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This is a common question and for good reason. These flaky, crescent, fat-laden rolls are hard to resist. There are so many bread products on the market that, when going vegan, it can be difficult to determine which ones are vegan and which aren’t.
Croissants (or crescent rolls) can be vegan. The traditional recipe is far from vegan, but some manufacturers (like Pillsbury) opt for alternatives to animal-derived ingredients as they are more economical.1 But, many croissants in stores and restaurants contain a number of non-vegan ingredients.
As for homemade croissants, I’m sure a quick search will render all sorts of vegan recipes.
The traditional recipe has tons of animal products. In fact, the definition of croissant is a buttery, flaky, viennoiserie pastry. Viennoiseries are baked goods made with yeast-leavened dough or puff pastry, with additional ingredients including eggs, milk and milk cream, butter, and even lard.
I wrote an article on lard and its vegan-friendliness you can check out here. These added ingredients give them a sweeter, richer character like that of pastry.
In croissants, a layered yeast-leavened dough is formed wherein the dough is layered with butter (though margarine can be used), folded a few times in, and rolled into a sheet, in a procedure known as laminating. This whole process results in a layered, flaky texture.
What we’ll do here is go over the typical animal-derived ingredients, and which vegan ingredients could potentially be used to replace them.
A quick note for vegans concerned with health: I for one like to indulge in “junk” food from time to time. But, I’m sure you’d agree that such foods are best consumed in moderation if at all.
If you want to take full advantage of the health benefits offered by a diet free of animal products, then it’s best to stick to mostly whole plant foods.
This site provides general information. The absolute best resource on using specific vegan foods in the right quantities to lower inflammation and prevent chronic diseases can be found here.
Why Croissants Are Considered Non-Vegan
These are the ingredients you need to look out for.
Egg Is a Common Ingredient in Croissants
In croissants, eggs contribute to texture and flavor.2
Eggs have a number of useful properties in baking. They have a unique ability to flavor, emulsify, thicken, color, bind, coat, leaven, and prevent crystallization making them great for use in bread products including pastries.3
Egg gives the following properties to croissants:
- Color. It’s the yolk of the egg that contributes a golden brown color characteristic of pastries and croissants.4
- Binding. The protein content of eggs makes them excellent binders. The heat during cooking, coagulates the eggs’ protein, allowing the egg to act as an adhesive, binding the ingredients. By the time the mixture cooks, the egg proteins have had time to firm and stabilize, which provides structural strength.
- Emulsification. Lecithin is a compound found in egg yolks, that serves as a natural emulsifying agent. This is because one end of the lecithin molecule attracts water, while the other end attracts fat.5 So, the lecithin content of eggs allows them to help keep fat and water from separating, which stabilizes and thickens the foods they’re used in.
There are a number of plant-based alternatives to egg that achieve most of the properties, though to a lesser degree. For example, any plants that have a neutral taste and gel when hydrated can be used for binding purposes. Soy lecithin is a plant-based alternative to the lecithin content of egg yolk and thus can replace egg as an emulsifier.
Most Croissants Contain Butter
Fats play a number of roles in baked goods. For one, they contributor to flavor. They also provide a moist crumb in baked products like croissants which provide a smooth mouthfeel.
Like eggs, fats also provide a desirable color to the end product of baked goods. These properties (flavor, mouthfeel, and color) are heavily influenced by both the amount and type of fat used.
Croissants, specifically, owe much of their characteristic flavor and color to their hefty butter content.6
By contrast, yeast breads contain little to no fat—only about ~1 gram of fat per slice—while croissants provide 12 grams per 55-gram croissant.7
You can find croissants that use less butter but they tend to be specialty products (reduced calories for weight loss, etc.).8
It’s no coincidence that croissants are so tasty and so high in fat and calories. Two slices of whole-wheat bread only provide about 160 calories compared to one croissant which packs 231 calories.9
Plant-based substitutes include margarine and vegetable shortening. While the type of roll-in fat used for pastries and croissants is typically butter, margarine and shortening can also be used.
