April 26

Are Bagels Vegan? Ingredients to Look Out For

Written by: Jane Sofia

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Yes, bagels are vegan.

Okay, for the most part, yes. There are some (actually, quite a few) non-vegan bagel options:

  • Asiago bagels
  • Parmesan bagels
  • Cheddar bagels
  • BLT bagels
  • Bacon and egg bagels

Well, maybe you're thinking, "D'oh, those are all types of meat and cheese. Obviously, I'm vegan and I'd never order a bagel with meat or cheese." And, yes, non-vegan bagels are often pretty easy to spot.

But it's not always so simple.

Whether or not a bagel is vegan depends on the ingredients used to make the bagel, the spread or filling, and the bagel toppings.

And here's the hard truth: while the dough often is animal-product free, most traditional bagel fillings and toppings aren't so vegan friendly.

The History of Bagels

bagels

The word "bagel" comes from Yiddish: בײגל, romanised to beygl. The recipe was popularized by the Jews in Poland in the 17th century, and has been a staple food ever since.

Obviously, there are several advantages to ring-shaped dough:

  • It cooks more evenly when boiled and baked
  • You can string them together for easy transportation


So bagels were invented as a matter of practicality – along with bringing a great new taste.

They became widely popular in the 20th century, especially in New York City, where they were brought by Jewish immigrants. In 1958, a man from Los Angeles invented a bagel machine to create them by factory processes.

Like cultivated fruits (and most foods in the USA), bagels also increased in size – and the current bagels are now three times the size of the originals. But they're still delicious.

Source: Wikipedia


Vegan bagels

bagels

If you're vegan, what can you do with these tasty treats? A lot, actually.

Yes, I mentioned that many toppings and schmears aren't so vegan-friendly. However, I'll give you some suggestions of vegan products that you can buy, and some ideas on how to prepare them.

The important thing is that the base dough in most bagels is vegan. This means that you can just toast them and eat them with vegan toppings.


Toasting your bagels

We have a separate article on the best inexpensive toaster ovens, but in the end, a toaster is a toaster, right? Whether you have a high-tech toaster like the Revolution R180, or the typical kind that often trips the circuit breaker, toasting is 100% a vegan thing to do.

Toast your vegan bagel, and then spread on some jam, or look at the "How to Get Vegan Toppings and Schmears" section for more vegan spread and topping options.


Non-Vegan Bagels (Things to Look out For)

bagel sandwich

Do companies sneak animal products into bagels themselves? Unfortunately, yes. Sometimes.

A common flavor is "honey wheat" bagels – which isn't vegan because it contains honey. (Despite some people's beliefs, bees aren't making honey for humans or bears, but for themselves, and stealing it from them isn't the most vegan thing to do.)

There are also bagels made with butter or milk. Often this will be stated, but sometimes not. If you're buying from the store, checking the ingredients is a must.


Check the Ingredients

The good news is that most products in North America bold milk and eggs on ingredient labels – as possible allergens. However, there are other non-vegan things that might pop up, such as honey – or one that's a real head-scratcher, called "L-cysteine".

L-cysteine (or, for short, "L-cys") is an enzyme often added to mass-produced breads. The problem? L-cysteine is often (though not always) sourced from the feathers of birds, or even from human hair!

So if you thought that buying something from the store meant that you weren't in danger of eating animal or human hair, think again. You're better off making your own bagels as per our recipe at the end of this article.


A trip to the supermarket

neon-bagel-sign

Because nothing beats hands-on experience, I went to the nearest supermarket to see what the bagel selection was like. I happened to be in Toronto when I did this, so the nearest supermarket was FreshCo.

There was an entire wall of bagel shelves:

On one shelf were two brands of bagels: Dempsters and Compliments. Dempsters (est. 1890) is a proudly Canadian brand with a logo of a red maple leaf.

Compliments is FreshCo's own brand – and FreshCo is also a Canadian company. So perhaps a wee bit of bias, eh? But I think my findings can be pretty generally applied elsewhere.


Vegan

The vegan options were ones that you'd expect, like plain and sesame... but the "everything" bagel surprised me by being vegan in both companies.

Dempsters:

  • Blueberry
  • 12-grain
  • Sesame
  • Everything

Compliments:

  • Plain ("original")
  • Sesame
  • Whole wheat
  • Everything


Non-vegan

It was disheartening to peruse the Dempsters offerings and realize that about half of what was on the shelf wasn't vegan-friendly.

Dempsters:

  • Four cheese
  • Brioche
  • Maple French toast
  • Parmean garlic and herb

Compliments:

However, there were only four offerings by this brand, and all four were vegan!


And that tricky L-cys?

Neither of these Canadian brands contained L-cysteine as an ingredient. However, I've read that it's common in processed bread products. Maybe just not in Canada.


