Is Bread Vegan? The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Vegan Bread

Know what to look for on the label of your next loaf.

overhead view of hands kneading sourdough bread dough on wooden cutting board

Treehugger / Jordan Provost

The simplicity of bread—as little as flour and water mixed together then baked, steamed, or fried—suggests that this ancient food would only contain vegan ingredients.

But for a good number of commercially produced breads, non-vegan foods like dairy, eggs, honey, and even sneakier ingredients can find their way inside some of the most common breads in grocery stores and restaurants across the country. Here, we lay out exactly what to look for on the label of your next loaf as well as your best bets for plant-based breads.

Why Bread is Usually Vegan

At minimum, most commercially produced bread contains flour, water, salt, and yeast (a member of the fungus family). Yeast, and other vegan leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda, release air into the bread, creating a fluffy texture. Unleavened breads contain no substance to make the dough rise and, consequently, are classified as flatbreads. Lucky for vegans, most leavened and unleavened breads are vegan-friendly.

Yes, bread can and often does contain other ingredients like sugar and molasses (not to mention preservatives and fillers in processed bread), but the majority of those ingredients are also vegan. Generally, most flatbreads, rolls, loaves, bagels, sandwich breads, and crackers don’t contain non-vegan ingredients. With the exception of some always non-vegan types of bread, you're likely to find a vegan version of nearly every common bread.

Is Yeast Vegan?

The vast majority of vegans consider yeast to be a vegan food. Neither plant nor animal, yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is a microscopic species of single-celled organism from the fungi kingdom. 

While yeast are “living” organisms, nearly all vegans consume yeast. Yeast are not multicellular creatures or members of the animal kingdom, so eating yeast doesn’t violate the letter or the spirit of veganism.

When Is Bread Not Vegan?

Like any processed food, bread can contain a variety of non-vegan ingredients. From the obvious to the sneaky, non-vegan additives in commercially produced breads can improve flavor, texture, and shelf life, among other things. Generally speaking, the more processed bread is, the more likely it’s not vegan. 

Beyond highly processed breads, some less processed whole-wheat and whole-grain breads occasionally contain honey, one of the most controversial foods in the vegan community. Artisan loaves often use yogurt or buttermilk as the leavening agent, and gluten-free breads often include egg whites to lighten and fluff up the much denser gluten-free flour. (It can be tricky to find a loaf that is both vegan and gluten-free at a regular grocery store.)

Some of these non-vegan ingredients fall into a broader, more obvious non-vegan category, but others are more difficult to discern. People who take a “practical and possible” approach to veganism don’t concern themselves too much with some of the dough conditioners and emulsifiers that could potentially come from animal products. But for strict vegans, these sometimes coded ingredients need to pass muster.

In addition to the regular culprits like eggs and dairy, keep your eyes peeled for these less conspicuous non-vegan ingredients:

Casein

This milk protein is used as filler in some commercial bread products.

Ghee

Ghee is known as clarified butter and is often used in Indian cooking, specifically naan.

Lard

This cooking fat is rendered from the belly, butt, and shoulder of pigs. Lard gives bread a moist, tender texture.

L-cystine

Common in commercially made bagels and breads, the majority of l-cysteine comes from industrial by-products of animals, namely poultry feathers. (The well-spread idea that some l-cysteine is sourced from human hair is almost certainly untrue.)

Lethicin

A dough conditioner, lethicin works as an emulsifier, blending water into oil throughout the bread. In bread and other processed foods, you're likely to encounter it as soy lethicin, but it can also come from egg yolks. If the label on your bread doesn’t specify which type of lethicin it contains, check with the manufacturer to confirm the source.

Mono- and Diglycerides

Like lecithin, these fats act as emulsifiers and improve the both the volume of the bread and its mouth feel. Mono- and diglycerides also act as preservatives, helping prolong shelf life, which explains why they regularly appear in highly processed breads. Often derived from a blend of vegetable oils including palm, corn, peanut, and soy, mono- and diglycerides can also be sourced from animals. You’ll see many iterations of this name on a bread label including:

  • Diacylglycerol oil
  • Distilled mono- and diglycerides
  • DATEM
  • Ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides
  • Mono- and diglyceride esters
  • Monoacylglycerol and diacylglycerol (MAG and DAG)

While mono- and diglycerides aren’t an enormous vegan concern,  you can contact the brand to see if their emulsifiers are vegan-friendly. 

Whey

This milk derivative is used as filler in some commercial bread products.

Did You Know?

