Cheez-Its recently celebrated the brand’s hundredth anniversary, making them one of the oldest crackers in America. It all started when Kellogg’s released their first batch of cheese-flavored crackers in 1921.
Since then, they’ve become a favorite at vending machines, school functions, and tailgate parties.
Are Cheez-Its vegan, though?
Sadly, Cheez-Its are not vegan. All varieties and flavors of Cheez-Its contain cheese.
Unlike some cracker companies that use artificial cheese flavoring, Kellogg’s uses real cheddar cheese in all of their Cheez-Its crackers. Since vegans don’t eat cheese, they’re off-limits for plant-based eaters.
Below, I’m going to answer a couple of questions I’ve gotten about Cheez-Its and break down all of the ingredients so you can see for yourself why they’re not vegan. Don’t get fooled by the cheese!
Are Cheez-Its Dairy-Free?
Looking at the name “Cheez-Its” and seeing a giant block of orange cheddar cheese on the front of the box should be warning enough.
But, not everybody pays close attention to food packaging these days, so this happens to be one of the most common questions I’ve seen regarding the cheesy crackers.
Cheez-Its are NOT dairy-free. All varieties of Cheez-Its are made with real cheese. Cheese is not only a dairy product (making it off-limits for vegans) but it also contains lactose, making it unsuitable for those who are lactose-intolerant.
Wondering if the company will ever change its ingredients and make a vegan-friendly alternative?
Sadly, that seems very unlikely.
Cheez-Its have been made using the same exact recipe for a hundred years. Their main marketing appeal is the fact that they use real cheese. I doubt that a company built on real cheese is ever going to change the one ingredient that sets them apart from the competition.
So, if you’re vegan or lactose-intolerant, I recommend looking for another brand of crackers.
Do Cheez-Its Have Pork Gelatin?
You might be surprised to hear, that some of the most popular snacks on store shelves today are made with pork. Whether you’re vegan, don’t like pork, or don’t consume pork for religious reasons, this can often be problematic.
The pork that’s in most snacks is almost impossible to detect as well, which makes it all the more difficult for consumers to identify.
For instance, most people don’t know that pork gelatin is one of the main ingredients in marshmallows! This is why it’s so important to get used to reading your ingredient labels.
The pork that’s used in snacks comes in the form of pork-based gelatin. This fine, tasteless powder is extracted from the bones of slaughtered animals. It’s often used as a food stabilizer, emulsifier, thickening agent, or to give food a chewy texture.
Cheez-Its do not contain any pork or beef-derived gelatin. This makes them a 100% meat-free product. That being said, they’re still not vegan as they contain cheese from exploited cows.
Are Cheez-Its Vegetarian?
Although the two diets are often confused, veganism is actually quite different from vegetarianism. The vegan diet is simple – don’t eat any foods or use any products that are made by animals, and don’t eat the animals themselves.
The vegetarian diet is somewhat similar in the fact that vegetarians don’t eat meat. However, vegetarians do consume animal products. This means that vegetarians eat cheese, dairy, butter, honey, and even wear wool and leather products.
Cheez-Its are vegetarian because they don’t contain any meat or meat-derived products like gelatin or stearic acid. They’re made of wheat, vegetable oil, cheese, and seasonings, which are all vegetarian ingredients.
So, if you’re still on the fence about going full vegan and you’re sticking to a vegetarian diet instead, then Cheez-Its might be a good choice for you.
What Are Cheez-Its Made Of? Ingredients Analyzed
As I mentioned above, the original recipe for Cheez-Its has changed very little over the past hundred years. At the end of the day, they’re just simple cheese crackers.
The reason they’ve been around for so long is that they’re trademarked and owned by Kellogg’s (one of the country’s largest snack manufacturers).
So, what exactly are Cheez-Its made of?
Here’s a look at the ingredients:
Now, let’s take a few minutes to go through that list and look at what each one is…
1) Enriched Wheat Flour
The number one ingredient in Cheez-Its (and most other crackers, for that matter) is wheat flour. Wheat flour is a simple baking powder that’s made by drying and grinding the berries of the wheat plant until they’re a fine powder.
