One could argue that bacon is the most “American” food there is. From pizza to salads, bacon bits are a popular topping used to add a smoky, meaty flavor to various dishes.
Some people eat bacon bits straight-up as a snack. Most people assume bacon bits are as non-vegan as it gets. However, many bacon bits can be “accidentally vegan.”
So, are bacon bits vegan?
Bacon bits that are made using real bacon are clearly non-vegan, as they contain pork. However, imitation and artificial bacon bits are actually more common. Many imitation bacon bits are also 100% vegan, as they’re made from soy protein instead of pork!
That’s great news for vegans and vegetarians who are looking to add a bit of savory flavor to their plant-based dishes! Although vegan bacon bits might not be the healthiest topping, they do taste good and are fine in small amounts.
Below, I’m about to answer all of your questions about bacon bits! Then, I’ll break down the ingredients used to make both non-vegan and vegan bacon bits, so you can see for yourself.
Are Artificial Bacon Bits Vegan?
As I mentioned, artificial bacon bits are actually a lot more common to find on store shelves than real bacon bits. This is because they’re more affordable, have a similar texture, and taste similar.
Since artificial bacon bits are typically used as a topping, most of the small flavor differences aren’t very noticeable either.
Although many artificial bacon bits are vegan-friendly, some are not.
Most artificial bacon bits are made using a soy protein base, which is always vegan. However, certain brands may use non-vegan additives, such as meat-derived seasoning, milk derivatives, or refined white sugar (which is filtered through animal bone char).
I always recommend that you double-check the ingredients list before buying any artificial bacon bits.
Do Imitation Bacon Bits Taste Like Bacon?
This is the real question that most vegans want to know!
Imitation bacon bits taste very similar to real bacon bits. The smoky, savory flavor is definitely there. However, imitation bacon bits lack the strong “meat” flavor that real bacon bits have.
Then again, we’re dealing with artificial meat. The ingredients used to make imitation bacon bits are very similar to the soy-based ingredients and seasonings used to make plant-based burgers like Beyond Meat or plant-based hot dogs.
No matter how close food scientists get to making artificial meat taste like the real thing, there will always be some differences. As a vegan, I’m pretty much used to this. It’s been so long since I’ve had real meat, though, that I barely even notice the difference.
If you’re a first-time vegan, then you’ll probably notice the difference. Veteran vegans, on the other hand, probably won’t notice much of a difference given that they’re already used to a plant-based diet.
Learn more here:
Real Bacon Bits vs. Artificial Vegan Bacon Bits
Whenever I write these types of posts, I always like to do side-by-side comparisons of vegan products with their non-vegan counterparts. With that in mind, here are some of the key differences between real bacon bits and artificial vegan bacon bits:
|Vegan Bacon Bits||Non-Vegan Bacon Bits|
|Made from soy protein or soy flour.||Made from pork remains.|
|Seasoned with savory seasonings and artificial smoke flavoring, to replicate the taste of cooked bacon.||Seasoned with savory seasonings that enhance the flavor of the pork.|
|Contains around 30 calories per serving.||Contains around 25 calories per serving.|
|Contains 2 grams of carbs per serving.||Carb-free.|
|Tastes like bacon-flavored soy.||Tastes like real bacon.|
What Are Bacon Bits Made Of?
Now that you have a better understanding of some of the key differences between vegan and non-vegan bacon, it’s time to take a look at the ingredients used to make both.
Since real bacon bits use fewer ingredients, I’ll start by breaking down the ingredients in real bacon bits first!
The main ingredient in real bacon bits is pork. One interesting fact about bacon bits is that they usually aren’t made with real bacon. By definition, bacon typically comes from the pork belly or pork backsides. This is one of the more expensive cuts.
To save costs, most companies used ground pork remains consisting of the bits of pork that they can’t sell as whole cuts of meat.
Since the bits are cooked, tiny, and seasoned with extra flavoring, though, there’s very little difference in taste between real bacon bits and the thick-sliced bacon you’ll find in a breakfast diner.
To give the pork its signature flavor, salt is added. Pork without salt is actually pretty tasteless, so the salt makes a big difference. It also acts as a natural preservative and keeps bacteria from developing, giving the product longer shelf life.
Like most processed food products, real bacon bits contain preservatives, such as sodium nitrate and potassium chloride to improve shelf stability.
A little bit of white sugar or brown sugar is typically added to bacon bits to give them that iconic applewood smoked flavor that people expect from real bacon slices.
5) Smoke Flavor
Artificial smoke flavor is typically added to both vegan and non-vegan bacon bits. It’s a great way to give it that fresh-out-the-pan flavor.
What Are Vegan Bacon Bits Made Of?
Now, here’s a quick breakdown of the ingredients used in vegan bacon bits. For the purpose of this article, I referenced the ingredients in McCormick Imitation Bac’n Pieces:
1) Soy Flour
Soy flour is high in protein and is the base used for vegan bacon bits. It’s 100% plant-based and vegan, so no worries there!
2) Canola Oil
Chunks of soy flour are typically deep-fried in vegan-friendly canola oil. It’s not the healthiest, but it is sustainable, plant-based cooking oil.
Salt is the primary seasoning used to flavor artificial bacon bits.
4) Yeast Extract
Yeast extract is similar to nutritional yeast. This seasoning is added to give the artificial bacon bits a richer, more savory flavor profile. It’s plant-based, vegan, and fairly healthy as well.
Like real bacon bits, savory seasonings and smoke flavor are often added to vegan bacon bits to make them taste like the real thing.
6) Artificial Color
Last but not least, artificial coloring (red 40 and caramel color) is added to give the otherwise white-colored chunks of soy flour that reddish-brown color you’d expect from bacon.
Are Imitation Bacon Bits Healthy?
Even though they’re plant-based, imitation bacon bits aren’t exactly “healthy.” They’re full of preservatives and aren’t a good source of vitamins, minerals, protein, or healthy fats. They’re a great-tasting topping when used in small amounts. Just don’t go overboard!
The Verdict – Are Bacon Bits Vegan-Friendly?
Imitation bacon bits are almost always vegan! You should always check the label to make sure they don’t contain any unexpected additives. However, most vegan bacon bits are just made out of soy flour, yeast, oil, and seasonings.
Another great alternative to bacon bits is vegan meat crumbles and vegan ground “meat.” If you’re ready to satisfy your meat cravings and get some much-needed protein in your diet, be sure to check out my list of the best vegan meat crumbles next!