What about toppings and schmears?

bagels-and-spread

Bad news: non-vegan toppings and schmears abound. Here are some of the most common – and ones that might catch beginner vegans off guard:


Non-Vegan Bagel Toppings

You've got your vegan bagel and you're ready to put some stuff on it. What to avoid?

The obvious ones would be things like eggs (and it's quite common to put fried eggs on bagels), cheese, ham, sausage, and the like. But there are some toppings that could be hiding animal products:

  • Marshmallow fluff (marshmallows contain gelatine, which is made from animal skin and bones)
  • Peanut butter and granola – which can be vegan, but store-bought granola often contains honey


Truthfully, the stuff that most people like to put on bagels isn't very vegan friendly. In the article "17 Bagel Toppings to Try" (where there are 18 toppings, because #13 is repeated), only one of the 18 was guaranteed vegan – Nutella. And that's not really a topping, it's a spread!


Non-Vegan Bagel Spreads

lox-bagel

The most common bagel spread is, of course, cream cheese – and that isn't vegan. But there are quite a number of others that aren't:

  • Butter
  • Yoghurt (Greek or otherwise) if it's made with animal milk
  • Any sort of cheese "melt" if it's made with animal cheese
  • Most commercial schmears, unless explicitly stated – because they often have a cream cheese base.

In short, if you're buying a schmear, you'd better check the ingredients, ask a clerk, or assume the worst and avoid it.


How to get vegan bagel toppings and spreads

bagel-with-strawberries

You can find vegan bagel toppings and spreads. Some of these are made to mimic animal-product-containing treats, and others are just vegan in their own right.


Naturally Vegan Bagel Toppings

There are, of course, dozens of yummy vegan things you can put on your bagels. Starting with the simplest: veggies and fruits.


Veggies (or things traditionally considered "veggies")

  • Chopped onions
  • Chopped carrots
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Fresh herbs


Fruits

  • Sliced strawberries
  • Raisins
  • Bananas
  • Sliced mango

Yum.


Naturally Vegan Bagel Spreads

peanut-butter-and-jelly-bagel

While cream cheese may reign supreme in schmears, there are plenty of vegan things you can use instead:

  • Peanut butter, sunflower butter, almond butter, or another nut butter. Try making your own nut butter.
  • Nutella – or a homemade alternative, such as this recipe for "peanutella"
  • Go mexicana (or mexicano), and try salsa on your bagel
  • Guacamole
  • Or go middle-eastern and try it with hummus


There are also vegan cream cheese alternatives available on the market, such as the ones at Einstein Bros stylised as "Cheeze." If there's a demand for a product, someone will make it.

Here's a vegan who's gone and found everything at Einstein Bros. Bagels that's animal-product-free. The site for the Cleveland Bagel Company (which came up for me on DuckDuckGo because I wrote that from the Greyhound station in Cleveland) popped up with a "vegan" schmear option. In short, there are options for vegans – and more and more of them these days.


What if there's no Ingredient List?

Most vegans know to religiously scour the lists of mostly-unpronounceable ingredients that come with food, and they know what to look out for. And vegan travelers may even teach themselves to recognize words in a foreign language – such as "γάλα" for "milk" and "αυγά" for "eggs" in Greek.

Often, however, when you're at your local coffee shop grabbing a bagel, or if you're getting one from a stand on the street, there isn't an ingredient list. What do you do then?

The first course of action is to ask people at the store. This may seem shocking in a world where we more readily turn to our smartphones for answers, but humans – especially humans who've worked there a while – have probably encountered these questions before and may know the answers.

If asking an employee doesn't answer your question, then pull out your phone and look up the bagel online. Many chain stores have this information readily available. For example, here is the page for the Einstein Bros. plain bagel, which displays a full list of ingredients.

But if this isn't available... then, unfortunately, you're out of luck for now. While legislation in the USA has required chains to post calorie counts for their menu items, there is no requirement for them to provide ingredient lists, or even allergen info. If you live in the USA and want to change this, contact your representative to lobby for the passing of these laws.

Otherwise, if you're so strictly vegan that you won't eat processed sugar because it's filtered through animal bones, don't eat food without the ingredients explicitly stated.


Noteworthy Vegan Bagel Brands

bagels

As mentioned, most bagels – even most store-bough bagels, are vegan. But some brands are definitely better than others.

Warning: this listing will have a North American bias because I'm researching this from the USA and Canada.


Dave's Killer Bread

This is a great brand for vegan products all around, including vegan bagels. The list of ingredients just looks so long because they put "organic" in front of everything and use a blend of flours, rather than just wheat. The company explicitly states in their FAQ page, "All our 5 SKUs [products] sold in Canada are vegan."


Little Northern Bakehouse

From their website: "[W]e only use non-GMO and plant-based ingredients without any eggs or dairy. That means we’re vegan, we’re wheat-sensitive, we’re committed to delicious taste, and we’re confident enough to say that our baked goods are the real thing."

