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Veggie Options at Quick-Service Restaurant Chains
An Update on Menu Items at Popular Fast Food and Quick Casual Restaurant Chains
By Jeanne Yacoubou, MS, VRG Research Director
Since the 1980s, The Vegetarian Resource Group periodically asks major fast food and quick-service, casual restaurant chains for the latest information regarding the ingredients in their menu items. We recently contacted established chains as well as some new ones for this article.
Several restaurants told us that what patrons buy directly influences formulations, suppliers, and menu selections. Purchasing 'veggie-friendly' or vegetarian/vegan-customizable menu offerings when dining out helps to keep these dishes on the menus and increase the number of 'veggie-friendly' selections.
Not all menu items at every chain are mentioned in this report. We have listed foods and ingredients that may be of interest to vegetarians and/or vegans. For those menu offerings that we've indicated already contain eggs or milk, there may be ingredients present that come from other dairy sources (such as whey), but space does not permit a complete, detailed summary. We assume that the ingredient statements and other information provided to us by the chains are true, accurate, and complete. However, readers should be aware that changes may occur in ingredient formulations and suppliers at any time, so they should always consult the chains' websites, call customer service hotlines, or inquire at particular locations.
In some cases, restaurant chains tell us specific information about ingredients beyond what appears on their websites, and this information is contained in the entries. When The VRG does not have the information needed for us to properly classify an ingredient, we list it as coming from a
non-reported source. Readers should understand that, by this, we mean the ingredient may or may not be of animal, dairy, or egg origin.
If you see an unfamiliar ingredient listed here, you may consult The VRG's Guide to Food Ingredients for more information. The current edition is available for $6. Visit our website at <www.vrg.org> to purchase it or call The VRG at (410) 366-8343, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday. Also, look for updated entries to our Guide to Food Ingredients in our free e-mail newsletter to which readers may subscribe through our website at <www.vrg.org/vrgnews>.
A Note About Sugar
Some food ingredients may have been processed through the use of animal, egg, or dairy products. Sugar, for instance, may have been filtered through cow bone char. See Vegetarian Journal, Issue 4, 2007. Currently, there is not a way to be sure about the source of sugar, so we are not labeling it as an animal ingredient. However, those who are concerned should see the chart on pages 22 and 23. Note that organic sugar is not processed with bone char.
A Note About Eating Out
Be aware that you can never be '100% safe' when eating out. Some readers may feel more secure in restaurants that focus on vegetarian foods. See The Vegetarian Resource Group's website at at <www.vrg.org> for a list of more than 2,700 restaurants in the United States and Canada.
When we first contacted Applebee's, the leading fast-casual restaurant chain, in January 2007 for this update, they sent us a list of 'vegetarian' menu items upon request. They referred to these as entrées that
can be made meatless or are meatless already: Chicken amp; Broccoli Pasta Alfredo, Chicken Fajita Roll-Up, Nachos Nuevos, Mozzarella Sticks, Veggie Patch Pizza, and Vegetable Fajitas con Sizzle.
When The VRG inquired further about these items, we were told that entrée ingredients and preparation techniques vary widely from location to location and so no generalizations are possible. We received the following statement:
There are no dedicated fryers; potato items can be fried with meat items. There are protocols for sanitizing grill surfaces [but Applebee's cannot assure against cross-contamination].
Applebee's sent us this disclaimer in March 2007:
Applebee's International, Inc., does not claim its products to be vegetarian, to meet the requirements for a vegetarian diet, or to meet the criteria for any other special dietary regimen. Dairy and egg products may be present in meatless recipes. Trace amounts of meat or animal products may be present as a result of preparation or cooking.
Of the menu items listed above, only the Vegetable Fajitas con Sizzle appears to be free of animal ingredients. The sauce is soy-based, and the tortilla is milk-free. Sour cream and cheese can be omitted. We could not get further information on how the vegetables are prepared in this menu item. Mexi-Rice, which contains no dairy or egg products, may accompany this entrée if requested; however, it is unknown if a meat-based stock is used in the rice.
Baja Fresh is a chain of Mexican restaurants that opened in 1990 and now has close to 300 locations in more than 20 states. In October 2007, we spoke with Gloria Mendez, a Customer Relations Specialist at Baja Fresh.
Mendez told us that Baja Fresh does not provide a separate vegan menu. They do state on their website that they would be happy, upon request, to customize any menu item by omitting certain ingredients. This applies for in-house dining as well as their party packs.
