Whether you’re an avid fan of bagels or like to enjoy one now and then, you belong to the large group of people who regularly crave bagels, and understandably so!
But before you go to your nearest Dunkin Donuts drive-thru for your morning time bagel with cream cheese, ask yourself: is this vegan?
Well, the answer is simple with cream cheese bagels, but not so much with other bagels that don’t have labels screaming “cheese” or some other animal-based product, because often the devil is in the details… or in the ingredients.
> Read more: Are donuts vegan?
So read on as we analyse the basic ingredients in bagels and some of the most common fillings and toppings that bakeries and brands put on them.
What Are the Basic Ingredients in Bagels?
In theory, all the barebones ingredients in a basic bagel should be vegan since bagels don’t need many ingredients, and they’re even reasonably similar to bread.
Vegan Basic Ingredients
The five building blocks of plain bagels are flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and water.
Flour gives bagels that glutinous puffiness that we all know and love, and fortunately for those who love baked goods, wheat flour is vegan. Almost all types of flour are vegan. We say “almost” because of L-cysteine.
For those of you who haven’t heard of it, L-cysteine is an amino acid generally used to prolong a product’s shelf-life and is used in dough, in particular, to make it firmer and faster. These benefits sound dandy until you realise that L-cysteine is very weirdly derived from duck and chicken feathers, cow horns, pig hair, and even human hair!
And yes, producers can technically synthesise their own L-cysteine through fermentation or some enzymatic process involving compounds derived from vegetables. Maybe it’s synthesised in other products, but the process sounds too laborious for bagels since L-cysteine isn’t even an essential ingredient in them.
So take that as you will, but our advice is to avoid it entirely. Fortunately, you can easily do that because products containing L-cysteine should have it listed in their ingredients list, sometimes using its E number: E920. Besides, it’s pretty rare to find L-cysteine in flour nowadays.
- Sugar (Sweeteners)
Sweeteners are also commonly added to bagel dough, and sugar is the most popular choice in this category. Of course, sugar comes from plants, most commonly from sugarcane and beets. But before you check sugar off as vegan, there are some complications in the refining process once more.
Some manufacturers use charred bones of animals (known as bone char) to give sugar a shiny white lustre. Even brown sugar isn’t off the hook because many brown sugar producers make it by simply adding molasses to white sugar that’s been refined with bone char.
We must state that not all sugar manufacturers are guilty of using bone char, as many make sugar without this refinement process.
The biggest clue you can use is the colour of the sugar: if it’s a bit dimmer and on the yellow side of the spectrum, no bone char was probably used in the process. But if the sugar is strikingly white, then you could start asking questions.
Alternatively, you can use another sweetener such as maple syrup, barley malt syrup, corn syrup, molasses, or agave nectar.
We use yeast to make bagels, bread, other pastries, alcoholic drinks (for fermentation), marmite, processed stock, gravy, and other fermented products like soy sauce. It’s a common ingredient, but is there anything you should be worried about in it?
Luckily, yeast is widely considered vegan, and almost all vegans accept yeast into their diet. Nutritional yeast is even sometimes used as a source of protein for vegans.
Yet the most stringent vegans will say that yeast is wrong and unethical because it’s technically a living organism, so we shouldn’t eat it.
But the definition of veganism is refraining from using animal-based products. Keyword: animal. And while yeast is definitely alive, it’s not an animal; it’s a unicellular fungus. So you don’t need to concern yourself with yeast.
- Salt and Water
Not much to say here. Both salt and water are obviously vegan.
Salt is widely used in making bagels because it accentuates the bagel’s flavour and enables the gluten to hold more water. And water is used while making the dough to moisturise the ingredients and bind them together.
Some brands tend to use non-vegan ingredients in addition to or in replacement of the five vegan building blocks we’ve mentioned above.
It’s not uncommon to see milk as a replacement for water when making the dough. In general, milk is widely used in baking because it adds flavour.
But it’s not just milk – some people also use eggs and honey.
Unfortunately, eggs aren’t that scarce in bagel-making. Some people add an egg while making the bagel dough to help it rise, tenderise the crumb, and soften the texture. Others like to cover the bagel with a beaten egg to give it a nice, glazed look or to stick some toppings on top.
But eggs aren’t essential to make a bagel, so check the ingredients list or ask your cafe or bakery before you buy.
Oh, honey. Even the hotly debated honey is sometimes used as a healthier alternative to sugar or to enhance the bagel’s flavour.
But most vegans agree that honey is off the menu because our use of it means the direct exploitation of bees and their labour. So again, check the ingredients list or with whoever makes your bagels before you buy because honey is out of vegan bounds.
Common Fillings and Toppings
The bagel itself could be vegan, but the fillings or toppings could quickly change that. For example, we’ve already talked about how some people glaze their bagels with eggs or honey for flavour. But there are many other ways to “unveganise” a bagel.
Dairy products like cream cheese, whipped cream, or others are commonly spread on bagels. Milk chocolate is also prevalent if you’re eating bagels for dessert.
And fillings are another story. Many different types of meat, such as ham, beef, turkey, and chicken, are used as fillings for bagel sandwiches. Sometimes, non-vegan condiments like mayonnaise (which contains eggs) are added too.
But luckily, it’s not all so grim as there are many vegan ingredients you can use to decorate your bagel.
For example, vegan peanut butter and jam are fantastic on their own but even better together. Seeds, grains, and nuts are also excellent toppings.
How Do Different Brands Make Their Bagels?
Now let’s look at some of the famous companies that make bagels and see which bagels are vegan.
Panera Bread Bagels
With plenty of vegan bagels and other vegan options, Panera Bread is a great place for vegans. Some of their best vegan bagels are Plain, Poppy Seed, Walnut, Blueberry, and Cranberry.
> Read more: vegan options at Panera.
Most of Thomas’ bagels are vegan, such as Plain, Plain with Whole Grain, 100% Whole Wheat, Cinnamon Raisin, Cinnamon Swirl, Blueberry, Onion, and Everything.
The world-famous Starbucks has four vegan bagels listed on their website: Plain, Sprouted Grain, Raisin, and Blueberry.
Einstein Bros Bagels
Einstein Bros are a goldmine for vegan bagels. They have 20 vegan bagels, including all their classic bagels and most of their signature ones.
Dave’s Killer Bagels
According to the Dave’s Killer Bread website, all of their products except Honey Oats and Flax bread are vegan.
Dunkin’ Donuts Bagels
There are several good options for vegan bagels in this world-class doughnut shop, such as Plain, Poppy Seed, Salt, Sesame, Onion, Garlic, Cinnamon Raisin, and Everything.
> Read more: Dunkin Donuts vegan options.
The Bottom Line
To wrap up, the five essential ingredients of bagels – flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and water – are all vegan. However, some producers use L-cysteine in their flour or use bone char to refine their sugar. But those are rare, so generally, a basic, plain bagel should be vegan.