Are Nilla Wafers Vegan? What About Generic Vanilla Wafers?

Nilla Wafers (formerly Vanilla Wafers) is a brand of vanilla-flavored cookies owned by Nabisco. The company has a number of wafer-style vanilla-flavored cookies, and Nilla Wafers are the most iconic. They are synonymous with vanilla wafers because name the name was shortened in 1967 to the current abbreviated form Nilla Wafer.1

Are they vegan? Both Nabisco Nilla Wafers and generic vanilla wafers are non-vegan. Nilla Wafers contain milk derivatives, and generic versions of the cookie tend to contain egg and other non-vegan ingredients.

That’s a shame because the food product needn’t be non-vegan. After all, the term wafer simply refers to cookies or crackers that are very light, thin, and crispy.

What we’ll do here is go over the commonly available versions of the food product and why each is non-vegan.

Why Nilla Wafers and Vanilla Wafers and Non-Vegan

Milk (All Variants)

Ingredients for Nabisco Nilla Wafers include:2

  • Unbleached Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate Riboflavin, and Folic Acid)
  • Sugar
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Canola Oil
  • Whey (From Milk)
  • Palm Oil
  • Emulsifiers (Vegetable Monoglycerides, Soy Lecithin, Datem)
  • Leavening (Baking Soda, Calcium Phosphate)
  • Salt
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Artificial Flavor
  • Natural Flavor

The ingredients in Lil’ Dutch Maid Vanilla Wafers include:3

  • Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)
  • Sugar
  • Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil
  • Dextrose
  • Salt
  • Natural and Artificial Flavors
  • Whey (Milk)
  • Baking Soda
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Ammonium Bicarbonate.

Every brand of vanilla wafers I’ve run across thus far includes milk in the mix.

It seems like most snack foods contain milk in one form or another. The presence of milk in processed foods is pervasive. Milk itself is a beverage, but it has a lot of useful properties in food production.

Milk is the main ingredient in many foods like yogurt, and a lot of other food products rely heavily on ingredients derived from milk—e.g. puddings, cookies, caramel, cakes and pies.4

Some vanilla wafers use butter, which is made from milk. Any food product containing real butter (not the plant-derived stuff) is dairy-based to some degree. Butter is high in fat so it imparts a nice flavor and mouthfeel.

For example, Keebler uses butter in their vanilla wafers:5

  • Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)
  • Sugar
  • Soybean and Palm Oil with TBHQ for Freshness
  • Salt
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Leavening (Baking Soda, Monocalcium Phosphate)
  • Butter (Cream, Salt)
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Natural and Artificial Vanilla Flavor

Then, there are proteins and other milk-derived compounds that make their way into processed snack foods. As mentioned above, Nabisco Nilla Wafers contain whey protein. Whey makes up about 20% of the protein present in milk. It can’t be found anywhere in the plant kingdom, so it’s always non-vegan.

Milk proteins are commonly added to processed foods to emulsify/stabilize ingredients, improve mouthfeel, and boost nutritive value.4

Egg (Generic Vanilla Wafers)

Great Value vanilla wafers include:6

  • Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)
  • Sugar
  • Canola Oil and/or Soybean Oil and/or Palm Oil
  • Salt
  • Natural and Artificial Flavors
  • Whey Protein (from Milk)
  • Eggs
  • Leavening (Baking Soda and/or Calcium Phosphate)
  • Annatto (Color)
  • Emulsifiers (Mono- and Diglycerides, Soy Lecithin)

Kinnikinnick vanilla wafers also include egg in the ingredients.

In fact, egg whites are listed second in the ingredients, meaning it’s the second most abundant ingredient by weight.