She assured us that
there are no animal products in the preparation of our rice or beans; however, when we plate the beans on some entrées, they are sprinkled with cotija cheese that is made with animal rennet. The cotija cheese can be eliminated upon request. According to Mendez, the anejo cheese served at Baja Fresh also contains animal rennet, although the jack and cheddar cheeses, as stated in the manufacturer ingredient specifications, do not.
With the exception of the tortilla soup, which has a chicken base, Mendez said,
We do not use any other type of chicken or beef broth. There is no carmine in any menu item at Baja Fresh.
Based on standard product formulations, Mendez told us that the ranch dressing and the mayonnaise contain eggs. (The ranch dressing also contains butter.) The sour cream, flour tortillas, and the Salsa Crema contain milk or whey. The flour tortilla also contains L-cysteine, but Mendez did not specify its source. The corn tortilla does not contain L-cysteine and appears free of all animal ingredients. The guacamole and the sour cream do not contain gelatin.
Baja Fresh offers a 'Bare Style' burrito in a bowl without the tortilla. There is also a Grilled Veggie Burrito consisting of a blend of grilled peppers, chilies, and onions, layered with freshly simmered black or pinto beans, melted jack and cheddar cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo, and sour cream. Patrons may custom order either of these dishes to be free of animal products.
Other all-vegetable possibilities include customized nacho dishes with beans, guacamole, lettuce, and selected salsas. The side salad may be customized without the cheese. The rice side dish is free of animal ingredients.
Mendez emphasized that
variations [in ingredients] may occur due to differences in suppliers, ingredient substitutions, recipe revisions, or product assembly at the restaurant level. Baja Fresh does not assume responsibility for a patron's particular food sensitivity and encourages anyone with food sensitivities or special dietary needs to consult with a medical professional.
In December 2006, Burger King declined our request for information regarding food ingredients in their menu items. This entry on Burger King is based on information published on the Burger King website that we read in October 2007.
Burger King offers a BK Veggie® Burger. The current ingredient statement on the Burger King website specifies,
This is NOT a vegan product. (Capitalization is Burger King's). The BK Veggie® Burger contains egg whites as well as dairy-derived calcium caseinate. The natural flavors are listed as being derived from
non-meat sources. The nutrition page at the Burger King website contains a footnote on the Veggie Burger stating,
Burger King Corporation makes no claim that the BK Veggie® Burger or any other of its other products meets the requirements of a vegetarian or vegan diet. The patty is cooked in the microwave. No further information is given except that it may be ordered with or without cheese or with or without mayonnaise.
Burger King restaurants in other countries also offer the BK Veggie® Burger (and other menu items not offered in the United States that appear to be appropriate for those choosing a meatless diet). Vegetarian travelers should check with the particular restaurant or the Burger King website to find out ingredient information.
Burger King states that it will customize any menu item according to a customer's tastes. However, Burger King has a disclaimer on its website about food ingredients. It states that it cannot be held responsible for a person's sensitivity to any food item. The disclaimer also specifies that variations in ingredient formulations may occur depending on supplier and on product assembly on a restaurant-by-restaurant basis.
According to the Burger King website, the French fries appear to contain no animal products and are fried in their own dedicated fryers using vegetable shortening. The Onion Rings, Hash Browns, French Toast Rounds and Sticks, and Cheesy Totstm are fried in fryers used to prepare meat-containing menu items. The Onion Rings contain grill flavor of a non-reported source. The Hash Browns contain mono- and diglycerides of a non-reported source. Sugar is listed as an ingredient in French Toast Sticks and in the Onion Rings.
In June 2007, the writer called the consumer relations line at Burger King about the L-cysteine in the sesame bun and the Cini-minis™. She was told that Burger King
cannot guarantee the source of L-cysteine in its products. Previously, in March 2007, the writer was informed by another consumer representative at Burger King that the L-cysteine was not derived from human hair. In October 2007, the writer noticed that Burger King has placed the phrase
does not contain animal ingredients at the end of its ingredient statements for each of its three buns.
The Breakfast Syrup contains animal-derived natural flavors. The Biscuit, Croissan'wich™ croissant, Cheesy Tots™, and Cini-minis™ contain eggs and/or dairy. The Vanilla Icing on the Cini-minis™ contains natural flavors of a non-reported source. The Mott's® Strawberry Flavored Applesauce is listed as containing sugar and natural flavors of non-reported sources. The grape and strawberry jams appear free of animal ingredients. They do contain sugar.
The Dutch Apple Pie contains sugar and mono- and diglycerides of a non-reported source. The 'artificial flavors' (as 'natural flavors' are not listed) in the Pie are listed as coming from
plant sources. Minute Maid® Orange Juice and Minute Maid® Apple Juice appear free of animal ingredients.
