Are Biscuits Vegan? (Breakfast Biscuits, Cookies)


Are Biscuits Vegan?

The term “biscuit” comes from the Latin word “bis cotus”, meaning “twice-baked”.1 As such, “Biscuit” is a name for several forms of a flour-based baked food product.

In North America, the term refers to a bread product typically consumed for breakfast (with butter or margarine along with jams or honey, etc.). In the Southern US, the product tends to be light and flaky, while up north it tends to be denser.

In Europe and the Commonwealth of Nations, the term often refers to a hard, flat, unleavened bread product that North Americans would consider a cookie.

Since the bread product largely uses the same ingredients, just in different proportions, this article pertains to all of the above.

Are they vegan? No, biscuits (both the breakfast product and cookie) are generally not considered vegan. While they often don’t contain egg (especially the breakfast biscuit), most contain milk in one form or another.2

It’s very easy to make a vegan-friendly biscuit, but it’s important to know that most biscuits are non-vegan, so that you know to avoid most biscuits you encounter in stores and restaurants.

Why Biscuits Are Generally Non-Vegan

Not all biscuits are non-vegan, and I’m sure some contain none of the following ingredients. But, most biscuits (breakfast biscuits and cookies), contain one or more of the below.

Biscuits Usually Contain Milk (All Types)

Both breakfast biscuits and biscuit cookies tend to contain milk in some form. Breakfast biscuits are a type of “quick bread” which is a category of bread products that don’t rely on yeast for leavening but use chemical leaveners (baking soda) and steam to rise.

Breakfast Biscuits

A lot of vegans are excited to learn that breakfast biscuits don’t actually call for egg. Unfortunately, they’re still largely non-vegan, as most recipes include milk.

With breakfast biscuits, the dough is much less sticky compared to muffin batter (another type of quick bread) because the ratio of flour to milk tends to be 3:1.3

During breakfast biscuit preparation, the dry ingredients are mixed, followed by fat. Finally, milk is added to an indentation or put in the center of the flour mixture.

The flour is mixed (with milk) minimally to avoid excessive gluten formation.1

Biscuit Cookies

Shortbread is an example of a popular cookie-type of biscuit. The word “short” is an older term for “crumbly texture” which is where the cookie derives its name. Nowadays, the term usually refers to “shortening” which is often the form of fat used.4

Originating in Scotland, shortbread has been made for centuries and even preceded butter cookies. This is a very rich, dense, crumbly type of cookie. The characteristic melt-in-the-mouth texture is due to the proportion of ingredients used.

Even though the cookie often uses plant-based fat sources, it still tends to contain milk. For example, Pepperidge Farm Shortbread Cookies contain non-fat dry milk.5

Osmania biscuits aka tea biscuits are another type of cookie biscuits that tends to contain milk products.6 These don’t seem to contain butter or egg, so in theory, it should be easy to find vegan tea biscuits.

Biscuits Often Contain Buttermilk (Breakfast Biscuit)

Buttermilk biscuits are a very common variation of the breakfast biscuit. Buttermilk and other acidic ingredients help promote the formation of a white interior, while more alkaline ingredients (e.g. baking powder), contribute to a more creamy color.2

Buttermilk also adds a nice tang to the finished product. Buttermilk is an ingredient that renders a lot of commercial biscuit mixes non-vegan.

Most Biscuits Contain Butter (All Types)

Breakfast Biscuits

Breakfast biscuits, which take very little time to prepare, rely on a fat source for shortening power, and just the right amount of kneading to achieve the desired level of gluten formation.

Lard (hog fat) used to be the most common fat of choice for breakfast biscuits. Nowadays, manufacturers have moved on to other fat sources like butter, which is also non-vegan.

However, margarine and hydrogenated vegetable shortening are also commonly used in biscuits, and these fat sources are suitable for vegans.

Again, during biscuit preparation, the dry ingredients are mixed together, followed by fat ingredients. The fat (butter, margarine, or shortening) is cut in with a knife or pastry blender until the dough yields particles about the size of rice grains.

Biscuit Cookies

Continuing with shortbread as an example, butter tends to be used to achieve the melt-in-your-mouth texture by using flour, butter, and sugar at a ratio of about 3-2-1.4 Authentic shortbread cookies are always made with butter.4

However, like breakfast biscuits, margarine and veggie shortenings can also be used here. As mentioned above, the “short” in shortbread often refers to the use of vegetable shortening. Vegetable shortening is just fully-hydrogenated vegetable oil, so it’s perfectly suitable for vegans.

If not for the common use of milk and egg, I’d imagine it would be fairly common to find accidentally vegan shortbread and other biscuit cookies.

The butter cookie is, of course, another example of biscuit cookies that typically use butter. Butter cookies, aka Brysselkex, Sablés, or Danish biscuits, are a type of unleavened cookie made with butter, flour, and sugar.7

Biscuits Often Contain Egg (Cookies)

The Pepperidge Farm cookies mentioned above use egg whites.5 Other examples of biscuit cookies that make use of egg are Arnott’s Tim Tam Original Cookies. These actually use milk, butter oil, and eggs, so they’re far from vegan.8

Not all biscuit cookies use egg, but it is a very common ingredient. For example, digestive biscuits tend not to use egg, though they contain several other non-vegan ingredients.9

Commercial Vegan Biscuits

Now that we know most biscuits are non-vegan, it’s time to look at a few products that are suitable for vegan consumption.

