Croutons are, by far, one of the most popular salad toppings available. It’s every dieter’s excuse to consume carbs while they’re consuming an otherwise healthy salad (buy hey – I’m not judging!). While most people assume that croutons are naturally vegan, this often isn’t the case.
So, are croutons vegan?
Ultimately, it really depends on the brand of croutons you’re looking at. While some croutons are vegan-friendly and made from all plant-based ingredients, others contain dairy, egg, or even meat-derived seasoning.
That’s why it’s always important to read the ingredients list before deciding on a certain brand of croutons! Below, I’ll answer some of the most common questions I’ve been asked about croutons and give you a full breakdown of what most manufacturers make their croutons with.
Are you ready to get your crunch on?
Do Croutons Have Dairy?
Most people look at croutons and automatically assume, “These are just bread. They must be vegan!” Unfortunately, it’s never quite that simple. While croutons may just look like small pieces of toast, they often contain added animal by-products.
One of the most common animal by-products to find in croutons is dairy. Sometimes milk, cream, or buttermilk are used in the dough recipe of the bread. Other times, whey protein or milk powder are used to coat the outside of the croutons and give them a softer texture.
Another common additive that I’ve found in croutons is parmesan cheese. Garlic and parmesan are one of the most popular varieties of croutons found on store shelves. Parmesan cheese is a dairy-based cheese that comes from milk, so that’s off-limits for vegans.
Do Croutons Contain Eggs?
Most croutons share a fairly simple and basic recipe. Essentially, they’re just extra-crispy pieces of toast. However, there’s usually more than meets the eye when it comes to them.
Some crouton recipes call for egg. The egg is either added to the batter to strengthen it or is coated on the outside of the croutons to give them a crunchier texture.
That being said, eggs aren’t as commonly found in croutons as dairy is. Many homestyle croutons use eggs, while the more commercial brands tend to stay away from it, as it can decrease the shelf life of the product.
What Are Croutons Made Of? Ingredients Listed
Croutons have been around for a long time. In the early days, they were just extra pieces of toast that were tossed on top of the salad to make it crunchier.
Today, though, croutons are a lot more involved. Many of them are coated in butter or oil and then seasoned in spices, cheese, and other flavors.
If you’ve ever been curious about exactly what’s in your croutons, then you’ve come to the right place!
Below, I’ll give you a brief explanation of each of the main ingredients used in croutons, so you can learn a bit more about food and which ingredients you need to watch out for as a vegan.
For this post, I’m using the ingredients found in Fresh Gourmet Butter & Garlic flavor, which is one of the top-selling brands of croutons on the market.
1) Enriched Flour
Like most other forms of bread or toast, croutons are made from a wheat flour base. The wheat flour is mixed with water to form a thick, bready dough. At this point, yeast is also added, which helps the bread rise in the oven as it cooks.
Wheat flour is almost always vegan since it’s just dried and ground wheat (which is, of course, a plant).
There are different types of flour that may be used, depending on what brand of croutons you’re looking at. The most common types of wheat flour are:
- All-purpose wheat flour
- Self-rising wheat flour
- Bleached wheat flour
- Unbleached wheat flour
- Enriched wheat flour
This particular recipe uses enriched wheat flour. This is essentially just all-purpose flour that contains added vitamins and minerals. This gives the food a higher nutritional value, which makes it more appealing to consumers (who are becoming increasingly more health-conscious).
2) Vegetable Oil
Vegetable oil is often included in the crouton dough recipe, as the fat makes for a stronger dough and helps the bread cook evenly by distributing the heat throughout the loaf.
Vegetable oil is often used to coat the outer layer of the croutons as well, giving them a crispier, more toasted texture.
While most brands use sustainable vegetable oils like canola oil or sunflower oil, some brands use palm oil. Palm oil is avoided by most vegans because it’s a very destructive industry.
Palm oil is one of the largest contributing factors to rainforest deforestation in the world. It’s even driven some animals to extinction!
So, if you are shopping for vegan-friendly croutons, make sure that you avoid ones made with palm oil.
