At first glance, ketchup (also called tomato sauce in some countries), seems like a given. Sure it’s vegan! Right? Well, no. It’s actually not that straight forward. Once you start diving into the world of vegan food, you’ll realize that many products contain hidden animal-derived ingredients. Ketchup, one of the most popular condiments in the United States, is unfortunately no exception. So, is Ketchup vegan? Sometimes. Read on for more details and how to know what ketchup truly is vegan friendly.
What Is Ketchup Made Of?
Ketchup is generally made using a combination of tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, and spices. Other common ingredients are onion powder, apple cider vinegar, and garlic powder. While the main ingredients are vegan-friendly, some brands of ketchup may contain non-vegan ingredients. For example, animal products such as egg whites or fish sauce are sometimes added to enhance flavor. But we also need to take a closer look at the sweetener…
Why Is Some Ketchup Not Vegan?
While some ketchup has some rather obvious non-vegan ingredients in it, others are not so clear. The more obvious ingredients are animal based ones, such as egg whites or fish sauce. But the more surprising ingredients are the tricky sweeteners. They seem vegan at first, but when you dive into the details of how they are grown and processed, it becomes trickier to say that they are truly vegan.
- High fructose corn syrup: This is made from corn and is technically vegan. However, a lot of corn is genetically modified (GMO) and some vegans avoid this for various reasons. Other vegans (like me) avoid high-fructose corn syrup, simply because this kind of processed sweetener isn’t the healthiest for your body.
- White Sugar: I was actually shocked to find out a few years into my plant based diet that white sugar is produced with animal bone char! I had been avoiding it for health reasons, but had no idea it was technically not even vegan!
- Brown Sugar: Depending on how concerned you are about this, you might want to avoid brown sugar too. Commercial brown sugar is made by combining granular sugar with molasses and IS vegan. But it can be that white sugar is used to create the brown sugar. In this case, we’re back to the issue of bone char being used to make white sugar. Use your own judgement in how distrustful you want to be with brown sugar.
It’s also important to say that ketchup – even specific brands of ketchup – differs from country to country. I have seen ketchup in Zimbabwe (where my inlaws live) with fish sauce in it and other Ketchup with colorants that I would want to avoid, even if I don’t know if they came from an animal source.
What Sweetener Is In Ketchup?
As mentioned above, a common sweetener in ketchup is high fructose corn syrup. This is made from corn and is technically vegan. However, a lot of corn is genetically modified (GMO) and some vegans avoid this for various reasons. Other vegans (like me) avoid high-fructose corn syrup, simply because this kind of processed sweetener isn’t the healthiest for your body.
Another type of sweetener commonly found in ketchup is white sugar. This might come as a shock to you, as it did to me! While white sugar doesn’t contain any animal-derived ingredients, it’s often produced with the use of bone char. Bone char is made by charring animal bones and therefore counts as an animal product. A strict vegan would, therefore, avoid white sugar because it came into contact with bone char in its production. And with that, vegans should avoid any ketchup containing white sugar.
Brown sugar is another kind of sweetener found in some ketchup recipes. Commercial brown sugar is usually made by combining granular sugar with molasses. In this case, brown sugar is vegan. However, it is possible to find brown sugar made with refined cane sugar as the white part of the brown sugar mix. It is, in that case, not vegan. As mentioned above, white sugar is often made by using bone char. I personally am fine with brown sugar, given that most commercial brown sugar IS vegan, but if you are extremely worried about it and definitely don’t want to take any risk with your vegan diet, you might want to avoid even brown sugar in ketchup.
Though not super common, there is some honey ketchup out there too. Even Heinz has a specific ketchup sweetened by honey. Since honey is made by bees, anyone following a vegan lifestyle would want to avoid this.