Find a retailer near you.


Western Bagels

For those of you on the other side of the continent, this California-based brand is highly vegan-conscious. They offer a dozen vegan options, and are transparent when something doesn't pass muster – even if it's only because it contains honey.


So many options!

There are others listed on this website, where the author's done research that I don't have the time to do, but the others they list aren't all vegan. They specify the vegan and non-vegan options in each brand, but I was focusing on brands that make a point about veganism.

However, you can find vegan bagel options in almost all brands. As mentioned, most bagels are naturally vegan – especially if you make your own (I'll cover that shortly).


Noteworthy Vegan Bagel Spreads

bagel

As mentioned, you can use a lot of things for spreads – such as hummus, salsa, guacamole, or Nutella. But if you're itching for cream cheese, there are vegan versions of that too:


Philadelphia

The traditional cream cheese that everyone knows has been hard at work to come up with a vegan version. At last they've done it and it's getting rave reviews.

Unfortunately, as of early 2022, it appears to be available only in the UK, and only at Tesco. But if you're in the UK, you can grab a tub for a mere £2.50!


Miyoko

And for those of you in North America, this California-based brand is doing the same thing on the other hemisphere. Miyoko's was founded by one vegan woman (chef Miyoko Schinner) to provide plant-based, ethical alternatives to a market otherwise built up around animal abuse.

They have a vegan cream cheese – as well as a whole, extensive line of nut-based dairy product substitutes. By using traditional methods (but on nuts, not cows' milk) they manage to provide textures and products just like the animal-based ones they're trying to replace.

Their motto: "Milk plants. Hug cows."


We don't need cows milk anymore

Humans are weird – in that we're the only mammal to drink milk as adults. You can argue about whether this is "natural" or not. You can speculate as to why this is. It doesn't really matter or apply to the state of the world in the 2020's.

These days, we just need plants. Cultivating plants is far less destructive to our planet than cultivating animals – which also requires cultivating plants, to feed the animals. Let's skip the middle-woman who moos.

(If you're reading this you're probably already vegan, but maybe you can use that argument to convince a friend. Show them the great plant-based options available on today's supermarket shelves.)


How to Make Your Own Bagels

fresh-bagels

All homemade bagels are vegan. Let's make some.

The basic ingredients are yeast, flour, and water. A sugar is often added to sweeten the dough and give the yeast food to help the bread rise. As long as you aren't using honey as a sweetener, the bagels will be vegan.

  • 3:8 water:flour ratio
  • ½ tsp yeast per cup of flour
  • A small amount of vegan sugar of some kind, like 1 tsp per cup of flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • A few tbsps of baking soda


The steps to prepare a bagel are fairly flexible, but more or less as follows:

  1. Mix the sugar and water and yeast, then add the flour.
  2. Let the dough rise for about two hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
  4. Stir the baking soda into a pot of water and bring it to a boil.
  5. Shape the bagels.
  6. Dump them into boiling water for about two to three minutes.
  7. Put them into the oven and bake until golden-brown, about 15 minutes on the first side and 5 minutes after turning them.

Vegan and yum.

Source: WikiHow


Frequently Asked Questions

baskets-of-bagels

Are Starbucks bagels vegan?

Yes, mostly. Many of these are vegan – and, in fact, the bagels are sometimes the only vegan items in Starbuck's display cases. Some of the vegan options at Starbucks include:

  • Plain
  • Sprouted grain
  • Cinnamon raisin
  • Everything


The "everything" Starbucks bagel is vegan. In 2019, Starbucks removed cheese from the list of things in "everything", making the bagel vegan. As many chains across North America, Starbucks is rapidly expanding its vegan offerings.


Are there gluten-free, vegan bagels?

Yes, of course there are. We've already mentioned one option that you can find at the store: Little Northern Bakehouse.

This page has a lot of gluten-free options – including several explicitly marked as vegan, though I assume that the bulk of them have vegan options. Some use rice flour, and starch, (like potato and/or tapioca) to bypass the need for gluten. But it's definitely doable to make a bagel without gluten – and with only plants.


Conclusion

Bagels make a great choice for anyone on a vegan diet – whether you're just going vegan and trying to kick the artery-clogging habit of bacon and eggs in the morning, or you've been vegan for ages and already ferment your own soy yoghurt in the oven.

Bagels are – by and large – vegan-friendly, and they're easy to make from scratch. If you don't have time for that, buy a brand without hundreds of additives – and you'll have a yummy, versatile item for breakfast or lunch that you can adapt to dozens of tasty vegan recipes.

Bon appetit.

Jane Sofia


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About the author

Jane Sofia Struthers is a self-taught vegan chef who’s always terrorizing kitchens of one continent or another. When she’s not culturing her own soy milk yogurts in the oven, she’s either cooking plant-based goodies for her Couch-surfing hosts or on the lookout for more delectable, animal-free goodies.

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