Rice cakes are a favorite among dieters and healthy eaters alike. Unlike most crunchy snacks, rice cakes are relatively low-fat, low-calorie, and are made with whole grain rice instead of empty carbs from potato or wheat flour.
Just because something’s healthy, though, doesn’t always mean that it’s vegan…
So, are rice cakes vegan?
Plain rice cakes are almost always vegan. They’re made with two simple ingredients: rice and salt. However, you’ll need to look out for some of the flavored rice cakes.
Flavored rice cakes often contain non-vegan ingredients such as white sugar or dairy by-products, which can be problematic for plant-based eaters.
Below, I’ll do my best to answer all of your questions about rice cakes and give you a full breakdown of what they’re made of, so you know which ingredients to look out for!
Can Vegans Eat Rice Cakes?
Rice cakes are one of the simplest snacks on store shelves. At their most basic, they only have two simple ingredients. This is hardly anything compared to all of the other brands of potato chips and snacks you’ll find on store shelves.
What’s more, is that they rarely contain the artificial chemicals and preservatives you’ll find in other brands of chips.
Given the simple, plant-based nature of the food, rice cakes are usually safe for vegans.
As I mentioned, though, not all of the ingredients in flavored rice cakes are 100% vegan. So, to be sure that the rice cakes you’re eating are vegan, it’s always a good idea to read the ingredients label to check for any problematic additives.
Do Rice Cakes Have Dairy?
Typically, rice cakes are dairy-free! This makes them a great option for both vegans and lactose-intolerant individuals alike.
Just be sure to look out for certain flavors of rice cakes (i.e., milk chocolate), which use milk by-products such as whey in the sweet coating that the rice cakes are dipped in.
Can Vegans Eat Caramel Rice Cakes?
When I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of flavors when it came to rice cakes. Today, however, there are so many different flavors that it’s hard to know which to choose!
One of the more popular rice cakes on the market is the caramel-flavored rice cake. These rice cakes use the same base dried rice cake as the regular rice cakes. The only difference is that they’re coated in a thin layer of caramel.
Here’s a quick look at the ingredients, for reference:
For the most part, the ingredients seem relatively simple and vegan-friendly. However, there’s one ingredient that could be problematic for some vegans – sugar.
It would be one thing if these rice cakes were made with raw cane sugar. Instead, though, they’re made with refined white sugar. What makes this different from cane sugar is that it’s gone through a refining process to make it more concentrated and “pure.”
To achieve this, the raw cane sugar must be filtered through animal bone char, which is a special type of charcoal that’s made from animal bones.
Unfortunately, this means that white sugar indirectly involves animal cruelty, as the bone char is purchased directly from slaughterhouses. So, to protest this, most vegans avoid white sugar altogether.
What Are Rice Cakes Made Of?
Overall, rice cakes are an incredibly simple food. They’ve just mashed rice patties that have been toasted until they’re dry and crispy. The process for making them is relatively simple as well, even though modern machinery is involved.
Just check out this behind-the-scenes video of a rice cake factory line:
It’s pretty cool, right? You can see the fresh rice being tossed in the hopper above before it’s filtered down and pressed into thin circular cakes. The rice cakes then run down the assembly line where they’re lightly baked in an oven.
There’s absolutely zero oil or frying involved, which is why they’re such a delicious low-fat snack!
Rice cakes are also incredibly simple to make. The most basic rice cakes are made of two simple ingredients: rice and salt.
Honestly, you can even make them yourself!
Can Vegans Eat Chocolate Rice Cakes? A Look At The Other Ingredients
It would be nice if all rice cakes were this simple. However, some of the best-selling varieties of rice cakes have more than a few added ingredients. Curious as to what they are?
Here’s the ingredients list for the most popular brand and variety of chocolate rice cakes – Quaker Chocolate Rice Cakes:
As you can see, chocolate rice cakes aren’t exactly vegan-friendly. They contain white sugar and whole milk, which are both non-vegan food additives.
Now, I’ll take a minute to go through the list and show you the real deal behind each of these common ingredients…
1) Brown Rice
The main ingredient is, of course, brown rice. Otherwise, they wouldn’t really be “rice cakes,” would they? The rice is steamed until it’s a perfect consistency, a bit of salt is added, and then it goes down the production line where it’s pressed into small cakes.
Brown rice is healthy, plant-based food. It’s marginally healthier than white rice, as it contains fewer carbs and is a better source of complex carbs, which take longer for your body to digest and turn into energy.
Sugar is the first problematic ingredient in Quaker Chocolate Rice Cakes. Although all sugar starts off as vegan-friendly, it doesn’t remain so.
To turn the raw unprocessed cane sugar into the pure, highly-concentrated white sugar crystals that you see in the store, it must be filtered through bone char first.
This process indirectly contributes to the meat industry, so most ethical vegans try to stay away from anything with sugar.
You can tell the difference between white sugar and raw unrefined sugar with the following definitions:
- Sugar = white sugar
- Cane sugar = raw unrefined sugar
Unrefined sugar is 100% vegan, as it has yet to be filtered. It’s just a pure plant-based sweetener that comes from evaporating the water from sweet sugarcane juice pressed from the sugarcane plant.
It only becomes non-vegan after it’s filtered through bone char and turned into white sugar.
Fructose is a type of simple sugar that makes up half of the regular sugar (which is a combination of glucose and fructose). However, it isn’t made from white sugar, which means that it’s vegan.
Instead, fructose is processed using chemical separation. It’s extracted from starch, which is found in many different plants and vegetables. This means that fructose is technically a plant-based, vegan-friendly sweetener!
4) Milk Chocolate Chips
Milk chocolate is the next problematic ingredient in chocolate rice cakes. As I explained in my last post on chocolate chips, milk chocolate is never vegan, as it always contains some type of dairy by-product.
In this case, the milk chocolate chips used in these rice cakes contain dry whole milk, which is just a milk powder that’s made from evaporated milk.
Maltodextrin is a simple starch that’s often used as a binding and drying agent. It helps dry the chocolate and helps it bind to the surface of the rice cakes. Maltodextrin is a vegan-friendly ingredient, though, since it’s just a starch that’s extracted from corn.
Cocoa is a baking powder that’s made from dried, roasted, and ground cocoa beans. Cocoa is 100% vegan and actually has some interesting health benefits as well!
7) Sunflower Oil
A bit of sunflower oil is added to the chocolate seasoning mixture to help it spread and bind to the surface of the rice cakes. Sunflower oil is vegan-friendly, as it just comes from pressed sunflower seeds, so this is nothing to worry about!
8) Natural & Artificial Flavors
While the chocolate is certainly delicious, Quaker decided to add some natural and artificial flavors to kick the flavor up a bit and give it a more “addictive” quality. The flavors they use are a trade secret, but I assume that they’re all either lab-made or come from natural sources.
Salt is the main ingredient added to the rice before it’s pressed into cakes. This not only makes the rice mixture more solid but also brings out more of the natural flavor in the rice and makes for a better-tasting rice cake.
10) Soy Lecithin
Soy lecithin is a natural (although heavily processed) compound that’s used as a preservative to extend the shelf life of rice cakes. It’s vegan-friendly since it comes from soybeans.
The Verdict – Are Rice Cakes Vegan-Friendly?
As long as you’re sticking to the basic flavors and avoiding any of the flavors that contain dairy by-products and added white sugar, then rice cakes are generally vegan-friendly!
If you’re looking for some more great-tasting, healthy snacks, be sure to read my post on the best vegan chips next!