Have you ever wondered if any of the salty snacks in the grocery store could contain animal products? Aren't they mainly vegetables fried into crackers and chips, with lots of salt and grease? What about dairy products?
What about Cheez-Its? Cheez-Its claim to be made of real cheese. Is this claim true or false? Are there any Cheez-It vegans? Does a Cheeze-It vegan mean someone who does eat Cheez-Its, or doesn't?
Have you asked yourself before if there could be alternative vegan cheese cracker brands available? Are there such things as vegan Cheez-Its?
What Ingredients to look out for for Vegans
The big one is kind of obvious: The cheese. Cheese is a dairy product. Also:
- Milk Protein.
- Lactic Acid.
- Casein/Caseinate/Sodium Caseinate.
All of these are found in Cheez-Its because they are made from real cheese.
Lactic Acid and Milk Protein you probably could have guessed, but Casein and Lipase are additional products listed on the PETA website found in milk and cheese, and the Cheez-Its Nutrition Facts label does admit their presence. Other non-vegan products related to Cheez-Its are:
- Fatty Acids.
- Beeswax. Honeycomb.
These are not limited just to the cheese factor. Cheez-Its have some cholesterol in them as well, and, later, when we discuss how to make your own Cheez-Its, you'll also want to check the product label of your wax paper for baking to make sure it doesn't have any beeswax. PETA assures that ceresin is a common substitute in wax paper, but you'll want to check your specific product label to be sure.
The Cheese Is Real?
The ingredients for the Cheese are listed on the Nutrition Facts label as (Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), and only the Salt sounds like its vegan safe.
Further more, way down the list you'll find "Lactic Acid", which I wasn't expecting to find, but is listed on PETA as a no-no. Be warned also, that Buttermilk doesn't get a positive review from "Are Hot Cheetos Vegan?" and Buttermilk also is found in Cheez-Its. Basically if it says "Contains Milk Products", it's obviously not vegan.
Although these are a lot of negatives, I do feel obliged to point out that Annato Extract, their coloring agent, is actually one of the recommended alternatives for dyes on PETA. For what it's worth.
Fatty Acids and Cholesterol?
There are also Fats and Cholesterol in Cheez-It. Although "300 mg" of Cholesterol honestly doesn't sound like a lot to me, it is there. There's quite a few grams of Fat as well, but whether that's specifically "Fatty Acid", I couldn't say from just the Nutrition Facts label. Could be referring to the already mentioned Lactic Acid though. That seems probable.
You may be interested to read a bit about the TBHQ controversy on Snopes. TBHQ is: "...tertiary butylhydroquinone, is a synthetic antioxidant that is commonly used as a food preservative. Although TBHQ does contain a butyl moiety, this does not mean that the preservative is created from butane - which is commonly used as lighter fluid."
While synthetic preservatives may not be the healthiest of options, TBHQ is not “created from butane,” it is not “toxic, nor is it been deemed by the FDA to be dangerous to consume in moderate quantities." What's of further interest, however, is that Cheez-It actually responded positively to concerns on their Facebook, confirming that they were aware of alternatives and actively testing to ensure product quality. What this may mean, is that while Cheez-It is not currently vegan, writing to them can't hurt, and might help! They take feedback, although making a major shift from real-cheese to not-real-cheese would probably be a longer road than finding alternatives to TBHQ.
Cheez-Its are first and most importantly, made with real cheese, a dairy product, which comes from animals, so that's strictly non-vegan. There may be additional concerns reading further down the ingredients list, but the buck stops there-- it's real cheese, which is a real no-no.
Vegan Cheese Crackers
A quick Google search can help us find some alternatives to regular Cheez-Its though, including a vegan option!
Earth Balance Vegan Cheddar Squares
Advertised as part of a plant-based, non-dairy diet on Amazon.com, these snacks come in quite a similar red cardboard box, they're fat-free, and also contain no GMOS, so if you're looking for vegan cheese crackers that look as close to exactly like the real thing as possible. I give Earth Balance a thumbs up.
For what it's worth the Earth Balance box being the same red color is familiar. I imagine if you offered someone a handful to try and gave me a sales pitch on becoming vegan, they'd give them a try. They're "cheese crackers", people like crackers, and they come in a red box, so it wouldn't feel like too much of a big weird change.
Earth Balance Vegan Cheddar Squares also seem to be about the same cost as a 21 oz. box of regular Cheez-Its for a 6 oz. box. It's more expensive, but not as bad as some people might think, because 12 oz. of Cheez-It Zingz Spicy Queso Fundido is a pretty similar cost, so going vegan turns out to be only "twice the price of going spicy" as opposed to "three times the price of regular", which sounds better, you know. Even better news? If do this search you'll turn up more cheap places to shop for the Earth Balance brand of cheese cracker! Some as low as 2 bucks, which is straight competitive with regular Cheez-It! And that's at WAL-MART.
How To Make Your Own Vegan Cheeze-Its Crackers
Nooch-Its! Gluten-Free Vegan Cheeze-Its
Nooch-Its are a gluten-free cheese cracker that are found on a friendly little website that shares all of its recipes with you, so you can make it at home. If you have the kitchen equipment and time to bake them, they're a very solid option for being sure you're staying vegan, because you handle each ingredient yourself. The recipe is completely listed, ingredients, process, cook time, and places to find your materials, on the Eat Within Your Means website. The ingredients they recommend are:
- Non-dairy yogurt, (make sure it's not vanilla)
- Garlic and Onion Powder, Salt, and Paprika
- Refined Coconut or Grapeseed Oil, Oat and Chickpea (Garbanzo) Flour,
- And the name-giver, Nutritional Yeast, or, "No-Cheese = No-ch = Nooch-Its
You will also need a food processor, cookie sheet, parchment paper, dough rolling pin, pizza cutter, oven, and some kind of stick or pick to make the dot in the middle. Eat Within Your Means' website mentions bamboo sticks, but also that fork tines work just fine.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Add all dry ingredients to the bowl of your food processor fitted with the metal S-blade ( I tried the dough blade, and it didn't work). Pulse a few times to mix all the ingredients together. Add the coconut oil and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the non-dairy yogurt or water, one tablespoon at a time, until a loose ball of dough forms in the bowl.
Invert a cookie sheet and cut a piece of parchment paper to fit. Turn out the dough onto the parchment paper and pat into a rectangle shape. Roll dough out to a 1/8 inch thickness, and cut into square shapes using a pizza cutter, pastry cutter, or knife. Add the dot in the middle of each square using the flat end of a bamboo skewer, or the tine of a fork.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool so the crackers can crisp up, then enjoy!"
Conclusion: So Are Cheez Its Vegan?
Classic Kellogg's brand "Cheez-Its" aren't vegan, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy cheese-flavored salty crackers without using real cheese, and we've covered some of them here. You can buy them online, you can make them at home, you can find recipes and other brands that offer specifically labelled-for-a-vegan-diet options. The important thing to know is that Kellogg's does use real cheese, even though they spell it C-H-E-E-Z.
In Conclusion, I don't think Cheez-Its would ever have passed our vegan test, but at the same time, I think Cheez-Its is a customer friendly brand, and I do think it's worth your time writing to them about things you'd like them to change about their product. In the meantime, there are plenty of other alternative products available to fit your salty snack fix while you wait!