breads. (Their cereals, however, now unfortunately contain honey.)
Other companies that have vegan bread lines:
French Meadow Bakery
Food for Life® Baking Co.
Note: Bob’s Red Mill has some excellent vegan bread mixes that can be made by hand or in a bread machine.