Nilla is a brand owned by Nabisco and is known for its line of vanilla-flavored, wafer-style cookies.
The name “nilla” is basically a shortened version of “vanilla”, which is a flavor profile that is common to all Nilla-branded products. They were originally sold as Nabisco Vanilla Wafers, but the product’s name changed to Nilla Wafers in 1967.
They’re also commonly used in banana pudding, which is very popular in the American South.
A not so fun fact is that Nilla Wafers have made their way into scientific studies, by being used to facilitate the oral administration of compounds or medications to rats in testing.
But are Nilla Wafers vegan? Unfortunately, they’re not vegan. They contain milk derivatives and eggs, and the same goes for generic variations sold by other brands such as Amazon.
On top of that, they also contain “controversial” ingredients such as refined sugar, artificial flavors, natural flavors, and palm oil.
Why Nilla Wafers Are Not Vegan
Well, the reason Nilla Wafers aren’t vegan is generally because of how the dough is made. If you look a wafer recipe, you’re going to find many that rely on ingredients such as eggs and milk, and the same goes for the Nilla Wafers, apparently.
Here’s the ingredient list I’ve taken from Amazon:
Generic vanilla wafers also follow an identical formula, which you can verify by checking the ingredients from Happy Belly, an Amazon brand:
Other moderately well-known brands like the Kinnikinnick Vanilla Wafer Cookies are dairy-free but contain egg byproducts:
Whey was once regarded as a waste product because it was the remainder of milk that was curdled or strained during the production of dairy products like cheese or yogurt.
It has many uses, but in this particular case, it is used as an additive to help emulsify or stabilize other ingredients, improve mouthfeel and boost the nutritional value of the product.
Unfortunately, eggs are considered to be one of the most versatile ingredients in baking. They can be used for various purposes, such as:
- Enhancing the nutritional value of foods;
- As a raising agent;
- As a binding substance and for coating;
- Thickening agent;
- Emulsifying agent;
- Glazing and wealing;
- Clarifying fluids;
- Controlling crystallization;
- And adding flavor to foods.
And in products like wafers, eggs play more than one role, including the addition of a soft yellow tone to the dough.
Controversial are usually the ingredients stricter vegans choose to avoid because they may be somehow connected to animal suffering.
Here are the most common controversial ingredients found in wafers:
- Refined sugar
- Palm oil
- Natural flavors
- Artificial flavors
The reasons why these ingredients are deemed “controversial” are legitimate, so if you wish to avoid these ingredients, that is certainly respectable.
Some people may believe it’s too much, but I actually support those who do even though I casually consume products that consume some of these ingredients.
There’s no doubt sugar is a plant-based ingredient.
But the way sugar is processed may deter some vegans from actually consuming it.
It turns out sugar derived from sugarcane can be processed using different agents, but one agent that is commonly used in the United States is bone char.
Bone char is essentially a decolorizing and deashing agent obtained from the bones of cattle. Like most agents, it’s used to remove inorganic impurities. If you look at table sugar, that’s how sugar ends up after being refined.
Because Nilla Wafers belong to Nabisco, a company also owned by Mondelez International, the use of bone char is almost a guarantee, according to this email:
Obviously, this email was in regard to Oreos, but the procedures are probably the same.
Again, palm oil is also a plant-based ingredient.
Yet, the demand for palm oil is widely known for being destructive in more ways than one. To produce palm oil, acres of rainforest are cut down, and that consequently results in the loss of animal habitat for endangered species.
Between 1995 and 2015, 100,000 orangutangs died due to the loss of animal habitat. Species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers are also at risk.
Conditioning the land to create palm oil plantations also results in increased carbon and methane emissions, which are highly conducive to global warming.
Palm oil farming has brought prosperity to families in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, however, indigenous people that make their livelihood collecting products like berries, oils, fuelwood, or medicinal plants, which they lose when palm oil plantations become the norm.
As you know, palm oil is present in a wide range of foods, especially snacks like wafers.
Natural flavors can be derived from plants or animals, and that’s where the problem thrives. While I believe the majority of products use plant-based ingredients to create natural flavors, there is still a small chance some products may contain natural flavors made from animal derivatives.
One example I usually give is ginger ale.
While ginger ale is fully plant-based, some variations may contain natural flavors made from honey, as you can verify by checking this Wikipedia screenshot:
Companies are not required to reveal this information, so our only choice is to contact companies and ask. Naturally, some people feel more compelled to do this than others, but I’d highly recommend you do it if you’re stringent in your approach to vegan food.
The issue with artificial flavors is the same with artificial colors or anything else that requires testing before it’s deemed safe for human consumption.
Artificial flavors are man-made, so they’re typically considered vega-friendly. However, not everyone agrees with this view. Some vegans often bring up the fact that artificial ingredients were tested on animals before ending on products, making it unethical to consume them.
Frankly, I agree, but for me, it depends on how often a certain artificial ingredient is tested. I know, for certain, that artificial colors like red #40 are periodically tested, as you can see in these two tests conducted in 2017 and 2018.
Meaning, while the red #40 color is man-made, some animal-cruelty still needs to take place for it to exist in our foods.
In end, whether or not you consume these ingredients all boils down to your own personal view.
Some people are quick to judge others on how they make decisions and choose to live their lives, but we all have some hypocrisy in us. If you choose to consume these controversial ingredients (in vegan foods), I don’t think you’re less vegan for doing so, although I would urge you to at least minimize palm oil consumption if you can.
Vegan Alternatives to Nilla Wafers
I’ve found a legitimate alternative to the Nilla Wafers, at least with the same cookie-like shape. The other two options are of the same brand but they’re two different flavors.
Anyway, here are the three options I found:
Another option is to make your own vegan wafers at home.
Feel free to follow this vegan wafer recipe by the Minimalist Baker:
If you’d rather follow the recipe via a blog post, you can find it through here.
Summary: Nilla Wafers Are NOT Vegan
Yes, unfortunately, Nilla Wafers contain ingredients like milk and eggs, making them non-vegan.
However, if you wish to try out some vegan wafers, feel free to check some of the options I’ve suggested above, including the video recipe created by The Minimalist Baker.
Vegan Wafers are one of those snacks that are difficult to find in local grocery stores, so you either make an effort to find them, or you order them online. Making your own vegan wafers at home sounds like a wonderful option as well.
Anyway, I hope this blog post has helped! Thanks.