Baked beans are a classic American take on boiled beans. They’re a common side served at cookouts, barbecue joints, and potluck dinners. Although beans are vegan-friendly, some of the additives found in pre-packed bean meals or restaurant-style beans may not always be vegan.
So, are baked beans vegan?
Ultimately, it depends on the ingredients. Traditional baked bean recipes typically consist of beans, tomato sauce, and seasoning. However, many baked bean recipes include non-vegan additives, such as honey, refined sugar, pieces of meat, or meat-derived seasoning.
Today’s post is going to be all about baked beans! Below, I’ll explain what baked beans are made of, show you which additives to look out for, and give you a great recipe for making your own vegan baked beans at home.
What Are Baked Beans Made Of?
Baked beans are a traditional style of cooking beans that originated in the early United States. They’re typically made using navy beans, but can really be made with any type of beans. The beans are typically boiled (not baked, as you might assume from the name).
Baked beans can be made in many different ways, depending on the recipe.
Some baked bean recipes are dry, while others are served “wet,” in a thick flavorful sauce.
Baked beans are always seasoned with a blend of salt, herbs, and various other spices. Sometimes, they’re also sweetened with sugar, honey, or maple syrup, which makes for a spicy-sweet flavor that pairs exceptionally well with barbecue.
Beans have always been a traditional source of protein, which is why they’re prepared in so many different ways in cultures all around the world.
Common Non-Vegan Ingredients In Baked Beans
Beans are also one of the best sources of plant-based protein, which makes them a great option for vegans and plant-based eaters. When it comes to baked beans, though, there are several additives that you may need to be on the lookout for.
Here’s a quick visual outlining some of the more problematic ingredients in baked beans, so you can avoid the non-vegan varieties out there:
|Non-Vegan Ingredients In Baked Beans||Why They’re Problematic|
|Pork, Bacon, or Beef||One of the most common additives you’ll find in traditional baked bean recipes (especially BBQ recipes) is meat. Homemade baked beans were often made with leftover scraps of meat to provide added flavor, fat, and protein to those who couldn’t afford to purchase large cuts of meat. Today, it’s common to see bacon bits, pork fat, or bits of beef used in canned baked beans and restaurant-style baked beans.|
|Refined White Sugar||Although sugar is a plant-based sweetener that comes from sugarcane, it goes through a refining process that isn’t quite vegan-friendly. To turn the natural cane sugar (which is vegan) into white sugar, the natural crystals must be filtered through animal bone char filters. Unfortunately, these bone char filters are, quite literally, packed with fire-blackened animal bones. Typically, the larger bones of pigs and cows are used to make bone char.|
|Honey||Many first-time vegans mistake honey for a vegan sweetener because it’s all-natural. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Honey is forcibly taken from exploited bee colonies that actually need the honey to feed their larvae and survive the cold winter months. Taking honey from a hive weakens the colony, which results in lower honey production for the following seasons. When bees stop producing as much honey, many beekeeping operations kill the bees and replace them with a newer, fresher colony.|
|Meat-Derived Seasonings||Another common additive that you’ll want to be on the lookout for is meat-derived seasoning. These seasoning blends may contain a mixture of natural spices combined with dried meat salts.|
How To Make Vegan Baked Beans
As I mentioned in the intro, baked beans are often “accidentally vegan” and don’t include any non-vegan or meat-derived ingredients (even if they are served alongside meat). The truth is that you can create some truly out-of-this-world baked beans using simple ingredients in your pantry.
Baked beans don’t have to be made with honey, sugar, or bacon. They certainly don’t have to be eaten out of a can either!
If you’re looking for a delicious, all-natural, homemade vegan baked beans recipe, then you’ve got to check out this awesome recipe by Make It Dairy Free, one of my favorite vegan YouTube channels:
Are Bush’s Baked Beans Vegan? A Look At The Ingredients
I always prefer homemade baked beans to canned baked beans. They simply taste better and are actually a lot better for you.
However, I understand that not everybody has the time to make their own. Canned baked beans are a good alternative if you’re looking for something quick and easy.
One of the most popular brands of baked beans is Bush’s Baked Beans. If you walk down the bean aisle at your local supermarket, this brand is impossible to miss with its bold colors, bright packaging, and heavy text.