Margarine is a favorite for baked goods because it extends shelf-life. Butter might be appealing to many consumers, but it has a number of properties that make it less than ideal for manufacturers.
For example, it has a low melting point of 89.6 °F/32 °C. The use of butter as a roll-in fat when making croissants causes problems—it oils out at the temperature required to ferment the yeast so if the temperature isn’t tightly controlled, it can disrupt the integrity of the layers.10
For whatever reason, butter still tends to be used the most in croissants. Probably for the flavor it imparts. Which is unfortunate for vegans.
But, many do use margarine. This is because, like butter, margarine is a water-in-oil emulsion—a substance that keeps oil and water nice and dispersed—composed of stabilized water droplets mixed in oil.11
Margarine just contains a lot more water which is why it’s easier to spread. This is accomplished by way of emulsifiers like soy lecithin mentioned above.
Vegetable shortening, like Crisco, uses fully hydrogenated oils instead of oil/water mixtures like margarine. This makes them more like saturated fat and closer to butter in terms of their properties.
This greater proportion of solid fat tends to coincide with larger croissant lift.12
There a lot less healthy, but that’s beside the point for our purposes here.
Croissants Often Contain Milk Derivatives
A lot of food products contain milk and its derivatives and croissants are no exception. Milk products common to croissants and other pastries include:
- Milk cream
- Dry whole milk
These annoying ingredients pop up all over the place in foods—many of which would otherwise be vegan. Obviously, croissants are far from otherwise vegan, and a dash or two of dry milk is the least of your problems if you’re looking to consume this bread product.
But, many croissants do like to throw these additives in on top of the pile of other non-vegan approved ingredients.
Why? For one, the proteins in milk are commonly added to processed foods in order to improve their nutritive value. Also, certain milk proteins, namely caseinates, contribute to emulsification and stabilization of the dough ingredients. Then there’s the milk sugar (lactose), which contributes to color by helping brown baked goods.
Commercial Vegan Crescent Rolls
These are the Pillsbury crescent rolls mentioned above. You have to make these, but they’re easy. Keep in mind the manufacturers of this product used palm oil for vegetable shortening.
- Enriched Flour Bleached (wheat flour, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and ferrous sulfate)
- Soybean and Palm Oil
- Hydrogenated Palm Oil
- Baking Powder (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, and sodium aluminum phosphate).
Some vegans take issue with palm oil, and for good reason, as its cultivation has detrimental impacts on the environment. However, the vegan community at large doesn’t reject the oil and there are good arguments on both sides. So, I’m just mentioning it here.
Anyway, that wraps it up for now.
- Pillsbury™ Original Crescent Rolls (8 Count) https://www.pillsbury.com/products/crescents/original
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 256). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Pszczola DE, and K Banasaiak. Ingredients. Food Technology 60(5):45–92, 2006.
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 258). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Anton M, and G Gandemer. Composition, solubility, and emulsifying properties of granules and plasma of egg yolk. Journal of Food Science 62(3):484–487, 1997.
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 381). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Pszczola DE. Ingredients for bread meet challenging ‘kneads.’ Food Technology 59(1):55–63, 2005.
- Reduced-fat bakery foods: Meeting the taste challenge. Prepared Foods 162(8):79–80, 1993.
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 428). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Ooms, Nand; Pareyt, Bram; Brijs, Kristof; Delcour, Jan A. (2 October 2016). Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 56 (13): 2101–2114. ISSN 1040-8398. PMID 26177127
- McClements, David Julian (4 March 2010). Annual Review of Food Science and Technology. 1 (1): 241–269. ISSN 1941-1413. PMID 22129337
- Cauvain, Stanley P.; Young, Linda S., eds. (1 January 2006). Baked Products. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 72–98. ISBN 9780470995907.