If you’re considering becoming a vegan, you probably know that you’ll be doing without a lot of traditional and traditionally prepared foods. This can lead to some confusion about some prepared foods, such as pasta, because anything not in a raw state could be contaminated by or mixed with something that came from animals. Therefore, one of the biggest questions that would be vegans may ask themselves is, “Is pasta vegan?” The answer depends on several different factors, each of which will need to be examined before you begin to eat.
A Quick Overview of Vegans
If you’re considering becoming a vegan, you’re probably already aware of what you can and cannot eat or wear. If you’re planning a dinner party for some vegan friends and want to know if pasta is safe for them to consume, you should probably get acquainted with what is and is not acceptable for vegans before you begin to plan your menu. Asking is pasta vegan can’t really be answered if you don’t also understand what a vegan is.
Vegans are vegetarians that also restrict the use or consumption of anything that can be derived from animals. This means that they not only don’t eat meat, they also do not consume eggs, dairy, or honey, and they also avoid using things that come from animals such as leather or wool. Therefore, as you plan your menu, you need to be on the lookout for anything that could contain eggs or dairy, as well as meat. If you’re interested in learning more, consider taking a course in both vegan and vegetarian cooking.
The Definition of Pasta
The definition of pasta changes depending upon the source you’re asking, and in what context you look at it. Some sources define pasta as an egg and flour mixture that forms a dough. Other sources define pasta as any shape of edible preparation made from a mixture of flour and water.
So based on these definitions, it can be a little hard to tell if pasta is vegan or not. Obviously any pasta containing egg cannot be vegan, but pasta noodles made of flour and water are fine for consumption.
Selecting Pasta Noodles
Obviously the easiest way to tell if a pasta noodle is vegan or not is to take a look at the label. Any package labeled as “Egg Noodles” should be avoided. Likewise any noodles that list eggs, dairy, or a dairy derivative in their ingredient list. Watch out for things like casein, or lactose, both of which are derived from dairy, and which will render your noodles non-vegan.
Prepared Pasta Dishes
Selecting a pasta noodle that doesn’t contain eggs or dairy is only the first step in ensuring that you pasta is vegan. While pasta is defined as a food made of flour, and/or eggs and water, it is rarely prepared and eaten all by itself.
The vast majority of pastas rely heavily on additives and additions, such as sauces, fillings, or toppings. Cheese ravioli, for example, is not vegan, even if made with a noodle that contains no egg or dairy. On the other hand, spaghetti made from flour and water, and topped with tomato sauce that contains only tomatoes, olive oil, and seasonings is likely fine for vegans to eat.
Therefore, when preparing pasta dishes, you have two alternatives: select a pasta dish that naturally does not contain any animal products, or use a vegan-safe substitute for things like eggs or dairy that would ordinarily be in the dish.
Vegan Safe Pasta Dishes
After having selected a vegan safe noodle, it can be generally accepted that the dish will remain vegan safe if you toss the noodles with one of the following:
- Olive oil
- Tomato-based sauce
- Sundried tomatoes packed in oil
- “Creams” made of raw cashews and lemon juice
If you are making a pasta dish that traditionally uses another type sauce of filling, such as Alfredo sauce or ricotta, the traditional preparation of these dishes is not vegan, and should be avoided.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t prepare these dishes, however. It just means that you may need to get more creative in their ingredients and in their preparation.
Vegan Safe Pasta Alternatives
Depending on what it is you wish to create, there are many different ways you can put together a vegan safe pasta dish that will appeal to many different taste buds. Sometimes the thing to do is to use a product specifically created for vegans that can replace eggs or dairy in a one to one ratio, other times you may want to get creative about using something entirely different.
Alternatives to Dairy
Many pasta dishes make good use of dairy from stuffing in shells and ravioli, to the layer of melted cheese typically found on lasagna. There are many vegan safe dairy alternatives, however, that you can use to create a passable pasta dish, including:
- Soy-based cheeses
- Soy-based milk and cream
- Tapioca-based cheeses
- Coconut cream
- Raw cashews
Some of these products may have a different consistency, flavor, texture, or melting point. Therefore, you may want to experiment or possibly use more than one product in the dish to help enhance the flavor or texture.
Sometimes a dish calls for egg noodles, which are obviously not vegan safe. In this case, you may want to consider making your noodles, but using an egg replacer. Egg replacers take up some of the bulk, texture, binding, and taste of eggs, but are safe for vegans to consume. You can purchase powdered egg replacers that are vegan safe, or make your own by mixing 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water for every egg you want to replace.
If you’re hesitant to use a dairy replacement because you worry that the taste or texture will be too different from the original, you can always use something else instead. There are many different vegetables and other foods that make great fillings and flavorings for pasta dishes that are entirely vegan safe. If you want to make ravioli, stuffed shells, or lasagna, but don’t want to use a dairy alternative to the ricotta or other traditional dairy-based fillings, consider using one, or a mixture, of these foods instead.
- Sundried tomatoes
- Fresh tomatoes
- Butternut squash
- Acorn squash
- Ground nuts
- Olive oil
Don’t be afraid to dehydrate fillings slightly to make them thicker, or to experiment with making slightly sweeter tasting creations by adding a small amount of agave nectar or maple syrup to things like pumpkin, rather than relying on cream to bring out the sweetness in the dish. You can also experiment with using these foods in their raw form, or roasting and caramelizing them before stuffing to help deepen and enhance the flavor. You can also combine two or more flavors together, such as blending caramelized onions with squash and draining some of the liquid out to form a paste before stuffing some shells.
You may also want to consider using some of these fillings with a dairy alternative such as soy cheese. The added and unexpected vegetable flavors may help to mask or change the taste and flavor of the faux cheese. This may be particularly helpful if you are creating a dish for both vegans and non vegans to share. While most vegans have grown accustomed to eating dairy or egg alternatives, most non vegans are not. Therefore blending several fillings and flavors together will help ensure that both groups of guests enjoy the meal.
Vegan Mushroom Ravioli Recipe
If you want to experiment with making some vegan ravioli, consider trying this recipe. It uses a mushroom filling that is thick and creamy, without using any soy. Just make sure your ravioli casing does not contain eggs or dairy before beginning.
- 2-1/2 cups mushrooms finely chopped
- 1 cup onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup raw cashews
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté the garlic and mushrooms together until some water has evaporated.
- Blend together the cashews, water, and salt in a high-speed blender until creamy.
- Pour the cashew cream into the mushroom mixture, and stir over low heat until thickened.
- Stuff your ravioli and enjoy topped with tomato sauce, or a blend of cashew cream and sundried tomatoes.
By asking is pasta vegan, you’re making a conscientious step toward paying more attention to the food that you eat, create, and serve. It’s always a good idea to know what it is that’s going into the food you eat, whether you’re a vegan or not. Once you begin to explore the world through food, you may want to expand your cooking repertoire by taking a course in raw foods, or one in introducing vegetarian foods to kids. You may also want to learn more about how eating this way can help you lose weight. The more that get comfortable cooking without animal products, the better informed you’ll be about where you food is coming from. Make the smart choice to examine what it is you’re eating, and enjoy the good things in life.