Most of us know that readymade cakes use animal products like milk and eggs. But what about the cake mix? And if they are vegan, which ones are the most vegan-friendly? There are endless varieties of cake mixes available in the market.
In this article, we will address these questions. We checked the labels of various cake mixe, from generic to Duncan Hines to Betty Crocker, and notes the main ingredients which we will analyze here.
In short, are cake mixes vegan? Most cake mixes available in grocery stores and online are vegan. Readymade cakes are traditionally non-vegan because their wet ingredients have animals-based products. Since cake mixes have dry ingredients, they tend to be vegan.
This may not be the case always.E.g. Milk and egg in dry form can be added to the cake mix — more on that below.
Then we have ingredients that some strict vegans may like to avoid but are suitable for vegan consumption.
We will simply discuss the most common vegan and non-vegan ingredients present in the cake mix, so you’ll know what to search on the labels.
Vegan Ingredients in Cake Mix
Flour and Sugar
Cake flour is the primary source of starch in these cake mixes.
Sugar is the primary source of cake mixes. Some vegans may avoid sugar due to the use of bone char, used to cut on impurities when making white sugar.
Many vegans avoid buying white sugar in wholesale, and many people don’t go out of their way to avoid food products containing sugar. And PETA does not consider products not suitable for vegans if they contain white sugar.
If you’re an unusually strict vegan who likes to avoid processed sugar, you may prepare cake mix from scratch using organic sugar.
We say this because it’s almost impossible to find commercial cake mixes without sugar. Sugar is mandatory to prepare the cake, and the entire purpose of making a boxed cake mix is to make it easier for the consumer.
Sugar is a dry ingredient and is invariably used and can be added to the flour mixture easily.
Sugar has many vital functions in the cake mix.
Earlier, the quantity of sugar in cake mixtures couldn’t be more than that of the flour because the additional sugar interferes with hydration of the proteins and gelatinization of the starch, and you ended up with a collapsed cake.
Nowadays, cake mixes can be prepared with higher sugar-to-flour ratios, as high as 1.25:1 to 1.40:1, with improvements in technology.
The extra sugar improves the moisture of the cake and enhances shelf life.
Certain elements are mostly used to make another white cake mix. Chlorine gas, a bleaching agent, is commonly used to bleach flour.
Benzoyl peroxide and calcium peroxide may also be used sometimes and are uncommon.
Salt and Flavorings
Cake mixes contain salt like any food flour mixture. Salt is a key ingredient, additive, and flavor enhancer. It binds water to extend shelf life.
Other flavor substances commonly added into flour mixtures include vanilla, spices, chocolate cocoa powder, chocolate chips or chunks, fruits, and nuts.
Chocolate can be non-vegan. We will discuss below.
Fat Source: Plant Oils
Duncan Hines Signature Strawberry Supreme mix has emulsified palm shortening, which is a mix of palm oil and emulsifiers.
Butter may be used, but cake mixes contain hydrogenated plant oils that have a longer shelf life compared to butter.
Fats like shortening also add volume, tenderness, moisture, and flavor.
A Quick Distinction
The above refers to an oil, which is added in a minimal amount to the cake mix.
Oils coat the flour proteins, which prevents proteins from adhering to water, reducing the formation of gluten and improving moisture.
Most brands don’t ask you to add saturated fat. This is good news for vegans as butter is a common source of saturated fat. Because cake makers use shortening or butter. The volume and tenderness are best obtained with saturated or hydrogenated fat as opposed to vegetable oil.
The purpose of the creaming process by which tiny air bubbles are beaten into fat needs a source of fat that can trap air bubbles instead of discarding them, leading to a small volume and a harsher cake.
This brings us to the next group of ingredients.
Oil shortened cakes use leaveners to make bubbles. Hence, oil-shortened cakes rely on chemical leaveners.
Natural leaveners are sodium bicarbonate, dicalcium phosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, and monocalcium phosphate. All of these are vegan-friendly.
Depending upon the quantity of flour, high-ratio cakes can use 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.
Non-Vegan Ingredients Potentially Present in Cake Mix
Dry Milk and Dairy Derivatives
When we add water, it hydrates the dry ingredients. It dissolves the salt and sugar and lets baking soda react, and of course, supply steam for leavening.
That is why the box will usually mention having you add about 1 cup of water.
Bakeries frequently add milk as the primary liquid ingredient in cake preparation. The water content does the above functions, whereas the milk proteins emulsify, keep moisture, and provide a smooth mouthfeel.
But, in commercial cake mixes, milk is uncommon.
Clear enough, if instructions on the box ask to use milk, there is no problem, you can simply use water.
But, some cake mix manufacturers will add milk derivatives to the dry mixture to make them perform other useful functions of milk.
But that is uncommon. We have scanned various labels, and rarely do we come across any milk products.
One exception may be the chocolate chips, but they are usually added in breakfast cake products like muffins, waffle mix, etc.
Dry Egg (E.g., Angel Food Cake Mix)
The egg is a highly unusual ingredient in the commercial cake mix.
Eggs strengthen the cakes, improve leavening, emulsification, flavor, and color.
Oil shortened cakes require help with leavening. Eggs are good leaveners, and can quickly whip up into foam.
While cooking, the air inside the whipped eggs expands, and the cake achieves a higher rise.
Angel food cake is the only commercial cake mix with dried eggs.
Surfactants in Cake Batters: a Grey Area for Some Vegans
Commercial cake mixes often have more odd-sounding ingredients.
Surfactants and emulsifiers are used most commonly in commercial cake mixes.
- Improve its flavor and texture
- Emulsify the ingredients
- Add air into the dough to improve the volume
Examples of surfactants/emulsifiers include
- Monoglycerides, diglycerides
- Polysorbate 60
- Sorbitol–fatty acid esters
- Glycerol–lactic acid esters
- Propylene glycol–fatty acid esters
Some of these elements are derived from plants. However, a few can be extracted from animals or plants.
PETA mentions glycerin and stearic acid as potentially sourced from animals.
Monoglycerides and diglycerides are made by combining glycerol with triglycerides… Glycerol and TG’s can be extracted from both plants and animals.
Because they’re mostly plant-derived, they are not considered unsuitable for vegan consumption.
Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate (SSL) is a derivative of stearic acid and conventional surfactant in commercial cake mixes. It’s used to boost the volume of processed foods.
Most vegans don’t avoid stearic acid and mono/diglycerides, but you may prefer to avoid them.
That was the fact file of the vegan status of cake mixes. Thanks for reading.
Click on the below-mentioned links for more information.
- Is Sugar Vegan? https://www.peta.org/living/food/is-sugar-vegan/
- Flour Bleaching: Baking Processes. https://bakerpedia.com/processes/flour-bleaching/
- (2 Pack) Duncan Hines SIGNATURE LAYER CAKE MIX Strawberry Supreme 15.25 Oz. https://www.walmart.com/ip/2-Pack-Duncan-Hines-SIGNATURE-LAYER-CAKE-MIX-Strawberry-Supreme-15-25-Oz/332808731
- Classic Yellow Cake Mix. https://www.duncanhines.com/products/classic-yellow-cake-mix/
- Animal-derived Ingredients Resource: Living. https://www.peta.org/living/food/animal-ingredients-list/
- Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_stearoyl_lactylate