Chipotle Mexican Grill opened its doors in 1993 and now has almost 100 locations in 27 states. Chipotle, called
the fast food equivalent of Whole Foods Market by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2007, is a leader among fast casual restaurant chains in terms of offering what it calls
Food with Integrity. This philosophy of food refers to foods that are
...unprocessed, seasonal, family-farmed, sustainable, nutritious, naturally raised, added-hormone free, organic, or artisanal.
The chain also helps to establish sustainable practices in produce farming (such as avocados and lettuce thus far). As of late 2007, a quarter of Chipotle's beans were organic, and their goal is to use only organic beans in all of their restaurants. As of late 2007 when this article was written, Chipotle had recycling containers in 70 percent of their restaurants.
Chipotle's website is very vegetarian-friendly in that it states which menu items are vegetarian. They also specifically address what vegans and vegetarians may eat at their restaurants, thereby indicating that this chain does recognize the difference between vegetarians and vegans and can make both groups happy! Almost all items can be custom-ordered at Chipotle to make menu items animal-free. In October 2007, we spoke with Joe Stupp of Chipotle, and he helped clarify questions about their offerings.
Stupp told us that Chipotle does not use animal rennet in any of its cheeses, using a
vegetable-based rennet instead. The guacamole does not contain gelatin nor dairy. There is no L-cysteine in any of its bread products. The black beans
...are completely animal-free, but the pinto beans are prepared with bacon. The sour cream contains no gelatin. There is no carmine in any of its salsas. There is no added sugar in Chipotle menu items except in the pinto beans.
Stupp elaborated on the three basic types of foods at Chipotle: burritos, tacos, and salads. The burritos consist of a flour tortilla, cilantro-lime rice, choice of pinto or vegetarian black beans, meat, salsa, cheese or sour cream, and romaine lettuce. The rice at Chipotle is free of animal ingredients. The vegetarian burrito includes guacamole rather than meat. The fajita burrito is just like a burrito but with sautéed peppers and onions instead of beans. The vegetarian fajita has both sautéed veggies and vegetarian black beans instead of meat and includes guacamole. Patrons can also get a burrito or fajita in a bowl with everything listed here except the tortilla.
The tacos may include either a soft flour tortilla or a crispy corn shell, choice of meat, salsa, cheese or sour cream, and romaine lettuce. The crispy corn shell is free of all animal ingredients. Patrons may customize the tacos, as well as the burritos and salads, as they wish.
The salads at Chipotle consist of romaine lettuce with choice of beans, meat, salsa, and cheese, with freshly made chipotle-honey vinaigrette (which does contain honey).
The 'vegetarian' option at Chipotle (listed after their meat options on the menu) includes the freshly made guacamole and vegetarian black beans in either burrito, taco, or salad style. Sautéed peppers and onions may be added to make a vegetarian fajita.
Pizza ingredients at Domino's have not changed significantly since our last Guide to Fast Food and Quick Service Chains was published in 2004. We spoke with Clay Harvey of the Customer Service Department at Domino's about the ingredients in their menu items. He told us that the enzymes in Domino's cheeses are not animal-derived. Likewise, the enzymes in all of the pizza doughs are non-animal-derived.
Domino's Pizza Sauce remains free of animal ingredients, although it contains sugar. The Thin Crust at Domino's is free of animal ingredients. The Hand-Tossed Crust contains whey and L-cysteine of a non-animal source. The Deep Dish Crust contains several dairy products, as well as natural flavors and mono-and diglycerides of non-reported sources.
The Garlic Dipping Sauce appears free of animal ingredients. The Marinara Dipping Sauce contains natural flavors of non-reported sources and sugar.
Domino's offers salads that can be customized to suit vegetarians and vegans. For example, Domino's told us that the Garden Salad may be purchased without the cheese. The Golden Italian Dressing and the Light Italian Dressing appear to be free of animal ingredients. All of the other salad dressings at Domino's contain fish, eggs, and/or dairy.
The 'butter base 20' and 'natural butter flavor' listed in Domino's Deep Dish Crust are vegetable oil-derived. The banana and jalapeño peppers are listed as containing natural flavors and polysorbate 80 of non-reported sources.
We asked about all of the natural flavors in Domino's products, but Domino's was unable to give The VRG any information about them. Harvey said,
Domino's does not specify the source of the [natural] flavors used in our products. It would require a great deal of time to research.
