By Erik Marcus
Vegan bread comes in endless varieties, in styles originating from every corner of the world. Here’s everything you need to know about buying it or baking it yourself.
Is Bread Vegan?
A few types of bread are nearly always vegan. But for most, you must check the ingredients to know for sure. The things to watch for are the typical vegan nemeses: milk or egg products. Honey also shows up in whole grain breads with distressing regularity.
Which Breads are Reliably Vegan?
If there’s one thing every vegan learns the hard way, it’s that animal products lurk everywhere. That said, you can usually count on these kinds of bread to be vegan:
- White flour bagels
- Pizza crust
- White sour dough bread
- Pita bread
- Ciabatta (Italian white flour rolls)
- Simit (Turkish ring bread)
- Any sort of rye or pumpernickel bread
- Anything you make yourself!
Here are some other bread varieties that are sometimes vegan:
- English muffins
- Sandwich Breads
- Hamburger and hot dog buns
Croissants traditionally contain a lot of butter, so they’ll never be vegan unless prominently labeled as such. Fluffy breads like challah and brioche are traditionally made with eggs. And very shiny breads have usually been glazed with egg whites.
If you’re thinking about vegan breads, flatbread might not even cross your mind. But don’t neglect this niche, since it offers an incredible assortment of delicious vegan possibilities.
A number of cuisines feature a variety of flatbreads. While we might debate whether flatbreads are a variety of bread or their own separate category, nutritionally they’re comparable. Some flatbreads use leavening while others are more akin to crackers.
- Pita bread (Middle East)
- Corn or wheat tortillas (Mexican)
- Chapatti, naan, roti, dosa, paratha, poori (Indian)
- Injera (Ethiopian)
- Matzah (Jewish)
Let’s quickly go through the above varieties.
Pita’s maybe the most interesting of the bunch. It’s sometimes called “pocket bread” since you can tear off an end. As a Middle Eastern bread it’s often stuffed with falafel, hummus, veggies, and hot sauce. Finding a falafel place that makes its own pita should be on your bucket list, since commercial brands just don’t compare.
Corn tortillas are one of the most important staples of Mexican cooking. Walk around any Mexican neighborhood in the morning and eventually you’ll hear the squeaky machine of of your local tortilla shop, churning out a fresh hot tortilla every second or two. You can buy ten or twenty for an improbably tiny amount of money, which they’ll wrap in paper. I think the only way to buy tortillas is to get them fresh or to make them yourself using masa harina cornflour. Tortillas are made into freshly fried corn chips, and also appear in a wide variety of popular Mexican dishes the most obvious being tacos.
Wheat tortillas are a more recent invention but for many people they’re a much more enticing options. Because wheat contains gluten wheat tortillas can be made much larger than corn tortillas. This in turn makes them suitable for burritos and an infinite assortment of vegan wraps.
Indian Flat Breads
No region of the world has a longer or more impressive cooking history than India. But because conventional ovens didn’t show up in India until modern times (and aren’t even found in many Indian kitchens today), loaf-style breads never became part of this cuisine. So Indian chefs channeled their bread energy into a vast variety of flatbreads, some cooked on skillets, some in tandoori ovens, and some deep-fried. It’s safe to say that India is the preeminent flatbread cuisine.
Some flatbreads like chapati and naan are deliberately bland and meant to accompany spicy main courses. But the majority of Indian flatbreads are remarkably flavorful and incorporate a multitude of delightful textures. Most Indian flatbreads are vegan-friendly, except for naan which traditionally contains milk.
The classic Ethiopian meal involves several types of spicy stew poured into large dollops atop a gigantic “injera” pancake, which is about the size of a pizza. Injera is made from whole grain teff, which is even more protein-rich than wheat. It’s a very sour bread because the batter ferments for a day or more before being cooked into injera.
Go out of your way to try Ethiopian food, since it’s super vegan-friendly and unlike any other world cuisine.
This is the least exciting flatbread of the bunch. It’s essentially a large bland unleavened cracker. Matzah persists in Jewish culture largely an historical reminder of what an unlikable guy the Pharaoh was. Many Jews eat it once a year during Passover and enjoy tastier breads the other 364 days of the year.
