Is Granola Vegan?


Is granola vegan?

Despite the fact that vegans are often characterized as hippy granola crunchers, the question about whether granola even qualifies as vegan still comes up often. And for good reason. After all, most commercial granola contains a number of ingredients and additives.

Is it vegan? Like many foods, granola is sometimes vegan and other times non-vegan. Granola is a food typically consisting of rolled oats, nuts, and dried fruit held together by a binder.1 The binder is often honey (non-vegan) but can be vegan sweeteners like corn syrup, rice syrup, etc.

It can get more complicated than this, so what we’ll do here is just list the non-vegan ingredients one-by-one so you’ll know what to look out for when shopping.

Potentially Non-Vegan Granola Ingredients

Honey

During the baking process, the dry ingredient mixture along with the binder are stirred occasionally to maintain a loose breakfast cereal-like consistency.

Honey has a high viscosity so it works well as a binder.

Anyway, this ingredient is problematic for vegans and considered non-vegan by PETA.2

Honey is acquired from wild bee colonies or domesticated beehives. On average, beehives produce about 65 pounds (or 29 kg) of honey every year.3

In order to safely collect honey from a hive, beekeepers tend to use bee smokers in order to pacify the bees. The smoke is effective because it triggers a feeding instinct making the bees less aggressive. The smoke also obscures the pheromones that bees use to communicate with each other.

The honeycomb is then removed from the hive so the honey can be extracted, either via a honey extractor or just simply crushing the honeycomb.

The process is more humane than it used to be—before the introduction of removable frames, bee colonies were often sacrificed in order to harvest the honey. The harvester would snatch all of the available honey killing off the hive, and then just replace the entire colony the next year.

The removable frames now allow for beekeepers to leave enough honey for the bees to survive the winter, though sometimes the bees are just provided a honey substitute like crystalline sugar or sugar water.

However, even with the invention of removable frames, there are still inhumane practices beekeepers employ to ensure they meet production quotas.

For example, it’s common for large honey producers to snip off the queen bee’s wings to keep her from leaving the colony. The queen bee is often artificially inseminated on the bee-equivalent of a racks used in factory farms.3

When the beekeeper wants to relocate a queen to a different colony, she’s transferred along with bodyguard bees who are killed by other bees in the new colony.

Even if the process was completely humane, honey would still wouldn’t be suitable for vegans since any food involving direct exploitation of animals renders the food non-vegan.

Anyway, keep in mind that this is a very common ingredient in foods that would otherwise be vegan. Largely, because plant-based foods like granola are often marketed to a health-conscious crowd and any food that can be marketed as “natural” tends to have high consumer acceptance for this population.

What you’ll want to look for is granola that uses molasses, rice syrup, corn syrup, etc.

Chocolate

Aside from dried fruit like raisins and dates, confections like chocolate are often added. Chocolate isn’t always problematic, but it often contains milk.

So, if a granola product contains actual chocolate (not just cocoa powder), just scan the ingredients list for milk additives. It’s easy to spot because it should be listed in the allergy section.

Fortunately, granola is considered a health food so there are many organic granola mixes on the market. Organic products that contain chocolate often don’t have milk as an additive. They typically contain cocoa butter which is the type of fat that’s found naturally in chocolate.

Are Granola Bars Vegan?

Like regular granola, granola bars can be vegan. They consist of granola with an extra helping of sweet and sticky binders to help the bars keep their shape. The binder used could (and often is) honey which would render the granola bar non-vegan. Chocolate can be used which can also be problematic.

The honey or sweetened syrup is mixed in with the granola at which point it’s pressed and baked into a bar shape, making the granola a more convenient snack. They’re convenient because they’re always sealed (even if they come in a box with multiple bars), so they’re easier to carry around and whip out when you get hit with a craving.

Like with regular granola, a wide variety of flavors is available, from nuts and fruit to chocolate. As mentioned above, chocolate can be non-vegan. So, just look for cocoa butter in place of milk products in the ingredients.

S’mores is a popular flavor for granola bars. S’mores, of course, contain marshmallows which can be vegan but often are not as many contain gelatin. You’ll need to check the label.

Overall, granola bars tend to be less vegan than regular granola. This is because granola many granola bars don’t even try to be healthy so they’re more likely to contain a ton of ingredients many of which aren’t vegan-friendly.

According to Jayne Hurley, a senior nutritionist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, granola bars are NOT a health food. “They’re basically cookies masquerading as health food.”4

But, while they tend to be less vegan-friendly compared to regular granola, there are many vegan-friendly granola bars on the market these days. I mention one a bit further down.

Dry Milk Caution

I’ve noticed that granola bars, for some reason, often contain dry milk—especially in cheaper bars that have high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and a plethora of other ingredients.