3) Sugar or High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Today, most croutons you’ll find on store shelves contain some type of sugar or sweetener. Although traditional croutons were never made with sugar, most of the processed crouton brands on the market contain sugar to cater to our sugar-addicted society.
If you are looking for sweeter croutons, just be aware of what type of sweetener is being used. The most commonly used sweetener in croutons is corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup (which is more concentrated).
However, some brands may also use sugar (refined white sugar) in their ingredients instead. Refined white sugar is generally considered non-vegan.
Although it starts as a vegan sweetener, the raw cane sugar must go through an animal bone char filter to remove its color and turn it into white sugar.
Yeast is one of the key ingredients used to make bread, which all croutons start off as. When the dough is first being made, yeast is one of the first ingredients to be mixed in with the flour.
These microscopic single-celled organisms are “woken” by the water and get to work eating sugars in the dough.
As the yeast eats the sugar and begins reproducing, they release CO2 (carbon dioxide) gas. This gas causes the loaf to rise and is the reason behind the air bubbles in bread.
Yeast is a vegan ingredient, even though it’s technically an organism. These single-celled organisms are very similar to bacteria and are not sentient. Therefore, yeast is vegan.
In fact, some vegans regularly consume yeast in its deactivated form – nutritional yeast!
Nutritional yeast is just deactivated (dead) yeast that’s used as a seasoning. It’s known for its strong savory flavor that’s similar to that of parmesan cheese.
Salt is another common baking ingredient that’s been used since humans first discovered how to bake bread. While most people just assume that the salt is added for flavor, that’s not the only reason why.
Don’t get me wrong, bread without salt would certainly taste different. However, it would also feel different.
That’s because salt reacts with the dough and makes it stronger. Once the dough becomes stronger, it’s firmer. This makes for a stiffer dough. Since croutons are supposed to be thicker and harder, the bread that’s baked for croutons often contains extra salt than normal sliced bread.
Thankfully, salt is always vegan-friendly. It’s either created in a lab (iodized salt) or comes from oceanic salt deposits (sea salt, Himalayan salt, etc.).
While some croutons are served plain, the majority of crouton brands you’ll find contain some type of seasoning. Most contain herbal seasonings, such as rosemary, garlic, and thyme. However, I’ve also seen croutons with pepper, lemon pepper, and even chili peppers!
Butter is often used to coat the outside layer of the croutons in. This makes them more savory and flavorful. However, if butter is used on croutons, it makes them non-vegan. Unfortunately, butter is a dairy product that’s made from cow’s milk, so vegans don’t use it.
8) Whey or Dairy By-Products
Many of the more processed varieties of croutons are coated with a layer of whey or other forms of dairy powder. These are often added to improve the taste of the croutons, but may also be added to improve the texture of the croutons, making them softer and smoother.
Cheese is a very common ingredient that’s often added to croutons. Typically, dried or powdered cheese is used to coat the outside layer of the croutons, giving them a savory, cheesy flavor. Some croutons may include cheese in the actual dough, though,
If you’re purchasing a store-bought bag of croutons, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s going to contain a good amount of chemical preservatives used to keep them fresh.
Most of these are vegan-friendly. However, they’re not all that healthy, so it’s best to consume processed croutons in moderation.
Are Croutons Ever Vegan?
While many croutons aren’t vegan, there are lots of vegan restaurants that offer vegan croutons. These croutons are made with vegan bread and typically don’t contain any dairy, eggs, cheese, or other animal by-products.
They’re also pretty easy to make at home! Here’s my favorite recipe for homemade vegan croutons:
The Verdict – Are Croutons Vegan-Friendly?
Traditionally, most croutons are not vegan-friendly, as they contain butter, milk, eggs, cheese, or all four of those non-vegan ingredients.
However, there are some vegan croutons on the market that are dairy-free and egg-free! Conversely, you can always bake your own with a toaster and some vegan bread.
If you’re looking for some great vegan bread, then be sure to check out my list of the best vegan bread brands next!