There are tons of recipes for vegan buffalo sauce, but many people want to know whether the sauce they encounter in stores and restaurants is vegan-friendly. If you’re one of these people, you’ve come to the right place.
Is it vegan? Buffalo sauce isn’t characteristically vegan or non-vegan. It depends on the individual food product. Some brands, like Buffalo Wild Wings, put out both vegan and non-vegan buffalo sauces. Common non-vegan ingredients include milk, milk products, eggs (typically egg yolk), and anchovies.
Why Buffalo Sauce Is Often Non-Vegan
A Lot of Buffalo Sauce Contains Milk
Milk is used in a lot of food products because it adds a source of fat which helps improve mouthfeel. It also helps ingredients mix nicely as it prevents them from adhering to each other.
The proteins in homogenized milk coagulate easily, allowing it to impart a smooth texture in sauces, soups, and stews. Its increased surface tension also gives food products a greater foaming capacity.1
So, don’t be surprised if you see milk on the label. Also, it’s easy to spot because it’s a common allergy so it should be stated in bold under the ingredients.
Buffalo Sauce Sometimes Contains Egg
Lecithin is a compound found in soybeans and egg yolks and serves as a natural emulsifying agent. This is because one end of the molecule attracts fat while the other attracts water.2
Thus, eggs help oil to stay dispersed in water and other liquid compounds which keeps the sauce nice and homogenous. As such, egg, specifically egg yolk, is a common ingredient in sauces, dressings, mayonnaise, and hollandaise.3
Anchovies Is a Common Ingredient in Buffalo Sauce
Anchovies are really oily fish.4
They’re gutted and salted in brine, which gives them their strong, pungent flavor and causes the color to turn a deep grey.
They tend to be used in small quantities to flavor food products. Most people expect them on pizza but not in everyday condiments. However, their strong flavor allows them to be used in very small amounts in sauces like wing sauce and Worcestershire.
So, just keep an eye out. Unlike shellfish, they’re not a common allergy, so you’ll have to scan the entire ingredients list to spot them.
Other Potentially Problematic Ingredients
These ingredients pose problems for some vegans, but their inclusion doesn’t necessarily render the product non-vegan by most standards.
Mono- and Diglycerides
You’ve probably heard of triglycerides—the form of fat that fills up our fat cells. Mono- and diglycerides have one and two fatty acids (respectively) bound to glycerol instead of three fatty acids as in TGs.5
Like the lecithin in egg yolk, mono- and diglycerides are used to improve the stabilization of ingredients, as they help emulsify water and oils.
Industrially, the compound tends to be produced by reacting triglycerides with glycerol.6
However, the raw materials used for the reaction can be sourced from both animal and vegetable fats.
For this reason, some vegans take issue with this ingredient, especially when the source of the compounds isn’t stated on the label. Typically, only food products marketed to health-conscious crowds will list “plant monoglycerides” or whatever.
As discussed in the article on bagels, the presence of this compound doesn’t necessarily disqualify a food product from being vegan. It’s just a personal choice.
Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide (a fancy term for complex carb) that has a wide range of uses in the food industry, namely as a thickener and stabilizer like guar gum. I wrote an article on guar gum and its vegan status you can read here.
It’s good as a stabilizer because it prevents ingredients from separating. It’s produced via bacterial fermentation with Xanthomonas campestris. It’s often grown on simple sugars like glucose and sucrose.7
However, there’s a certain subtype of bacteria that can be cultivated on lactose—a simple sugar derived from whey which is a supplement and milk waste product in cheese production.8
It’s a bit of a grey area for vegans, but products containing it are still considered vegan by the majority of the vegan community.
Now that we’ve covered the common ingredients, let’s go over a few brands that both qualify and disqualify as vegan.
Non-Vegan Buffalo Sauces
This will hopefully help save you some time by knowing what not to purchase.
Sweet Baby Ray’s Buffalo Wing Sauce (Milk)
This one contains milk hiding in the natural ingredients.
Ingredients include cayenne pepper sauce (a sauce containing aged cayenne red pepper, distilled vinegar, salt, and garlic), water, margarine (soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, water, salt, mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin, sodium benzoate, natural and artificial flavor, beta-carotene, vitamin A palmitate), sugar, salt, paprika, xanthan gum, oleoresin paprika, garlic, sodium benzoate, natural flavor (milk), spice, sodium alginate, calcium disodium EDTA.9
Buffalo Wild Wings Medium Wing Sauce (Egg and Anchovies)
This one contains egg yolk and anchovies.
Ingredients include cayenne red pepper, distilled vinegar, water, soybean oil, salt, egg yolk, modified food starch, garlic, dehydrated garlic, lemon juice concentrate, xanthan gum, spices, natural and artificial flavors, dehydrated onion, molasses, corn syrup, caramel color, sugar, calcium disodium EDTA (to protect flavor), anchovies, and tamarind.10
Buffalo Wild Wings Hot Wing Sauce (Egg)
This one also contains egg yolk.
