By Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
There are several FAQs relevant to vegans placed under a “Special Notes” section which appear after clicking on any “Nutrition Information” or “Allergy Info” link found on this page of Pei Wei’s website: https://www.peiwei.com/menu/nutrition (The FAQs can be seen at the bottom after scrolling through to the end from any one of those links.)
For reference, here is Pei Wei’s full menu: https://www.peiwei.com/menu/standard
Here are the reprinted FAQs:
Q: What are the vegetables that are served with a dish when Vegetables & Tofu is chosen as the option?
A: We serve broccoli, carrots and snap peas with our tofu when guests choose Vegetables & Tofu as the option.
Q: What kind of tofu do you serve when guests choose Vegetables & Tofu as their meat option?
A: We serve a firm, baked tofu that is dipped in soy sauce, very different from the more traditional silken tofu (served only in our Hot & Sour soup). This baked tofu has a smooth texture and tastes like the sauce you choose to add to it.
Q: What ingredient prevents so many of the sauces from being vegetarian?
A: Any sauce that is not marked with a “leaf,” our symbol for vegetarian, has something in the sauce that we cannot remove. Depending on the dish, it could be anything from chicken stock to oyster sauce or shrimp paste. If you would like to know the specific ingredient in a particular dish, please ask a manager.
Q: Do you have any dishes at Pei Wei that you claim to be 100% vegan?
A: The simple answer is no. There are varying degrees of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. Our dishes marked vegetarian have no meat or animal byproducts in them; however, there are many vegans who do not eat sugar because it is processed using animal bones. We also use honey in our Teriyaki sauce, which is not considered vegan. For this reason, we are only able to claim a vegetarian status on our dishes.
Q: How can the Honey Seared dish be a vegetarian dish when it has honey in the name?
A: The “honey” in the name is used to describe the mild, sweet flavor of the sauce, but there is actually no honey in the Honey Seared dish.
For more information about the vegan menu options at Pei Wei, The VRG communicated with J. Sullivan, Director of Culinary Innovation at Pei Wei. Here are our questions and his responses.
Q: On your site next to the vegetarian icon appears: “Vegetarian Available Upon Request.” How do you define “vegetarian”?
A: We take the vegetarian designation very seriously at Pei Wei. Vegetarian menu items are those that can be prepared with tofu and/or vegetables and contain no animal products whatsoever – no hidden ingredients such as chicken stock, fish oil or animal fat that obviously a vegetarian would want to avoid. Our vegetarian dishes are also prepared with oil or water that has not come into contact with animal products.
Q: How do you define “vegan”?
A: At Pei Wei, we understand that there are varying degrees of vegetarian and vegan diets, so we adhere to the strictest standard when labeling something vegan. While dishes marked vegetarian have no meat or animal byproducts in them, many vegans do not eat sugar because it is processed using animal bones, so we wouldn’t consider a dish with sugar in it to be vegan. We also use honey – made from the toil of bees, and therefore not considered vegan – in our Teriyaki sauce. For those types of reasons, we claim a vegetarian status on most of our dishes rather than vegan.
Q: We understand your position about the sugar as the reason why you don’t wish to label any of your dishes as vegan. Is there any dish that would be vegan as you define it except for the sugar?
A: No. We are only able to claim a vegetarian status on our dishes.
Q: The Edamame Hummus small plate appears all-vegetable but it is not labeled with Pei Wei’s vegetarian icon. Why not?
A: The inclusion of won ton chips make the Edamame Hummus a non-vegetarian small plate.
Q: Can the won ton chips be left off of the Edamame Hummus dish thereby making it vegan?
Q: What is it about the following that makes them non-vegan?
a. won ton chips (Edamame Hummus plate)
A: The chips contain eggs. The Edamame Hummus plate could be ordered without chips upon request.
b. vegetable spring rolls
A: The vegetable spring rolls are fried in the same fryer as pork egg rolls, crab wontons, etc.
c. traditional edamame
A: The traditional edamame can be prepared as vegetarian using fresh water to steam but that is also available on request.
The VRG also asked the Director of Culinary Innovation at Pei Wei about quinoa added to the menu in April 2016 initially slated to run for only a few months.
J. Sullivan informed us that “Quinoa was originally launched as a limited time offer. Due to its popularity among our guests, it now appears on the menu.”
Q: We noticed that the quinoa entry (listed after scrolling down to Substitutes for Rice on the Pei Wei table of allergy information for Rice and Noodle Bowls Items) indicates that milk and shellfish are present in quinoa. https://www.peiwei.com/menu/nutrition/standard/rice-and-noodle-bowls?allergy=true. Could you explain why shellfish and milk are indicated allergens for quinoa?
A: The allergen listing is meant to identify allergens for our guests that have food allergies/sensitivities. A dish is marked for the appropriate allergens based on ingredients and possible cross contamination during the preparation and cooking process. The recipe for the side of quinoa includes stir-frying the quinoa in our Kung Pao sauce, which contains oyster extract (shellfish) and sweet whey (milk) as ingredients.
Q: Is it possible to order a bowl of plain quinoa without any of the allergens listed for quinoa above in your table?
A: We take the health and safety of our guests seriously—we avoid promoting quinoa without the disclosure of possible cross-contamination with allergens during the preparation and cooking process.
We asked J. Sullivan if vegetables and tofu are prepared away from meat and seafood products with utensils and cookware that have been sanitized and initially received this response:
“As standard operating procedure, vegetables and tofu are not prepared separately from meat and seafood products with utensils and cookware that have been sanitized. However, the method or preparation can be adjusted at the request of a guest.”
The VRG requested further clarification about this statement and received this reply from the Director:
“To clarify, meat and tofu are prepared on the same surfaces with the same utensils but everything is sanitized between uses (i.e., meat and tofu are prepared separately in a rotation on the same, sanitized surfaces with sanitized utensils and cookware between use).”
Complete ingredient statements for Pei Wei’s sauces are not listed on the chain’s website. J. Sullivan stated:
“While Pei Wei doesn’t list the ingredients to sauces on our website, we are happy to work with our guests should they call guest services with any questions at 1-877-782-6356.”
The contents of this posting, our website and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your best judgement about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.