Unfortunately, Bush’s Baked Beans are NOT vegan. The Original recipe contains two non-vegan additives, including brown sugar and bacon. Additionally, the beans may also contain meat-derived spices and “natural flavors.”
Here’s a quick look at Bush’s Original Baked Bean ingredients:
Now, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the ingredients, so you can better understand what they are and why some aren’t vegan-friendly.
1) Prepared Navy Beans
Navy beans are, by far, the most popular type of beans used to make baked beans. Their naturally mild flavor helps them pair well with just about any spices or seasonings used in the baked bean recipe.
The navy beans in this canned food are pre-boiled, so they’re safe to eat straight out of the can (although I don’t recommend doing that).
Navy beans, by themselves, are 100% vegan. They’re a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, and healthy carbohydrates.
Unfortunately, the other ingredients in this baked bean recipe are non-vegan.
Water is the primary medium that the baked beans and seasonings are stabilized in. Water, of course, is always vegan.
3) Brown Sugar
Bush’s Baked Beans are known for their signature sweet flavor. While some brands use honey or maple syrup, Bush’s uses brown sugar to sweeten their beans.
The problem is that brown sugar, like white sugar, is a non-vegan sweetener. Many people mistake brown sugar for cane sugar since the two both share the same light brown coloring. However, the two are quite different.
Brown sugar is actually made using a refined white sugar base. Molasses is added to the white sugar, which is where it gets its brown color and complex flavor.
4) Cured Bacon
While some non-vegan ingredients are harder to identify, cured bacon is easily identified. Bacon comes from pork (pigs) and is neither vegan nor vegetarian. The commercial pork industry is incredibly cruel.
Young pigs and adult pigs are often beaten, abused, malnourished, and placed in overpacked pens where disease runs rampant. Often, they’re barely given enough space to stand and are trampled by their fellow “inmates.”
Almost all baked beans are seasoned with a bit of natural salt. Salt is a natural compound that’s found in oceanic salt deposits (from when the ocean covered parts of the earth). Salt is 100% vegan and is never an ingredient you should worry about!
Bush’s Original Baked Beans are made with a bit of mustard, which is a popular sauce used in Southern BBQ. This mustard mixture is made with mustard seeds, water, vinegar, salt, paprika, and turmeric.
All of these ingredients are natural and plant-based. Mustard-based sauces are actually some of the most vegan-friendly BBQ sauces that you can eat, as they rarely contain any meat-derived additives or refined sugars.
7) Modified Corn Starch
Modified corn starch is a highly processed starch that comes from genetically modified corn. Starch is a simple sugar that’s found within most grains and many vegetables.
It’s typically used as a thickening agent in various processed foods and makes for a thicker, more viscous consistency.
Corn starch really isn’t all that healthy, since it’s just empty carbs. However, it is a vegan additive, since it comes from corn.
8) Caramel Color
Caramel coloring is a natural food coloring that’s made through the process of caramelization. During this process, heat is applied to starch and/or sugar, which creates a dark brown caramel color.
This color has no nutritional value and is only added to Bush’s Baked Beans to make them look more appealing. It is a vegan-friendly additive, though.
9) Garlic & Onion Powder
The main seasonings used in these baked beans are garlic and onion powder. Both of these are all-natural, plant-based seasonings made from dried garlic, onions, and salt.
In addition to the garlic and onion powder used in Bush’s Baked Beans, this particular recipe is also made with all-natural spices. These spices are kept secret, as they’re a “trade secret” protected under copyright law. They should all be vegan-friendly, though.
11) Natural Flavors
Natural flavors can often be a source of worry for vegans. While many natural flavors are innocent and plant-derived, some natural flavors may come from meat or dairy.
It’s unclear what type of natural flavors are used in Bush’s Baked Beans, as they’re not divulged. However, there’s a good chance that one or more of the natural flavors may be meat-derived since the product already contains pork.
Conclusion – Are Baked Beans Vegan-Friendly?
Beans are a healthy part of any plant-based diet. Homemade vegan baked beans are an excellent choice for those seeking to add a flavorful kick to their otherwise boring beans.
However, you should watch out for restaurant-style and canned baked beans, as these often contain non-vegan additives.
If you’re looking for some delicious sauces to pair your homemade baked beans and vegan BBQ with, be sure to check out my list of the best vegan BBQ sauces next!