Are Hawaiian Rolls Vegan?

I get this question quite a bit and had to do some research to figure out what exactly Hawaiian bread is. It got its name from a type of bread that originated in Hawaii back in the 1950s, by a family that went on to found King’s Hawaiian Bread.1

It was inspired by a type of Portuguese sweet bread. In fact, if you search Hawaiian bread on the internet, the Wikipedia page for Portuguese sweet bread is among the first results.

Anyway, they originated with King’s Hawaiian, but many other brands have have Hawaiian sweet rolls on the market these days.

Are they vegan? Some Hawaiian rolls are vegan. All varieties of King’s Hawaiian rolls are non-vegan, but there are a brands on the market that put out Hawaiian rolls suitable for most vegans

What we’ll do first is list the ingredients, and then analyze the ones that are unsuitable for vegans.

Why Some Hawaiian Rolls Are Non-Vegan

The Original King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls contain:2

  • Enriched flour—wheat and malted barley flours, reduced iron, and B vitamins (thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid)
  • Water, sugar, and liquid sugar (sugar and water)
  • Butter (pasteurized cream and salt)
  • Eggs
  • Potato flour and yeast
  • Whey protein
  • Non-fat milk
  • Soy flour, salt, degerminated yellow corn flour, wheat gluten, wheat flour, and wheat starch
  • Sodium stearoyl lactylate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, sodium silicoaluminate, ammonium sulfate, sorbitan monostearate, and calcium silicate
  • Datem, enzymes, ascorbic acid, and monocrystalline cellulose

Again, this is basically a variation of the Portuguese sweet bread recipe. Portuguese sweet bread is a type of bread known for its heavy use of milk, eggs, and butter.9

The King’s Hawaiian Honey Wheat Dinner Rolls contain:3

  • Enriched flour—wheat flour, malted barley flour, reduced iron, niacin, thiamine mononitrate, folic acid, and riboflavin.
  • Water, sugar, and yeast
  • Whole wheat flour, a grain blend (whole wheat flour, organic oat flour, yellow corn flour, whole barley flour, whole rye flour, whole triticale flour), and salt
  • Butter—pasteurized cream and salt
  • Honey, invert sugar, and liquid sugar
  • Eggs
  • Wheat gluten, wheat starch, potato flour, soy flour
  • Whey protein
  • Non-fat milk
  • Datem, mono- and diglycerides, and enzymes
  • Degerminated yellow cornflour
  • Sorbic acid, calcium stearate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, ascorbic acid, sodium silicoaluminate, ammonium sulfate, calcium silicate, sorbitan monostearate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and monocrystalline cellulose

Ingredients for the King’s Hawaiian Savory Butter Dinner Rolls include:4

  • Enriched flour—wheat and malted barley flours, reduced iron, and B vitamins (thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid).
  • Water, sugar
  • Butter
  • Non-fat milk
  • Eggs
  • Potato flour, yeast, wheat gluten, degerminated corn flour, wheat flour, and wheat starch
  • Sodium stearoyl lactylate, sorbic acid, ascorbic acid, monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, sodium silicoaluminate, ammonium sulfate, sorbitan monostearate, calcium silicate
  • Whey protein
  • Datem, mono- and diglycerides, microcrystalline cellulose

Finally, the the King’s Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Sub Rolls contain:5

  • Enriched flour (wheat and malted barley flours, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, niacin, riboflavin, and folic acid)
  • Water, sugar, liquid sugar
  • Butter (pasteurized cream and salt)
  • Eggs
  • Yeast, inactive yeast, salt, wheat gluten
  • Whey protein
  • Potato flour, soy flour, degerminated yellow corn flour, wheat flour, and wheat starch
  • Non-fat milk
  • Datem, sorbic acid, ascorbic acid, enzymes, mono- and diglycerides, microcrystalline cellulose
  • Sodium stearoyl lactylate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, sodium silicoaluminate, ammonium sulfate, sorbitan monostearate, calcium silicate

There are several other non-vegan brands on the market, but the above should give you a good idea of what to look out for.

Non-Vegan Ingredients

As you can see, the above recipes spell disaster for vegan dieters.