When asked about the source of the L-cysteine in several of its products, Harvey told us that L-cysteine is
non-animal derived in its Hand-Tossed Crust, the Breadsticks, the Cheesy Bread, and the Cinna Stix. The Breadsticks and Cinna Stix contain whey and natural flavors of non-reported sources. The Cheesy Bread contains cheese and other milk products in addition to natural flavors of non-reported sources. The Sweet Icing Dipping Cup used with the Cinna Stix contains mono- and diglycerides of a non-reported source.
The Oreo® Thin Dessert Style Crust contains natural flavors of a non-reported source. The Vanilla Sauce contains sugar, polysorbate 60, and natural flavors of non-reported sources. The White Icing is listed as having mono- and diglycerides and natural flavors, also of non-reported sources.
McDonald's states that it makes no claims about its food items being vegetarian or vegan:
No products are certified as vegetarian; all products may contain trace amounts of ingredients derived from animals. If you wish further information or have special sensitivities or dietary concerns regarding specific ingredients in specific menu items, please call us.
This fast food chain also states that it will
gladly accommodate customer requests to custom-order items without meat.... Note that even though we provide the flexibility to order items without meat, we cannot guarantee that during preparation the item does not come into contact with meat or poultry.
Although McDonald's has tested veggie burgers in the recent past, there are none that are currently offered. McDonald's states,
After testing several types of veggie hamburgers in different parts of the country, we've chosen not to offer one on our national menu at this time…. Ultimately, however, it's our customers who choose what's on our menu. We'll continue to offer those menu items that are most popular with a majority of our customers.
When we inquired about certain menu items in late 2006, McDonald's told us that it is possible to order just a bun with certain condiments. However, it is most likely not possible to order a customized salad (for example, without the bacon bits) since salad preparation occurs in the morning. Restaurant patrons are encouraged to inquire at particular McDonald's restaurants if they wish to order a customized menu item.
McDonald's told us that the enzymes in the American and shredded Parmesan cheeses were animal-derived. We were also told that the L-cysteine in the Honey Wheat Roll and the Baked Apple Pie was also animal-derived, specifically from duck feathers. Concerning the microingredients that are currently vegetable-derived, McDonald's emphasized that
...although we have confirmed these sources with our current suppliers' formulas, we cannot guarantee that these ingredients will remain of vegetable sources in the future.
In July 2007, 'kosher gelatin' was listed as an ingredient in the yogurt of the Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait and the Fruit and Walnut Salad served at McDonald's. In late August 2007, the writer was told that the gelatin was
from an animal source and that the natural flavors in the yogurt were animal-derived.
The information below was taken from the McDonald's website Ingredient Statement:
Other Breakfast Foods
The Biscuits are made with milk. The Hash Browns are listed as containing
natural beef flavor that is further described as containing milk. All other breakfast foods, except the English muffin, contain eggs or dairy. The Low-Fat Granola contains honey and sugar. The Whipped Margarine contains whey.
Other Lunch/Dinner Foods
All of the salad dressings, burger sauces, and nugget sauces contain animal ingredients, eggs, dairy, and/or ingredients of non-reported sources except the Sweet 'n Sour Sauce, Newman's Own® Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette, and Newman's Own® Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing. The Butter Garlic Croutons contain dairy. The Big Mac®, regular, and sesame seed buns appear to be free of animal ingredients, although they do contain sodium stearoyl lactylate of a non-reported source. The Snack Wrap® tortilla contains sugar. The Chili Lime Tortilla Strips contain sugar. The Southwest Vegetable Blend appears free of animal ingredients.
Desserts and Beverages
The Baked Apple Pie contains L-cysteine of an animal source. The Cinnamon Melts contain eggs and dairy as well as sodium stearoyl lactylate and polysorbate 60, both of non-reported sources. The Apple Dippers appear to be free of animal ingredients. The plain McDonaldland® Cookies appear to be all-vegetable, too, although they contain sugar. All other cookies, including the Sugar Cookie, contain eggs and dairy. The Minute Maid® Apple Juice Box and orange juice appear to be free of animal ingredients.
The VRG requested specific ingredient information from Papa John's in July 2007. In response, we were sent an updated Product Ingredients List (not available on the chain's website) and told they were researching answers. As of this writing, we have not heard back. Consequently, information contained in this entry is taken from the Papa John's website and its Ingredient Statement.
We noticed a significant change in Papa John's products since our last Fast Food Guide was published in 2004. Papa John's has removed all animal-derived rennet from their menu items. According to the Papa John's website, the cheeses are made with Chymax, a biosynthesized enzyme.
