Most often, I am being asked about the vegan status of white bread. There are two types of white bread, one being undergone milling to exclude the brown components, and the other being the kind in which is made with bleached flour, but otherwise, is whole grain.
According to my observations, the question is tossed so often because white bread undergoes more processing as compared to other types of bread which means it’s likely had more things added to it.
Now, coming to the question, is it vegan? Yes, by default, white bread is usually considered vegan. However, what you’ll need to look out for are some ingredients—namely, milk products and vitamin D3. While most white bread is vegan, what I feel is it’s always best to scan the ingredients label before getting into purchasing a given brand.
And I once want to clarify that, in this article, we’re talking about loaf bread.
Here, what we will be doing is going over the various reasons most white bread is termed vegan plus, some ingredients you’ll need to be aware of when buying white bread in stores. Later on, we’ll check out on the vegan status of Wonder Bread, a popular brand of white bread about which I am frequently asked for, specifically from time to time.
Table of Contents
Why Most White Bread Is Vegan
White Bread Doesn’t Use Bone Char
I figured out a popular myth that white bread gets its colour from bone char. That is not true. Instead, it is because of the milling process and the use of bleaching agents.
Usually, white bread refers to bread prepared from wheat flour that’s had the germ and bran layers excluded from the whole wheatberry as part of the flour milling or grinding process, which gives that light-colour characteristic of all-purpose white flour.
By removing the natural oils from the whole grain, the above process extends the shelf life of the flour. On removal of oil from food products (loaves and bakery items) made with white flour, it allows it to be stored for more extended periods without going rancid.
Grains consist of unsaturated fatty acids that are easily oxidized, which further causes them to go rancid quickly.
I am not exactly sure where the bone char myth came from or how it originated. White bread started to be looked upon with a suspicious eye ever since awareness was raised about the use of bone char in the processing of white sugar, white powdery substances.
According to the Vegan Society, folks usually debate whether bone char was used in the processing of white flour, but since then, until now, the claim has been debunked.
The main reason behind the use of bone char to process sugar is to remove impurities—its a fact that raw, unprocessed sugar is brown.
The brown components of flour (the germ and bran) are no impurities. Instead, they’re just elements that some manufacturers want to exclude in the milling process to increase shelf life and get desired taste and textural properties.
When the bran and germ are removed, what is left behind is the white starchy endosperm? That’s why you get white flour.
Then we have the bleaching process that manufacturers choose to turn regular whole grain flour white. Also, bleached flour makes use of bleaching agents (e.g. chlorine gas and benzoyl peroxide). There is no problem with bone char here as, thankfully, bone char is not a bleaching agent.
The B Vitamins (Via Enrichment) Are Vegan
On the one hand, the discarding of the bran and wheat germ during the milling process can help improve the shelf life of white flour, but on the other side, it does remove certain nutrients like iron, B vitamins, and essential fatty acids (EFAs).
Since 1941, manufacturers began to add some of the micronutrients lost in the milling process to the white bread, to help mitigate some of the nutrient deficiencies that were known to be shared around that time. The initial nutrients included iron, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin.
This fortification was so successful that it led to almost complete eradication of acute deficiency diseases in the US, like beriberi and pellagra. In turn, white bread to date contains these added nutrients.
Thankfully, the specific vitamins most common in white bread tend to be produced without animal-derived precursors which is possible via microbial technology and chemical synthesis.
In the olden days, they used to get vitamins from foods that were known to be naturally abundant sources—both plant and animal foods. Even now, vitamin D is sourced from sheep oil.
Newer technologies now help manufacturers to synthesize vitamins, which makes them more economically feasible as well as more likely to be a vegan-friendly kind.
B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin are produced by a combination of microbial and chemical processes.
So, they tend to be generally suitable for vegans.
Potentially Non-Vegan Ingredients in White Bread
Now, as we know that white bread is generally considered vegan, we must cover up some possible exceptions.
Here are some ingredients that run the gamut from:
Commonly present in white bread plus sometimes derived from animals (e.g. emulsifiers and dough conditioners)Uncommon in white bread plus always animal-derived (milk derivatives, vitamin D, etc.)
DATEM and Mon-Diglycerides
The former category might consist of things like DATEM and mono-/diglycerides.
These ingredients are derivative of glycerin or glycerol, a compound which is listed in PETA’s list of animal-based and potentially animal-based ingredients.
Mono- and diglycerides are manufactured by reacting glycerol with triglycerides (three fatty acids and a glycerol backbone), both of them can be derived from either animal or plant sources.
