Are Onion Rings Vegan or Vegetarian? (Generic, Burger King, Sonic, Etc.)


Are Onion Rings Vegan or Vegetarian?

Onion rings are a popular side dish or appetizer commonly found in North and South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and South Africa. So yeah, pretty much everywhere. Because they’re so common, a lot of vegans and vegetarians grew up eating the appetizer and want to know if they can continue to do so after switching to a 100% plant-based diet.

Are they vegan? Onion rings can be vegan, but the traditional recipe calls for egg and/or milk. A lot of the freshly battered ORs you’ll encounter in restaurants will be non-vegan, while a lot of the highly processed kind (grocery stores, fast food restaurants) will be vegan.

Are they vegetarian? All onion rings are considered suitable for lacto-ovo vegetarians, the subgroup of vegetarians that allow for eggs and dairy as the sole source of animal protein.  

This is not to say it’s impossible to find vegan onion rings in restaurants, but in the event that you do, it will probably be from a vegan restaurant or one that puts out vegan specialty products.

What we’ll do here is cover the various ingredients that usually disqualify onion rings as vegan, and what can be used to replace them. Then, we’ll go over the vegan and vegetarian status of onion rings from specific fast food restaurants.

Finally, we’ll look at any vegan-friendly onion rings currently on the market.

Why Onion Rings Are Non-Vegan

Most Onion Rings Contain Egg

Eggs perform a number of useful functions, and binding is one of them. Onion rings are breaded and battered in a type of quick bread. These batters are mixed very quickly and don’t allow much time for gluten formation.

Gluten is the protein naturally present in wheat flour that provides a nice elastic structure and allows ingredients to adhere. Also, batters are different from dough in that they contain lots of water which is bad for gluten development.

That’s where eggs come in. The eggs provide an outside protein source. The egg proteins mix with the other ingredients and then harden when cooked which gives the breading structural integrity.

So, it’s the high protein content of eggs that makes them excellent binders. The onions are either dipped in a batter containing egg or dipped in a bowl of beaten egg and then tossed around in breading.1

During the cooking process, heat coagulates the egg protein, creating an adhesive that binds the other ingredients to the surface of the cooked material. The mixture cooks and the proteins firm, providing structural strength.1

Onion Rings Often Contain Milk

If you’re a connoisseur of onion rings, as I was prior to becoming vegan, you probably noticed that not all onion rings have the same texture. To me, the beer-battered variety always had a nice uniform, bread-like consistency, while the crunchier kind had a flakier crust that crumbled very easily when handled.

This is because some recipes forego eggs in the batter. They don’t hold together as well, but they do provide textural properties that some people prefer.

Unfortunately, when onion rings don’t contain eggs, they usually contain milk. The onions are dipped in a milk mixture that contains various seasonings, at which point they’re rolled around in a bowl of flour.

More often than not, the onion ring batter used in restaurants contains milk and eggs, which is double trouble for vegans. Lacto-ovo vegetarians needn’t be worried about eggs or milk, but vegans will need to extra cautious when it comes to onion rings.

Are Burger King Onion Rings Vegan?

The above goes for generic onion rings that you’ll encounter in most restaurants. But, each restaurant has its own formulation, and some of the more processed onion rings will swap out a lot of the milk and eggs for less “natural” ingredients.

Are they vegan? No, Burker King onion rings are not considered vegan. While the batter is eggless, it does contain a milk derivative—namely, whey protein. Whey is only found in milk (it’s the second most abundant protein in milk), so it’s always dairy-derived and thus never vegan.

Specifically, they contain:2

  • Salt, Sugar, and Water
  • Bleached Wheat Flour
  • Dehydrated Onion
  • Modified Corn Starch, Food Starch-Modified
  • Yellow Corn Flour
  • Gelatinized Wheat Starch, Wheat Gluten, Yeast Extract, Dried Yeast
  • Vegetable Gums (Guar Gum, Methylcellulose, Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose)
  • Fructose, Dextrose
  • Onion Powder, Garlic Powder
  • Sodium Alginate, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate)
  • Sunflower Oil, Grill Flavor (From Sunflower Oil), Canola Oil, Modified Palm Oil, Parfried In Soybean Oil
  • Natural Flavors
  • Whey
  • Spice
  • Corn Starch
  • Sorbitol
  • Calcium Chloride

So close, but so far.

Are Sonic Onion Rings Vegan?

Yes, Sonic onion rings are considered vegan. They managed to forego both milk and eggs in their batter. This is a good example of how foods can be so highly processed that they end up being more vegan-friendly, as food manufacturers swap out milk and egg for ingredients that have a longer shelf-life.

They don’t list the ingredients directly on the website, but below is a screenshot from the page that displays allergen information.3

Commercial Vegan Onion Rings

Kineret Onion Rings

These contain:4

  • Diced Onions
  • Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)
  • Vegetable Oil (Soybean and/or Canola)
  • Yellow Corn Flour, Cornstarch, Bleached Wheat Flour, Wheat Flour
  • Water, Salt, Sugar, Yeast
  • Calcium Chloride, Sodium Alginate
  • Caramel Color, Paprika Oleoresin Color
  • Food Starch-Modified
  • Guar Gum, Modified Corn Starch
  • Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate)
  • Natural Flavor

Ore-Ida Onion Ringers

These contain:5

  • Onions
  • Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)
  • Vegetable Oils (Soybean, Sunflower, Cottonseed, And/Or Canola)
  • Bleached Wheat Flour, Wheat Flour, Yellow Corn Flour, Modified Cornstarch
  • Water, Sugar, Salt
  • Guar Gum
  • Wheat Starch, Yeast
  • Sodium Alginate, Calcium Chloride
  • Methylcellulose
  • Spice Extract
  • Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate)
  • Natural Flavor
  • Caramel Color, Oleoresin Of Paprika (Color)

That’s it for the vegan status of onion rings. Thanks for reading.

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

References

  1. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 256). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
  2. Burger King Onion Rings. https://www.bk.com/content/onion-rings-0
  3. Sonic Onion Rings. https://offers.sonicdrivein.com/nutrition/allergens.pdf
  4. Blue & White Foods Kineret Onion Rings, 32 oz. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Blue-White-Foods-Kineret-Onion-Rings-32-oz/144538127
  5. Ore-Ida Onion Ringers, 20 oz Bag. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Ore-Ida-Onion-Ringers-20-oz-Bag/135043864

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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