Ritz Crackers have long been a staple in many recipes. From finger foods and snacks to the crunchy topping on many casseroles, for almost a century, Ritz has been an ingredient of a lot of comfort foods. But are they vegan friendly?
At their core, the original Ritz cracker is widely considered to be a vegan-friendly food, however many vegans do not agree. Also, there have been many versions since then that are not. So, while the short answer is, “Yes Ritz crackers are vegan-friendly,” the safe answer is,” No, Ritz crackers are not always vegan-friendly.” Let’s take a look at why.
The Ritz Cracker Original
For the most part, the original Ritz cracker is considered to be vegan-friendly, but there are still a couple of ingredients that are questionable to some vegans. These crackers contain –
Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil
Baking Soda and/or Calcium Phosphate
High Fructose Corn Syrup
There are two ingredients that raise some concerns in this list. Many vegans will not eat foods that contain the umbrella terms “sugar” or “natural flavors.”
Why Sugar May or May Not Be Vegan
While most of these ingredients are considered to be vegan-friendly, both the sugar and the natural flavor are questionable. The only way to know that they are vegan would be to understand exactly where they are sourced from, and the ingredients list doesn’t say.
Some vegans may not be aware of this fact, but not all sugar that is manufactured in North America is vegan-friendly. A good portion of it is made with bone char, which means that it contains ground cattle bones. Some vegans avoid any item that lists “sugar” in the ingredients list, while others do not. It is more of a personal choice.
If you are concerned about the sugar listed in the ingredients of other foods, one rule of thumb is to go organic. The farms and manufacturing plants involved in the making of these products do not use bone char in their process.
Natural Flavoring May Not Be Vegan, Either
Natural flavoring is another ingredient that gets a pass from some vegans while others won’t touch it. That is because these two words are more of an umbrella term for many different ingredients that are created to improve flavor.
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), “The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means…which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice…or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products.”
So ingredients that come from animal products can be included under “natural flavors” in your list of ingredients. That means that the only way to be sure that what you are buying is truly vegan-friendly is to either not purchase anything with “natural flavors” in the list, or call the manufacturer to find out exactly what they mean by this term.
Contacting the Manufacturer May Not Work
Only the manufacturer would know for sure whether or not the original, or any other flavor of Ritz cracker is vegan-friendly for even the strictest of vegans. These snack crackers are made by Nabisco, which is in turn owned by Mondelez International. When contacted about their products, they replied with this email,
“Unfortunately, this ingredient information is not currently available…As you can imagine our products change frequently and maintaining a list of products that contain enzymes would be virtually impossible. We apologize for any disappointment this may cause.”
So, as you can see, the question of whether or not Ritz crackers, even the original version, is vegan-friendly is a complicated one. It all depends on whether you are a strict vegan, or you allow some ingredients that you aren’t sure of as long as the product is mostly considered vegan. Again, it is a matter of personal choice.
Why Palm Oil May Not be Vegan-Friendly
There are many flavors of Ritz cracker, and even if you consider the original to be vegan-friendly by your standards, others may not be. When we take a look at the other Ritz choices to see whether or not they can even loosely be considered as vegan-friendly, we find that many of them contain palm oil.
As we’ve established, the original ritz contains sugar and natural flavors, which may or may not be vegan-friendly, but palm oil is also questionable. Since it is made from the pulp of a palm tree, many consider it to be vegan, and thus end the conversation. But it might not be quite so simple.
For other vegans, palm oil is controversial because of the labor practices of those who manufacture it. Produced mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, it is cheap to manufacture, especially in areas where cheap labor can be used. But, the process is having a negative impact on the environment.
The catch here is that, while palm oil is solely made of plants, it is not an animal product. However, because manufacturing palm oil causes great distress for the animals who live in the rain forests and areas where it is made, palm oil may not be considered vegan.
It boils down to the question of what vegan means to you. Does it mean that you refuse to consume anything that contains animal products, or do you go by the earlier definition of vegan, which calls it, “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”.
Ritz Flavors That are Definitely NOT Vegan
Because they contain either natural flavors, sugar, or palm oil, these are the Ritz flavors that might be vegan-friendly: Original, Roasted Vegetable, Whole Wheat, Bacon (doesn’t use real bacon), Crisps & Thins – Bacon, Crisps & Thins – Salt & Vinegar, Crisps & Thins – BBQ. Also, the Ritz Bits Peanut Butter may or may not contain milk, depending on where they were made.
On the other hand, because they contain cheese, whey, or milk, these flavors are not vegan-friendly: Crisps & Thins – Original with Creamy Onion, Crisps & Thins – Sour Cream and Onion, Crisps & Thins – Sweet Chili & Sour Cream, Crisps & Thins – Cheddar, Ritz Bits – Cheese.
The last paragraph gives you a full list of Ritz flavors that are not vegan-friendly according to any standards. All of the rest of the Ritz flavors are more of a personal choice among vegans, depending on your definition of “vegan.”
If you are concerned over questionable ingredients such as sugar or natural flavorings, or if you are worried about the way ingredients such as palm oil are manufactured, you might choose to look for a vegan alternative to Ritz.
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