So, I’ve written about egg rolls and wontons (a type of dumpling that uses similar wrappers), and today we’ll be covering spring rolls. Spring rolls are a popular variety of rolled appetizers or dim sum found in Asian cuisine. Vegans and vegetarians run into them quite often when eating at Asian restaurants, and want to know if they can partake.
Are they vegan or vegetarian? Like with many food products, spring rolls can be vegan and vegetarian, but often contain animal products. While the wrappes are typically vegan (unlike with egg rolls), the ingredients used for the fillings can vary quite a bit depending on several factors.1
Any kind of meat filling would render the spring roll unsuitable for vegans and vegetarians.
What we’ll do here is go over the various animal products you may encounter in spring rolls, and then list any spring rolls on the market that are known to be 100% vegan.
Animal Products Common in Spring Rolls
Meat is the main issue plant-based eaters will run into when it comes to finding vegan and vegetarian spring rolls. In a sense, they’re kind of the opposite of egg rolls when it comes to vegan-friendliness.
It’s not uncommon to find egg rolls without meat, but they always contain animal products in the wrappers. Spring rolls, on the other hand, usually have vegan wrappers but almost always contain meat.2
Don’t get me wrong, you can find spring rolls without meat (there are some listed below), but they usually contain meat by default—at least the Chinese varieties. Likewise, you can find spring rolls with egg-containing wrappers, but it’s just not the default.
For example, Imperial Gourmet Vegetable Mini Spring Rolls contain:3
- Cabbage, Carrot, Onion, Celery, Vermicelli
- Vegetable Oil, Sesame Oil
- Sugar, Soy Flour, Salt, Spice, Water
- Bleached Enriched Flour, Malted Barley Flour
- Potassium Bromate
- Corn Starch
- Sweet & Sour Sauce (Water, Sugar, Vinegar, Pineapple Juice, Tomato Paste, Modified Corn Starch, Lemon, Salt)
I’d imagine most of us encounter spring rolls in Chinese buffets. Spring rolls in Chinese cuisine, tend to be on the extra savory side, stuffed with different types of meat along with the usual vegetable fillings (cabbage, etc.) in a cylindrical pastry.
This is the variety of spring roll most people think of. In fact, the food got its name from the fact that it was traditionally eaten during the Spring Festival in mainland China.4
Nowadays, it’s made its way to other regions where people consume them all year round.
The meat-stuffed varieties of spring rolls usually contain pork, but chicken can also be used.
For example, Tai Pei Mini Chicken Spring Rolls contain:5
- Vegetable Oil (Soybean and/Or Canola), Sesame Seed Oil
- Cooked Chicken in Chicken Broth, Salt, and Carrageenan
- Cabbage, Carrots, Bamboo Shoots, Ginger, Green Onions
- Sugar, Salt, Whole Wheat Flour, Water
- Spice, Garlic, Autolyzed Yeast Extract
- Soy Lecithin, Xanthan Gum, Citric Acid
- Soy and Soy Sauce (Water, Soybeans, Wheat, Salt), Vegetable Juice (Color), Paprika Extract, Annatto (Color)
- Evaporated Cane Juice, Rice Vinegar, Tomato Paste
- Natural Flavors
Most spring rolls you’ll encounter in Chinese buffets resemble the kind on the box. They’re small and crisp. But, not all spring rolls are deep-fried.
Apparently, the non-fried spring rolls are on the larger side and a bit more savory. I’ve never seen any myself.
The main thing to take from this is that you should always assume spring rolls contain meat of some sort and consider it a blessing if they don’t. The application is that you don’t ever want to consume a spring roll without first vetting the ingredients—either on the food label or on a given restaurant’s website.
Commercial Vegan Spring Rolls
Tai Pei Mini Vegetable Spring Rolls
- Cabbage, Carrots, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Vermicelli (Green Mung Beans, Water), Green Onions
- Vegetable Oil (Soybean and/or Canola), Toasted Sesame Seed Oil
- Cornstarch, Salt, Sugar, Yeast Extract, Garlic, and Spices.
- Wheat Flour
- Soy Lecithin
- Xanthan Gum*
- Sauce (Water, Sugar, Rice Vinegar, Tomato Paste, Cornstarch, Soy Sauce)
- Citric Acid
- Natural Coloring Agents: Vegetable Juice, Paprika Extract, Annatto Extract
- Natural Flavors
Some vegans like to avoid ingredients like xanthan gum, that can be derived both with and without the help of non-vegan substances.
Xanthan gum is a complex carb with several useful properties in food production. It’s a common stabilizer and emulsifier because it helps prevent the separation of ingredients. It’s also a common food thickening agent like CMC and guar gum.
It’s produced via fermentation by Xanthomonas campestris (a certain strain of bacteria). The cultures are usually fed simple sugars, like glucose and sucrose.7
But, there are some species of the bacteria that can feed on lactose, the simple sugar in milk.8
When fed a diet of lactose, they are usually processed with whey protein (a waste product of the dairy industry). The additive is also known to be processed with egg whites.
While it is a bit of a grey area, it’s usually completely vegan-friendly. And the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) seems to consider it a safe ingredient for vegans.9
If you’re a particularly strict vegan, then this is just something to bear in mind.
Anyway, I’m sure there are others on the market, but this is a commonly available brand.
That’s it for the vegan status of spring rolls. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out other related articles:
- Spring Rolls. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring_roll
- Is a Spring Roll Different from an Egg Roll? Think You Know? https://tastessence.com/is-spring-roll-different-from-egg-roll
- Imperial Gourmet Vegetable Mini Spring Rolls, 10 ct, 14 oz. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Imperial-Gourmet-Vegetable-Mini-Spring-Rolls-10-ct-14-oz/172953609
- Sri Owen (2014). Sri Owen’s Indonesian Food. Pavilion Books. ISBN 9781909815476.
- Tai Pei Mini Chicken Spring Rolls with 3 Sauce Packets, 15 count, 22.5 oz. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Tai-Pei-Mini-Chicken-Spring-Rolls-with-3-Sauce-Packets-15-count-22-5-oz/15543995
- Tai Pei Mini Vegetable Spring Rolls, 22.5 oz. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Tai-Pei-Mini-Vegetable-Spring-Rolls-22-5-oz/15543996
- 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.
- Tortora, G.J., Funke, B.R., & Case, C.L. (2010). Microbiology: An Introduction, 10th edition. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings. Pg. 801.
- Xanthan Gum Is Vegan – No Egg Whites. https://www.vrg.org/blog/2018/06/28/xanthan-gum-is-vegan-no-egg-whites/