Do you have a sweet tooth and are a fan of the pastry-based dessert baklava? It is indeed a delicious treat for all who have a sweet tooth. It is mainly found in Greek, Turkish, and Middle Eastern restaurants. This brings you to the question: is baklava vegan?
The answer is it depends. Traditionally, it is not considered vegan due to its ingredients which consist of butter and honey. However, you can replace them with other ingredients. Precisely, you can replace butter with margarine and honey with maple syrup or agave, which are plant-based products.
Made of phyllo pastry, chopped nuts, spices, and sweet syrup on top, baklava is a decadent delight. But is it vegan-friendly?
As mentioned already, it depends on certain factors. While baklava can be vegan, there are certain ingredients to look out for, which make it non-vegan.
This post will explain everything you need to know about baklava, its vegan status, and the ingredients that can make it non-vegan.
Table of Contents
What Is Baklava?
While every region has made its version of this dessert, baklava is mainly a sweet pastry made of phyllo (filo) dough, chopped nuts, and a sweet syrup as a finishing touch.
It has derived its popularity as a fabulous dessert since time immemorial with a long-stretched history. People are unsure about its origin- whether it is Turkish, Persian, or Mongolian. However, facts say otherwise.
Baklava has its roots in Istanbul. There, it was served during Ramadan, which is a Muslim holy month. During Ramadan, the Muslims fast during the daytime.
But it’s possible that the inspiration draws its origin from Roman, Turkish, or Persian cakes. However, not much light has been shed on this matter.
Now it is a popular sweet dish throughout the Middle East and Greece.
Is Baklava Vegan-Friendly?
No. Traditionally speaking, baklava is not vegan-friendly or safe for vegans.
Baklava mainly includes the phyllo dough layers basted in butter, egg wash, or sometimes both. Moreover, it’s topped with a honey-based syrup. Butter and honey are two ingredients that are considered non-vegan for their extraction processes.
However, there are ways to replace these ingredients and still make the same baklava equally delicious. For instance, you can coat the phyllo dough with olive oil, a plant-based oil, and give the dough its crunchy texture. Also, you can replace honey with maple syrup.
Therefore, it depends upon the ingredients used to make the baklava you consume.
If there isn’t vegetable oil used, chances are, they’ll be using butter or other animal-derived fat. However, for ages, baklava has been made using olives in the Middle East.
Olives are widely cultivated in the region and hence, are the go-to choice while making phyllo pastry. Walnut or any nuts is also a good alternative.
It’s possible that people would try to cut off the extra effort of making the filo themselves. They’d instead buy pre-rolled filo pastry. Most market-bought filo pastry out there is vegan and with sunflower oil. However, some tend to use palm oil which is not a vegan option and ultimately makes the baklava non-vegan friendly.
Additional Non-Vegan Ingredients
Some readymade pastry may contain non-vegan ingredients, such as L-cysteine or glycerol. If you notice any product with these ingredients, avoid purchasing them to make the entire product a non-vegan option. Here are a few non-vegan ingredients you should look out for:
Primarily found in bread or similar products and pastries, L-cysteine is a plant-based ingredient whose extraction involves animal hair or feathers. Therefore, it would be best to avoid it while searching for a vegan-friendly option. Although lately, it is only rarely animal-derived.
Glycerol or Glycerin
An additional ingredient often found in pastry is glycerol which can be made of animal or plant sources. Unless the product is labeled vegan-friendly, it would be best to avoid it.
Eggs need no further explanation about their non-veganism, do they?
E-numbers are available in supermarkets and are often used in pastry. These can be both vegan and non-vegan, depending upon their source. There is only a little evidence about which E number is vegan.
Other Ways Baklava Can Be Non-Vegan
Other than the ingredients used while making baklava, it is also possible that the recipe includes certain items that may end up being non-vegan in some way or the other. Let’s see how that is possible.
Baklava fillings are made of chopped nuts and added with some spices for flavors. Nuts and spices are derived from plants, and hence, the stuffing made for the baklava is also vegan.
However, if any non-vegan ingredient is added to the filling recipe, it may turn the entire baklava non-vegan and unsuitable for vegans to consume. Also, there’s a rumor going around that not all nuts are vegan. Therefore, you should check for that too.
One of the essential ingredients that might make baklava non-vegan is honey-based syrup. Honey is derived from animals and is the primary food for bees. Therefore, it is quite understandable that honey is a non-vegan item.
However, there is no pressure to add honey as the syrup. This is because most Baklava syrups are delicious even without honey while remaining sweet. Such recipes might include water, sugar, rose water, lemon juice, orange blossom water, or similar subtle flavors.
If you are purchasing your baklava from a bakery or restaurant, ensure the ingredient used in the syrup is clear of any non-vegan ingredients.
Factors other than the ingredients used while making baklava can also contribute to the vegan status of baklava. For instance, the tray needs to be greased before making the baklava. You can use any plant-based oil or margarine to do the same, which is still a vegan option.
However, some prefer using butter. And not to mention, butter is a non-vegan product derived from dairy milk. This typically makes the baklava non-vegan since it would be covered with a coat of butter.
Cross-contamination is another yet important reason baklava can be non-vegan. When baklava is made on a large scale, and food processing occurs in bakeries or in-home kitchens, cross-contamination can occur.
If you are concerned about consuming strictly vegan-friendly products, look for baklava labeled vegan-friendly. This is because cross-contamination can cause such products to turn non-vegan. However, the good news is that most of these products are made without any engagement with animal products.
Now that you have an idea about the origin and the vegan or non-vegan nature of baklava, here are a few frequently asked questions regarding baklava. If you had one of these queries, now is the time to get it cleared.
What Is Baklava Made Of?
Baklava is made of filo layers (or phyllo) pastry which is a vegan ingredient, chopped nuts which can be replaced with pistachios, walnuts, and almonds, spices like cinnamon and cardamom, and a sweet syrup which is usually honey (but it can be maple syrup too) in the end as a finishing touch.
Is Baklava Gluten-Free?
No, baklava is not gluten-free. Confectioners often use phyllo dough which is made of wheat flour. This accounts for the non-suitability of the baklava for people with gluten allergies.
But it is still possible to exclude these ingredients and make gluten-free flour.
Does Baklava Have Eggs?
Mostly, the traditional baklava recipes avoid eggs while making it. But it is not restricted, and some brands or shops still use eggs to mold the phyllo dough. This is why you should be particular about the ingredients used while making baklava since there are non-vegan ways to make it.
Does Baklava Have Dairy?
Yes. Baklava traditionally contains butter. And butter is a dairy ingredient which brings to the point that people allergic to milk should avoid consuming baklava.
This brings us to the conclusion that traditionally baklava is not considered vegan. The reason for this conclusion is that its primary ingredient is honey. However, there is the perfect substitute for honey which tastes equally amazing without its flavor. For example, you can add maple syrup on top.
Also, not many people are aware that phyllo dough and filo pastry are vegan-friendly. They usually don’t contain eggs or dairy. It is, however, true that some confectionaries or shops might use these ingredients, which is why you should ensure it by yourself.
Veganism has set in a new wave of hope for the animal chain, and so, you can do your bit by steering clear of the non-vegan options.