Lo mein and chow mein are two very popular Chinese dishes made with noodles. The main difference between the two comes down to the methods used to make the stir-fry.
Specifically, lo mein noodles are boiled to softness, while chow mein noodles tend to be fried to crispiness. Other than that, they’re essentially the same food product in terms of their vegan-friendliness, so we’ll be covering them both here.
Are they vegan? Both lo mein and chow mein tend not to be vegan, as they contain wheat-flour egg noodles. The two dishes also tend to contain meat such as seafood, chicken, beef, and pork.1,2
That’s not to say you can’t find vegan and vegetarian versions of the food products, but the standard version of the dishes you’ll encounter in restaurants and grocery stores are off-limits for vegans. What we’ll do here is go into the various reasons lo mein and chow mein are considered unsuitable for vegan consumption.
Why Lo Mein and Chow Mein Are Non-Vegan
Lo Mein and Chow Mein Contain Egg
Again, both dishes contain wheat noodles that contain egg ingredients. A lot of pasta is perfectly suitable for vegans, but unfortunately, pasta classified as noodles contain egg.
The term “lo mein” actually comes from the Cantonese words “lou1” and “min6”, which mean “stirred noodles”, respectively.3
Traditionally, lo mein is just a dry version of wonton noodle soup. The main difference is that the noodles are simply separated from the soup and served on the side.
The thin noodles are made from flour and egg which contribute to their characteristic elastic texture.
Chow mein is traditionally made with boiled egg noodles that are cooked, strained, and left to dry, at which point they are stir-fried and left to sit at the bottom of the wok (the bowl-shaped frying pan used in Chinese cooking), and pressed down. This results in crisp noodles in the underside and edges of the dish.2
Again, a lot of pasta is suitable for vegans. It’s the protein content of durum wheat flour that contributes elasticity to pasta, helping it maintain its shape throughout the cooking process.
It’s the egg that gives noodles an extra elastic texture. So, if eggs are used to make pasta, they are usually added at about 5.5% (by weight).
Another reason eggs are used, is that they contribute color the end product. Durum wheat also tends to have a decent amount of carotenoid pigments, which gives the pasta a rich, golden color.5
Like with elasticity, eggs are often used to further amplify the characteristic—color, in this case. When egg yolks are used, the yellow color is further enhanced.4
That’s not to say that all noodles are yellow. In fact, Asian noodles are often made with flours other than semolina flour, and as a result, can often be clear or translucent in appearance.6
Vegan-Friendly Noodles for Us in Low Mein and Chow Mein
However, eggless noodles are available on the market, so it should be fairly easy to prepare vegan-friendly lo mein and chow mein with a modified recipe.4
Eggless noodles are sometimes called imitation noodles in the West. Asian noodles can even be made from mung bean, rice, yam, taro, buckwheat, corn, and potato flours. Examples of Asian noodles include ramen, rice, soba, and bean thread noodles.7
Ramen is another option when making vegan-friendly lo mein and chow mein. Ramen noodles are a type of instant Japanese noodles that’ve been dehydrated by frying, making them extremely porous and more likely to absorb water compared to regular noodles.
The addition of water to ramen instantly rehydrates them, which makes them popular for use in luncheon noodle meals and soups.4
Not all ramen noodles are vegan-friendly, but many are.8
One reason food manufacturers sometimes forego egg as an ingredient in noodles is to improve their nutritional profile for those seeking low-fat/cholesterol alternatives.
Noodles made with eggs (i.e. most noodles) have a higher fat and cholesterol content than non-egg-containing pastas.9
Pasta is very high in complex carbs and naturally low fat and cholesterol if eggs are omitted. For this reason, low-fat pasta is thought to be beneficial to health, especially for those who have diabetes or need to lower their blood cholesterol levels.10,11
Lo Mein and Chow Mein Often Contain Meat and Non-Vegan Sauces
Lo mein is often stirred in with a thin sauce along with wonton and beef brisket. Fish sauce and oyster sauce are common, both of which are non-vegan. However, in the US, lo mein noodles are usually stir-fried with a vegan-friendly sauce like soy sauce and other seasonings.1
Lo mein is usually served with a mixture of vegan and non-vegan toppings. The former includes vegetables like bok choy and cabbage, while the latter tends to include beef, roast pork, or chicken. Shrimp and lobster are also fairly common.1
In American Chinese cuisine, chow mein tends to be presented as a stir fry containing noodles, chicken, shrimp, pork, and beef, though tofu is somewhat common as a meat substitute.2
Vegetarian chow mein is also fairly common, and some versions of the product may be suitable for vegans if eggless noodles are used.
Are There Any Vegan-Friendly Lo Mein and Chow Mein Products?
This is normally where we’d cover the few vegan-friendly variations currently available. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any frozen meals on the market suitable for vegans. Most contain some sort of non-vegan sauce, like fish sauce or oyster sauce.
I found a few that are suitable for pescatarians and pollotarians.
For example, PF Chang’s Vegetable Lo Mein Frozen Meal contains:12
- Cooked Lo Mein Noodles (Wheat Flour, Water, Soybean Oil, Sodium Carbonate)
- Soy Sauce
- Oyster Sauce—Water, Sugar, Salt, Oyster Extractives (Oyster, Water, Salt), and Corn Starch.
- White Wine
- Canola Oil
- Sesame Seed Oil
- Corn Starch
- Chili Paste (Red Chili Peppers, Distilled Vinegar, Garlic, Salt)
- Chicken Broth
- Natural Flavor
- Mushroom Juice Concentrate
- Vegetables (Carrots, Celery, Onions, Peas)
As you can see, far from vegan-friendly.
Keep in mind that new vegan-friendly products are surfacing all the time, so I’ll keep an eye out for any emerging lo mein and chow mein products suitable for vegans, and add them here in the future.
That’s it for lo mein and chow mein. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Lo Mein. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lo_mein
- Chow Mein. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chow_mein
- “Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary”. Merriam-Webster Online. 2008. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lo%20mein
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 359). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Cole ME, DE Johnson, and MB Stone. Color of pregelatinized pasta as infl uenced by wheat type and selected additives. Journal of Food Science 56(2):488–493, 1991.
- Chansri R, C Puttanlek, V Rungsadthong, and D Uttapap. Characteristics of clear noodles prepared from edible canna starches. Journal of Food Science 70(5):S337– S342, 2005.
- Margen S, et al., eds. Th e Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition. Rebus, 1999.
- Ramen. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramen
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 362). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Best D. Technology fi ghts the fat factor. Prepared Foods 160(2):48–49, 1991.
- Temelli F. Extraction and functional properties of barley beta-glucan as aff ected by temperature and pH. Journal of Cereal Science 62(6):1194–1197, 1997.
- Pf Chang’s Vegetable Lo Mein Frozen Meal – 12.5oz. https://www.target.com/p/pf-chang-s-vegetable-lo-mein-frozen-meal-12-5oz/-/A-51953125