What would a vegan diet be without ketchup? Few things are capable of bringing a boring french fry, dry bean burger, or tofu nugget to life like a little splash of the red tomato-based sauce.
While most people tend to think of ketchup as natural sauce, the answer is actually a bit more complicated. So, is ketchup vegan?
Ketchup is usually 100% fine on a vegan diet! The main ingredients are tomatoes, vinegar, sweetener, salt, spices, and natural flavoring. All of these are vegan-friendly ingredients.
Just be sure to read the label to make sure that there aren’t any hidden ingredients or non-vegan sweeteners.
Today, I’m going to break down all of the typical vegan ingredients in ketchup, and explain why some brands aren’t vegan-friendly.
I’ll also give you some helpful guidelines for eating ketchup at a restaurant, and show you how to make your own vegan ketchup at home! Are you getting hungry yet?
As a general rule of thumb, I like to stick with organic ketchup to be 100% sure that my sauce is vegan. That being said, there are plenty of more popular store-bought brands that are also vegan-friendly, such as the classic Heinz Tomato Ketchup.
So, what makes organic ketchup more vegan than other types of ketchup?
As usual, it all comes down to the type and quality of the ingredients used to make the sauce. With cheaper, more processed brands, there’s always the chance that lower-quality ingredients could be used.
Lower-quality ingredients are often produced with animal byproducts that come from farms where workers and animals are mistreated, making them non-vegan.
So, what’s in ketchup? Here are the most common ingredients:
- Tomatoes (or concentrated tomato sauce).
- Sweetener (usually some type of cane sugar or corn syrup).
- Salt and spices.
- Flavoring (depends on the brand and type).
At first glance, everything seems relatively vegan-friendly, right? For some vegans, this is enough. If you’re a bit more obsessive about your ingredients and where they come from, though, you’ll want to take a closer look.
When I first started my vegan journey, I had to get used to reading the “fine print” of ingredients lists. The good news is that practice makes perfect, and soon you’ll be able to scan the longest ingredients lists and pick out non-vegan additives with ease!
So, with that in mind, let’s take a few minutes to break down the main ingredients in ketchup and discuss whether or not there could be any potential vegan-related issues with each one.
The main ingredient in ketchup is, of course, tomato. Whether the brand starts with whole tomatoes or a concentrated tomato paste, both are 100% vegan, meaning that you have nothing to worry about.
Tomatoes are grown out of the ground, don’t use animal labor, and the majority of tomato farmers are paid livable wages.
Tomato farming also doesn’t require exploitation of the bee industry, as they are naturally self-pollinating plants. Some fruits and vegetables aren’t 100% vegan-friendly because the farms they’re produced on “rent” colonies of exploited bees for pollination purposes.
Vinegar is usually a mixture of acetic acid (7-10%) and water (90-93%). Acetic acid is an extra-fermented byproduct of wine, which is why old bottles of wine often take on a vinegary smell.
Generally speaking, vinegar is 100% vegan-friendly. The process used to make it utilizes natural yeast, fruit, and a simple fermentation process. The one exception to the rule is honey vinegar, which exploits bees and their honey production.
That being said, I’ve never seen honey vinegar used in ketchup before. Traditional white distilled vinegar or apple cider vinegar is most commonly used for ketchup and sauces.
Here’s where things start to get a little bit tricky… The type of sweetener used in ketchup is typically what determines whether or not the sweet red sauce is vegan or not.
For quick reference, here’s a simple chart outlining the most common vegan and non-vegan sweeteners:
|High-Fructose Corn Syrup||White Sugar|
|Organic Turbinado Sugar||Brown Sugar|
|Maple Syrup||Condensed Milk|
If you look at the ingredients used in many store-bought ketchup brands, you’ll see that high-fructose corn syrup is, by far, the dominant ingredient.
While HFCS doesn’t exactly have a good reputation as far as nutrition and health are concerned, it is 100% vegan-friendly. Heinz Tomato Ketchup is a great example of this.
However, certain brands of ketchup (and especially homemade ketchup) may use refined white sugar. I know what you’re probably thinking, “Why isn’t plain old sugar vegan?”
While organic, unprocessed sugar is 100% vegan, the majority of white, refined sugar goes through a filtering process that uses animal bones.
Organic sugar (often called turbinado sugar), extracted in its natural form is typically a light brown color. To transform natural sugar into white sugar, the white sugar is filtered through crushed animal bones to remove the color.
Now, that doesn’t sound so vegan, does it?
PETA made a statement that vegans shouldn’t focus too much on micro-ingredients and micro-processes (which most people will never truly be 100% aware of).
However, the cruel, animalistic sugar filtration process should definitely be avoided by all vegans, as it’s directly correlated with the meat industry.
Salt is always 100% vegan. It’s either chemically produced in a factory (iodized salt), harvested from seawater (sea salt), or harvested from salt mines (like Himalayan salt, for instance). Salt not only helps preserve the ketchup but also contributes to its classic flavor.
Like salt, the spices used in ketchup are almost always vegan. Spice is a naturally-derived product that comes from various herbs, vegetables, peppers, and even fruit. The most common spices used in tomato ketchup are:
- Mustard seed
In the case of spicy ketchup, jalapenos or chili peppers may also be added for an extra kick.
When it comes to “natural flavoring,” there’s always a bit of a gray area for vegans. Some natural flavors are actually extracts of animal products, used to make a broth or product taste more like meat.
Thankfully, the natural flavors used in ketchup are 100% vegan. They’re either vegetable or spice-derived, so you won’t have to worry about any hints of hidden meat byproduct!
Like I mentioned earlier in the post, the best way to ensure that your ketchup is 100% vegan is to shop for organic ketchup. Not only is organic ketchup far healthier, but everything from the tomatoes to the sugar in the mixture is 100% organic and ethically produced.
That being said, high-fructose corn syrup is also vegan. Although it’s pretty much the opposite of healthy, it is vegan and is widely used in more affordable brands of ketchup like Heinz.
The main thing to keep in mind is that sugar is usually the main non-vegan culprit in ketchup. As long as you don’t see white sugar or cane sugar in the ingredients list, it’s usually vegan-friendly.
Restaurant ketchup is vegan sometimes. It all comes down to the recipe used by the chef. While some recipes are 100% vegan, others use white sugar or honey to sweeten the ketchup, which would make the restaurant’s ketchup non-vegan.
Your best bet is to ask your server if they know the ingredients in the ketchup. If they seem unsure, you can always ask your server for a bottle of store-bought ketchup.
Most restaurants always have a few bottles of backup ketchup for younger kids who may not appreciate the more “organic” flavor of homemade ketchup.
So, long story short, ketchup is usually a vegan-friendly option. Just be sure to double-check the ingredients list to make sure there isn’t any hidden white sugar. The next time you’re digging into a bean burger, french fries, or tofu nuggets, feel free to pile on the ketchup!
I hope this post has been helpful for you! If so, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your vegan friends. For more great tips on going vegan and eating out, check out my other blog posts on the Vegan Calm Food and Drink thread.