Hash browns are a popular American breakfast dish in which potatoes are shredded, riced, or diced, and then pan-fried.1 The potatoes can also be “julienned” which is a fancy word for cutting food into short, thin strips. The food product is a staple breakfast item at diners in North America, where they’re usually fried on a grill or cooktop.2
Are they vegan? Yes, traditional hash browns are 100% vegan. In their most basic form, they’re simply made with potatoes and various vegetable oils like canola.
Are McDonald’s hash browns vegan? No, McDonald’s hash browns are not vegan. Unlike 99% of the hash browns that you’ll encounter at food establishments, this particular version contains the usual ingredients (potatoes and vegetable oil) along with natural beef flavor which is made with milk derivatives.3
From the nutrition panel, the McDonald’s hash browns contain the following.
Quick note: alternatively, hash browns can be called hashed browns, and some regions in the US, such as Southeastern Michigan, list hash browns (on menus) as home fries.
What we’ll do here is go over the various reasons hash browns are considered vegan.
Why Hash Browns Are Considered Vegan
Most hash browns, that is. I.e., McDonald’s being the exception.
First, there are homemade hash browns. These are just made of potatoes and oil with a bit of salt. Potatoes are a plant food, and thus completely vegan. A lot of folks ask if certain crops, like potatoes, are suitable for vegans.
Either they’re new to the subject of vegan diets (and aren’t quite sure what the eating pattern allows/omits) or they’re wondering whether the crop has negative impacts on the environment which could render the food unsuitable for eco vegans—those who are vegan for environmental reasons.
Yes, you can rest assured that potatoes are 100% vegan. In fact, veganism is defined as the practice of avoiding the use of animals and animal-derived products, especially in diet, though the philosophy rejects the commodity status of animals for any reason.4-6
So, even if a crop did have a negative impact on the environment (relative to other crops), it would still be considered suitable for vegan consumption.
Non-Vegan Hash Brown Applications
Just because a food product is vegan itself, doesn’t mean that every preparation of the dish will be vegan-friendly. Hash browns are a great example of a vegan food product that has many non-vegan manifestations.
Cheese is a very common ingredient in dishes made with hash browns. In fact, some restaurants actually serve hash browns—by default—smothered in cheese.
Cheese, of course, is milk-derived. In case you’re new to the subject, dairy products (anything milk derived) are always off-limits for vegans. Sure, there are plenty of so-called plant “milks” but such products are not actually made of milk.
Vegans avoid milk because the dairy industry treats animals as a commodity—a non-vegan practice—and dairy farming is a particularly inhumane form of animal agriculture.
Cheese isn’t the only thing to look out for. There are milk derivatives. The McDonald’s hash browns mentioned above include dairy in the ingredients. Milk products, as additives, aren’t that common in hash browns, but you will run across them from time to time.
That’s because milk has a variety of useful properties in processed food products—everything from flavor and boosting nutrient content to stabilization and emulsification of ingredients. Anyway, it’s something to look out for. Specifically, look for casein, whey, and dried milk.
Some food establishments serve scrambled eggs on top of their hash browns.
Egg can also be used as a binder to help the potato patties hold their shape. Thankfully, oil tends to be used as a binding agent more than egg, but it wouldn’t hurt to scan the ingredients label just to make sure.
Like egg, meat is often served mixed in or poured over hash browns.
A lot of hash brown dishes incorporate chopped meat, a preparation commonly referred to as hash—or corned beef and hash, etc.2
Vegan-Friendly Commercial Hash Browns
Most commercial vegan hash browns you’ll encounter in grocery stores are suitable for vegans. But, these will just give you an idea of what’s out there.
Hungry Jack Premium Hashbrown Potatoes
These include Idaho potatoes, salt, and dextrose along with sodium bisulfite to preserve freshness.7
Ore-Ida Shredded Hash Brown Potatoes
Potatoes, dextrose, and sodium acid pyrophosphate are the only three ingredients here.8
Cavendish Potato Patties
These are like McDonald’s hash browns, but without the natural beef flavor and milk products. These include potatoes, vegetable oil (various), potato granules (dehydrated potatoes, mono- and diglycerides, and sodium phosphate acid pyrophosphate), potato flour, salt, cornflour (yellow), dextrose, and sodium acid pyrophosphate (for color retention).9
Mono- and diglycerides can be a problem for some in the vegan community. They’re kind of a grey area as they can be derived from animals. But, overall, they tend to be viewed as suitable for vegans to consume, as the compounds are commonly produced from plant-based sources.
Steak ‘N Shake Silver Dollar Potato Hash Browns
These include the usual ingredients (potatoes and vegetable oil) along with water, citric acid (for freshness), dehydrated onion and parsley, dextrose, garlic powder, leavening agents, malic acid, modified cellulose, mono- and diglycerides, potato starch, salt, sodium acid pyrophosphate (for color), sodium citrate, spices, and xanthan gum.10
As you can see, these contain xanthan gum. Like mono- and diglycerides, xanthan gum can be problematic for some vegans.
It’s produced by bacterial fermentation—which is generally a good thing as far as vegan-friendliness—but some cultures of the bacteria used are fed on lactose, which is the simple sugar present in milk.11,12
This is fairly uncommon, so the ingredient is largely considered suitable for vegans.13 But, if you’re a particularly strict vegan, this is just something to keep in mind.
That’s it for hash browns. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Spieler, M.; Giblin, S. (2012). Yummy Potatoes: 65 Downright Delicious Recipes. Chronicle Books LLC. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-4521-2528-2.
- Nigel Slater: Making a Hash Of It Nigel Slater – https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2006/nov/05/foodanddrink.recipes
- Hash Browns: Shredded Hash Brown Patties: Mcdonald’s https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/product/hash-browns.html
- Helena Pedersen, Vasile Staescu, “Conclusion: Future Directions for Critical Animal Studies”, in Nik Taylor, Richard Twine (eds.), The Rise of Critical Animal Studies: From the Margins to the Centre, Routledge, 2014 (262–276), 267
- Gary Steiner, Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism, Columbia University Press, 2013, 206.
- Gary Francione, “Animal Welfare, Happy Meat and Veganism as the Moral Baseline”, in David M. Kaplan, The Philosophy of Food, University of California Press, 2012 (169–189) 182.
- Hungry Jack Premium Hashbrown Potatoes, 4.2 Oz. Kkarene – https://www.walmart.com/ip/Hungry-Jack-Premium-Hashbrown-Potatoes-4-2-oz/21476098
- Ore-ida Shredded Hash Brown Potatoes, 30 Oz Bag. Jojo – https://www.walmart.com/ip/Ore-Ida-Shredded-Hash-Brown-Potatoes-30-oz-Bag/10794796
- Cavendish Farms Cavendish Farms Potato Patties, 20 Ea. Larry – https://www.walmart.com/ip/Cavendish-Farms-Cavendish-Farms-Potato-Patties-20-ea/165341142
- Steak ‘n Shake Silver Dollar Potato Hash Browns, 20 Oz. Sdukfan – https://www.walmart.com/ip/Steak-N-Shake-Silver-Dollar-Potato-Hash-Browns-20-oz/50128119
- 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.
- Tortora, G.J., Funke, B.R., & Case, C.L. (2010). Microbiology: An Introduction, 10th edition. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings. Pg. 801.
- The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog https://www.vrg.org/blog/2018/06/28/xanthan-gum-is-vegan-no-egg-whites/