Are Hot Cheetos Vegan?


Are Hot Cheetos Vegan?

Most folks know that original Cheetos are off-limits for vegans, due to the presence of cheese. (Granted, “cheese” flavored snacks aren’t always dairy-derived, but the presence of the orange cancer powder usually spells trouble for vegans).

However, I get asked quite a bit if the hot and spicy variety of the snack is considered vegan, I’d imagine because they contain a spicy red coating on the outside, instead of the usual orange cheesy flavored coating.

Are they vegan? No, spicy Cheetos, or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, are not considered vegan. They’re coated with a powdery substance that contains several milk derivatives. Dairy is off-limits for vegans, thus spicy Cheetos are non-vegan.

What we’ll do here is go over the specific ingredients that render Flamin’ Hot Cheetos non-vegan, and then list any vegan-friendly alternatives on the market.

Why Spicy Cheetos Are Non-Vegan

Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (Original)

These contain:1

  • Enriched Corn Meal (Corn Meal, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, And Folic Acid)
  • Vegetable Oil (Corn, Canola, and/or Sunflower Oil)
  • Maltodextrin (Made from Corn)
  • Sugar
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
  • Yeast Extract
  • Citric Acid
  • Artificial Color Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Yellow 6, and Yellow 5
  • Cheddar Cheese Milk
  • Cheese Cultures
  • Enzymes
  • Onion Powder, Garlic Powder
  • Whey and Whey Protein Concentrate
  • Natural Flavor
  • Buttermilk
  • Sodium Diacetate, Disodium Inosinate, and Disodium Guanylate
  • Salt

I get asked quite a bit if vegans are able to consume dairy derivatives like whey and casein (two proteins abundant in milk). Usually, folks asking this are new to the subject of vegan diets. Either they don’t know that the proteins derive from milk, or they assume that the vegan diet is primarily a health movement.

If it were a health movement, then it would be understandable to wonder whether vegans could have components isolated from milk, especially those that are free of fat and cholesterol.

Alas, all dairy derivatives are off-limits for vegans. The vegan diet is distinct from other forms of vegetarianism in that it requires abstinence from all animal products, however small.6-8

Cheetos Crunchy Flamin’ Hot Limon

Ingredients for these includes:2

  • Enriched Corn Meal (Corn Meal, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, and Folic Acid)
  • Vegetable Oil (Corn, Canola and/or Sunflower Oil)
  • Salt and Sugar
  • Monosodium Glutamate, Yeast Extract
  • Citric Acid
  • Artificial Color (Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Yellow 6, and Yellow 5)
  • Corn Syrup Solids
  • Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Maltodextrin (Made from Corn)
  • Cheddar Cheese (Milk, Cheese Cultures*, Salt, and Enzymes)
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Onion Powder, Garlic Powder
  • Whey
  • Lime Juice
  • Whey Protein Concentrate
  • Natural Flavor
  • Buttermilk
  • Sodium Diacetate, Disodium Inosinate, and Disodium Guanylate

I get asked sometimes if cheese cultures are vegan, probably because it’s not clear from the name if the cultures are derived from cheese or used to produce cheese in the first place.

“Cheese cultures” is a term for a specific group of bacteria strains used for making a given type of cheese.9 Yes, there are vegan-friendly cheese cultures. In this case, it doesn’t matter because the product still contains milk, buttermilk, and milk proteins.

Cheetos Crunchy XXTRA Flamin’ Hot

Ingredients for these include:3

  • Enriched Corn Meal (Corn Meal, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)
  • Vegetable Oil (Corn, Canola, and/or Sunflower Oil)
  • Salt, Sugar
  • Maltodextrin Made from Corn, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein
  • Yeast Extract and Monosodium Glutamate
  • Citric Acid
  • Whey Protein Concentrate
  • Artificial Color Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Yellow 6, and Yellow 5
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Enzymes
  • Onion and Garlic Powders
  • Cheese Cultures
  • Corn Syrup Solid
  • Sodium Diacetate
  • Whey
  • Natural Flavor
  • Buttermilk

As you can see, several issues here. Buttermilk is a common ingredient in processed foods. Buttermilk doesn’t contain any butter, but it is dairy milk. It’s actually milk with the butter (milk fat) removed. It provides a smooth mouthfeel and tangy flavor.

Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Puffs

Finally, we have the puffy variety. Apparently, the UK version of these is, in fact, vegan. But, in the US, they contain several milk products.

This kind contains:4

  • Enriched Corn Meal (Corn Meal, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, And Folic Acid)
  • Vegetable Oil (Corn, Canola and/or Sunflower Oil)
  • Maltodextrin Made from Corn
  • Salt and Sugar
  • Artificial Colors: Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Yellow 6, and Yellow 5
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
  • Yeast Extract
  • Citric Acid
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Milk
  • Cheese Cultures, Salt, and Enzymes
  • Sodium Caseinate*
  • Hydrolyzed Corn Protein
  • Garlic and Onion Powders
  • Whey
  • Natural Flavor
  • Whey Protein Concentrate
  • Buttermilk
  • Corn Syrup Solids
  • Sodium Diacetate, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate
  • Skim Milk

*Sodium caseinate is just the biochemical name for a certain form of casein, the most abundant protein in milk. Casein is the protein in milk that actually precipitates out to form cheese curds.

I get asked quite a bit if it’s vegan, I’d imagine because of the “sodium” in sodium caseinate which kind of obscures the ingredient—after all, most people know that sodium in itself is vegan.

Anyway, just know that caseinate in any form (sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, etc.) is always off-limits for vegans.

The Best Vegan Hot Cheetos Alternative

I’ve had these and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had a texture similar to Cheetos, despite being made from legumes. Like many vegan alternatives, they tend to use higher quality ingredients, so they’re not an exact replica. That may or may not be a good thing depending on your preferences.

These contain:5

  • A Pulse Flour Blend (Pea Flour, Lentil Flour, Faba Bean Protein, and Pea Fiber)
  • High Oleic Sunflower and/or Safflower Oil
  • Maltodextrin
  • Spices
  • Sugar
  • White Distilled Vinegar
  • Citric Acid
  • Yeast Extract
  • Vegetable Juice (for Color)
  • Malic Acid
  • Natural Flavor
  • Annatto Extract (for Color)
  • Natural Smoke Flavor

Keep in mind that the original version of the snack (non-spicy) does contain cheese.

That’s it for the vegan status of hot Cheetos. Thanks for reading.

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

References

  1. Cheetos Crunchy Flamin’ Hot Cheese Flavored Snacks, 1 oz Bags, 40 Count. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Cheetos-Crunchy-Flamin-Hot-Cheese-Flavored-Snacks-1-oz-Bags-40-Count/922908915
  2. Cheetos Crunchy Flamin’ Hot Limon Cheese Flavored Snacks. https://www.heb.com/product-detail/cheetos-crunchy-flamin-hot-limon-cheese-flavored-snacks/1962877
  3. Cheetos Crunchy XXTRA Flamin’ HotCheese Flavored Snacks, 8.5 oz Bag. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Cheetos-Crunchy-XXTRA-Flamin-HotCheese-Flavored-Snacks-8-5-oz-Bag/49909688
  4. Cheetos Puffs Flamin’ Hot Cheese Flavored Snacks, 8 oz Bag. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Cheetos-Puffs-Flamin-Hot-Cheese-Flavored-Snacks-8-oz-Bag/49909697
  5. Peatos, Fiery Hot. https://worldpeasbrand.com/#peatos
  6. 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).
  7. Gary Steiner, Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism, Columbia University Press, 2013, 206
  8. 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.
  9. A Guide to Cheese Cultures for Making Homemade Cheese. https://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/cheese/overview-cheese-starter-cultures/

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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