Where Can You Buy the Best Vegan Bread?
The very best place to buy bread is from an independently-owned local bakery. These places almost never disappoint and they consistently bake better bread than bakeries that have multiple locations. Bread machines just can’t compete with what a good local bakery can produce. And unless you have lots of practice baking bread, you probably can’t compete either. After all, the people who run these places are professional bakers who have mastered their craft.
And forget about comparing any mass-produced bread to what a competent small bakery can produce. On freshness alone, there’s no comparison. Often it’ll still be warm from the oven. The person at the counter of your local bakery usually does some of the baking. They’ll always know the ingredients and each loaf’s vegan status.
Every small bakery is different. One might specialize in classic French baking, while another might do Russian-style sourdough loaves in a brick oven. There’s no cheaper way to get ahold of truly gourmet food than buying freshly-baked bread from your local bakery. So it’s well worth spending a few minutes on Google Maps searching for bakeries, and then making a point of giving the ones near you a try.
What Big Bakeries are Vegan?
Dave’s Killer bread is a superb brand made from organic whole grain ingredients, and it’s available throughout the United States. Except for their Honey Oats & Flax bread, which obviously contains honey, all Dave’s products are vegan.
Food for Life makes Ezekial 4:9 breads, English muffins, pita bread, and burger buns. The company’s entire product line is vegan. Many natural food stores carry these breads, which they keep in the frozen foods section.
You’ll have to read labels, but most natural foods stores will also sell at least one local brand of whole grain bread that’s vegan.
Nearly all freshly-baked white flour baguettes made by regional bakeries are vegan. Just check the label to be sure. Similarly, you’ll want to ask to confirm but the white flour bagels at your local bagel shop should be vegan as well.
If you’re a huge bread lover, consider making your own. Nothing compares to bread that’s still warm. And baking your own bread gives you total control over its ingredients. Best of all, homemade bread costs less than half the price of store-bought.
Baking bread at home is either ridiculously easy or ridiculously labor-intensive depending on whether you own a bread machine. Bread machines eliminate mixing, kneading, oven preheating, and even keeping track of time. It takes just a couple minutes to start a loaf. After that, the machine does all the work for you, baking each loaf to perfection.
For one or two person households, get a bread machine that can make smaller loaves. Larger households ought to consider investing in an upscale model like this Zojirushi Home Bakery machine. The added costs gets you features and versatility you’ll appreciate.
Baking Vegan Bread at Home
Bread machines are among the most amazing kitchen appliances ever invented. That said, no hobby offers greater pleasure than baking bread by hand. And machines are simply incapable of spitting out an authentic artisan sourdough loaf.
There’s no getting around the fact that backing loaves of bread from scratch takes time and demands some skill. For a much easier project, you should try making pizza dough from scratch. All you need is bread flour, yeast, and a bit of sugar. Making pizza at home is much easier than it looks. Once you kneed the dough, let it rise, and then roll it out it takes just a minute to spread on the sauce and the toppings. And if you want to cut corners without anybody noticing, most natural food stores sell pizza dough in their refrigerated section—just roll it out and it’s ready to top and to bake.
If you want to try your hand at baking bread from scratch, keep reading for some excellent cookbook recommendations.
Vegan Bread Cookbooks
There are several excellent vegan cookbooks that specialize in breads and baking:
- The Homemade Vegan Pantry, by Miyoko Schinner
- Modern Vegan Baking, by Gretchen Price
- Vegan Baking for Beginners, by JL Fields
- Whole Food Vegan Baking, by Annie Markowitz
Gluten-Free Vegan Bread
If you want to dramatically reduce the gluten in your bread, you can choose spelt rather than wheat. Most bread recipes work well enough if you swap in spelt.
However, if you suffer from celiac disease, even a little gluten is too much. Many cities have gluten-free bakeries. These places follow strict protocols to banish even traces of gluten out of their kitchens. To find one near you, search Google Maps for gluten-free.
Additionally, there are a variety of gluten-free baking cookbooks in print—all of which feature bread recipes:
- Gluten-Free Vegan Bread, by Katzinger & Barnard
- Bread and Butter, by Erin McKenna