Is Falafel Vegan? Here Is Everything You Need to Know

Going vegan can be a hard thing to do in some places, but a lot of people are working on it in today’s world, aware that we need to do what we can for the sake of the animals and the planet. 

If you are thinking of going vegan, you are probably constantly on the lookout for vegan-friendly products, and that might lead you to wonder – is falafel vegan?

Falafel is almost always vegan, but if you are buying it from somewhere, make sure you ask about sauces, wraps, and anything else that comes with the falafel, as these may not be vegan. In general, falafel on its own is vegan according to the traditional recipe.

In this article, we’re going to look at why falafel is vegan, what goes into falafel, and what you need to be wary of when you eat falafel while out and about. This should help you on your vegan journey and ensure you are avoiding animal products.

Why Is Falafel Vegan?

falafel
Fried falafels

In order to be vegan, a food item must contain no animal products at all. This includes ingredients that you might not think of, such as:

  • Honey
  • Carmine
  • Some processes, such as clarification of juice
  • Gelatin
  • Butter
  • Fatty acids (that might derive from animals)

It’s important to be on the lookout for these ingredients and others, as none of them are vegan and they make a food unsuitable for vegans to consume. You are not likely to see any of these in falafel, however, you shouldn’t need to be concerned, and a quick check of the ingredients list should be all you need.

Even most of the common accompaniments of falafel are vegan, including things like tahini, tomato, pickles, lettuce, and cucumber. You don’t need to be concerned about any of these things, but you should keep an eye on any other accompaniments that are on offer, and avoid any that you can’t verify are vegan.

What Is In Falafel?

Falafel recipes can vary, but in general, these balls are made using:

  • Flour (many different kinds can be used, but chickpea flour is very common)
  • Spices, such as cumin, pepper, sumac, coriander, chili, etc.
  • Garlic
  • Herbs, such as parsley, mint, dill, or fresh coriander
  • Celery
  • Leeks
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Other vegetables
  • Lemons
  • Green chilis
  • Fava beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Baking soda
  • Sesame seeds
  • Dill

All of these are vegan, and therefore falafel is generally vegan. Falafels also usually contain oil, as they are deep-fried, but this oil tends to be rapeseed or one of the other oils with a high smoke point and is not usually lard or another animal-based oil. Therefore, fried falafels are safe for vegans to eat.

You may find that falafels sometimes incorporate other ingredients, as there is no fixed recipe of what it must and must not have in it, but on the whole, no animal products are used in falafels and they are generally suitable for vegans to consume. If in doubt, it is worth skimming the ingredients list or asking the cook about any extras that have been added.

What Should You Be Cautious Of When Eating Falafel?

If you are purchasing falafel when out and about, they are usually a safe vegan option because they rarely utilize meat or other animal products, but you do need to be cautious of a few things, and always check if ingredients aren’t clearly listed or the food isn’t marked as vegan on the menu. The things you should look out for include:

  • Additional toppings, such as bacon bits, ham, shredded chicken, etc.
  • Sauces included automatically, which could contain egg, meat, non-vegan flavorings, cheese, etc.
  • Reused oil; if you are purchasing from a food stall that sells multiple kinds of products, you may wish to make sure that the falafels you are buying are not being cooked in oil that has been used for meat products.

The last of these can be the trickiest to find out about, as the food stall may not be truthful if you ask, and it isn’t something that you can tell from the menu. If they only have one frying vat, there’s also nothing you can do about it (whereas you can ask to leave toppings and sauces off). However, it is important to check.

If you are not a strict vegan, you may decide that you don’t mind if your falafels were fried in oil that has been used for meat products, but most vegans do not like this, so bear that in mind. If you do choose to go ahead with reused oil, be aware that it will contain meat contaminants and will mean the food isn’t technically vegan.

If your falafel is served with tzatziki, you will also have to forgo this, as it is a yogurt-based sauce that will be made using dairy milk from cows. It is not suitable for vegans, so make sure you ask your server to leave this off if you’re eating falafel while out and about. Opt for tahini or hummus as an alternative, as this is fine for vegans to eat.