You probably have come across the term DATEM by now if you were into scanning food labels.
It’s an acronym for “diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides”.
With this, it is a popular food additive in bread products. Reason being that it’s an emulsifier and dough conditioner—a class of substances used in baked goods to strengthen the gluten network of dough, giving bread products a higher rise with more structural integrity.
Thus, it’s considered vegan insofar as mono- and diglycerides are termed vegan.
The presence of DATEM, mono-, and diglycerides don’t render food products non-vegan by most standards in the community, as they are plant-based—so, logically, again, both glycerin and triglycerides can be sourced from plant foods, namely, coconut, palm, and soy.
But, if you think you are an extra careful vegan, then probably you would prefer avoiding the stuff.
Amy Brown, in her excellent textbook on food science, Understanding Food, Principles and Applications stated that white bread is generally made from all-purpose flour, water, nutrient fortifications, and small amounts of salt, sugar, and yeast.
With this, she also added that white bread could be made with milk products.
But based on my experience, milk and dairy derivatives ought to be pretty uncommon. I’d imagine she’s pointing to rich yeast bread like Hawaiian rolls and Portuguese sweet bread.
But, when the point comes over-processed foods, milk is always a possibility, so this is an ingredient you must keep a lookout for.
Vitamin D from Lanolin
Some of the popular brands of white bread use this ingredient.
Vitamin D3 is typically referred to be suitable for vegans as its precursor is mostly sourced from lanolin, or wool grease—a waxy substance secreted by the glands of wooled animals.
This is listed on PETA’s website as unequivocally non-vegan.
By the way, it’s listed as lanolin, not vitamin D3. But, the two are synonymous, at least till lichen-sourced D3 (a vegan-friendly D3) turns into the commonplace in vitamin D3 fortified foods.
So, this brings us a way to the next question.
Is Wonder Bread Vegan?
Unfortunately, Wonder Bread is not classified as vegan due to the presence of vitamin D3 which is synthesized with a precursor (7-dehydrocholesterol) that’s derived from lanolin sourced from sheep’s wool. On one side, vitamin D2 is vegan and on, vitamin D3 is almost always animal-derived.
Specifically, the ingredients for Wonder Bread contains:
- Unbleached Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour,Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)
- Wheat Gluten, Salt, Yeast, Yeast Extract
- Water, Soybean Oil, Vinegar
- High Fructose Corn Syrup, Modified CornStarch, Sucrose, Sugar
- Calcium Carbonate
- Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3)
- Dough Conditioners (Contains One or More of the Following: Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate, Monoglycerides, Mono- and Diglycerides, Distilled Monoglycerides, Calcium Peroxide, Calcium Iodate, DATEM, Ethoxylated Mono- and Diglycerides, Enzymes, Ascorbic Acid)
- Monocalcium Phosphate, Ammonium Sulfate, Calcium Sulfate, Calcium Propionate (to Retard Spoilage)
- Soy Lecithin and Soy Flour
Maybe, that’s enough for the vegan status of white bread.
Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- NPCS board (2012-10-01). Manufacture of Food & Beverages (2nd Edn.). Niir Project Consultancy Services, 2012. ISBN 9789381039113.
- Sarah Cook cracks out her top tips and favourite recipes this National Baking Week. The Vegan Society. https://www.vegansociety.com/whats-new/blog/all-you-need-know-about-successful-vegan-baking
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 55). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- White Bread. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_bread
- “Position of the American Dietetic Association: Fortification and Nutritional Supplements”. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 105 (8): 1300–1311. 2005. https://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(05)01034-5/fulltext
- Jose L. Revuelta, Ruben M. Buey, Rodrigo Ledesma‐Amaro, and Erick J. Microbial biotechnology for the synthesis of (pro)vitamins, bio pigments and antioxidants: challenges and opportunities. MicrobBiotechnol. 2016 Sep; 9(5): 564–567. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4993173/
- Animal-derived Ingredients Resource: Living. https://www.peta.org/living/food/animal-ingredients-list/
- What Is Vegetable Glycerin? https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vegetable-glycerin#what-it-is
- Flickinger, Brent D.; Matsuo, Noboru (February 2003). “Nutritional characteristics of DAG oil”. Lipids. 38 (2): 129–132. https://aocs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1007/s11745-003-1042-8
- Sonntag, Norman O. V. (1982). “Glycerolysis of fats and methyl esters — Status, review and critique”. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society. 59 (10): 795A–802A. https://aocs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1007/BF02634442