The Reason Oreos May Actually Not Be Vegan

Becoming a vegan is a big commitment. While cutting out meat can be hard enough on its own, a vegan diet takes things to the next level. According to The Vegan Society, vegans follow "a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat (including fish, shellfish and insects), dairy, eggs and honey — as well as avoiding animal-derived materials, products tested on animals and places that use animals for entertainment."

This includes obvious items like meat, eggs, cheese, and milk, but animal products can also be hidden where one wouldn't necessarily expect. For example, Medical News Today warns that a surprising amount of snack foods are off the table for vegans because quite a few contain gelatin, a processed animal product derived from the skin, cartilage, and bones of certain animals. This thickening agent routinely lurks in a number of goods, from chewy candies like Starbursts to beauty products, broths, and even some vitamins and medicines.

However, there is one famous snack food that is popular among those who avoid animal products because it's known for being unexpectedly vegan. In fact, plenty of non-vegans love the snack, too — many of whom probably aren't even aware that this product doesn't contain dairy. Oreos, the chocolatey, cream-filled sandwich cookie that can be found on store shelves around the world and is known as "milk's favorite," technically isn't made with any animal products, reveals Treehugger. But does that mean it actually holds up to vegan standards?

Oreo's cream filling isn't made with dairy

For vegan beginners, or even just veteran vegans who don't like to cook, Oreos are right up there with peanut butter as an easy and convenient food to fill up on while still sticking to a vegan diet. Although this snack is made with a cream filling stuffed between two chocolate wafers, it turns out the former isn't really "cream" at all. According to the official Oreo website, the dunkable cookie is made with ingredients like unbleached enriched flour, sugar, cocoa, certain combinations of plant-based oils, and the artificial flavor vanillin — not an animal-based component in sight.

But while the cream filling has never been made with dairy, Oreos weren't actually vegan until the late 1990s: The original recipe called for animal lard to be added to the filling, relates Cornell University food science professor Joe Regenstein. Today, however, a plant-based fat gives the cookie its "creamy" filling. Despite all this, though, Oreo's claim to fame as the convenient vegan cookie is still a little bit controversial. While it is true that there are no dairy or animal products among its main ingredients, some people argue that the snack is not really vegan because of one big problem: cross-contact.

Oreos might have cross-contact with non-vegan ingredients

According to the official Oreo UK website, Oreos are "not suitable for vegans" because they "have milk as cross-contact." This means that, while they are not made with milk, the snacks might still have come into contact with dairy at some point during the manufacturing process.

For the same reason, the official website also states that these popular cookies are not safe for people who are dairy-free or have an allergy to lactose. Allergies can be quite serious, and even lethal in some severe cases. Trace amounts of allergens, such as nuts or dairy, can mingle with the proteins of another food, which then retains small amounts of the allergen itself — so it is important for those with serious allergies to avoid any potential cross-contact, according to Food Allergy Research and Education. And while vegans are not necessarily allergic to milk, many prefer to avoid all contact with dairy products, no matter how small the amounts may be.

Depending on how strictly one adheres to the vegan diet, one might want to avoid Oreos due to the chance of encountering trace amounts of milk, even though dairy is not one of the product's main ingredients. So instead of relying on store-bought snacks, vegans with a sweet tooth might just want to bake their own vegan cookies at home.