When most people hear the word “Cheetos,” they immediately bring to mind the cool-looking mascot, Chester the Cheetah. For those of you (like myself) who grew up eating this delicious cheesy snack, you may remember the signature crunch and explosion of cheesy flavor.
The real question you’re here for, though, is, “Are Cheetos vegan?”
Sadly, Cheetos is one of the least vegan snacks on the market. While the corn meal-derived base is plant-based and the chips don’t contain any palm oil, the cheese seasoning is not vegan.
It’s made from whey, cheddar cheese, and other dairy by-products, which makes it a no-no for vegans and lactose intolerant dieters alike.
I know, I know… When I first went vegan and learned that Cheetos wasn’t vegan-friendly, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I mean, they were literally my FAVORITE snack growing up.
That being said, I’ve found plenty of great-tasting alternatives.
In today’s post, I’ll answer all of the most common questions about Cheetos that I’ve been getting from my vegan readers. Then, I’ll break down all of the ingredients, so you can see for yourself why Cheetos aren’t so vegan-friendly.
Last but not least, I’ll show you some of my favorite vegan chips, so you can grab yourself an alternative!
Are Cheetos Vegan-Friendly?
If you look at the ingredients list of most mainstream brands of chips, you’ll usually find at least one or two questionable ingredients that vegan eaters try to avoid. Some of the most common non-vegan ingredients used in chips include:
- Palm oil
- Meat-derived seasoning
- Cheese seasoning
While Cheetos don’t contain any palm oil, sugar, or meat seasoning, they do contain whey (a milk protein) and cheese seasoning that’s made with real cheese.
To be honest, that’s part of the appeal. The real cheese is the reason why so many people are obsessed with the snack. In a world where all of our chips are being made with an increasing number of artificial ingredients, the Cheetos recipe has remained simple and mostly natural.
Another fun fact about Cheetos is that cheese is addicting. That’s right, studies show that cheese stimulates certain areas of the brain that correlate with addiction. This is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to put down the bag of Cheetos once you’ve started munching on them!
Unfortunately, the real cheese and whey used in Cheetos is the reason why ALL varieties of Cheetos are non-vegan.
Cheese is a dairy product that’s obtained from exploited and abused female cows. Like all other dairy and dairy by-products, cheese is the result of animal cruelty, which is why vegans avoid it. Don’t believe me? Check out this insider video for more information:
Are Cheetos Cheese Puffs Vegan?
I know what you’re probably thinking…
“Okay, so the normal crunchy Cheetos aren’t vegan. What about Cheetos Cheese Puffs, though? Surely SOMETHING has to be vegan!”
Sadly, Cheetos Cheese Puffs, like the original Cheetos are NOT vegan. Although the snack has a different texture and is cooked in a slightly different manner, both varieties of Cheetos use the same cheese seasoning that contains dairy.
Honestly, as a vegan, you should generally try to avoid any food product that has the word “Cheese” in it. There’s a 99% chance that it’s not vegan. Even artificial cheese used in cheap off-brand products contains some dairy by-products, which make it non-vegan.
That being said, there are plenty of vegan cheese options. Vegan cheese is usually easy to find, as the product will clearly state that it’s “vegan.” Often, the labeling will use the word “Cheeze” (with a ‘Z’), to avoid any confusion.
What Are Cheetos Made Of? Ingredients Listed
Whenever I write these types of posts, I always like to explain exactly why a certain brand of food is or isn’t vegan. I can talk till I’m blue in the face, but sometimes it’s helpful to see the ingredients list for yourself. Plus, it’ll help you learn about food additives so you know what to look for!
Here’s the shortlist from the Cheetos website:
1) Enriched Corn Meal
The first (and main) ingredient is an innocent, plant-based ingredient that’s used in products like tortillas and tortilla chips. It’s a type of flour that’s made from grinding up dried corn, which makes it 100% vegan.
It’s “enriched” with natural vitamins and minerals, which gives Cheetos a better health score. These are all vegan-friendly, though, and nothing to be worried about.
2) Vegetable Oil
Like most chips, Cheetos are fried in vegetable oil. While many brands of chips use non-vegan palm oil, Cheetos uses a blend of vegan-friendly corn, canola, and sunflower oil. Unfortunately, though, this doesn’t matter since all Cheetos are seasoned with non-vegan cheese seasoning.
3) Cheese Seasoning
Here’s where things go wrong and Cheetos become non-vegan. They’re all seasoned with Cheetos’ proprietary blend of cheese seasoning, which contains a number of dairy ingredients.
Cheetos’ cheese seasoning is made from whey powder, cheddar cheese, canola oil, maltodextrin, natural and artificial flavors (most likely dairy-derived cheese flavor), salt, MSG, whey protein concentrate, lactic and citric acid, as well as yellow 6 food coloring.
As you can see, most of the ingredients used for the cheese seasoning are dairy-based and non-vegan (besides the fact that it’s not healthy).
Last but not least, Cheetos are seasoned with a bit of salt to give them a cheesy, salty crunch like no other chips on the market!
What Chips Are Vegan? The Best Vegan Chips
It may be disappointing that Cheetos aren’t vegan. However, there are plenty of great-tasting vegan chip brands that you can eat instead. They may not be quite as cheesy, but they’ll satisfy your craving for a crunchy, salty chip! Some of the best vegan chips include:
The Verdict – Vegans Should Avoid All Cheetos
While vegans may not be able to eat Cheetos, due to the cheese content, there are plenty of great-tasting vegan-friendly chips to choose from. Plain old-fashioned popcorn is also a great-tasting, low-calorie, plant-based alternative for anybody craving that perfect crunch.
Last but not least, tortilla chips are almost always vegan! Most plain corn or white flour tortilla chips contain plant-based ingredients and are fried in corn oil, making them both sustainable and vegan!