Ingredients include:7

  • Cane Sugar
  • Egg Whites
  • White Rice Flour
  • Potato Starch
  • Non-Hydrogenated Shortening (Palm Oil, Modified Palm Oil)
  • Pea Starch
  • Tapioca Starch
  • Cellulose
  • Water
  • Tapioca Syrup
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Salt
  • Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Pea Starch, Mono Calcium Phosphate)
  • Modified Cellulose
  • Sunflower Lecithin
  • Beta-Carotene (Color)
  • Natural Flavor

Egg is a common ingredient in processed foods. They have a unique ability to flavor, leaven, and emulsify, stabilize, thicken, and bind the ingredients they’re mixed with.8

They’re often used for these functions in the preparation of foods like snacks, entrees, and even processed meats.9

Don’t get me wrong, there are several cookies on the market that don’t make use of eggs. Oreos are a good example. But, they will regularly pop up in the ingredients label when you’re scanning cookies for vegan-friendliness.

Palm Oil (Most Variants)

Palm oil is a common ingredient in processed cookies and other snack foods. Nabisco Nilla wafers contain palm oil. Actually, all of the above but the Lil’ Dutch Maid contain the stuff.

Palm oil is a popular plant-based oil for use in snack foods. It’s one of the only sources of plant-derived saturated fat which makes it a favorite highly processed “junk” food. Saturated fat is less susceptible to oxidation compared to unsaturated fatty acids, so it’s great for extending shelf-life.

It’s not a strictly non-vegan ingredient. I.e. not all vegans restrict its intake. But, many vegans—especially eco vegans consider it a non-vegan ingredient or at the very least want to limit its consumption.

Its cultivation is thought to have a number of negative impacts on the climate.10,11

To produce palm oil, large areas of land have to be cleared which threatens critically endangered species.12-15

The clearing of land also contributes to rising greenhouse gas emissions.16-19

Again, palm oil itself (without animal-derived ingredients) wouldn’t render the food product non-vegan by most standards. But, it’s just one more ingredient that contributes to the problematic status of the food for vegans.

That’s it for Nilla Wafers and generic vanilla wafers. Thanks for reading.

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


  1. “Counterintuitive Wafers – December 6, 1999”.
  2. Nabisco Nilla Wafers.
  3. Lil’ Dutch Maid Vanilla Wafers.
  4. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 211). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
  5. Keebler Vanilla Wafers Original Snack Cookies, 12 Oz.
  6. Great Value Vanilla Wafers, 11 oz.
  7. Vanilla Wafers.
  8. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 254). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
  9. Pszczola DE, and K Banasaiak. Ingredients. Food Technology 60(5):45–92, 2006.
  10. Clay, Jason (2004). World Agriculture and the Environment. p. 219. ISBN 978-1-55963-370-3.
  11. “Palm oil: Cooking the Climate”. Greenpeace. 8 November 2007. Archived from the original on 10 April 2010.
  12. “The bird communities of oil palm and rubber plantations in Thailand” (PDF). The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 October 2016.
  13. “Palm oil threatening endangered species” (PDF). Center for Science in the Public Interest. May 2005. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 September 2012.
  14. Shears, Richard (30 March 2012). “Hundreds of orangutans killed in north Indonesian forest fires deliberately started by palm oil firms”. Daily Mail. London. Archived from the original on 20 April 2013.
  15. “Camera catches bulldozer destroying Sumatra tiger forest”. World Wildlife Fund. 12 October 2010. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013.
  16. Foster, Joanna M. (1 May 2012). “A Grim Portrait of Palm Oil Emissions”. The New York Times. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013.
  17. Yui, Sahoko; Yeh, Sonia (1 December 2013). “Land use change emissions from oil palm expansion in Pará, Brazil depend on proper policy enforcement on deforested lands”. Environmental Research Letters. 8 (4): 044031. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/4/044031. ISSN 1748-9326.
  18. “Researchers warn against high emissions from oil palm expansion in Brazil”. 13 November 2013.
  19. Rosenthal, Elisabeth (31 January 2007). “Once a Dream Fuel, Palm Oil May Be an Eco-Nightmare”. The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 September 2017.