Are Egg Rolls Vegan or Vegetarian? What About Wrappers?


Are egg rolls vegan? Are egg rolls vegetarian?

There are tons of rolls in Chinese cuisine, and egg rolls are of the deep-fried variety common in American Chinese restaurants. A lot of vegans grew up eating the tasty, savory, cylindrical appetizers, and want to know if they can continue to do so after switching to a 100% plant-based diet.

Are they vegan or vegetarian? Egg rolls can be both vegan and vegetarian but tend not to be either. Most contain meat in one form or another. Ironically, most don’t contain egg, so in the event an egg roll doesn’t contain meat, it often turns out to be vegan.1

What we’ll do here is go over the various non-vegan/vegetarian ingredients often present in the appetizer, so you’ll know what to look out for. Then I’ll list any egg rolls on the market that are suitable for plant-based eaters.

Egg Roll Ingredients and Their Vegan/Vegetarian Status

Eggs

Interestingly, despite the name, it’s not really a given that an egg roll will contain any egg.

There isn’t usually any egg in the filling, and the wrapper (made of wheat flour) can but doesn’t always contain any egg.1,2

When it comes to Asian dumplings and wraps, it just depends on the particular food product. For example, the wrappers for wontons always contain egg by default, while those for spring roll typically don’t have egg. Egg roll wrappers, on the other hand, are hit or miss.

In fact, it’s not exactly clear where the word “egg” in egg roll even came from.

An old 1979 Washington Post article speculated that because the Chinese word for “spring” sounds kinda similar to the Chinese word for “egg”, Americans may have just confused the words. But, this explanation wasn’t widely accepted.3

Just know that egg rolls don’t typically contain egg in the filling but egg is fairly common in the wrapper.

If you’re an ovo- or ovo-lacto vegetarian, then you don’t need to worry about it, but if you’re vegan you should definitely vet each product and menu offering for egg.

Meat Fillings

So, if egg isn’t common in the filling, then what is?

Thankfully, cabbage is the main ingredient. In fact, I don’t think I’ve run across an egg roll without the leafy green. If you’re really lucky, your favorite restaurant will serve egg rolls with cabbage and other plant-based ingredients (spices, etc.) as the sole ingredients.

Cabbage wasn’t always the main feature of egg rolls. For example, a 1938 cookbook, Cook at Home in Chinese, included a recipe for egg rolls that called for bamboo shoots, scallions, water chestnuts, roast pork, shrimp, salt, MSG, palm oil, sugar, and pepper.4

But, for whatever reason, cabbage is the go-to ingredient in egg rolls these days.

While cabbage is the one ingredient that you’ll definitely find in the food product, it’s much more likely that most egg rolls you encounter will have a combination of cabbage and meat—usually chopped pork or chicken.

This is especially true in American Chinese cuisine.

In fact, most egg roll definitions describe the food product as a savory, cylindrical, roll filled with chopped pork, shredded cabbage, and other fillings wrapped in a wheat flour skin, which is fried in hot oil.5

If meat is present, then it rules out the food product for both vegans and vegetarians.

Meat-Based Sauces

You can always forego the sauce, so this one isn’t a big deal. But, it’s important to know that some sauce served with egg rolls can contain animal ingredients.

Egg rolls are usually served with plant-based sauces such as soy or plum, but can be served alongside duck sauce.6,7

Hot and Sour sauce is also common which can contain chicken broth.8

Commercial Vegan Egg Rolls

Vegetarian egg rolls (with no meat) are much easier to find, but I did manage to run down a couple of brands that omit all animal products (likely on accident).

The below are both store-bought varieties. I’d imagine that most of you are looking to eat egg rolls at Chinese Buffets. It’s likely that most of the egg rolls in standard Chinese restaurants are non-vegan, as most will contain egg and/or meat.

Your best bet is to research specific Asian restaurants that have a vegan and vegetarian menu.

Cohens Food Cohens Egg Rolls

The egg roll wrapper includes:9

  • Bleached Wheat Flour and Vital Wheat Gluten
  • Water and Soybean Oil
  • Salt and Modified Food Starch
  • Potassium Sorbate, Ascorbic Acid, and Citric Acid
  • Yellows 5 and 6

The filling contains:9

  • Cabbage and Napa Cabbage
  • Water chestnuts, Carrots, Peppers, Celery, and Onions
  • Teriyaki Glaze Sauce—Soy Sauce (Water, Wheat, Soybean, Salt), Water, Sugar, Modified Food Starch, Vinegar, Dehydrated Ginger, Onion Juice Concentrate, Garlic Powder, Natural Flavor, Malic Acid, Yeast Extract, Fermented Wheat Protein, Sodium Benzoate
  • Sesame Oil and Sesame Seeds
  • Dehydrated Onions, Salt, Ginger, and Pepper.
  • Corn Starch, Modified Food Starch

Barney’s Egg Rolls

This one contains:

The egg roll wrapper contains:10

  • Bleached flour, Vital Wheat Gluten
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Soybean oil
  • Potassium Sorbate (as a Preservative)
  • Ascorbic Acid, and Citric Acid (as Antioxidants)
  • Modified Food Starch
  • Yellows 5 and 6

The filling contains:10

  • Cabbage and Napa Cabbage
  • Waterchestnuts, Carrots, Peppers, Onions, and Celery
  • Teriyaki Glaze Sauce—Soy Sauce (Water, Soybean, Wheat, Salt), Water, Sugar, Modified Food Starch, Vinegar, Dehydrated Ginger, Onion Juice Extract, Fermented Wheat Protein, Sodium Benzoate (as a Preservative)
  • Sesame Oil and Sesame Seeds
  • Dehydrated Onion, Salt, Ginger, and Pepper
  • Modified Food Starch, Corn Starch

That’s it for the vegan status of egg rolls. Thanks for reading.

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

References

  1. Copycat Takeout Egg Rolls. Facebook.com/thewoksoflife – https://thewoksoflife.com/takeout-egg-rolls/
  2. Egg Roll Wrappers. Gourmet Sleuth – https://www.gourmetsleuth.com/ingredients/detail/egg-roll-wrappers
  3. Inside the Egg Roll. Melissa Davis – https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1979/01/25/inside-the-egg-roll/0b41235d-5f79-4580-8c5b-c291c1ae3bfc/?noredirect=on
  4. Original Egg Roll. http://www.hungrybrowser.com/phaedrus/m0406M15.htm
  5. On the Table – the Curious Home Of Gary Allen, Food Writer & Dillettante. http://justserved.onthetable.us/2009/06/egg-rolls-in-america.html
  6. Egg Roll Condiments. – General Discussion – Eggs – Page 2. Redchile – https://www.chowhound.com/post/egg-roll-condiments-390781?page=2
  7. What To Make with Those Leftover Chinese Food Condiment Packets. https://whateverworks.typepad.com/bonbon/2015/05/condiment-packets.html
  8. Hot-and-sour Sauce. https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/hot-sour-sauce
  9. Cohens Food Cohens Egg Rolls, 12 Ea. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Cohens-Food-Cohens-Egg-Rolls-12-ea/179930313
  10. Barney’s Egg Rolls. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Barney-s-Egg-Rolls/119608369

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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