Bread faces a sustainability problem. More than half of the environmental impact of a standard 800-gram loaf of bread comes from wheat cultivation, but around 40% comes from the use of ammonium nitrate fertilizer alone. Researchers say these findings illustrate the unsustainable use of fertilizer and call for more shared responsibility throughout the food chain to ensure sustainable production.

Common Types of Vegan Bread

Close-Up Of Hand Holding French Baguette Breads
C'est magnifique! Vegans can enjoy French Baguettes.

Philippe Ramakers / EyeEm / Getty Images

Vegans have an abundance of choices when it comes to vegan-friendly breads.  As always, check the label to confirm your bread is animal-product-free. 

  • Bagel (Most, but certainly not all, varieties are vegan.)
  • Baguette (French bread)
  • Ciabatta (Italian flat bread)  
  • Chapati (Indian flatbread very similar to roti) 
  • Northern European crispy breads (Flatbreads that crunch like crackers)
  • English Muffin (Some contain dairy and eggs.)
  • Ezekiel (Always vegan, made from sprouted whole grains and legumes)
  • Focaccia (Italian flatbread usually topped with herbs and olive oil)
  • Hawaiian Rolls (Sweetened with pineapple or sugar)
  • Lavash (Armenian flatbread)
  • Matzo (Jewish unleavened flatbread)
  • Pita (Typically vegan, but some varieties contain honey or dairy)
  • Pumpernickel (Some recipes use malt in lieu of honey.)
  • Rye (Can sometimes contain eggs and milk)
  • Sourdough (Almost always vegan)
  • Tortillas (Traditional recipes include lard)

Types of Non-Vegan Bread

hand pulls out slice of non-vegan Italian Panettone sweet bread with raisins

Treehugger / Jordan Provost

In general, fluffier breads are more likely to contain eggs, dairy, or both. Honey also appears in many whole-wheat breads, rendering them non-vegan. The non-vegan ingredients in flatbreads, however, can be harder to spot, and they appear in both traditional and more processed bread formulations.

  • Biscuits (Some varieties include buttermilk, eggs, or other dairy.)
  • Brioche (This bread is never vegan as it boasts a hefty egg and butter content that gives brioche its signature texture.)
  • Egg Bagels (Additionally, some bagel shops brush their bagels with egg whites.)
  • English Muffin (Can contain milk and milk derivatives)
  • Challah (Jewish bread that contains egg)
  • Ciabatta al latte (Italian flatbread that exchanges water for milk)
  • Focaccia (Some varieties come topped with butter or eggs.)
  • Fry bread (Nearly always fried in lard)
  • Naan (Indian flatbread that contains clarified butter or yogurt)
  • Matzo (Some varieties contain egg or dairy. Matzo balls almost always contain egg.)
  • Irish Soda Bread (Typically contains buttermilk)
  • King’s Hawaiian Rolls (This specific brand contains eggs and dairy as well as dough conditioners.)
  • Pain de mie (A soft white bread made with milk)
  • Pita (Some varieties contain honey or dairy.)
  • Processed sandwich breads (Often contain possibly animal-sourced dough conditioners.)
  • Pumpernickel (Many versions include honey)
  • Sourdough (Some recipes swap milk for water.)
Frequently Asked Questions
  • Is white bread vegan?

    Generally speaking, yes—most white sandwich breads don't contain animal products. But highly processed white sandwich breads like Wonder Classic White Bread and Sara Lee Classic White often contain dough conditioners and emulsifiers as well as dairy and eggs. Check the label to ensure your bread is vegan.

  • What bread can a vegan eat?

    Vegans can enjoy many different varieties of bread including sourdough, baguettes, focaccia, Ezekiel bread, tortillas, pitas, and more. Flatter breads tend to be vegan more often than fluffier pastry-style breads, which often contain eggs and dairy.

  • Is French bread vegan?

    When we talk about French bread, we usually mean baguettes—long loaves with crispy outsides and soft insides. In general, these breads are vegan.

  • Is potato bread vegan?

    Typically, yes. Potato bread, like other flat, dry breads, simply substitutes a portion of the wheat starch with potato starch. The usual remaining ingredients are vegan, but many recipes include butter, milk, eggs, and egg whites. Check your loaf to see exactly what it contains.

  • Is sourdough bread vegan?

    Usually, yes. Sourdough is made with flour, water, salt, and a fermented sourdough starter—all vegan ingredients. Occasionally, however, sourdough breads swap milk for the water, making them non-vegan.