First, we have eggs, which typically aren’t an issue for yeast bread products. Eggs are commonly used as a binder in baked goods, but, wheat flour has its own natural binder: gluten.

When exposed to water, the proteins in wheat flour form a complex known as gluten which binds ingredients. The dough expands to accommodate gas, at which point it solidifies from the high heat which gives the bread structural integrity.

For this reason, most yeast bread products don’t require the use of eggs. Eggs are typically used for quick breads (pancakes, waffles, etc.) which don’t usually allow sufficient time for gluten development.

There is at least one big exception to the use of eggs in yeast bread: sweet yeast rolls.6

While optional, eggs are still commonly used in certain yeast bread products like Hawaiian and Portuguese sweet bread, when manufacturers want to enrich the taste, texture, and color or add strength to the gluten network.6

Eggs are often used to brown bread products. The egg yolk contributes a golden brown color to cookies, yellow cakes, pastries, egg-containing noodles, and dinner rolls.6

Milk and Butter

Hawaiian bread makers really pulled out all of the stops when it came to dairy products. Each and every bread product on the website (I only listed the rolls but there are several) make heavy use of milk, milk derivatives (e.g. proteins like whey), and butter.

I sometimes get asked if dairy products are vegan, usually by newcomers to the subject of plant-based diets. Some people assume—and understandably so—that the vegan diet is primarily a health movement.

After all, there are enough vegans in the community who are mostly concerned with health to warrant such an assumption.

If you are new to the subject, just know that dairy products are never considered suitable for vegans.

While there is somewhat of a divide in the community when it comes to insect-derived products, there is 100% consensus that dairy is off-limits.7,8

Other Potentially Problematic Ingredients

Even if Hawaiian rolls didn’t contain milk, butter, or eggs, they’d still pose problems for really strict vegans, as most contain ingredients that some deem to be off-limits.

These ingredients include stuff like stearic acid which is made from fatty acids that can be found in plants but are sometimes obtained from triglycerides derived from animal fat.

The presence of such additives doesn’t render food products non-vegan by most standards, but many vegans try to avoid the ingredients.

Commercial Vegan Hawaiian Rolls

These are vegan by most standards, but they do have mono- and diglycerides which could be problematic for some.

Just know that consuming these does not make you a non-vegan.

Sara Lee Sweet Hawaiian Rolls

These contain enriched wheat flour (the usual micronutrient fortifications), water, yeast, sugar, salt, vegetable oil, wheat gluten, preservatives, potato flakes, datem, corn flour, ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides, monoglycerides, cellulose gum, Reb A (stevia leaf sweetener), sucralose, coloring, spices, citric acid, grain vinegar, potassium iodate, calcium sulfate, monocalcium phosphate, and soy lecithin.10

Schwebel’s Sweet Hawaiian Rolls

These contain enriched wheat flour, water, sugar, corn syrup,  white rye flour, potato flour, wheat gluten, yeast, soybean oil, salt, yellow corn flour, maltodextrin, corn sugar, annatto and turmeric extracts, natural and artificial flavor, preservatives, monoglycerides, and calcium sulfate.11

That’s it for the vegan status of Hawaiian Rolls. Thanks for reading.

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


  1.  Elizabeth “Nani” Nihipali; Lessa Kanani Pelayo; Christian Hanz Lozada; Cheryl Villareal Roberts; Lorelie Santonil Olaes (14 May 2012). Hawaiians in Los Angeles. Arcadia Publishing. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-7385-9320-3.
  2. Original Hawaiian Sweet 12 Pack Dinner Rolls.
  3. Honey Wheat 12 Pack Dinner Rolls.
  4. Savory Butter 12 Pack Dinner Rolls.
  5. Original Hawaiian Sweet Mini Sub Rolls.
  6. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 258). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
  7. Why Vegans Can’t Decide Whether They’re Allowed To Eat Honey. Daniel Engber –
  8. Veganism.
  9. Portuguese Sweet Bread.
  10. Sara Lee Sweet Hawaiian Rolls, 12 Count, 15 Oz. Lori- Cheryl –
  11. Schwebel’s Sweet Hawaiian Rolls, 12 Ct, 10 Oz.