Do Any Falafel Recipes Contain Meat?

No traditional falafel recipes will call for meat, but it is always wise to double-check this before consuming falafel.

Although all traditional falafel is vegan, there are many people who make “falafel” recipes with twists and variations, and these may not be fully vegan.

They could contain certain kinds of meat in some situations. It is unusual to see falafel recipes that aren’t vegan, but it does happen, so be aware of this if you are being offered falafel and you don’t know for sure that it is vegan.

If in doubt, always ask before consuming it. This will prevent you from accidentally eating something unsuitable for you. On the whole, however, the meat alternative to falafel is known as shawarma, and it is made of lamb, turkey, or chicken. Falafel is therefore unlikely to have any meat in it, and most vegans can safely consume it.

Do Any Falafel Recipes Contain Dairy?

It is unlikely that a falafel recipe will have dairy in it. There is no milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, or other dairy in most falafels, which is why they aren’t creamy. This may be because they come from a hot country originally, and dairy products do not keep very well.

If you are purchasing falafel while out somewhere, bear in mind that some of the accompaniments, such as tzatziki are made using yogurt, and others may also contain dairy. Check this before choosing falafel, and ask for these sides to be left off if you are vegan.

Do Any Falafel Recipes Contain Egg?

A lot of fried recipes use egg to bind the ingredients together and ensure that they don’t crumble, but falafel – perhaps surprisingly – does not. Egg is usually used because when it is cooked, the proteins mix throughout the other ingredients and then solidify upon heating, which pulls everything together.

In falafel, the combination of the damp chickpeas and the flour is sufficient to pull all of the ingredients together and create shapely patties that do not crumble. The aquafaba in the chickpeas foams up and works like egg whites, creating a great bond. Lentils also have plenty of protein in them, which will further bind the chickpeas if you are using them.

This again means that falafel traditionally count as vegan, and since there’s no need to add egg in order to improve the recipe, they are a great option. You are highly unlikely to find that egg has been included in a falafel recipe, although you may still wish to check if you are eating falafel somewhere unfamiliar.

You should also check whether any of the accompanying sauces, dips, or products contain egg, as this is quite likely. Egg is useful for thickening and binding, so a lot of sauces depend on it. If you find that any of the sauces contain egg, forgo these, and your falafel should be vegan.

Is The Bread That Comes With Falafel Vegan?

tortilla wraps
Tortilla wraps

Falafels are served with a variety of bread products, including pita breads, tortilla wraps, burger buns, and more. If you are eating it with any of these, you will need to check for yourself that the bread is vegan. A lot of breads are vegan, but some are not.

Some kinds of bread utilize things like butter, eggs, or milk, and any of these ingredients will make the bread unsuitable for vegans. A lot also contain white sugar, which is considered non-vegan by many people. White sugar might be whitened using bone char, which is an animal product, so it is technically not appropriate for vegans.

Many vegans are not this strict and do eat bread, but it’s worth being aware of this potential issue if you are a strict vegan. If you choose things like flatbreads, e.g. pita breads and tortilla wraps, they are more likely to be vegan. This is because these breads do not utilize yeast, and therefore no sugar is required to activate the yeast.

Always check what kind of bread has been used before you determine that meal is okay for vegans. Where possible, opt for a flatbread rather than a burger bun if you want to ensure that your falafels are edible for vegans. In some cases, pita may contain honey, so ask about this if this is your chosen option.

Are The Spices In Falafel Vegan?

Falafel tends to be made using a wide range of spices. These can vary from recipe to recipe, but they often include at least some of the following:

  • Cilantro
  • Cumin
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Black pepper
  • Chili
  • Cinnamon
  • Parsley

All of these spices are fine for vegans to consume, so you don’t need to spend time worrying about this. Herbs and spices all come from plants and are generally considered suitable for vegans because of this.