The protein and calcium content of dry milk makes it a favorite for fortifying food products.5

The Vegan Status of Commercial Granola

Non-Vegan Granola

Bear Naked Soft Baked Honey Almond Granola

Ingredients:6

  • Whole grain oats
  • Honey
  • Roasted soybeans
  • Expeller pressed canola oil
  • Almonds
  • Soy crisps (soy protein isolate and rice starch)
  • Soy protein isolate
  • Ground flax seeds
  • Natural flavor
Bear Naked Non-GMO Chocolate Granola

Ingredients:7

  • Whole grain oats
  • Semisweet chocolate (cane sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, soy lecithin)
  • Honey
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Cane sugar
  • Expeller pressed canola oil
  • Organic brown rice
  • Cocoa
  • Chocolate extract
  • Ground flax seeds
  • Oat bran
  • Natural flavor
  • Coconut.
Bear Naked Non-GMO Fruit & Nut Granola

Ingredients:8

  • Whole grain oats
  • Honey
  • Almonds
  • Expeller pressed canola oil
  • Coconut, raisins (raisins, glycerin)
  • Dried cranberries (cranberries, cane sugar, vegetable glycerin)
  • Oat bran
  • Maple syrup
  • Pecans and walnuts
  • Whole oat flour
  • Ground flax seeds
  • Toasted sesame seeds
Post Honey Bunches Of Oats Honey Roasted Granola

Ingredients:9

  • Whole grain rolled oats
  • Brown sugar
  • Whole grain wheat
  • Rice flour
  • Canola and/or sunflower oil
  • Corn syrup
  • Whey (from milk)
  • Sugar
  • Wildflower honey
  • Caramel color
  • BHT

I ran across a version of this in a store without the whey, but the product still contained honey.

Vegan-Friendly Granola

KIND Gluten Free Breakfast Granola, Raspberry Clusters w. Chia Seeds

Ingredients:10

  • Whole grain blend (oats, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa).
  • Tapioca syrup
  • Dried cane syrup
  • Cranberries
  • Raspberries
  • Chia seeds
  • Canola oil
  • Sugar
  • Molasses
  • Vanilla extract
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Rice flour
  • Vitamin E.
Bear Naked Non-GMO Vanilla Almond Granola

Ingredients:11

  • Whole grain oats
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Almonds
  • Dried cane syrup
  • Oat bran
  • Brown rice
  • Natural flavors
  • Ground flax seeds.
KIND Gluten Free Breakfast Peanut Butter Granola

Ingredients:12

  • Oats
  • Cane sugar
  • Soy protein isolate
  • Peanut butter (peanuts, salt)
  • Peanut oil
  • Tapioca syrup
  • Peanuts
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Tapioca starch
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Peanut flour
  • Quinoa, sea salt
  • Vitamin E (tocopherols to maintain freshness)
  • Brown rice syrup
Clif® Energy Breakfast White Chocolate Macadamia Granola

Ingredients:13

  • Rolled oats
  • Pea protein crisps (pea protein, rice flour)
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Cane sugar
  • Oat flour
  • High oleic sunflower oil
  • Natural flavors
  • Cashews
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Cocoa butter
  • Sea salt
  • Vanilla extract
  • Sunflower lecithin
  • Mixed tocopherols
Kashi Chewy Chocolate Almond Sea Salt Granola Bars

Ingredients:14

  • Whole grain oats
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Almonds
  • Dried brown rice syrup
  • Semisweet chocolate (cane sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla extract)
  • Brown rice flour
  • Chocolate
  • Sunflower oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Glycerin
  • Oat fiber
  • Sea salt
  • Cocoa
  • Natural flavor
  • Rosemary extract

So that’s about it for granola. Thanks for reading. Overall, it’s a great product for vegans. You just have to scan the labels.

References

  1. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 354). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
  2. What’s Wrong with Eating Honey? https://www.peta.org/about-peta/faq/whats-wrong-with-eating-honey/
  3. “How honey is made”. US National Honey Board. 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018. https://www.honey.com/about-honey/how-honey-is-made
  4. Granola Bars: A Healthy Snack or Dressed- Up Junk Food? https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/granola-bars-a-healthy-snack-or-dressed–up-junk-food/article572493/ 
  5. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 221). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
  6. Honey Almond. http://www.bearnaked.com/en_US/products/bear-naked-granola-honey-almond-product.html
  7. Chocolate. http://www.bearnaked.com/en_US/products/bear-naked-chocolate-granola-product.html
  8. Fruit & Nut. http://www.bearnaked.com/en_US/products/bear-naked-fruit-nut-granola-product.html
  9. Post Honey Bunches Of Oats Granola, Honey Roasted. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Post-Honey-Bunches-Of-Oats-Granola-Honey-Roasted-11-Oz/28198786
  10. KIND Gluten Free Breakfast Granola, Raspberry Clusters w. Chia Seeds. https://www.kindsnacks.com/healthy-grains-clusters/raspberry-clusters-with-chia-seeds-M18629.html
  11. Bear Naked Non-GMO Granola, Vanilla Almond. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Bear-Naked-Non-GMO-Granola-Vanilla-Almond-12-Oz/12444772
  12. KIND Gluten Free Breakast Granola, Peanut Butter. https://www.walmart.com/ip/KIND-Gluten-Free-Breakast-Granola-Peanut-Butter-11-oz/26967480
  13. Clif® Energy Breakfast Granola, White Chocolate Macadamia. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Clif-Energy-Breakfast-Granola-White-Chocolate-Macadamia-10-oz/416954312
  14. Kashi Chewy Granola Bars Chocolate Almond Sea Salt. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Kashi-Chewy-Granola-Bars-Chocolate-Almond-Sea-Salt-1-2-Oz-6-Ct/33571817

Drew

Hi! I'm Drew and this is the place where I nerd out about vegan and plant-based diets. I have a BS in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Alabama and have taken dozens of classes in areas like organic and biochemistry, food science, medical nutrition therapy, nutritional genomics, and vegetarian diets. I'm still learning every day, and on this blog, I'll be sharing everything I discover about vegan diets as I go.

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