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Are bagels vegan? Everything you need to know

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Bagels are vegan, right? How could they not be? Actually, as with so many baked goods, some varieties include hidden animal products, but you can avoid them.

When it comes to finding out which of your favourite foods you can continue to eat as a vegan, knowledge is everything. All those weird ingredients that you never paid much attention to before? Now’s the time to get acquainted with them, especially if you are asking: are bagels vegan?

What are bagels?

Let’s start with the basics. Bagels are round bread products, similar in appearance to a doughnut. They can be store-bought, homemade or artisan and come in a range of flavours. Some of the most popular include cinnamon raisin, onion and plain. Fillings, just like the bread itself, can be sweet or savoury, and though you might assume that they will only contain vegan ingredients, certain bagel recipes call for additives that are not suitable for vegans.

What makes a bagel more than a bread roll?

Bagels are cooked in a very specific way, to ensure the glossy outer and chewy inner that makes them so beloved.

Made from a simple yeasted dough, they are rolled, shaped and boiled before being dried off and finished in a hot oven. It sounds involved, but it is the only way to make a proper bagel. The crumb is dense and the dough chewy, even when cooked, making it a dense but delicious snack that works especially well for breakfast or brunch.

Which ingredients should I know about?

bagel recipesDifferent production methods, recipes and manufacturers all have an impact on whether you are buying vegan-friendly bagels. The following can usurp your plant-based goals, if you don’t know they are there.

Honey

Though not a black-and-white issue, most people choose to exclude honey from a truly vegan diet. Some bagels include it for colour and sweetness, though plenty use barley malt instead.

Eggs

It’s not essential to include eggs into bagel dough, but some makers choose to as they think it gives a richer and more deep flavour. This is not the norm, so if in doubt, be sure to contact the manufacturer to double-check.

L-Cysteine

An amino acid derived from human hair and poultry feathers, this is sometimes added to commercial dough production to soften the product and make it more pliable. It can be labelled by name or as E920. Though there are plant-based sources, you’ll need to check for vegan certification before buying. You’ll find that this is far more likely to be an issue with pre-packaged bagel brands bought from a grocery store.

Milk products

These are the really sneaky ones! Be on the lookout for casein, lactose and whey. If you can’t see a label stating ‘dairy-free’, you’ll have to go old-school and scan the ingredients list thoroughly.

What about toppings?

vegan bagelsA bagel without toppings is a sad state of affairs. Traditionally, bagels come with a schmear of soft cheese, but replace that with vegan cream cheese and you’ll never know the difference. 

Deli-style bagels often come with a hefty side of meat, so unless you visit a bakery that only sells vegan food, you will have to be careful when selecting your accompaniments. Stick to safe bets such as avocado, salad and pickles.

How can I guarantee a vegan bagel?

There’s only one way to properly guarantee that your bagels are vegan and that’s to make them yourself — from scratch. You can be sure that only plant-based ingredients are included that way and can take your time experimenting with vegan recipes to find one that you really like.

Once you’ve got the basics down, that’s when the experimentation can begin, with onion powder, dried chives and cardamom all being recommended variations. It’s also a good idea to master your own bagel baking for specific dietary needs.

If you can only eat gluten-free baked goods, you will struggle to find big deli-style bagels that won’t make you unwell, but if you can whip up a batch at home? Who needs the artisan bagel and coffee run on a Sunday morning?

Things to remember

If your morning bagel is a treat you cannot possibly consider giving up, but you want to be sure that you’re not drifting from your vegan path, remember the following:

When in doubt, ask

Just because a packet doesn’t explicitly say ‘suitable for vegans’, it doesn’t mean that you can’t eat it. Some companies don’t seek vegan certification and therefore don’t want to make any claims about suitability. Check the ingredients and if you’re still unsure, call the manufacturer. They should be willing to tell you if their production methods or ingredient list pose a threat to your ethics.

Adapt your toppings

To get the full bagel experience, we recommend taking some time to find the best vegan cream cheese. There are plenty of alt-cheeses on offer now and what you think tastes like New York’s finest will differ to someone else’s palate.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to vegan cheese in the UK.

Don’t be scared to bake your own

The whole shape-boil-bake recipe might sound involved and tricky, but it’s genuinely not. So your bagels aren’t perfectly round; who cares as long as they taste good?

So, are bagels vegan? Some are and some aren’t, so always investigate before you masticate.

Amy
Amy Buxton
Amy is a committed ethical vegan, raising a next generation compassionate human with her husband and beloved dog, Boo. A freelance writer with a background in PR, she decided to use the COVID lockdown period to refocus her client base and has come to The Vegan Review as a senior writer and editor. "What we should be doing is working at the job of life itself" is Amy's mantra, courtesy of Tom from The Good Life.