Is BBQ Sauce Vegan
It’s the sweet-smoky smell of ribs on a summer day, drifting up from the patio grill. It’s the deep brown hue of a spicy marinade for moist shredded beef. BBQ sauce provides the flavorful base for many popular American dishes; unfortunately, many favorite American foods (like ribs and beef) are not cruelty-free. While those choosing a plant-based diet can use BBQ sauce as a condiment in derivative dishes, the question remains: is BBQ sauce truly vegan?
Many unexpected American “favorite foods” are not 100% vegan. Marshmallows, jam, gummies, and Jell-O all use gelatin (animal collagen). Non-dairy creamer and cheese still contain types of casein, a product of milk. Cola and some coffee syrups are dyed with crushed beetles. Committing to a vegan diet involves significant research, to ensure no animal byproducts are accidentally ingested.
In this article, we’ll explore the history and making of BBQ sauce. We’ll look at common ingredients, including which to avoid. Finally, we’ll touch on the best BBQ sauce brands for vegans. Is BBQ sauce vegan? Not always – but it can be.
The History of BBQ Sauce
The origins of BBQ sauce are somewhat unknown. Regardless of who coined the term “BBQ sauce” to describe the sweet, salty, spicy tomato condiment, these flavors have been enjoyed around the world for centuries. Some date the birth of BBQ sauce-type condiments as far back as 2000 or more years ago.
A few scholars theorize that modern-day BBQ sauce came from a recipe created by the early American colonists; however, as the first BBQ sauce recipes didn’t appear until later, others believe our modern sauce was invented close to the end of the 19th century. BBQ sauce is similar to some regional sauces in Africa, leading some to believe the recipe was introduced in America by Southern slaves in the 1800s.
Regardless, the first written recipe for “barbeque sauce” dates to the United States in the early 1900s, and calls for a significant amount of butter – so, the sauce’s American origins weren’t vegan. Today, however, there are countless BBQ sauce brands and varieties, worldwide BBQ competitions, BBQ reality TV shows, and more. Is today’s BBQ sauce vegan?
Is BBQ Sauce Made With Animal Byproducts?
A common vegan pitfall, especially for those new to a plant-based lifestyle, is forgetting to research the processing of a food. White sugar lists only “sugar” as its ingredients, it is often processed with animal bone char for coloring. Guinness beers are technically “vegan,” but the company processes their beer with fishing by-products. If you’re concerned about animal welfare, it’s crucial to investigate the processes behind the manufacturing of your favorite foods before deciding to keep them in your diet.
BBQ sauce itself, thankfully, does not use “hidden” animal byproducts in its processing. However, the ingredients that make up BBQ sauce may have involved non-plant-based manufacturing methods. We break down these ingredients in the next section.
Non-Vegan Ingredients in BBQ Sauce
BBQ sauce’s main flavors come from tomato, vinegar, and sugar, but the additional flavors in BBQ sauce are as varied as the companies producing them. Below, we’ve listed some of the pitfalls of these main ingredients, as well as other flavors:
We mentioned the animal byproducts involved in sugar processing, but it’s worth mentioning again: white sugar is colored with bone char. Very few BBQ sauces use white sugar in their ingredients, but those that do should be avoided.
If the type of sugar used isn’t specified, you may need to contact the company to find out.
Vinegar, surprisingly, is not always vegan. There are many reasons vinegar could include non-plant ingredients:
- Vinegar made from wine may not be vegan because some wines are processed with egg whites and milk proteins for consistency.
- Distilled or “white” vinegar from large companies can be colored with bone char.
- A very few types of vinegar use isinglass, a fish gelatin, to filter the final product.
Not all mainstream brands are vegan. Heinz brand products, for example, do not use vegan vinegar.
To ensure your BBQ sauce is made with vegan-safe vinegar, look for sauces produced with apple cider vinegar or email your favorite brands and check.
Honey is a popular BBQ sauce sweetener. It adds flavor and dimension, but sacrifices bees’ hard work in the process. Avoiding honey is easy – just check the label. Most honey-flavored BBQ sauces are titled “Honey BBQ” or something similar, and all will have honey listed in the ingredients.
Yes, anchovies are used as flavoring for many BBQ sauces. Anchovies give the sauce fullness and contribute to its salty flavor. There are many plants that can contribute to the “umami” flavor of BBQ sauce, so avoiding anchovies doesn’t mean giving up the best sauces. Additionally, unlike white sugar and non-vegan vinegar, this ingredient is easy to identify and avoid.
Beef and chicken broths can add flavors impossible to mimic with vegan-friendly options. Sadly, this means they’re included in many seemingly-vegan BBQ sauces. Brands aren’t required to label broth on every container – they can categorize it under “natural flavors.” If you see “natural flavors” on a BBQ sauce container, call or email the brand before purchasing.
Vegan BBQ Sauce Brands
As we mentioned above, it can be tricky to find a BBQ sauce that is truly vegan. The brands below currently sell BBQ flavors that are mostly- or completely vegan (no honey, anchovies, or other obvious animal products):
- Whole Foods 365
- Sweet Baby Ray’s
- KC Masterpiece
- Jack Daniels
You can always call or email a company to learn more about their manufacturing methods and ingredients. If you’re still concerned, try making your own: many websites offer simple 2-4 ingredient BBQ sauce recipes for homemade sauce. You can easily use apple cider vinegar and raw sugar in your own homemade sauce (if you’re concerned about those ingredients).
Is BBQ sauce vegan? Sometimes. With a little research, it’s possible to find or create a sweet, smoky, guilt-free BBQ marinade.