The achilles heel of many — and not just vegans — delicious bread is a pleasure that’s hard to beat. But is it vegan, and how would you bake it yourself?
Arguably the king of comfort foods, fresh bread is more than just a tasty snack; it’s a human right. But let’s not get snobby about our baked goods here, because a cheap sliced loaf can hit the spot too — especially when topped with some melty plant-based cheese.
With research suggesting that there is a sixth taste profile that our mouths recognise, it’s little wonder that the ‘starchy’ temptation finds itself in our shopping trolleys, bread bins and freezers, but should we be checking the labels more carefully?
Don’t just roll over and ignore potentially unsuitable ingredients. Instead, come and find out which brands to avoid, those that make the best vegan-friendly toast and how to whip up your own loaf too.
All bread is vegan. Right?
Flour, water, yeast and a bit of salt is what goes into most bread recipes, so you’d be forgiven for assuming that it is all vegan. But, as with so many commercial food production methods, some varieties have added ingredients designed to extend freshness and improve taste, not all of which are plant-based.
When baking at home, it’s easy to ensure you are making fully vegan bread, as you can control your ingredients and even negate the tricky issue of potential cross-contamination too. Even if you are in the mood to try your hand at something fancy or flavoured, you can rest easy that what you’re adding has all come from a plant-based kitchen. It’s basically impossible to guarantee the same when eating shopbought bread.
Ingredients to watch out for
If you’re a seasoned label-checker, you’ll be able to recognise a non-vegan ingredient instantly. But be extra vigilant when it comes to commercial loaves. Thankfully, the commonly added extras are easy to spot.
Whey is a dairy product that can be added to bread. It ups the protein levels of a loaf, allows producers to say that the bread itself is fortified and can counteract toughness or chewiness. It can also result in a more aesthetically pleasing brown crust and is a cheap ingredient. It is most definitely not vegan-friendly though.
It might sound a little odd, but eggs are frequently added to bread, either in their entire form or just as yolks. They are thought to help make a dough richer and more tender, helping to ensure a soft and easy-to-eat crust.
Fancy bakery loaves are hard to resist but they pose a threat to your veganism. Be mindful of the fact that any added toppings or flavours might not be plant-based, including honey, pesto and cheese. When in doubt, ask bakers what goes into their recipes. In a small shop, they will know every element like the back of their hand, but be prepared to wait a little longer in supermarkets, as their bakeries tend to come with extensive production folders that need to be checked.
Which style of bread is best for vegans?
This is more of a personal preference question, but it does open up a conversation about the nutritional value of bread in general.
It’s no secret that white bread is generally considered to be the least healthy option, but that doesn’t stop it being delicious or the perfect choice when you fancy some easy hot toast. There are plenty of other variations, including sprouted whole grain, wholewheat and even gluten-free, all of which cater to different taste buds and dietary needs.
If a loaf is confirmed to be vegan bread, there is nothing to stop you from enjoying it. There is no kind of bread that’s best for plant-based eaters, just ingredients to avoid. So snap up that sourdough bread and fix yourself a slice of focaccia.
Which brands can I safely buy?
If you’re after a quick and easy guide to which brands make vegan bread, you’re in luck. To avoid animal products in your loaves, add the following to your next shopping list.
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One of the biggest and most widely recognised names in bread production, Warburtons has embraced the vegan community by using a synthetic source of L-cysteine — or E920 — in its products, making most of them absolutely fine to eat. The safe vegan bread list includes the classic and Toastie ranges, as well as family favourites such as crumpets, muffins and fruity loaves.
Again, a big name in the game, Kingsmill has aligned similarly to Warburtons and made ‘most’ of its bread suitable for vegans. Popular varieties including the 50/50, Tasty Wholemeal and Soft White styles are all clearly labelled as being vegan bread, with emulsifiers and fats being sourced exclusively from vegetable oils.
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Not to be left out, Hovis has made sure that its most popular offerings are all suitable for vegans, with the Soft White leading the charge. Every product in the range is suitable for vegetarians and again, most are also okay for vegans to enjoy but a cursory label check will confirm that you’re on the right track.
Hovis also enjoys posting vegan-friendly serving suggestions and recipes to its social channels.
UK supermarket own-brands
Most of the UK supermarket own-brand sliced breads are vegan-friendly. So if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly alternative to the big-name brands, you can shop with confidence. In-store bakery items are a different matter altogether and you’ll need to double-check before you buy.
Which brands don’t make vegan bread?
These are surprisingly few and far between. Apparently, plant-based eaters love bread and big companies like having us as customers. There is one very obvious and notable exception though: the Warburtons Milk Roll.
As the name suggests, this is a bread made with milk proteins and marketed to parents who want to ensure they are giving their children enough calcium. It states that it helps build healthy teeth and bones, is shaped into a cylindrical loaf and has bright, engaging packaging. It’s designed to sell the idea of milk being good for children, but fear not, vegan parents. You can give your little ones normal milk-free bread and top up their calcium levels with fortified plant milks. Just like we always have.
How do I make bread that’s vegan?
It’s so easy to make delicious, fresh vegan bread at home and though you won’t be able to enjoy the instant gratification that comes from simply popping a slice or two in your toaster, the extra wait will be worth it.
Fancy having a go? Then check out our ultimate easy vegan bread recipe below, which uses no oil and is suitable for absolute baking beginners.
405g all-purpose flour (extra for dusting)
375ml tepid water
2 tsp dry instant yeast
1 tsp sea salt
- Mix the flour, yeast and sea salt in a large bowl. Add in the water and stir well until everything has come together. Cover the bowl loosely with a tea towel or reusable food wrap and let it rest at room temperature for around 2 hours.
- Check the dough. You should see small bubbles on the surface, but if not, re-cover and leave for another hour. If you do have bubbles, tip the dough out onto a floured surface. Shape the dough gently, folding it in on itself a few times before encouraging it into a round shape. Resist the urge to knead as this will knock all of the air out.
- Preheat your oven to 230°C (gas mark 8 or Aga top oven) with the cast iron casserole dish (or Dutch Oven) that you are going to bake in, inside. Leave space at the bottom of the oven for a baking tray with a couple of inches of water in it. This will help to create steam, to give your finished bread a crusty bite.
- Let your dough rest as your oven warms up. Aga owners, you’ll need to wait for your pot to get hot. While you wait, cut some decorative marks into the top of your loaf using a serrated knife (non-serrated blades will drag).
- Transfer your dough into your pot, with a parchment paper ‘sling’. This will need to stay under the dough as it cooks, so simply scoop, drop and cover with the lid. Pop your baking tray in the bottom and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. To get the best crust, take off the lid and allow the bread to cool with the oven door open. If you’re using an Aga, keep an eye on this. You can go from golden brown to burnt in 20 seconds.
This bread is best eaten on the day it is made but works very well as an accompaniment to hot soup when a little dry.
A store cupboard staple that’s easy to make yourself, vegan bread is the ultimate answer to carb cravings, regardless of how you serve it.