Plant Based Sweeteners
If you’re looking for a sweetener that’s definitely free of animal-derived ingredients, organic sugar or maple syrup is your best bet. (Beet sugar and coconut sugar are generally other good vegan sweeteners, but you’ll have a hard time finding ketchup with beet or coconut sugar in your grocery store.) Organic sugar is made using organic sugar cane and doesn’t contain any bone char. Maple syrup is a natural sweetener that’s derived from the sap of maple trees. It doesn’t harm the trees and no animals are used in any of the production. It is, therefore, vegan-friendly, and has a unique flavor that complements ketchup. Ketchup with organic sugar is easy enough to find in grocery stores, while maple syrup sweetened ketchup is harder to come by. Here is one option of vegan ketchup with maple syrup that you can buy online.
Which Ketchup Brands Are Vegan?
Let’s look at some of the most popular ketchup brands that vegans might be reaching for.
Ketchup Brands That Are Somewhat Vegan
When it comes to the use of animal-derived ingredients, Heinz Tomato Ketchup is a gray area. Some varieties of Heinz Ketchup are not vegan, like the one that uses honey as the sweetener. While the company states that their original ketchup is vegan-friendly, but some vegans are concerned about the use of high-fructose corn syrup, natural flavors, and the potential for bone char in their sugar supply chain. Heinz Classic Tomato Ketchup might, therefore, not be the best choice for vegans. But Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup, on the other hand, uses organic sugar, making it a better option for strict vegans.
Hunt’s Classic Tomato Ketchup is another popular brand that vegans may want to avoid. While it doesn’t contain any strictly non-vegan ingredients, it’s made using high-fructose corn syrup, which mentioned above, some vegans prefer to avoid for various reasons. But if you’re only looking to avoid animal ingredients, then Hunt’s ketchup is okay.
Target’s Market Pantry brand of ketchup is less straight forward. Some varieties may contain high-fructose corn syrup, while others use organic sugar. If you’re looking to buy or consume Target’s ketchup, be sure to check the ingredients list carefully.
Ketchup Brands That Are Definitely Vegan
Annie’s Naturals Organic Ketchup is a vegan-friendly option that uses only natural ingredients: organic cane sugar and apple cider vinegar. It doesn’t contain any artificial sweeteners or high-fructose corn syrup, and is beloved in many American households.
If you’re looking for another ketchup brand that’s free of animal-derived ingredients and artificial sweeteners, Primal Kitchen’s Organic Unsweetened Ketchup is a good choice. It’s made using only plant-based ingredients, including organic tomato concentrate, onion powder, and natural flavoring.
Trader Joe’s Organic Ketchup is another vegan-friendly option that uses organic sugar and apple cider vinegar. It doesn’t contain any high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, or animal-derived ingredients.
As mentioned above, from the Heinz brand, Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup uses organic sugar and is vegan. Other versions from this brand are not vegan (or not completely clearly vegan).
Finally, if you are wondering about a different brand of ketchup from the ones mentioned above, your best bet is to go for an organic, all natural kind. These likely stick to simpler ingredients, and organic sugar means it is vegan friendly.
So, what’s the best way to ensure you are consuming vegan-friendly ketchup? The first step is to carefully read the ingredients list on the label. Look for ketchup products that use plant-based ingredients and avoid those that include animal products like fish sauce or egg whites. However, you also have to pay attention to what type of sugar is used. The sweetener you most want to avoid is white sugar, because this is produced (made white) with the help of animal bone char. As mentioned above, some popular vegan ketchup brands to consider include Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup, Annie’s Organic Ketchup, Hunt’s Classic Tomato Ketchup, and Trader Toes’s Organic Ketchup. Stick to these if you feel overwhelmed by reading the ingredients list.
Who knew that the world of ketchup could be so complicated for vegans?! The good news is that there are plenty of options out there (even more than the ones mentioned above) for vegans and those following a plant-based diet. With a little bit of research and label-reading, you can find the best vegan ketchup brands and enjoy this condiment alongside your vegan veggie burgers, french fries or any other vegan food of your choice.
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