Ingredients include cayenne red pepper, water, distilled vinegar, soybean oil, salt, egg yolk, modified food starch, garlic, dehydrated garlic, natural and artificial flavors, lemon juice concentrate, xanthan gum, spaces, dehydrated onion, molasses, corn syrup, caramel color, sugar, tamarind, calcium disodium EDTA (for flavor).10
TGI Fridays Buffalo Wing Sauce (Butter/Milk)
This one uses strange quasi butter and milk ingredient.
Ingredients include water, distilled vinegar, cayenne pepper puree, butter flavor (milk), natural smoke flavor, soybean oil, salt, xanthan gum, paprika (for color and as a spice), garlic powder, natural flavor, celery seed.11
Vegan Buffalo Sauces
You’ll see butter flavoring in a lot of these. It turns out that manufacturers like to use artificial butter flavoring. After all, it’s not milk-derived and needn’t be listed as an allergy. Diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, and acetoin are commonly used as they can be marketed as “natural.”
Margarines make heavy use of these compounds due to their realistic taste.12
Yes, they’re found in butter but tend to be produced industrially via microbial fermentation.13
Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce
- Distilled vinegar
- Cayenne red peppers
- Canola oil
- Xanthan gum
- Natural butter type flavor*
- Garlic Powder
*Vegos Amigos reached out to the manufacturers over at Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and it turns out the “natural butter type flavor” isn’t so natural after all. Which is great news for us vegans. You can check out their article here.
Texas Pete Buffalo Wing Sauce
This is a classic, and I was definitely thrilled to find that it’s vegan.
- Aged peppers (peppers, salt, vinegar)
- Xanthan gum (to preserve flavor and freshness)
- Benzoate of soda (to preserve flavor and freshness)
- Natural butter type flavor
- Potassium sorbate (to preserve flavor and freshness)
Buffalo Wild Wings Jammin Jalapeno
Okay, not a traditional buffalo sauce, but tasty no less. At least, for those of you who like your sauce on the spicier side.
- Corn syrup
- Agave nectar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Jalapeno peppers
- Distilled vinegar
- Habanero peppers
- Orange juice concentrate
- Modified corn starch
- Roasted tomatillo
- Lime puree (lime juice concentrate, water, pulp cells, lime oil, lime peel)
- Bell peppers
- Chili peppers
- Natural flavors including smoke flavor
- Potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate (preservatives)
- Disodium inosinate
- Disodium guanylate
- Calcium disodium EDTA (flavor protection)
Cookies Wings ‘N Things Buffalo Wing Sauce
No problems here.
- Red cayenne peppers
- Distilled vinegar
- Soybean oil
- Natural butter flavor
- Xanthan gum
- Citric acid
Moore’s Buffalo Wing Sauce
Lecithin is used here, but it probably comes from soy. So, if you’re okay with the ambiguity, then this is an option.
- Cayenne peppers
- Distilled vinegar
- Liquid margarine (salt, stabilizers, hydrogenated soy bean oil, butter flavoring, lecithin)
- Natural gums
- Beta carotene
That’s it for buffalo sauce. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Is Marinara Sauce Vegan? (Store-Bought, Restaurants, Homemade)
- Is Alfredo Sauce Vegan? (Store-Bought, Homemade, Restaurants)
- Is Vegetable Oil Vegan?
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 215). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Anton M, and G Gandemer. Composition, solubility, and emulsifying properties of granules and plasma of egg yolk. Journal of Food Science 62(3):484–487, 1997.
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 254). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- “What’s an oily fish?”. Food Standards Agency. 2004-06-24. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_Standards_Agency
- IUPAC, Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. (the “Gold Book”) (1997). Online corrected version: (2006–) “glycerides”
- Sonntag, Norman O. V. (1982). “Glycerolysis of fats and methyl esters — Status, review, and critique”. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society. 59 (10): 795A–802A. doi:10.1007/BF02634442. ISSN 0003-021X
- 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. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2017.4909.
- Tortora, G.J., Funke, B.R., & Case, C.L. (2010). Microbiology: An Introduction, 10th edition. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings. Pg. 801.
- Sweet Baby Ray’s – Buffalo Wing Sauce https://www.sbrfoodservice.com/products/buffalo-wing-sauce
- BUFFALO WILD WINGS Wing Sauce. http://parentsr.us/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Buffalo-Wild-Wings-Sauce-Seasoning-Allergen-Ingredient-Listing-2011.pdf
- TGI Fridays Buffalo Wing Sauce https://www.heb.com/product-detail/tgi-fridays-buffalo-wing-sauce/2078319
- Pavia; et al. Introduction to Organic Laboratory Techniques (4th ed.). ISBN 978-0-495-28069-9.
- Siegel, H.; Eggersdorfer, M., “Ketones”, Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Weinheim: Wiley-VCH, doi:10.1002/14356007.a15_077
- Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Wing Sauce. https://www.franksredhot.com/products/buffalo-wings-sauce
- Buffalo Wing Sauce https://texaspete.com/shop/buffalo-wing-sauce/
- Cookies Wings ‘n’ Things Buffalo Wing Sauce https://www.hy-vee.com/grocery/PD6144844/Cookies-Wings-n-Things-Buffalo-Wing-Sauce
- Moore’s Buffalo Wing Sauce. https://www.nutritionix.com/i/moores/buffalo-wing-sauce/51d37b29cc9bff5553aaa187