Like egg rolls, lo mein is an incredibly popular Chinese dish that you’ll find in Chinese-American diners. You’ll also find various lo mein noodle dishes sold as pre-made frozen meals and you can buy the noodles by themselves at some supermarkets.
Lo mein noodles are widely regarded as some of the best-tasting noodles in the world, but are lo mein noodles vegan?
Unfortunately, lo mein noodles are NOT vegan. Traditionally, lo mein is made using Chinese egg noodles. While egg noodles are wheat-based, they also contain whole eggs, which make for a thicker, more filling variety of noodles.
If you plan on eating out, then it’s a good idea to know your noodles. Today, I’ll explain some of the key differences between Chinese noodles and other popular types of noodles. The next time you’re eating out, you’ll know exactly what to order!
Is Vegetable Lo Mein Vegan?
I admit, shortly after I first went vegan, I used to order a lot of vegetables lo mein. As far as I was aware, it was a vegan-friendly dish that was made from noodles, veggies, and soy sauce.
Once I started learning more about my food, though, I quickly realized that my favourite food wasn’t quite as vegan-friendly as I thought.
Even though vegetable lo mein doesn’t contain any meat, it still contains noodles that are made with eggs.
Additionally, many lo mein dishes also call for oyster sauce, which is made from oysters.
While some vegans are proponents of eating oysters (read the full story here), the majority of vegans try to stay away from anything that’s made with shellfish. This includes Worcestershire sauce (which typically is made with fish sauce).
In short, even though vegetable lo mein may be meat-free, it’s still made with eggs and fish sauce, which aren’t vegan.
Are Any Lo Mein Noodles Vegan?
I know what you’re probably thinking, “Lo mein is a dish. Can’t I just order lo mein without egg noodles?”
This is certainly a good option if the restaurant you’re at offers it. Your average low-cost Chinese restaurant may only have egg noodles in stock, though, which means that they wouldn’t be able to accommodate your dietary request.
However, some of the more upscale Chinese and Asian fusion restaurants may offer both egg noodles and traditional wheat or rice noodles. If so, you can substitute the egg noodles for one of the restaurant’s other vegan-friendly, egg-free noodles.
What Are Lo Mein Noodles Made Of?
Egg noodles originated in China and later spread to certain countries in the Middle East. At first, historians thought that egg noodles originated around 25 A.D. However, recent archaeological excavations revealed a four-thousand-year-old egg noodle in a Chinese province!
Lo mein noodles aren’t any different from traditional Chinese egg noodles. The size and texture of the noodles may vary a little bit from one restaurant to another, but they all use the same basic recipe.
Here’s the basic recipe that all lo mein noodles are made with.
1) Wheat Flour & Water
Wheat and water are the two main ingredients used to make noodle dough. Most Chinese noodles call for all-purpose wheat flour. However, some egg noodles are made with whole wheat flour or durum wheat flour (the same wheat used for Italian pasta noodles).
Water is, of course, always vegan.
Wheat flour is also 100% vegan as well. Wheat flour is made by drying and grinding the berries of the wheat plant into a fine powder. This is the base of most bread, crackers, cereals, snacks, and more.
Eggs are the key differentiator between Chinese egg noodles and noodles found in other cultural cuisines. When eggs are added to the noodle dough, the dough gets thicker, firmer, and stronger. This gives the noodles a firmer surface and chewy texture.
The eggs also increase the protein and fat content of the noodles, making them a lot more filling than plain wheat noodles. This is one of the reasons why they became so popular, in the first place!
The only problem is that eggs are not at all vegan. The egg industry is incredibly cruel and exploitative of chickens. Female mother hens are often kept in horrible conditions, beaten, and placed in overheated boxes for the short duration of their egg-producing lives.
Once they can no longer pop out eggs as quickly as they used to, they’re slaughtered for meat and replaced.
So, even though eggs aren’t exactly “alive,” they’re still non-vegan due to the fact that they’ve been stolen from exploited animals.
Last but not least, all noodles require some type of salt. Salt is always vegan, though, so this isn’t a problematic ingredient.
When salt is added to noodle dough, it makes the dough firmer and stronger. As you can imagine, this is very desirable when it comes to noodles. Without the right amount of salt, your noodles would probably fall apart the second you tried to pick them up with a fork!
Can Vegans Eat Chinese Noodles?
As far as world noodle trends go, China is definitely known for their world-famous egg noodles. For obvious reasons, vegans shouldn’t be eating egg noodles. Egg noodles are made with eggs, and eating egg noodles supports the cruel and inhumane treatment of chickens.
However, not all Chinese noodles are made with eggs.
Vegans can eat some types of Chinese noodles. For example, rice noodles and plain old-fashioned wheat noodles are also found in Chinese cuisine. Both of these noodles are vegan-friendly and made from plant-based ingredients.
The misconception that all Chinese noodles are egg noodles comes from all of the cookie-cutter Chinese fast-food restaurants in the United States. Since they only offer egg noodles, many Americans automatically assume that all Chinese noodles are made with eggs.
This simply isn’t true. That’s like saying that all American food tastes like McDonald’s!
If you go to China or eat at a non-fast-food Chinese restaurant in the US, you’ll find many different types of Chinese noodles that are 100% egg-free.
What Is Lo Mein Made Of?
With that in mind, it’s also possible to make lo mein without egg noodles! Sure, your waiter may look at you a little bit funny, but just explain to them that you’re a vegan and can’t consume egg noodles.
Aside from the noodles, all lo mein dishes are very similar. Here’s what to expect from lo mein.
Lo mein is traditionally made with egg noodles. However, lo mein can also be made with wheat noodles or rice noodles, if you prefer. Wheat and rice noodles are vegan and egg-free, so you don’t have to question the ethics behind them!
While meat is a common lo mein topping at most Chinese food restaurants, many restaurants also offer tofu or seitan as toppings. Tofu is a somewhat tasteless protein that’s made from coagulated soy milk and is an excellent source of nutrients.
Seitan, on the other hand, is a vegan protein source that’s made from pure wheat gluten.
Both types of vegan protein taste absolutely delicious once you season them and cook them in some sauces!
Most lo mein also features at least one or two types of vegetables. Some of the most popular veggies used to make lo mein include:
Sesame oil is probably the most common type of “sauce” used for lo mein. However, I’ve also seen soy sauce, tamari (a super-thick soy sauce), and various other savoury sauces used as well.
Just make sure that your lo mein doesn’t come with any fish sauce or oyster sauce, as both of those come from aquatic animals.
Last but not least, all lo mein is generously seasoned with Chinese spices and seasonings, such as chilli powder, garlic and onion powder, ginger, and more!
Is Chow Mein Vegan?
Chow mein is typically sold at all of the same places where lo mein is sold. The main difference between lo mein and chow mein is that lo mein is cooked in a pot, which creates soft noodles, while chow mein is stir-fried, which creates firmer noodles.
Chow mein is typically made with the same egg noodles as lo mein, which means that chow mein usually is not vegan either.
Conclusion – Can Vegans Eat Lo Mein Noodles?
Vegans should avoid both lo mein and chow mein, as both dishes traditionally use Chinese-style egg noodles. That being said, some Chinese and Asian fusion restaurants may allow you to substitute the egg noodles for another variety of egg-free noodles.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling a bit lazy and just want to stay in the house, then you might appreciate one of these delicious vegan frozen meals!