Egg drop soup aka “egg flower soup” is a popular Chinese soup you’ve probably encountered in restaurants and buffets. It’s a classic side dish for Asian cuisine. A lot of plant-based eaters grew up eating the stuff and want to know if they have to give it up after switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Is it vegetarian or vegan? Egg drop soup is sometimes suitable for certain vegetarians—namely, ovo- and lacto-ovo vegetarians. It is not, however, suitable for vegans. The answer isn’t obvious, because it’s not exactly clear that the “egg” in “egg flower” or “egg drop” would entail real egg.
Keep in mind, it’s not suitable for most vegetarians if meat broth is used to prepare the soup.
What we’ll do here is go over the various reasons egg drop soup is considered vegetarian but not vegan.
Why Egg Drop Soup Is Sometimes Vegetarian, but Never Vegan
Egg drop soup contains… you guessed it: egg.
I’m not sure where “egg flower” comes from (the other name for egg drop soup), other than it’s the direct translation of the Chinese name for the soup.
But, the “egg drop” in egg drop soup seems to have come from the preparation of the soup wherein a thin stream of beaten eggs is dropped into the boiling broth which creates thin, silken strands of cooked egg that then float in the medium.1,2
In Japan, the unscrambled whole egg is often dropped to serve as the topping for tsukimi udon or soba. In the Japanese version, the whole yolk gives it a moon-like appearance which accounts for the name, which means “moon viewing.”1
In any case, know that the soup does call for real egg.
Vegans don’t eat egg, but ovo- and lacto-ovo vegetarians do. So, if you fall into the latter camp, then the soup is on the menu.
If you’re vegan, you’ll have to find a vegan-friendly soup to eat with your Asian cuisine. I personally like Dr. McDougall’s hot and sour soup. Yes, the beloved vegan doctor has a line of food products! Check out the article on the vegan and vegetarian status of hot and sour soup for more details.*
Anyway, aside from the egg, most other ingredients in egg drop soup are both vegetarian and vegan-friendly.
Condiments, black and white pepper, chopped scallions, and tofu are optional but very common ingredients in egg drop soup.
In the US, cornstarch is often used as a thickener. For this reason, a lot of folks assume that there must be some sort of dairy-derived cream in the mix, but it’s usually cornstarch that accounts for the thicker consistency.
In Chinese cuisine, on the other hand, egg drop soups usually has a thinner consistency compared to the Western variants.
Common garnishes include tofu, bean sprouts, scallions, and corn.
When Egg Drop Soup Is Unsuitable for Vegetarians
Asian cuisine is pretty good about accommodating vegetarian diets. For this reason, a lot of East Asian classics often have vegetarian-friendly variants of the original recipes.
So, it’s not uncommon to find egg drop soup made with vegetable broth, in which case it is suitable for vegetarians. Obviously, vegans still can’t partake given the presence of egg.
Also, it’s worth noting that there is a subcategory of vegetarianism known as pollotarianism. Like pescatarians, pollotarians eat largely plant-based but allow one category of meat (chicken in this case) as the sole source of meat protein.
The philosophy is similar to pescetarianism in that it’s thought that the “lower” animals such as fish and foul likely don’t experience physical and emotional trauma at the same level as our furry warm-blooded cousins.
Pollotarianism is really considered a form of semi-vegetarianism or flexitarianism.
Also, as a vegan, I’m very much against consuming animal products of any kind. But, I’m just here to present the facts.
So, if you consider yourself a pollotarian, you can feel free to partake of egg drop soup made with chicken broth.
Other Regional Variants and Their Vegetarian Status
In Western cuisine, you’ll find a lot of variations of the traditional egg drop soup.
For example, in Italy, “stracciatella” is a common version made with parmesan cheese. It too would be suitable for ovo-lacto vegetarians, assuming no meat broth is used.
Similarly, in France, there’s a garlic version of the soup known as “le tourin”.
It’s made by drizzling egg whites into the soup as with traditional egg drop soup. This one makes use of garlic, sauteed onions, and flour as a thickener.
Be careful with this variation, because it tends to contain chicken stock.3
“Sopa de ajo” is a popular soup in Spain. It translates, literally, into “garlic soup” and uses egg whites as a thickener, not unlike traditional egg drop soup.4 Again, watch out for meat stock.
In Austria, there’s an egg drop soup known as eierflockensuppe or eierflöckchensuppe.5 With this soup, flour is mixed with scrambled eggs and is then poured into a boiling soup to make small egg dumplings. Spices are then added to the egg-flour mixture.
There’s a similar soup common in Polish cuisine, called kluski lane, or “poured noodles”. An egg-flour mixture is made and then either poured into boiling water or directly into the soup, at which point it’s strained and added to a sauce or soup.
In Russia, a similar soup is made with semolina. This one is usually non-vegetarian because the flour is boiled in the chicken stock at which point the egg is whisked in where it’s flavored with chopped scallions and black pepper.
In Cyprus and Greece, the egg is beaten and then stirred slowly in the soup to prevent curdling. Rice and lemon are often added as additional ingredients. This one usually contains chicken stock by default, though I suppose veggie stock would be used in some instances.
Commercial Vegetarian and Vegan Egg Drop Soup
I’d imagine that most readers are interested in the vegetarian and vegan status of egg drop soup when ordering Chinese takeout, eating out, etc.
But, in case anyone is looking for a store-bought egg drop soup, I managed to find one that happens to be both vegetarian and vegan-friendly.
It doesn’t contain chicken stock, though it probably calls for it in the directions. Therefore, non-flexitarians/pollotarians can partake.
It manages to be vegan-friendly because it doesn’t contain egg in any form—rather, the directions involve dropping an egg in during preparation.
It’s called Kikkoman Hot & Sour Chinese Style Egg Flower Soup Mix.
The ingredients include:6
- Potato starch
- Dehydrated soy sauce (soybeans, salt, wheat, and dextrin)
- Glucose, sugar, and dextrin
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- A seasoning base (hydrolyzed soybean, wheat, corn, and yeast proteins)
- Potassium chloride, calcium lactate, disodium inosinate, sodium succinate, and disodium guanylate
- Dried cloud ear mushroom, citric acid, and powdered mushroom extract (dextrin with black forest mushroom extract)
- Dehydrated leek, ginger powder, and onion extract powder (dextrin with onion extract)
- Sesame and palm oil
- Hot bean paste (salt, red pepper, and miso)
- White pepper and spices
- Caramel color
That pretty much wraps it up for the vegetarian and vegan status of egg drop soup. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Egg Drop Soup. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_drop_soup
- Egg-drop. https://www.yourdictionary.com/egg-drop
- Tourin. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourin
- Garlic Soup. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garlic_soup
- Eierflockensuppe. http://www.kochrezepte.de/suppe-rezepte/eierflockensuppe-16111.html?paging=true
- Kikkoman Chinese Style Egg Flour Mix Hot & Sour Soup, .88 Oz Teresa L – https://www.walmart.com/ip/Kikkoman-Chinese-Style-Egg-Flour-Mix-Hot-Sour-Soup-88-oz/10451759