Breakfast Biscuits

Making a vegan-friendly breakfast biscuit is very straight forward. Because breakfast biscuits don’t contain any egg, you need only find a biscuit mix without dry milk ingredients. Just swap out the milk (in the instructions) for an equal amount of plant-based milk like soy or almond, and you’re good to go.

As for pre-mixed biscuit dough (the kind you pop out of a cylinder), there are some products on the market that are suitable for vegan consumption, but they’re few and far between.

Great Value Buttermilk Biscuits

Don’t let the name fool you, these don’t have the first bit of buttermilk in the ingredients.

These include:10

  • Enriched Bleached Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)
  • Water
  • Dextrose
  • Corn Syrup
  • Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda)
  • Vegetable Oil (Palm, Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oils)
  • White Corn Flour
  • Potassium Chloride
  • Modified Wheat Starch
  • Salt
  • Potassium Sorbate and Citric Acid and TBHQ (Preservatives)
  • Artificial Flavors, Soy Flour
A Note on Palm Oil

Note, that these do have palm oil which is problematic for some vegans. Palm oil is controversial due to the environmental effects of its cultivation.

Deforestation due to palm oil production is linked to increased greenhouse gas emissions.11-14

The deforestation also causes habitat loss for certain endangered species.15-18

Just know that not all vegans avoid the ingredient, and food products containing palm oil are not considered non-vegan by most standards.

But, if you’re a particularly prudent vegan, you may want to keep this in mind.

Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Biscuit and Baking Mix

Bob’s Red Mill to the rescue, as usual. If you can find a product that has very few ingredients overall, that’s usually a good sign. And this product did not let us down.

Ingredients include:19

  • Stone Ground White Rice and Garbanzo Bean Flours
  • Baking Powder (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Corn Starch, Monocalcium Phosphate)
  • Xanthan Gum
  • Sea Salt
A Note on Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is another somewhat controversial ingredient. It’s used as a thickening agent like guar gum. However, unlike guar gum (which is made from the guar bean), xanthan gum isn’t really “plant-based” per se as it’s produced via bacterial fermentation.

Which is fine (in general). But, some species of bacteria are cultivated on lactose which is the simple sugar in milk.20

When such is the case, xanthan gum is processed with whey protein, the second most abundant protein in milk. This helps process out the lactose content of whey protein so it (the whey) can be used for other applications.

However, whey isn’t always used to produce xanthan gum, so the food product is really just a grey area.21

It is considered suitable for vegan consumption by most standards.

But, if you’re an especially strict vegan, this is just something you might want to keep in mind.

All-Purpose Baking Mixes

AP baking mixes can be used to make biscuits, pancakes, waffles, and other breakfast breads. The word “pancake” in pancake mixes is really just used for marketing purposes.

So, any vegan-friendly pancake mixes can be used to make biscuits. For a comprehensive list of vegan-friendly pancake mixes, check out the article on pancakes and their vegan status.

Biscuit (Cookies)

Even though most biscuit cookies are non-vegan, there are still quite a few on the market that vegans can consume. This is just a handful, but it will hopefully give you an idea of what’s out there.

Lotus Biscoff Cookies

These include:22

  • Wheat Flour
  • Sugar
  • Vegetable Oils (Contains One or More of Soy Bean Oil, Sunflower Oil, Canola Oil, Palm Oil)
  • Brown Sugar Syrup
  • Sodium Bicarbonate (Leavening)
  • Soy Flour
  • Salt
  • Cinnamon
Gullon SUGAR-FREE Digestive Biscuits

Ingredients include:23

  • Whole Wheat Flour
  • Sweeteners (Isomalt and Maltitol)
    Vegetable Oil (High Oleic Sunflower)
  • Vegetable Fiber
  • Raising Agents (Sodium and Ammonium Bicarbonate)
  • Salt
BelVita Cranberry Orange Breakfast Biscuits

These are called “breakfast biscuits”, but throughout the article, I’ve been using that designation to differentiate North American biscuits from the food product referred to as biscuits in other regions of the world.

Most, if not all, of the BelVita biscuits, are vegan-friendly. This is just one example.

These contain:24

  • Whole Grain Blend (Rolled Oats, Rye Flakes)
  • Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)
  • Sugar
  • Canola Oil
  • Whole Grain Wheat Flour
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Invert Sugar
  • Malt Syrup (From Corn And Barley)
  • Baking Soda
  • Salt
  • Dried Orange Peel
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Natural Flavor
  • Disodium Pyrophosphate
  • Datem
  • Ferric Orthophosphate (Iron)
  • Niacinamide
  • Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6)
  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
  • Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1)
BelVita Soft Baked Mixed Berry Breakfast Biscuits

These are a soft-bake variety, which is sometimes a red flag. However, this product turns out to be suitable for vegans.