This FAQ question and answer about enzymes appears on the Papa John's website:
Do any of your products contain animal-derived enzymes? No. These enzymes are biosynthesized and/or vegetable derived enzymes–not animal. This FAQ does not explicitly state that the enzymes in some of their bread products are not animal-derived. For example, the Pan Pizza Shell is listed as having 'enzymes.' (This item also contains L-cysteine of a non-reported source.) Another change from 2004 is the addition of milk-derived natural flavors to their thin crust pizza dough. The 'Pizza Dough' listed in the Papa John's Ingredients Statement appears to be free of animal ingredients. In the Ingredients Statement, the 'enzymes' listed for the Pizza Dough are from fungal or bacterial sources.
The Pizza Sauce and the Pizza Sauce Dipping Cup appear to be vegetable-based. The Robusto Pizza Sauce, which according to the Ingredients Statement is used primarily on the Pan Pizza, is listed as containing natural flavors and Asiago cheese flavor of non-reported sources. The Alfredo Sauce contains several dairy ingredients and natural flavors of non-reported sources.
The Spinach Alfredo Sauce is made with several dairy products and mono- and diglycerides of non-reported sources. At the end of the Spinach Alfredo Sauce entry in the Ingredients Statement, it states that this
product does not contain animal rennet.
At the end of the entry for the Garlic Sauce, it states,
All ingredients are derived from vegetable, chemical, or natural sources or are synthesized from food grade ingredients–NO animal derivatives. Lactic acid is NOT considered dairy since it has been fermented. The source of the lactic acid was not given. The Seasoned Garlic Parmesan Sauce, which according to the Ingredients Statement may be used on the Seasoned Breadsticks, contains milk products and natural flavors of non-reported sources. The Special Seasoning packet also contains natural flavors of non-reported sources.
The crisp topping used on the Breakfast Pizza contains milk. The Cinnamon Apples and the Bumbleberry Filling contain sugar. The white icing is listed as containing stearic acid and natural flavors of non-reported sources. The Cinnamon Spread contains mono- and diglycerides of a non-reported source and sugar. The Caramel Sauce used in the Sweetreats is made with eggs.
The Italian Dressing at Papa John's is made with egg and milk products and contains natural flavors of a non-reported source.
Pizza Hut, the leading fast food chain that offers pizza, is a favorite restaurant for some vegetarians. For a previous Fast Food Guide, Pizza Hut chose not to participate and we could report only what they published on their website. However, throughout 2007, The VRG received some information by phone and e-mail from Amber MacZura, a Quality Assurance Specialist at Pizza Hut, Inc. We also referred to the Pizza Hut Ingredient Statement posted on the chain's website. Readers may note that this statement reads in part:
Although this data is based on standard portion product guidelines, variations can be expected due to seasonal influences, minor differences in product assembly per restaurant, and other factors…. Product data is based on current formulations as of date of posting. When we last checked the Ingredients Statement, it was reported current as of October 2006.
MacZura confirmed for us that the
enzymes in all of the doughs and cheeses are non-animal-derived. She also said,
The Pizza Cheese and String Cheese (used in the Stuffed Crust Pizza) ingredients are not of animal sources other than the milk itself.
MacZura explained that the
same bread dough is used in breadsticks and pizza, but the garlic bread dough is different. The garlic bread contains L-cysteine that MacZura reports is
animal-derived, but she could not indicate for us its specific animal source. The mono- and diglycerides in all the Pizza Hut bread products are vegetable-derived, coming from soy oil.
Here are more specifics on the many pizza doughs at Pizza Hut: The Thin 'N Crispy® Dough, the Hand-Tossed Style Dough, and the Stuffed Crust Dough appear to be free of animal products. The XL Full House™ Dough, the Bistro Dough, and the 4ForAll® are as well, but they contain sugar. The Bigfoot Dough Blend contains a dairy blend. The Pan Pizza and Personal Pan Pizza doughs contain whey. The Sicilian Dough is listed as having natural flavors of a non-reported source.
The Regular Pizza Sauce and the Sweet Pizza Sauce appear free of animal ingredients. The White Pizza Sauce contains both egg and dairy products. The Taco Bean Sauce is listed as having 'beef flavor,' although it does not appear to be made from beef.
The onion rings contain whey and the Jalapeño Poppers® contain whey and egg whites. The natural flavors in the onion rings, Jalapeño Poppers®, breadsticks, and the cheese breadsticks
are all vegetable-based flavors except [that] the cheese sticks do have one flavor that is milk-derived. MacZura also stated that the breadsticks and onion rings
are baked separately from any animal products. She pointed out, however, if a particular restaurant has 'Wing Street' brand chicken wings, the onion rings could be fried in the same oil as the chicken wings. Patrons can request that they be baked in an oven.
