Are Digestives Vegan? (Here’s all you need to know)

Did you know the digestive biscuit originated in Scotland? It was first developed in 1839 by two doctors who wished to help their patients have a better digestion. They believed the biscuits to have antacid properties because of the use of sodium bicarbonate, which is still in use today. 

McVitie’s digestive biscuit is the best-selling biscuit in the United Kingdom, and it’s mostly made of wheat. It doesn’t contain any animal ingredients, but it has palm oil, which is an ingredient that some vegans attempt to avoid for several reasons, including animal cruelty. McVitie’s also sell milk chocolate digestives which are not suitable for vegans. 

However, it’s important to note that McVitie’s is not the only digestives brand on the market, which means not all brands may offer you a recipe completely without animal ingredients. For example, Tesco’s digestive biscuits contain dried skimmed milk, which is clearly not vegan.

What Are Digestives?

Digestives are basically a biscuit with a semi-sweet taste, developed with the goal of aiding digestion by introducing sodium bicarbonate in the recipe. It’s believed that sodium bicarbonate neutralizes stomach acidity, thus relieving indigestion or an upset stomach. 

Wheat flour is the principal ingredient used to make Digestives, though you can also find others such as sugar, malt extract, vegetable oil (usually as palm oil), wholemeal, a few raising agents, and salt.

However, some recipes use ingredients like dried whey, oatmeal, cultured skimmed milk, and emulsifiers. 

Below we have a table with different brands of digestive biscuits, and we’ll point out which ones are vegan and which ones are not. 

Brand: Is it Vegan?
McVitie’s Digestives Yes
M&S Digestives Yes
Aldi Belmont Digestives Yes
Tesco Digestives No, it contains dried skimmed milk
Sainsbury’s Digestives  No, it contains skimmed milk powder
Lidl Towergate Digestives Yes
ASDA Digestives Yes
Morrisons Digestive No, it contains whey powder
Gullón Digestives Yes
Hovis Digestives No, it contains dried whey
Doves Farm Digestives Yes
Schar Digestives Yes

I know that there are many brands that I haven’t mentioned, but this will give you a good idea of the digestive biscuits you can purchase, particularly if you live in the United Kingdom.

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Palm Oil

The Vegan Society suggests that palm oil is a vegan ingredient, since it doesn’t involve the abuse of animals, however, there are many individuals who disagree. 

Palm oil demand perpetuates the need to bring down incredibly biodiverse environments called rainforests, which are inhabited by many animals, including endangered species like the orangutangs, Sumatran rhinos, and pigmy elephants. Once you strip these animals of their natural environment, you put their lives at risk.

For example, a study conducted by Cell found that between 1999 and 2015, 100,000 Bornean orangutangs died because of the demand for palm oil and other natural resources. 

Personally, I believe the study shows that consuming palm oil is something that impacts the survival of animals, so even though palm oil comes from a plant, we should at least try to minimize its use. 

Let me also point out that when you replace tropical peat swamp forests with palm oil plantations, you get carbon that is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2), and peat soil subsidence, which essentially leads to an increased risk of floods – particularly in low-lying peat lands. Naturally, this has dire implications, because the capacity to produce and provide for local communities is affected, and can be lost. 

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Are Other Vegetable Oils Better? 

Palm is the most efficient crop because it can produce more oil per area of land than any other equivalent vegetable oil crop. 

For instance, palm oil supplies 35% of the world’s vegetable oil demand on 10% of the land. 

For you to get the same amount with alternative oils such as soybean and coconut oil, you’d need between 4 and 10 times the amount of land, which means the impact on animal habitat would be greater. 

Also, even though there is labor exploitation for both adult and child workers, palm oil is an important crop for the GDP of emerging economies, which means there are many farmers who depend on it to survive. 

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Is Sustainable Palm Oil Any Good?

According to Greenpeace, certified sustainable palm oil is just a diversion. 

In 2004, the palm oil industry set up up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which allows RSPO members to certify their palm oil as sustainable, and brands to claim that the palm oil they’re using is sustainable. 

However, Greenpeace says that it took 14 years for the RSPO to ban members from destroying forests, but some are still getting away with it.

Greenpeace found the palm oil suppliers to the world’s largest brands, including Unilever, Nestlé, Colgate-Palmolive, and Mondelez, destroyed an area of rainforest almost twice the size of Singapore in three years. 

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, please check out this publication

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Some digestive biscuits are vegan, but it’s important to note that they contain palm oil, which is not an ingredient that every vegan consumes, for several reasons. 

A report developed by Greenpeace found that the destruction of rainforests is pretty much ongoing, despite the existence of sustainable palm oil certificates (RSPO). This implies that populations of endangered species will continue to be in danger, and greenhouse gas emissions will keep rising. 

Put simply… because animals die because of palm oil consumption, some vegans choose to avoid it. 

So, are digestive biscuits vegan? Yes, if we simply consider that palm oil comes from a plant. However, it doesn’t change the fact that it causes a lot of harm for both animals and the environment.