A samosa is a dumpling-like dish stuffed with food and then baked or fried. They can take several forms, and are usually triangular, half-moon, or cone-shaped depending on the region.1-3
They are traditionally fried, but many Westerners prefer baked samosas, for convenience as well as health concerns. White flour, such as maida, is commonly used for the dough portion, but there are variations that use filo, and flour tortillas.4,5
Are they vegan? Like many food products, some samosas are vegan while others are non-vegan. The difference usually comes down to the presence of meat. Fortunately for vegans, the dough tends not to contain eggs.
What we’ll do here is go over some of the non-vegan ingredients commonly used in samosas, so you’ll know what to look out for when eating out. Then we’ll take a look at any vegan-friendly samosas on the market.
Non-Vegan Ingredients Common in Samosas
Meat and Cheese
Samosas come stuffed with a variety of ingredients, many of which are great for plant-based eating. For example, most savory fillings include peas, spiced potatoes, onions, and lentils.
However, Wikipedia lists the common ingredients used in samosas as maida (a special flour common to India), potato, peas, spices, onions, green chilis, cheese, and meat including lamb, beef, and chicken.4
Most vegan and vegetarian samosas will likely contain lots of lentils or chickpeas, as these particular legumes make for good meat replacements.
Vegetarian samosas are pretty common, and most vegetarians consume dairy products such as cheese. So, I’d imagine that it would be fairly common to run into meatless samosas that contain dairy of some sort.
I just bring this up so that you’ll know not to automatically assume that a given vegetarian samosa is vegan-friendly (though I’m sure many are).
Less Common Non-Vegan Ingredients
You can find several non-vegetarian varieties of the food product in Bengal, including macher shingara (fish shingara) and mangsher shingara (mutton shingara). I’ve scanned numerous food labels and recipes and I’d say fish is among the least common animal products I’ve encountered. But, you may run into it from time to time.
Maldivian cuisine offers a few varieties of samosas known as bajiyaa, which are filled with a mixture of fish or tuna with onions.6
Firstly, samosas do contain pastry dough. Depending on the textural properties desired in a certain pastry, egg may or may not be called for. In the case of samosa pastry, it seems that egg is much less common compared to doughs used for other wraps.
For example, wonton wrappers always contain egg, and egg roll wrappers often do, though it’s much more hit or miss. Then there’s the filling to consider.
In Indonesian cuisine, there’s a common version of samosas wherein the filling is topped off with egg slices prior to being fried to a golden color.4
I’m sure the ingredients mentioned thus far don’t exhaust all of the possible plant and animal foods that can be present in this diverse food product.
Traditionally, samosas were popular as an entrée and appetizer primarily in local cuisines of the Indian subcontinent, as well as Southeast Asia, Western Asia, the Mediterranean, and Africa.
Because of immigration, the tasty dumpling has made its way to other regions of the world where the traditional recipe has undergone many modifications.
Frozen samosas are becoming increasingly available in grocery stores in the US, Canada, and the UK where the traditional recipe has mostly stayed intact.7
Anyway, it wouldn’t hurt to look out for other animal products not listed in this article, because you just never know.
Commercial Vegan Samosas
Chef Bombay Vegetable Samosas
These are pretty widely available and you should be able to pick them up at most grocery stores, even Target and Walmart.
The filling contains potatoes, peas, carrots, onions, lentils, canola oil, salt, cilantro, spices, citric acid, and garlic.8
The pastry portion contains water, enriched wheat flour, salt, vinegar, and canola oil, and the sauce contains water, tamarind, sugar and salt, spices, citric acid, and xanthan gum.8
Fear not if the xanthan gum caught your eye. This particular additive is sometimes a bit of a red flag. While it is produced via bacterial fermentation, there have been certain manufacturing practices that processed the cultures with whey protein, a waste product of the milk industry.
This is because crude whey protein powder contains lactose, the simple sugar found in milk, and it so happens that some strains of the xanthan gum producing bacteria could feed on lactose.
But, most vegans are fine with consuming xanthan gum, because the additive tends to be made without the use of egg whites or bacterial cultures fed on whey protein.9,10
Trader Joe’s Mini Vegetable Samosas
This one contains:7
- Filling: potatoes, carrots, lentils, peas, onions, cilantro, canola oil, spices, salt, garlic, citric acid, and turmeric.
- Pastry: water, unbleached enriched flour (the usual iron and B vitamin fortifications) amylase (a common vegan-friendly enzyme), expeller-pressed canola oil, salt, and distilled vinegar.
That’s it for the vegan status of samosas. Plant-based eaters kind of luck out when it comes to a lot of street food because there are many regions in the world that largely subsist on vegetarian diets. Falafels are another common street food that makes heavy use of legumes in place of meat.
Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Davidson, Alan (1999). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-211579-0.
- Arnold P. Kaminsky; Roger D. Long (23 September 2011). India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic. ABC-CLIO. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-313-37462-3.
- Food’s Holy Triangle. Sa’adia Reza – https://www.dawn.com/news/1157291/foods-holy-triangle
- Samosas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samosa
- Fennel-scented Spinach and Potato Samosas Epicurious – https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/fennel-scented-spinach-and-potato-samosas-13008
- Xavier Romero-Frias, Eating on the Islands, Himal Southasian, Vol. 26 no. 2, pages 69-91 ISSN 1012-9804
- Mini Vegetable Samosas. https://www.traderjoes.com/FearlessFlyer/Article/4800#s
- Chef Bombay Vegetable Samosas. slippergirl04- Samosas- MommaLioness – https://www.walmart.com/ip/Chef-Bombay-Vegetable-Samosas/531310709
- The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog. https://www.vrg.org/blog/2018/06/28/xanthan-gum-is-vegan-no-egg-whites/
- EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources (14 July 2017). “Re‐evaluation of xanthan gum (E 415) as a food additive”. EFSA Journal. European Food Safety Authority. 15 (2): e04909. https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.2903/j.efsa.2017.4909