Pumpkin pie is a popular dessert dessert made with a pumpkin-based custard-like filling with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
It’s an iconic holiday treat in the US and Canada, so I’d imagine a lot of vegans grew up eating the stuff and want to know if they can continue to do so after switching to a 100% plant-based diet.1
Is it vegan? No, traditional pumpkin pie is not vegan. As for plant-based eaters in general, it is only suitable for ovo-laco vegetarians. However, there are vegan pumpkin pies on the market and we’ll be covering a couple in this article.
What we’ll do here is go over the various non-vegan ingredients in traditional pumpkin pie, and then look at any vegan pumpkin pie specialty products currently on the market.
Why Most Pumpkin Pie Is Non-Vegan
Eggs are par for the course in pie, and pumpkin pie is no exception.
Eggs are tasteless in most recipes and the majority of people wouldn’t know if egg were missing in terms of flavor. But, eggs do have a lot of useful properties in baked goods, including emulsification, thickening, binding, leavening, and color enhancement.2
Specifically, they help with:
- Binding. Something’s gotta hold the ingredients together, and the protein content of eggs makes for an excellent binder. Heat coagulates the eggs’ protein, allowing it to be an adhesive, binding the ingredients. The egg proteins firm and stabilize, giving structural strength to the end product.
- Color. The egg yolk (along with the pumpkin in this case) contributes a nice golden brown color characteristic of baked goods.3
- Emulsification. Egg yolks contain lecithin, a compound that serves as a natural emulsifying agent—a fancy way of saying egg yolks help ingredients stay nice an mixed. One end of the molecule attracts water, while the other attracts fat.4 So, lecithin helps keep fat and water from separating, which thickens and stabilizes.
The most common dairy product in pumpkin pie is condensed milk.5
Condensed milk can be sweetened condensed milk or unsweetened condensed milk (aka evaporated milk). It’s a category of cow’s milk that comes in a can and has undergone removal of about 60% of the water content.6,7
Sweetened condensed milk contains a lot of added sugar which gives it an even longer shelf-life since the added sugar binds water and inhibits bacterial growth.8
Anyway, the ingredient is very popular in both processed/pre-packaged foods and homemade desserts.
Most recipes call for unsweetened evaporated milk because sugar is to be added by the scoop full.
There are some condensed plant milks on the market, but the ones I’ve come across so far have been coconut-based, which means they’ll leave you with a coconut after taste which may not go well with the pumpkin.9
That could be an option if you’re looking to make your own pie, but I’d imagine most readers are primarily interested in the vegan status of commonly available pumpkin pie from stores and restaurants.
Cream cheese is another potential problem ingredient. There is straight-up pumpkin cheesecake and then I’ve seen several double-decker pies that have one layer of cream cheese and one layer of pumpkin.
Real cream cheese is always dairy-based and thus off-limits for vegans. But, there are vegan cream cheese alternatives on the market, which we’ll touch on in a bit.
Finally, we have whipped topping. It’s true that a lot of whipped cream is like 99.9% plant-based, but they all contain dairy in one form or another. The more processed whipped cream out there tends to make heavy use of vegetable gums and high fructose corn syrup, both of which are vegan-friendly.
But, despite being mostly sugar and gum, they still contain dry milk, whey, and/or casein. These products impart a creamy mouthfeel among other useful functions.
Commercial Vegan Pumpkin Pie
So, now that we know that 99.9% of the pumpkin pie out there is non-vegan by default, we can look at a few exceptions.
Whole Foods Market makes one that, as far as I’m aware, you can only pick up in stores.
- Soy Puree (Filtered Water, Whole Soybeans, Isolated Soy Protein, Magnesium Chloride, Calcium Chloride)
- Sea Salt, Sugar Light Brown Sugar, and Water
- Unbleached Pastry Flour (wheat)
- Vegetable Shortening (Palm Oil, Soybean Oil, and Vitamin E)
- Modified Food Starch, Stabilizer Blend (Sugar, Corn Starch, Carob Bean Gum, Agar, And Salt)
- Pumpkin Pie Spice (Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, and Cloves)
A great recipe for vegan pumpkin pie can be found here*.12
Daiya, a popular vegan cheesemaker, used to put out a pumpkin cheesecake, but it seems to be off the market, at least for now. Perhaps it’s a seasonal thing and they’ll bring it back shortly. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it and post the ingredients if it resurfaces.
If you’re looking to make your own, Daiya does have a pumpkin cheesecake recipe on their site that you can check out here.*
It does call for their cream cheese which is perfectly vegan-friendly.
- Filtered Water
- Coconut Oil/Coconut Cream
- Tapioca Starch
- Non-GMO Expeller Pressed Safflower Oil
- Natural Flavors (all Vegan)
- Pea Protein Isolate
- Cane Sugar
- Sea Salt
- Xanthan, Guar, and Locust Bean Gums
- Potato Protein Isolate
- Vegan Lactic Acid
- Vegan Enzyme
- Lemon Juice Concentrate
Keebler makes a vegan-friendly graham cracker crust. If you prefer the dough-based traditional pie crust, look out for lard (pig fat), which is a pretty standard ingredient.
That’s it for the vegan status of pumpkin pie. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Rombauer, I. S and M.R. Becker. 1980. The Joy of Cooking. Bobs-Merrill Company, New York City.
- Pszczola DE, and K Banasaiak. Ingredients. Food Technology 60(5):45–92, 2006.
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 258). 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.
- Pumpkin Pie. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumpkin_pie
- Evaporated Milk. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evaporated_milk
- Carnation Faqs. https://web.archive.org/web/20130209075934/http://www.nestle.co.nz/brands/milksbaking/carnation/carnationfaqs
- How Does Sugar Act As a Preservative? Divya Sehgal – https://www.sciencefocus.com/science/how-does-sugar-act-as-a-preservative/
- Nature’s Charm Condensed Coconut Milk. Marisa Osonphasop – https://store.veganessentials.com/natures-charm-condensed-coconut-milk-p4767.aspx
- Whole Foods Market Pumpkin Pie (22 Oz). https://www.instacart.com/products/2606696-whole-foods-market-8-vegan-pumpkin-pie-22-oz?utm_campaign=taurus&utm_content=retailer_product&utm_medium=web&utm_source=instacart_seo
- Plain Cream Cheeze Style Spread: Dairy-free Cream Cheese: Daiya. https://daiyafoods.com/our-foods/cream-cheese-style-spreads/plain/
- Vegan Gluten-free Pumpkin Pie: Minimalist Baker Recipes. Minimalist Baker – https://minimalistbaker.com/vegan-gluten-free-pumpkin-pie/