Readers may note that all appetizers at Pizza Hut contain whey, and, in some cases, other dairy-, egg-, or animal-derived ingredients. The Marinara Dipping Sauce used with many appetizers contains cheese. The Dulce de Leche Caramel Dipping Sauce contains several dairy products. The Garlic Herb Spread contains eggs.
Pizza Hut offers an optional Parmesan Parsley Blend packet made with non-animal-derived enzyme in the Parmesan cheese. MacZura told us that it
may be on some pizzas around the crust in some Limited Time Offers, but it would be labeled as such. Patrons can always ask that their pizza be made without it.
The Pasta Bakes® Marinara served at Pizza Hut appears to be all-vegetable with the exception of the white sauce, which contains a chicken base. This dish can be ordered without the white sauce.
The Pasta Bake Primavera can also be ordered without the white sauce. The rotelli and the Veggie Medley of these dishes appear free of animal ingredients. The spaghetti served at Pizza Hut, except that on the Bistro Menu, is free of animal ingredients.
The salads at Pizza Hut are made upon order, and cheese may be omitted. There are several salad dressings served at Pizza Hut, and many are free of animal ingredients, such as the French and Italian Dressings. High fructose corn syrup is used as the sweetener in these two dressings. MacZura told us that the natural flavors in these two dressings are
non-animal derived. The Light Italian Vinaigrette Dressing, the Vinaigrette Dressing, and the Light Italian Dressing also appear free of animal ingredients. The Balsamic and Basil Vinaigrette is listed as containing honey as well as white wine. The natural flavors in the other dressings mentioned in this paragraph are derived from non-animal sources, according to MacZura. All other dressings served at Pizza Hut, not mentioned here, contain animal products, eggs, and/or dairy.
Both the Apple Dessert Pizza and the Cherry Dessert Pizza contain dairy ingredients. MacZura confirmed for us that the Apple Topping natural flavors
are all from apples (apple essence). The Cinnamon Sticks also contain dairy ingredients.
Selected Pizza Hut restaurants offer a Bistro Menu. The Three-Cheese Penne Bake contains dairy and egg ingredients and natural flavors of a non-reported source. The Tomato Basil Soup contains several dairy ingredients. The Broccoli Cheddar Soup has chicken broth as its major ingredient. The Garden Side Salad contains cheddar cheese, whey, and Romano cheese powder, all of which can be omitted upon request. All of the other salads on the Bistro Menu contain meat, fish, and/or animal products. The spaghetti dish on the Bistro Kid's Menu contains meat and is made from a beef base.
Subway is a favorite among many vegetarians because of the choices patrons have in customizing their own subs and salads. As the leading deli-style fast food chain in the United States, Subway continues to offer its Veggie Delite® subs and salads. According to Lanette Kovachi, MS, RD, the Corporate Dietitian at Subway,
Patrons can customize our Veggie Delite® offerings with any bread, vegetable, sauce, and/or cheese that they want.
According to Subway, the Italian Bread, the Hearty Italian Bread, and the Sourdough Bread are free of animal ingredients, although only the Sourdough Bread is free of sugar. Subway's Wheat Bread contains honey, and its Pizza Crust contains milk. Kovachi said,
As of March 2007, we will be using a new wrap that does not contain animal-derived ingredients, including L-cysteine. The wrap does contain sodium stearoyl lactylate of a non-reported source.
The Fat Free Sweet Onion Sauce is the only Subway sauce or dressing that does not contain animal ingredients, although it does contain sugar. The Pizza Sauce contains cheese.
Kovachi also told us that,
most likely the enzymes in their cheeses
are microbial-based, but our manufacturer states that there are some variables in the manufacturing process and cannot 100% guarantee this.
Concerning the dessert items at Subway, Kovachi reports that the natural flavorings for the cookies are
plant derived unless specified as 'butter flavoring.' Then, it is derived from butter. All of the cookies contain both eggs and dairy.
Subway offers a number of fruit-based beverages that are free of animal ingredients, although they do contain sugar.
Subway is a popular restaurant chain in Canada. Subway's Guide to Canadian Product Ingredients is available on its website, along with those of other countries. On the cover of these Guides, Subway states that the food ingredients listed are
currently the most commonly used…[although] formulas may vary from region to region.… Ingredients may vary from this list due to season, changes and formulas, or use of alternate food suppliers.
