Is Falafel Vegan? Our Guide to Choosing Vegan Falafel

Make sure your next falafel order is completely cruelty-free.

is falafel vegan pita bread stuffed with falafel balls lettuce tomato

Treehugger / Catherine Song

Falafel is a deep-fried vegetable ball packed with savory Middle Eastern herbs and spices. While there are myriad regional variations to this basic recipe, nearly all forms of falafel are vegan and contain no animal products. The sticky base of dried chickpeas or fava beans (or a combination of both) binds the fitter together without eggs and provides an excellent plant-based protein source. 

We explore what’s in falafel (including the non-vegan ingredients that might sneak in) and help you navigate your next order to ensure it’s perfectly plant-based.

Why Falafel Is Usually Vegan

Falafel emerged many millennia ago somewhere in the Middle East. No matter the regional flavor variations, all falafel begins as dried chickpeas, fava beans, or a combination of the two. The beans are soaked overnight and ground with cumin, coriander, paprika, parsley, onions, and garlic. Thanks to the coarsely ground beans, the veggie patties hold together without using egg as a binder, making it a perfect vegan protein option.  

That wet mixture is then formed into balls or doughnuts and deep-fried in oil, giving the hot fritter a hearty crunch. The patties are then served with cucumber, tomato, lettuce, pickled vegetables, and (less obviously vegan) tahini—a creamy sauce made from ground sesame seeds. 

Although the ingredients in falafel are almost always vegan, traditionally, falafel was deep-fried in lard (a pork by-product) or other animal fat. Today, however, falafel is most commonly deep-fried in vegetable oil like soy or canola. (For vegans concerned about cross-contamination with non-vegan foods, check with your establishment to see if the falafel fry oil is shared). Home cooks can also bake falafel in the oven, giving the fritters a denser texture and a less crispy outside.

Some commercially available pre-made falafel mixes include wheat flour as a binder and baking soda to make the falafel fluffier. Others include sesame seeds, and some contain dehydrated oils.

Did You Know?

Knowing how to precisely predict when chickpeas will bloom helps breeders create new varieties that can better flourish under the stress of climate disruption. Research indicates that chickpea plants from high-altitude areas can adapt to longer days and lower temperatures, while plants from lower altitudes are less capable of adapting. Finding which varieties will thrive under new weather conditions is crucial to the continued production of this global staple food.

When Is Falafel Not Vegan?

If you do encounter non-vegan ingredients in falafel, you’ll likely find them in the bread or the toppings. Falafel is often served beside or inside an unleavened bread-like pita. Occasionally, pita can contain honey, but on the whole, that too is vegan. 

In restaurant-prepared Middle Eastern food, it’s not uncommon to see falafel topped with tzatziki, a yogurt-based sauce flavored with dill or other spices. Some falafel might also include feta, a cheese made from sheep’s milk. All of these toppings should be easily removable during your order.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Is falafel considered vegan?

    Yes! Falafel is considered vegan by almost any definition as these tasty fried chickpea balls are entirely plant-based. Sometimes, however, falafel is served with non-vegan additions like feta cheese or tzatziki sauce, both of which contain dairy. Be sure to ask what your falafel is topped with to make sure it’s entirely plant-based.

  • Are falafels ever not vegan?

    Sometimes, falafel is served topped with dairy-based sauce or cheese, which would make it not vegan. In addition, some pita served with falafel contains honey, and on rare occasions, restaurants may fry falafel in animal oil or in oil shared with non-vegan foods.

  • What is falafel made of?

    Most falafel recipes begin with a base of chickpeas or fava beans intermingled with spices and herbs and then deep-fried (these days in vegetable oil). Other ingredients may include baking soda, wheat flour, spices, oils, and sesame seeds. No matter how they’re flavored, falafel is almost always vegan.

  • Does falafel have meat in it?

    Not unless you ask for it. Falafel served either as the protein of a sandwich or as an entree on a platter does not usually contain meat or any other non-vegan foods. Falafel is often the vegan alternative to shawarma, a Middle Eastern meat-based protein, which traditionally comes from lamb, turkey, or chicken.

View Article Sources
  1. Ismail, Muhammad and Erdogan Kucukoner. "Falafel: A Meal with Full Nutrition." Food and Nutrition Sciences, vol. 8, no. 11, 2017., doi:10.4236/fns.2017.811074 

  2. Ageev, A. Yu., et al. "Forecasting the Timing of Floral Initiation in Wild Chickpeas Under Climate Change." Biophysics, vol. 66, 2021, pp. 107-116., doi:10.1134/S0006350921010152