Is Pre-mixed Falafel Healthy?

If you have bought a box of falafel from your local store, you might be wondering whether this is likely to be vegan. The answer is that it probably is vegan, but you should make sure you check, rather than assuming that it is. Although the ingredients of falafel are usually vegan, it never hurts to run through the ingredients list.

Occasionally, pre-mixed falafel will contain additives that are not safe for vegans. It may also sometimes use dairy.

If you’re buying pre-mixed falafel, always run through the list to look for any ingredients that you know are unsafe. On the whole, however, because falafel is generally considered vegan-friendly, manufacturers do not add animal products because it would reduce their market and limit the appeal of their mix.

It is generally better to make your own falafel so that you can control the ingredients and make sure that no animal products go in. This is one of the best ways to ensure that your falafels are vegan, and also allows you to control other things, like whether you reduce the amount of salt or whether you make them with gluten-free flour.

Are Falafels Healthy?

Once you’re sure that falafels are vegan, you come to another question – are they okay for you to eat? Falafels do contain some good ingredients, such as chickpeas, lentils, herbs, spices, onions, and other vegetables, and that makes them healthy in some ways, especially if you are trying to eat more pulses.

However, they do have quite high levels of fat and salt, particularly if you are deep-frying them. Traditionally, they are deep-fried, but some people make them in the oven in an attempt to reduce the fat content – although the end product is a little less crispy and delicious. If you are trying to keep your fat intake low, consider oven baking.

You can also cut down on the salt if you are making the falafel yourself at home. Because the herbs and spices add plenty of flavor to these delicious treats, you should find that you don’t particularly need much salt to give the falafel the flavor that you want – so go easy on the salt, and consider them a healthier option.

Of course, you can’t control the salt levels in a pre-packaged mix, and you can’t control the salt or the cooking method if you are eating out. In these cases, you may simply have to accept that falafel is a reasonably healthy food when eaten in moderation, but they are quite fatty and quite salty.

Do Vegan Cafes Serve Falafel?

Falafel has risen sharply in popularity in the last few years, and a lot of vegan cafes and restaurants have added this food to their menus as a result. It is flexible and can be eaten in many different ways, and it’s a great vegan alternative to things like meatballs, so it makes sense for them to include it.

You may also see it on the menus of more mainstream restaurants, especially as the vegan or vegetarian option. It tends to be on lunch menus rather than among the dinner options, but it could appear in either place.

If you’re going to a vegan cafe and you aren’t sure if they are likely to have falafel, you may wish to call ahead and find out if they serve falafel. Falafels tend to have quite specific ingredients, so a cafe is unlikely to be able to make them if they aren’t on the menu. It is worth finding out in advance so you can choose whether to go there.

Where Did Falafels Come From?

egypt, yemen, palestine
Egypt, Yemen, Palestine

It isn’t known exactly where falafel originated from, and quite a few countries claim credit for this food. It is certainly a Middle Eastern food, but which country first created it is unknown. It is essentially frying mashed beans, so it’s perfectly feasible that it was created in multiple different countries simultaneously. 

Some of the countries that claim to have created falafel include:

  • Egypt
  • Yemen
  • Palestine

It is perfectly possible that all of these countries invented falafel, or their version of it, at around the same time in history, independently of each other. When and how it spread to the rest of the world is unclear, but it’s no surprise given how tasty this meal is, and how readily available the ingredients are; most civilizations had at least some access to beans.

It isn’t even known how old falafel is, and estimates range from 4,000 years old to only 1,000 years old. It is possible that they have existed in some form or another for a long time, but that the little round balls and patties that we think of today have only recently evolved. Falafels are now eaten across the US and Europe, as well as in the UK.

Conclusion

Falafel is a great food for vegans and they are one of the most popular options in vegan restaurants and cafes, but it is important to check that they are suitable. Although falafels are traditionally vegan and just involve mashed beans, herbs, and vegetables, some modern recipes call for dairy, and occasionally for other animal-based ingredients.

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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