Update (August 10, 2011): An Update on Subway Breads: Changes with Vitamin D3 and L-Cysteine
Taco Bell offers many food items that are favorites among people who adhere to meatless diets. This year, like in the past, Taco Bell employees have been very helpful in providing us with ingredient information. Taco Bell has also been known to change its ingredient formulations due to consumer request. (Removing the gelatin from its guacamole and lard from its beans are examples.)
Taco Bell is different from many of the other chains we've researched for this article in that its website lists multiple ingredient statements for certain menu items. We've noted the pertinent differences of interest to vegetarians and vegans here. When in doubt, patrons are advised to check with a particular restaurant to know which ingredient formulation is used at that location.
There are several ingredients of concern to vegetarians and vegans in menu items at Taco Bell. Carmine is in the Red Strips and the Lime-Seasoned Red Strips. These items are served on the Fiesta Taco Salad, but this dish may be ordered without them.
The sour cream contains gelatin derived from a bovine source. Sour cream is served with all of the items made Supreme (i.e. Taco Supreme, Soft Taco Supreme, Burrito Supreme, etc.), the Fiesta Taco Salad, the Nachos Bellgrande®, the 7-Layer Burrito, and the Cheesy Potatoes. All of these items may be ordered without the sour cream.
According to Kathleen Ensley of the Quality Assurance Department at Taco Bell, the L-cysteine in the Chalupa Shell, Flat Bread, Pizza Shell, and the Taco Salad Shell is
animal-based. Nacho Chips, Taco Salad Shells, Mexican Pizza Shells, Caramel Apple Empanadas, Cinnamon Twists, Chalupa Shells, Potato Bites, Red Strips, and certain, unnamed promotional items are all fried together. Taco Bell does not fry any of its meat, although in a letter we were told that
all ingredients are handled by employees in common with other ingredients which may not be acceptable to certain types of vegetarian diets.
Ensley was very helpful in answering our questions. She said,
Every menu item at Taco Bell can be customized. Patrons should request omissions of certain components upon ordering. For example, meatless options on the menu at Taco Bell are listed on their 'Food Facts' webpage and include the 1/2 lb. Cheesy Bean & Rice Burrito, the 7-Layer Burrito, and the Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes. The last two contain sour cream, but this can be omitted upon request. The cheese in each item can be omitted as well.
There are some menu items at Taco Bell that are completely free or almost completely free of all animal products, so no component omission is needed. For example, the pinto beans contain no animal ingredients and may be ordered separately. The guacamole is all vegetable, although it contains sugar. The flour tortilla appears to be free of all animal products but does contain sugar. The Nacho Chips, taco shell, Seasoned Rice, and Express Rice also appear to be free of animal ingredients. In fact, 'vegetarian broth' is listed in the ingredient statements for the rice menu items. This is the first time that the writer has seen a meatless stock listed this way in a major fast food chain's ingredients statement and confirms that Taco Bell is a veggie-friendly restaurant chain.
There are no animal enzymes in Taco Bell's flatbread and tortillas. According to Ensley, Taco Bell cheeses, including the Nacho Cheese Sauce, are made with
The Pizza Sauce at Taco Bell contains natural flavorings of an unspecified source but appears otherwise all-vegetable. The Pizza Shell contains animal-based L-cysteine.
The following sauces and dressings contain eggs and/or dairy: Avocado Ranch Dressing, Creamy Jalapeño Sauce, Creamy Lime Sauce, Nacho Cheese Sauce, Pepperjack Sauce, and Zesty Dressing.
The Fiesta Salsa, the Green Tomatillo Sauce, the Hot Sauce, the Mild Sauce, and the Red Sauce are listed as being free of animal ingredients. The Fire Sauce is, too, but it contains sugar; the other sauces do not. The Citrus Salsa and the Green Chili Sauce contain natural flavorings of unspecified sources and sugar. The Salsa contains natural flavorings of unspecified sources.
For dessert, the Caramel Apple Empanada contains milk products and sugar. The Cinnamon Twists are all-vegetable, although they do contain sugar.
Wendy's offers a Side Salad that comes with iceberg and romaine lettuce, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, and carrots. Cheddar cheese, which may be ordered as an additional salad component, may be made with animal or microbial rennet, according to Kitty Munger, Communications Manager at Wendy's. The Oriental Sesame Dressing and the Italian Vinaigrette Dressing are free of animal ingredients. The Honey Mustard Dressing contains eggs and sugar (but no honey), while the Fat-Free French Dressing contains honey. The Blue Cheese Dressing contains animal-derived natural flavors. All of the other salad dressings at Wendy's contain egg, milk, and/or animal products.
