Did you know that Nilla Wafers date back over a hundred years? That’s right, German confectioner Gustav Mayer sold his locally famous recipe to Nabisco in 1898.
Since then, they’ve remained one of Nabisco’s top-selling products. They also happened to be one of my favorite desserts as a young child!
Are Nilla Wafers vegan, though?
Unfortunately, Nilla Wafers are NOT vegan. Although they may be delicious and made with several natural ingredients, they contain both eggs and dairy, which are non-vegan animal products. Nilla wafers also include refined white sugar, which many vegans avoid.
In today’s post, I’m going to answer all of the vegan-related questions you’ve ever had about Nilla Wafers. I’ll explain which ingredients are problematic and why, and give you a full rundown of the other ingredients in these classic wafers, so you can see for yourself.
Do Vanilla Wafers Have Eggs?
When Gustav Mayer first sold his vanilla wafer recipe to Nabisco, he was using eggs to give his wafers a soft yet crunchy consistency that made them oh-so-addictive.
So, naturally, Nabisco kept the recipe to ensure that they were making the same great-tasting cookie that everybody already knew and loved.
This means that Nilla Wafers (and most off-brand varieties of vanilla wafers) are made with eggs.
Eggs are a common ingredient used in baking and many cookie recipes call for them. They serve several purposes in baking, such as:
- Acting as an emulsifier to hold the cookie dough together.
- Added flavor and texture.
- Extra protein and fat, make them more filling.
While eggs may be nutritious, they are not vegan. In fact, just last week, I wrote an in-depth post on the egg industry and why it’s so cruel.
Although eggs aren’t exactly living creatures, they’re still obtained from animals. Female hens are exploited under cruel conditions and are genetically modified so that they produce far more eggs than would otherwise be naturally possible.
This, in turn, puts the hen’s body under more stress, resulting in more discomfort and untimely death.
That’s just part of the story, though…
Here are a few other reasons why the egg industry is cruel:
- Hens are overpacked in tiny cages with barely enough room to move
- Hens are often artificially inseminated
- Hens are genetically modified
- Once hens stop producing as many eggs, they’re slaughtered and replaced
- Many hens die from heat exhaustion and disease in cramped conditions
- Often, farmworkers viscously beat hens and chickens as a means of “controlling their frustration”
All in all, the egg industry is pretty messed up. This is why most vegans abstain from any foods that contain eggs.
Do Nilla Wafers Have Dairy?
If you look at the ingredients list of Nilla Wafers, you won’t find any obvious dairy ingredients, such as:
However, all Nilla Wafers contain whey.
Whey is a by-product of milk and is one of the main proteins found in milk. During the cheese-making process, whey and casein (the other protein group found in milk) are separated from the milk.
These proteins are then isolated and used as food additives. Whey is often isolated and used to make concentrated protein powders. Unfortunately, these are not vegan, as they’re derived from milk.
Whey powder is also commonly used in snacks and cookies. The fine powder creates a soft, smooth texture on the surface of whatever it touches, which makes the food more desirable and palatable.
If you’re curious, here’s how whey is extracted from dairy:
What Are The Ingredients In Nilla Wafers?
Now that you know a little bit more about why Nilla Wafers aren’t vegan-friendly, it’s a good time to go over the ingredients! Whether you’re new to the vegan lifestyle or have been vegan for some time, it’s always a good idea to learn how to read ingredients labels.
If our parents and grandparents did the same thing, then we probably wouldn’t have so many chemicals and artificial ingredients in our food today!
So, with that in mind, here’s a detailed rundown of all the main ingredients in Nilla Wafers and what purpose they serve:
1) Unbleached Enriched Flour
Like most cookies, Nilla Wafers use wheat flour as the main ingredient. This flour is the base of the dough and provides most of the nutritional value in the wafers. Wheat flour is always vegan, though, and is a simple product that’s made from ground-up wheat.
While some companies used bleached wheat flour that’s had its color stripped, Nabisco uses unbleached wheat flour instead, which is arguably healthier and less processed. The flour is also enriched with several B vitamins and minerals, which makes it more wholesome and nutritious.
The vitamins and minerals that the flour is enriched with are 100% vegan, though, so don’t be afraid if you see this ingredient listed on other products!