Ingredients include:25

  • Whole Grain Blend (Cracked Buckwheat, Rolled Oats, Rye Flakes)
  • Enriched Bleached Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)
  • Sugar
  • Canola Oil
  • Whole Grain Wheat Flour
  • Raisin Paste
  • Polydextrose
  • Wheat Starch
  • Glycerin
  • Invert Sugar
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Dried Blueberries
  • Cornstarch
  • Molasses
  • Baking Soda
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Salt
  • Dried Raspberries
  • Natural Flavor
  • Grape Juice Concentrate
  • Blueberry Juice Concentrate
  • Ferric Orthophosphate (Iron)
  • Niacinamide
  • Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6)
  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
  • Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1)
  • Peanut
  • Tree Nuts

That’s it for biscuits. Thanks for reading.

You may also want to check out the following related articles:

References

  1. Gallagher E. Formulation and nutritional aspects of gluten-free cereal products and infant foods. In EA Arendt and F Dal Bello. Gluten-free Cereal Products and Beverages. Academic Press, 2009.
  2. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 413). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
  3. McWilliams M. Foods: Experimental Perspectives. Macmillan, 2007.
  4. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 492). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
  5. Pepperidge Farm Shortbread Cookies, 5.5 Oz. Bag. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Pepperidge-Farm-Shortbread-Cookies-5-5-oz-Bag/22478823
  6. Osmania Biscuits. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osmania_Biscuit
  7. Clark, Melissa (October 9, 2013). “Cultured Butter Cookies Recipe” https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1015209-cultured-butter-cookies
  8. Arnott’s Tim Tam Original Cookies, 7 Oz. Tray. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Arnott-s-Tim-Tam-Original-Cookies-7-oz-Tray/46028131
  9. Mcvities Digestives The Original Cookies, 14.1 Oz, (pack Of 12). https://www.walmart.com/ip/McVities-Digestives-The-Original-Cookies-14-1-oz-Pack-of-12/33665108
  10. Great Value Buttermilk Biscuits, 7.5 Oz., 10 Count. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Great-Value-Buttermilk-Biscuits-7-5-Oz-10-Count/144787277
  11. “Palm oil: Cooking the Climate”. Greenpeace. 8 November 2007. Archived from the original on 10 April 2010.
  12. Foster, Joanna M. (1 May 2012). “A Grim Portrait of Palm Oil Emissions”. The New York Times. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013.
  13. Yui, Sahoko; Yeh, Sonia (1 December 2013). “Land use change emissions from oil palm expansion in Pará, Brazil depend on proper policy enforcement on deforested lands”. Environmental Research Letters. 8 (4): 044031. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/4/044031. ISSN 1748-9326.
  14. “Researchers warn against high emissions from oil palm expansion in Brazil”. phys.org. 13 November 2013.
  15. “The bird communities of oil palm and rubber plantations in Thailand” (PDF). The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 October 2016.
  16. “Palm oil threatening endangered species” (PDF). Center for Science in the Public Interest. May 2005. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 September 2012.
  17. Shears, Richard (30 March 2012). “Hundreds of orangutans killed in north Indonesian forest fires deliberately started by palm oil firms”. Daily Mail. London. Archived from the original on 20 April 2013.
  18. “Camera catches bulldozer destroying Sumatra tiger forest”. World Wildlife Fund. 12 October 2010. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013.
  19. Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Biscuit and Baking Mix, 24 Oz. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Bob-s-Red-Mill-Gluten-Free-Biscuit-and-Baking-Mix-24-Oz/32576038
  20. Tortora, G.J., Funke, B.R., & Case, C.L. (2010). Microbiology: An Introduction, 10th edition. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings. Pg. 801.
  21. EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources (14 July 2017). “Re‐evaluation of xanthan gum (E 415) as a food additive”. EFSA Journal. European Food Safety Authority. 15 (2): e04909. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2017.4909.
  22. Lotus Biscoff Family Pack Case. https://www.shopbiscoff.com/lotus-biscoff-family-pack-10-pack-case
  23. Digestive Sugar Free – Biscuits with Fibre, Biscuits with No Sugar, Cookies Without Nuts, Eggs And/or Soy. https://gullon.es/en/producto/sugar-free/biscuits-with-fibre/digestive-sugar-free/
  24. Belvita Cranberry Orange Breakfast Biscuits, 8.8 Oz. https://www.walmart.com/ip/belVita-Cranberry-Orange-Breakfast-Biscuits-8-8-Oz/44754087
  25. Belvita Soft Baked Mixed Berry Breakfast Biscuits, 8.8 Oz. https://www.walmart.com/ip/belVita-Soft-Baked-Mixed-Berry-Breakfast-Biscuits-8-8-Oz/26811018

Drew Davis

Hi! I'm Drew and this is the place where I nerd out about vegan and plant-based diets. I have a BS in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Alabama and have taken dozens of classes in areas like organic and biochemistry, food science, medical nutrition therapy, nutritional genomics, and vegetarian diets. I'm still learning every day, and on this blog, I'll be sharing everything I discover about vegan diets as I go.

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