Tacos are among the most popular food items at Jack in the Box. In fact, they’re featured in the snacks, sides, and value sections of the menu. There are some misconceptions out there as to whether Jack in the Box tacos are suitable for vegans, so I thought I’d write this article to help clear things up.
Are they vegan? No, Jack in the Box tacos are not considered vegan. It is true that they contain lots of soy, they also contain chicken and beef.10 As we’ll cover below, any “meat” product that contains 100% soy can’t be marketed as actual meat.
I.e. there is a certain threshold of soy that food manufacturers can use before the food product has to be marketed as a meat alternative.
And meat is just one non-vegan substance that we have to contend with, as there are numerous other animal-derived substances in Jack in the Box tacos. So, what we’ll do here is go over each problematic ingredient.
Why Jack in the Box Tacos Are Not Considered Vegan
A lot of folks have difficulty finding the ingredients, because they don’t come up on the website from a normal internet search. Anyway, I was able to find the ingredients, and here’s a screenshot.10
Check out reference 10 for the link.
Jack in the Box Tacos Contain Meat
These days there are tons of non-meat substitutes on the market that can provide vegans with an inexpensive source of protein. They include lentils, peas, and other beans (e.g. soybeans and their derivative tofu).
Legumes are loaded with complex carbs and fiber and constitute some of the highest-quality sources of plant protein.1
Textured vegetable protein, or TVP, is a term for plant protein derived mostly from soybeans, though other sources can be used like peanuts and cottonseeds. During processing, the raw plant material is processed into fibrous, porous, granules that rehydrate very quickly when exposed to water.
Meat analogs or mock meats are imitation meats, that are getting more and more realistic these days with the Impossible and Beyond burgers. They’re made by blending plant proteins, carbs fats, micronutrients, colorings agents, and flavors.
They’re popular with vegans, vegetarians, and folks who want to reduce their fat and cholesterol intakes—they contain no cholesterol and many (like Boca Burgers) often have 1/3 the fat or less compared to their meat counterparts.2
Nowadays, there are meat analogs that take the form of ham slices, breakfast sausages, beef, bacon, and chicken.
A lot of these foods are, in fact, 100% plant-based. There are numerous hot dogs and hamburgers for sale that are made with non-meat ingredients as the sole source of protein.
Such products are heavily processed and thus contain lots of sodium, so they’re hardly considered health foods.
This is relevant to the Jack in the Box taco situation, because, while a lot of 100% plant-based meat alternatives do exist, there’s one other use of plant-derived protein like soy and TVP that’s relevant here: using plant protein to beef up (or rather “beef down”) real meat.
Which is exactly what happened to the meat in Jack in the Box tacos.
The growing awareness of the link between empty calories, saturated fat, and heart disease has incentivized manufacturers to try to lower the saturated fat and cholesterol content of meat products in order to increase consumer acceptance.
They found out early on that the fat in ground beef could easily be reduced by simply removing some of the meat and substituting it with certain low-calorie extenders like texturized vegetable protein (TVP) as well as soy proteins, various starches and fibers (maltodextrin, modified food starches, etc.), and vegetable gums like carrageenan.3
This is how soy found its way into Jack in the Box tacos. Soy is a favorite for use in ground beef and fabricated or restructured meat products—i.e. food products made largely from meat trimmings leftover from lower-grade animal carcasses. Gross, I know.
The meat is separated mechanically into chunks and particles and then molded together into uniform shapes and sizes by use of various binders.
Soy protein is a binder that’s very effective in helping meat proteins stick together. Other binders used for this purpose include gelatin, egg albumen, wheat proteins, and milk proteins.4
Not only is soy-based TVP commonly used to extend ground meats in order to lower fat content, but it’s also used to reduce costs.5
As of today, the USDA limits the use of soy and TVP in commercially prepared meat products (i.e. products marketed as meat and not a meat substitute) to no more than 30% of the protein present in a given product.6
So, when word got out that Jack in the Box tacos contain lots of soy, it was immediately assumed that they must be “accidentally vegan” soy meat tacos. However, the reality is that Jack in the Box tacos are made with beef mixed with soy proteins, and the latter may constitute no more than 30% of the total protein content of the meat.
Jack in the Box Tacos Contain Worcestershire Sauce
Worcestershire sauce is a popular fermented condiment used to marinate and flavor meat. There are vegan-friendly versions of the sauce, but they are specialty products, and thus not used in food manufacturing.
Standard Worcestershire sauce tends to include anchovies along with spirit vinegar, barley malt vinegar, sugar and molasses, tamarind extract, salt, garlic and onions, spices, and flavorings.7
For vegans, it’s the anchovies (small fish) that rule out traditional Worcestershire.
Jack in the Box Tacos Contain Milk and Milk Products (Cheese, Milk Derivatives, Etc.)
Apparently, they do. I did not see dairy on the label shown above, but the allergen section of the website indicated that dairy is used in regular tacos.
Jack in the Box crunchy tacos come standard with American cheese. One might think that by simply forgoing the cheese would render the food product dairy-free. However, according to the allergen info on the Jack in the Box website, both the Bacon Nacho Tacos and the Regular Tacos contain milk products.8
How could that be? Again, manufacturers love to use meat extenders in order to reduce production costs and lower total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol content.
While TVP and other plant proteins are commonly used, fat-free dry milk solids also make up a common class of meat extenders.3
Then, there are the milk proteins which tend to be used as a binder to help mechanically separated meat adhere together when molded into various shapes.4
Caseinates contribute to the stabilization and emulsification of ingredients, whereas whey protein assists with gelling/binding.9
The proteins are also commonly added to food products to help improve their nutritive value.9
That’s it for the vegan status of Jack in the Box tacos. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 127). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 285). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- DeFreitas Z, et al. Carrageenan effects on salt-soluble meat proteins in model systems. Journal of Food Science 62(3):539–543, 1997.
- Renerre M. Factors involved in the discoloration of beef meat. International Journal of Food Science and Technology 25:613–630, 1990.
- Egbert R, and C Borders. Achieving success with meat analogs. Food Technology 60(1):28–34, 2006.
- Rosenfeld T. Caramelized onions. Fine Cooking 71:60–61, 2005.
- Worcestershire Sauce. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worcestershire_sauce
- Allergens Reference Guide. https://assets.ctfassets.net/a9odgsv44wmq/42mJLVlMm46c4aAwoK80ee/2cfac88d935c27b1f2889bde40a1b97f/AllergensReferenceGuide070119.pdf
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 210). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Ingredient & Allergen Statements Jack in the Box® 2019 (Page 13). https://assets.ctfassets.net/a9odgsv44wmq/1kO01edqJGw46aO4IOis8c/e678e80ff88798d1c381ce1f161b1d90/IngredientAndAllergenStatements070119.pdf