Wheat flour is always vegan since it’s a purely plant-based product. Animal-derived ingredients are never added to flour. There are different types of wheat flour that contain various baking and nutrition additives. One of the most common varieties of wheat flour is enriched wheat flour.
This is just plain old-fashioned flour that’s been enriched with added vitamins and minerals. The taste, flavor, and consistency are the same as regular all-purpose baking flour. Enriched flour is just healthier, which makes food products more attractive to consumers.
This wheat flour is mixed with a bit of water to form a thick dough that serves as the basis for the crackers.
2) Vegetable Oil
Most crackers are baked in a large industrial oven. To prevent the cracker dough from burning and to help them cook evenly, Cheez-Its are made with a bit of vegetable oil as well.
According to the label, Cheez-Its are made with a mixture of soybean oil, palm oil, and canola oil. While the soybean and canola oil are vegan-friendly cooking oils, the palm oil isn’t.
Technically speaking, they’re all plant-based cooking oils. While soybean and canola oil is sustainably harvested, though, palm oil is a very destructive product that contributes to rainforest deforestation.
In my eyes, this is just another reason why Cheez-Its are non-vegan and shouldn’t be consumed by anybody with an ethically-driven conscience.
3) Skim Milk
Now, we get to the cheese mixture…
The original Cheez-Its are made with cheddar cheese. The number one ingredient in cheddar cheese is skim milk. This is the same low-fat milk that many Americans have in their fridge and use for their Corn Flakes in the morning.
Unfortunately, the dairy industry is very cruel to cows. Milk and dairy products are the results of the extreme exploitation of captive animals, so vegans do their best to abstain from any and all products that contain dairy.
4) Whey Protein
Whey protein is one of the most common types of protein found in supplements and protein mixtures. There’s just one problem – whey protein isn’t vegan.
That’s because whey protein comes straight from milk. It’s just the isolated protein that’s extracted as part of the cheese-making process. In this case, it’s re-inserted into the cheese to help the cheese bind to the crackers more effectively and make for a more filling cracker.
Almost all cheese contains a bit of salt. Salt helps keep bacteria from forming in the cheese and also makes it more flavorful. While salt is a vegan-friendly ingredient, the cheese it’s used in is not.
6) Cheese Cultures & Enzymes
Cheese cultures and enzymes are the compounds that are added to milk to start the process of turning the liquid milk into solid cheese. During this process, the milk solids are separated from the liquid and are used to make cheese.
7) Annatto Extract Color
Annatto is a type of seed that grows in the fruit of a tropical South American tree. Most people don’t consume the fruit. However, it’s known for its deep orange color. So, it’s often ground into a fine powder and used as an all-natural food coloring.
Cheddar cheese, by itself, is actually white.
It’s only colored orange to make it stand out to consumers who are walking past the cheese aisle. That’s right – it’s been one big marketing trick all along!
Other than some minor differences in flavoring, the only thing that sets cheddar cheese apart from mozzarella cheese is the fact that it contains orange annatto food coloring.
The seasonings are what really set Cheez-Its apart from other types of crackers and snacks. Specifically, Cheez-Its are seasoned with salt, paprika, and yeast.
I’m inclined to think that by yeast, they really mean nutritional yeast, which is a popular vegan flavoring known for its cheese-like taste.
9) Soy Lecithin
Last but not least, no commercial food product is complete without some type of preservative.
Cheez-Its contain soy lecithin which is a naturally derived (although chemically modified) preservative that comes from soy. Basically, it prevents bacteria from building up and helps the food stay fresh for longer.
Are Cheez-Its Healthy?
Believe it or not, Cheez-Its actually aren’t that healthy, in the first place. So, you really shouldn’t feel too bad about not being able to eat Cheez-Its on a vegan diet. The crackers are mostly full of empty carbs and fatty vegetable oil, neither of which are healthy for your long-term nutrition.
The Verdict – Cheez-Its Are NOT Vegan-Friendly
Due to the fact that they contain real dairy-based cheese, Cheez-Its are NOT vegan. Furthermore, the majority of cheese-flavored snacks are non-vegan, so it’s in your best interest to stay away from anything with the name “cheese” in it.
That being said, there are plenty of great-tasting crunchy vegan snacks to choose from. Be sure to check out my latest post on the best vegan chips next!