Funnel cake is a popular regional food product common in North America, especially at fairs, carnivals, and sporting events. It was always my favorite food at theme parks like Six Flags and Universal. A lot of folks grew up eating them and want to know if they have to give them up after switching to a 100% plant-based diet.
So are funnel cakes vegan? Most funnel cake is non-vegan but suitable for vegetarians. The traditional recipe calls for a standard batter, including flour, sugar, leaveners, eggs, and milk. Making your own would be easy, but 99% of pre-made funnel cakes are not vegan.1
What we’ll do here is go over the various non-vegan ingredients common in funnel cake. None are off-limits for vegetarians.
Why Most Funnel Cake Is Non-Vegan
I say most because funnel cake is made from a batter and not all batters contain animal products.
Flour mixtures are classified as doughs or batters, depending on their liquid-to-flour ratio, with batters having a much higher water content.
Like doughs, batters are classified by their moisture content, with more water being used in pour batters and less water in drop batters.2
Drop batters include dumplings and hush puppies, while pour batters are used to make pancakes, waffles, crepes, funnel cakes, etc.
If you’ve ever seen a funnel cake being made, you know that a batter is formed at which point it’s poured through a funnel in a circular pattern over a hot pan of oil (or into a deep fryer), creating an overlapping mass of golden brown deliciousness.
Pour batters usually average about 2/3 to 1 cup of liquid for every cup of flour to get the right consistency.
This brings us to the first non-vegan ingredient.
Funnel Cake Batter Contains Eggs
Unfortunately for vegans, eggs are often used to add water content.
Eggs are also used as a binder. Pour batters are used to make “quick bread” which is a category of bread that can be made quickly because it doesn’t rely on yeast fermentation for leavening. Being made quickly, they also skip out on a lot of the gluten formation that takes place in yeast bread.
Gluten helps give structural integrity to bread products because the protein forms a network and then solidifies when cooked which helps the end product hold together. Because funnel cakes lack the gluten development needed to hold together, egg is added to the mix to help serve as a binder.
The protein content of eggs makes them a favorite for use as a binder. For example, breaded meat is usually dipped in egg just to get the flour to stick. The high heat coagulates the protein allowing it to act as an adhesive, binding the other ingredients together.3
Milk Products and Dairy Derivatives Are Common
Milk can be used to add moisture to the batter. Milk isn’t always great for leavening, but funnel cakes don’t require a lot of rise, so it’s a fairly common ingredient.
For one, it contains certain proteins that contribute a lot of useful functions in baked goods and other processed food products. The caseinates help emulsify and stabilize ingredients, while the whey proteins provide a good texture.4
Then you have the milk sugar, lactose, which helps darken baked goods because it undergoes a browning reaction when exposed to heat.4
Funnel cakes are usually served plain or with powdered sugar but are often served with chocolate, jam/jelly, and other ingredients.
Some of the toppings, like fresh fruit and cinnamon, are completely vegan-friendly, but many fall short of being suitable for plant-based eaters.
If real chocolate (chocolate chips, etc.) is used, it will probably be in the form of milk chocolate, which contains dairy derivatives.
Then you have whipped cream which is always non-vegan. A lot of whipped topping is made mostly of high-fructose corn syrup and vegetable gums, but even the most processed of whipped cream will still contain milk in one form or another.
Are There Any Commercial Vegan Funnel Cakes?
If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you don’t have to worry about any of the above ingredients. Unfortunately, we vegans are going to have a much harder time finding an appropriate funnel cake.
Even if you want to make a homemade vegan-friendly funnel cake, you will have difficulty finding a mix that doesn’t contain egg and milk in some form.
Fun Pack Foods makes the most widely available DIY funnel cake mix, and the ingredients are:5
- Enriched Malted Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)
- Soy Flour
- Wheat Gluten
- Whey (Milk)
- Sodium Bicarbonate
- Whole Egg
- Sodium Aluminum Phosphate
- Soybean Oil
- Artificial Flavor
Your best bet is to make your own or find a vegan restaurant in your area that sells the stuff. The sad thing is that a funnel cake really needn’t have eggs or milk. Manufacturers could skip out on both ingredients and folks probably wouldn’t be able to tell much of a difference.
Some quick breads like breakfast biscuits, don’t call for eggs and they turn out just fine.
If you want to make your own, you’re in luck because there are a lot of multi-purpose flours out there. Pancake mix makes for a good all-purpose quick bread flour, and I’ve heard it makes really good funnel cakes.
Annie’s makes a great widely available pancake mix that’s suitable for vegans.
It contains organic wheat flour, cane sugar, expeller-pressed sunflower oil, leaveners (baking soda, monocalcium phosphate, and sodium acid pyrophosphate), and sea salt.6
You’ll follow a standard funnel cake recipe, but use pancake flour and omit the eggs and milk.
Your favorite plant milk can stand in for cows milk. I would use a plant milk instead of water, by the way, because a vegan-friendly pancake mix won’t contain dry milk.
As for the egg, you can use a vegan egg replacement or 1 Tbsp. ground flaxseed w/3 Tbsp. water.
That’s it for the vegan and vegetarian status of funnel cake. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Easy Funnel Cake Recipe. https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/09/easy-funnel-cake-fried-dough-recipe.html
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 384). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 254). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 211). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- (2 Pack) Fun Pack Foods Traditional Flavor Funnel Cake Mix, 9.6 Oz/ Erica- Karen – https://www.walmart.com/ip/2-Pack-Fun-Pack-Foods-Traditional-Flavor-Funnel-Cake-Mix-9-6-oz/841369672
- Annie’s Certified Organic Pancake & Waffle Mix, 26 Oz Box Helena-Peggy J – https://www.walmart.com/ip/Annie-s-Certified-Organic-Pancake-Waffle-Mix-26-oz-Box/161455695