The second main ingredient in Nilla Wafers is sugar. Nabisco uses refined white sugar, which is the standard when it comes to most baking applications.
There’s only one problem – refined white sugar isn’t very vegan-friendly.
Although white sugar starts off as raw, plant-based sugar, it’s processed and refined using animal bone char. This high-carbon animal-derived charcoal removes the malty flavor of the cane sugar and strips it of its natural color.
While none of the bone char ends up in the final product, the very fact that it’s used is enough for many vegans to boycott white sugar altogether!
Dietary vegans still may consume white sugar as it’s not technically an animal product. However, many ethically-driven vegans take their diet as a lifestyle choice not to consume white sugar.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not this is a problematic ingredient for you, though!
3) Vegetable Oil
Nilla Wafers use two types of vegetable oil in their cookie dough:
- Canola oil
- Palm oil
Although both are naturally-derived plant-based cooking oils, only one of them is vegan-friendly. Palm oil is extracted from palm fruit that’s harvested from African Palms.
Unfortunately, these palms are primarily grown in Indonesia and South American countries like Brazil, which have very little regard for the environment.
The palm oil industry is responsible for the wholesale destruction of our planet’s most diverse rainforests and has pushed many endangered species to the brink of extinction. It’s not sustainable and is very unethical, which is why many vegans avoid this cooking oil.
Canola oil, on the other hand, is very sustainable and is extracted by pressing the seeds of canola flowers. The flowers grow naturally in large fields and prairies, so there’s no need to burn down acres of rainforest!
4) High-Fructose Corn Syrup
High-fructose corn syrup is a type of highly concentrated corn syrup that’s made by processing regular corn syrup. It’s incredibly concentrated, sweet, and very low-cost, which is why so many commercial companies use it in their food and beverages.
However, it’s not very healthy and has been linked to diabetes and high blood sugar levels.
That being said, HFCS is vegan-friendly, as it’s plant-based and doesn’t involve any animal bone char.
As I described above, whey is a milk protein that’s extracted during the cheese-making process. It’s added to provide texture and consistency to the Nilla Wafers. Unfortunately, though, it’s not vegan.
Eggs are yet another non-vegan ingredient found in Nilla Wafers. They provide protein and fat to the wafers and give them a soft texture that makes them easy to chew or dissolve in a glass of milk.
As I mentioned above, though, eggs are not vegan, as they involve the exploitation of hens and chickens on massive farms.
Salt is always vegan, as it’s either synthesized in the form of iodized salt or extracted from saltwater (sea salt). It’s commonly added to most forms of cookie dough to help balance out the flavors.
8) Leavening Agents
To prevent the cookie dough from rising, leavening agents like baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and calcium phosphate are added to the dough. These are naturally derived and vegan, though, so don’t worry about these if you see them used in other products.
9) Mono & Diglycerides
Monoglycerides and diglycerides are fatty acids that act as chemical emulsifiers in baking and processed food products. Basically, they hold the dough together and make for a more consistently-shaped cookie that doesn’t crumble so easily.
They’re synthetically-derived ingredients, though, so they’re generally considered vegan-safe.
10) Natural & Artificial Flavors
To get that distinctive vanilla flavor, Nabisco uses several natural and artificial flavors. The exact flavors that are used are a trade secret, but I assume that they’re vegan-friendly.
There is the off chance that one of the natural flavors could be dairy-derived, but there’s no way to tell for certain.
11) Soy Lecithin
Last but not least, Nabisco uses soy lecithin as a natural soy-based preservative in their Nilla wafers. This is what gives Nilla Wafers a longer shelf life, despite the fact that they contain eggs and dairy.
The Verdict – Nilla Wafers Are NOT Vegan-Friendly
Unfortunately, Nilla Wafers are NOT vegan, as they contain both whey and eggs. Additionally, the wafers contain refined white sugar and palm oil, both of which are questionable and not accepted by many vegans.
If you’re looking for a great-tasting vegan-friendly snack, though, there are plenty of awesome vegan cookie brands to check out!
These vegan cookies are made without dairy, white sugar, eggs, or any other mysterious additives. Keep on reading to find out my favorite vegan cookie brands next!