A crouton is a piece of rebaked or sautéed bread, that usually comes in the shape of a cube with a bit of margarine or butter and seasoning. The crunchy cubes are used to add flavor and texture to salads, especially Caesar salad as well as certain soups and stews.1,2
Are they vegan? Most croutons do not qualify as vegan. Most contain milk products or derivatives. There are some rare exceptions, and a vegan-friendly variety is listed further down in the article. But, overall, croutons are not considered vegan-friendly.
This goes for both commercial croutons (in grocery stores) and those served at restaurants.
It’s a shame, because there’s really no need for any animal ingredients in this food product, because white bread, seasoning, and a bit of plant-based margarine are all that’s really necessary for standard croutons.
I often get asked if croutons are suitable for vegans, in part because of their unique texture. Most bread products are moist, while croutons are known for being extra crunchy—not all of them are, but most commercial croutons are on the stiff side.
Anytime a food product has a unique texture, one has to wonder whether animal products were used to achieve it. In the case of croutons, the texture is achieved by using a very dense bread and then drying it out completely.
Regardless of whether or not animal products would be needed to make croutons, most manufacturers use them.
Anyway, we’ll get into the various reasons most croutons are not considered vegan.
Why the Majority of Croutons are Non-Vegan
Natural Butter Flavor
Interestingly, as covered in the article on Buffalo sauce*, there’s an ingredient called “natural butter type flavor” that’s non-animal-derived. Unfortunately, “natural butter flavor” is, at least, sometimes a milk-derived ingredient.
I stress the word “sometimes” because apparently some natural butter flavor is non-dairy. For example, The Spice House natural butter flavor contains water, propylene glycol, and natural flavor and is apparently completely vegan-friendly.3
Anyway, in order to know for sure when it comes to specific products, you’ll have to scan the allergy section of the ingredients panel.
Most croutons with natural butter flavor that I’ve run across specify that it’s a dairy ingredient.
For example, New York Brand The Original Texas Toast Garlic & Butter Flavored Croutons contain enriched wheat flour (the usual vitamin and mineral fortifications), plant oils (canola and/or sunflower), and dehydrated garlic, along with salt, water, yeast, “natural butter flavor (a milk ingredient)”, malted barley flour, and antioxidants (citric acid and/or vitamin E).4
Similarly, Chatham Village Traditional Cut Caesar Croutons contain enriched wheat flour, plant oils, whole wheat flour, garlic (dehydrated), rye flour, salt, water, yeast, caramel color, seeds (caraway), natural butter flavor (milk), gluten (wheat), malted barley flour, and antioxidants (vitamins C and E).5
Whey and Milk
A lot of processed food products make use of milk proteins such as whey or powdered milk as a preservative or to impart flavor and improve mouthfeel.
Milk protein concentrate is also common. Milk proteins (whey and casein) contributes useful properties and boost nutritional profile.6
Certain proteins like caseinates stabilize and emulsify ingredients, while whey protein contributes to texture.
For example, Olive Garden Garlic & Romano Seasoned Croutons contain: enriched flour (wheat, malted barley, iron, and B vitamins), plant oils (canola and/or sunflower), yeast, salt, HFCS, whey protein, maltodextrin, garlic powder, hydrolyzed plant protein, dehydrated parsley, milk products, enzymes, corn syrup solids, calcium propionate, caramel color, paprika and paprika extracts (for color), natural and artificial flavors, onion oil, enzymes, ascorbic acid, and TBHQ (for freshness).7
Fresh Gourmet Italian Seasoned Croutons contain enriched flour, sunflower and/or canola oil, whey protein, salt, sugar, garlic and onion powders, dehydrated parsley, tomato powder, spices, milk, vinegar, yeast extract, natural flavors (milk), paprika extract (color), Rosemary extract and ascorbic acid (for freshness), and enzymes.8
Cheese is another very common ingredient in croutons. Cheese powder including dried parmesan is often used.
For example, Mrs Cubbisons Kitchen Croutons contain enriched wheat flour, plant oils (sunflower and/or canola), yeast, HFCS, salt, wheat gluten, whey protein, garlic powder, sugar, romano cheese solids from cow’s milk (part-skim milk along with cheese cultures, salt, and enzymes), dehydrated parsley, onion powder, torula yeast and yeast extract, turmeric and annatto (for color), natural flavors, citric acid, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, ascorbic acid, maltodextrin, enzymes, and TBHQ.9
New York Brand The Original Texas Toast Seasoned Croutons contain seasoning with sugar, whey protein, salt, romano cheese along with parmesan cheese (milk, cheese cultures, and enzymes), and natural butter flavor (a milk ingredient).10
Walmart’s Great Value Seasoned Croutons contain whey, romano cheese produced from cow’s milk (pasteurized milk and cheese cultures), and parmesan cheese powder (part-skim milk, cheese cultures, salt, and enzymes).11
Commercial Vegan Croutons
After scanning countless labels, all I managed to find was Fresh Gourmet Organic Seasoned Croutons.
- Organic wheat flour
- Organic sunflower and/or organic safflower oil
- Organic cracked rye
- Organic cracked wheat
- Organic sugar
- Organic wheat gluten
- Organic garlic
- Organic onion
- Organic parsley
Lots of organic going on.
Anyway, that’s it for the vegan status of croutons. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Ranken, M.D.; (et al.) (1997). Food Industries Manual. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 464–465. ISBN 0751404047.
- Davidson, Alan (2014). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. p. 233. ISBN 0199677336.
- Natural Butter Flavor: Butter Flavor Extract https://www.thespicehouse.com/butter-natural-flavor
- New York Brand The Original Texas Toast Garlic & Butter Flavored Croutons, 5 Oz Sandra B-Mary C- Tonia- BigMama – https://www.walmart.com/ip/New-York-Brand-The-Original-Texas-Toast-Garlic-Butter-Flavored-Croutons-5-oz/13281637
- Chatham Village Traditional Cut Caesar Croutons, 5 Oz. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Chatham-Village-Traditional-Cut-Caesar-Croutons-5-Oz/10323478
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 221). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Olive Garden Garlic & Romano Seasoned Croutons 5 Oz. Bag Harmoniez- Gary- Lula – https://www.walmart.com/ip/Olive-Garden-Garlic-Romano-Seasoned-Croutons-5-oz-Bag/35735887
- Fresh Gourmet Italian Seasoned Croutons (5 Oz) from Safeway https://www.instacart.com/safeway/products/5147-fresh-gourmet-italian-seasoned-croutons-5-oz
- Mrs Cubbisons Kitchen Mrs Cubbisons Croutons, 5 Oz https://www.walmart.com/ip/Mrs-Cubbisons-Kitchen-Mrs-Cubbisons-Croutons-5-oz/20894388
- New York Brand The Original Texas Toast Seasoned Croutons, 5 Oz Sass- Regularguy – https://www.walmart.com/ip/New-York-Brand-The-Original-Texas-Toast-Seasoned-Croutons-5-oz/10996980
- Great Value Seasoned Croutons, 25 Oz 1kenthomas – https://www.walmart.com/ip/Great-Value-Seasoned-Croutons-25-oz/232064920
- Fresh Groumet Organic Seasoned Croutons. https://www.fooducate.com/product/Fresh%20Gourmet%20Croutons%20Seasoned%20Organic/954B569E-66A9-11E1-AFF9-1231380C18FB