Munger also told us this about the Southwest Taco Salad:
When a customer orders a Southwest Taco Salad, they get a bowl of salad blend lettuce, cheddar cheese, and tomatoes. Separately, they get a serving of chili (with meat and beans), salad dressing, sour cream, and a bag of seasoned tortilla chips. Readers may note that the cheddar cheese may be made with animal or microbial rennet. The sour cream contains gelatin, and the chili is meat-based. The tortilla strips contain milk. The sour cream, chili, and tortilla strips may be omitted when ordering the Southwest Taco Salad.
The Mandarin Chicken Salad is prepared with the chicken, so it cannot be omitted upon ordering. It is possible to order a side of mandarin oranges. They contain added sugar.
Wendy's serves baked potatoes, which are baked in ovens apart from all meat items. They may be ordered plain. The Buttery Best Spread contains milk products. The broccoli topping for the baked potatoes may be ordered separately from the cheese sauce.
The French fries served at Wendy's appear free of animal ingredients, although they are fried in oil along with meat products. Wendy's serves a side of yogurt and granola. The yogurt contains gelatin. The granola cannot be purchased separately.
Jeanne Yacoubou is The Vegetarian Resource Group's Research Director. She Holds Master's Degrees in philosophy, chemistry, and education.
Restaurant Chain Menu Items That Appear to Be Free of Animal, Egg, and Dairy Ingredients
|Restaurant Chains||Menu Items|
|Baja Fresh||Side salad without cheese, rice side dish, black beans or pinto beans without cotija cheese, corn tortilla (Corn tortilla with black beans or pinto beans, rice side dish, and side salad)|
|Burger King||French fries, Minute Maid® Orange Juice, Minute Maid® Apple Juice|
|Chipotle||Black beans, flour tortilla, guacamole, cilantro-lime rice, sautéed vegetables, crispy corn taco shell (Burrito, taco, or salad made with black beans, flour tortilla or crispy corn taco shell, guacamole, cilantro-lime rice, and sautéed vegetables)|
|Domino's||Thin Crust Dough, Pizza Sauce,* Garlic Dipping Sauce, Golden Italian Dressing,* Light Italian Dressing* (Thin Crust with pizza sauce and garden salad without the cheese)|
|McDonald's||English muffin,* Liquid Margarine, Hotcake Syrup,* Apple Dippers, McDonaldland® Cookies,* Minute Maid® Apple Juice Box, orange juice|
|Papa John's||Original Pizza Dough, Original Pizza Sauce,* Pizza Sauce Dipping Cup,* Garlic Sauce, Cinnamon Apples,* Bumbleberry Filling* (Original Pizza Dough with Original Pizza Sauce)|
|Pizza Hut||Thin 'N Crispy® Dough, Hand-Tossed Style Dough, Stuffed Crust Dough, XL Full House™ Dough,* Bistro Dough,* 4ForAll® Dough,* Regular Pizza Sauce, Sweet Pizza Sauce, spaghetti, rotelli, and Veggie Medley of the Pasta Bake entrées, French and Italian Dressings, Light Italian Vinaigrette Dressing,* Vinaigrette Dressing,* Light Italian Dressing* (Pizza made with the doughs named above along with regular pizza sauce or sweet pizza sauce; spaghetti [NOT Bistro spaghetti]; salad with one of the above dressings)|
|Subway||Italian Bread,* Hearty Italian Bread,* Sourdough Bread, Fat Free Onion Sauce*, Fruizle* (Veggie Delite Sub with the just named breads and choice of vegetables, oil, and vinegar; and a Fruizle)|
|Taco Bell||Pinto beans, guacamole,* flour tortilla,* nacho chips, taco shell, Seasoned Rice, Express Rice, Fiesta Salsa, Green Tomatillo Sauce, Hot Sauce, Mild Sauce, Red Sauce, Fire Sauce,* Cinnamon Twists* (Taco or burrito with pinto beans, mild sauce, and lettuce; guacamole; and Cinnamon Twists)|
|Wendy's||Side Salad, Baked Potato, Broccoli Topping for Potato, Oriental Sesame Dressing,* Italian Vinaigrette Dressing,* Mandarin oranges* (Baked potato with broccoli topping and a side salad)|
All information above is provided to us or published by the restaurant chain.
*Items with an asterisk contain sugar.
(Foods in parentheses are possible meals you can order with these ingredients.)
NOTE: Be aware that you can never be '100% safe' when eating out. We depend on company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, information and suppliers can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please be practical, employ common sense, and use your own best judgment about what is suitable for you.
For more on fast food restaurants and quick service chains, see our Fast Food Information page.