Is bread vegetarian?

When you think about bread you could be forgiven for thinking automatically that it is vegetarian.  Flour, water, salt and yeast-what’s the problem?  In an earlier post we discussed how additives may well be from animal sources so you need to read the label to find out if the bread you buy has added gluten and they you can try to contact the company who baked the bread to find out the source of the added gluten, take a chance, or elect to buy better quality bread or make your own.  Then again, bread may contain non vegetarian ingredients like lard (which is great and yummy if you are not vegetarian and eat pork) or non vegan ingredients like dairy and/or eggs.  However, the absence of animal products does not make food vegetarian or vegan in the same way that the inclusion of vegetables does not make something vegetarian or vegan.  Vegetarians and vegans need to be very mindful of what they eat because they have decided to limit their diets and so they have less variety than omivores.  The key for both is to non animal protein and although many vegetarians rely entirely on dairy that’s not exactly providing a lot of variety when there is so much variety to be had including whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, pulses, and femented soya.

Buns with japanese rice, wakame, and soya sauce
Buns with japanese rice, wakame, and soya sauce
Buns with added kidney and aduki beans, millet grain, flax seeds, and rice.
Buns with added kidney and aduki beans, millet grain, flax seeds, and rice.

Enter the Kitchen Clinic who inspired me to put together a course that was about “vegetarian bread”.  Not just bread without animal protein, but bread that positively contributed to the vegetarian/vegan diet as well as skilfully hid vegetables in bread for those who may be fussy eaters.

Buns with pesto (basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan cheese)
Buns with pesto (basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan cheese)

Thankfully, my husband was a vegan for many years, I have just finished writing The Book of Buns in which there is a recipe for vegetarian Masala Buns from India, and I spent an entire summer hanging out with Alfie Lay whose great shop Lays of Chelsea in New Covent Garden Market generously supplied me with seasonal fruit and vegetables for about a year so I could experiment with fruit and vegetable bread.  Of course I paid them in bread – but only the good ones (and there were plenty of not so good ones…).  Sadly I could not do the pop up bread class in Soho as we had planned, but I could do the course and did do the course and a good time was had by all.

Buns with keffir, pecans, grated courgette, and honey
Buns with keffir, pecans, grated courgette, and honey

Just to tempt and inspire you, here is the recipe for Masala Buns and if you like it, there are plenty more bun recipes in The Book of Buns.  If you would like to take a vegetarian bread course, let me know!

Masala Buns

Ingredients (Makes 8 buns)


300 g strong whole meal flour (wheat germ is a great source of vitamin B)
200 g milk heated to boiling point and allowed to cool right down (vegans, use water)
1.5 g instant/3 g dry/6 g fresh yeast
6 g salt
1 tablespoon ghee or butter clarified butter or coconut oil if you are a vegan


Any kind of masala curry that you like (or have left over from the night before).  Here is a simple recipe for masala potatoes that I have adapted only very slightly from Vivek Singh’s excellent book, Curry:  Classic and Contemporary.

250 g floury potatoes
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or high smoke-point vegetable oil of your choice (avacado is good)
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 small onion, diced
Pinch tumeric
1/2 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 small green chilli, deveined, deseeded, and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt

Glaze:  Milk

Topping:  Sesame seeds


Make the dough

Measure the flour into a bowl and make a well in it.  Add the yeast into the well and pour over the milk (use water if you are a vegan).  Let it sit for 15 minutes and then add the salt and the butter and bring all of the ingredients together in the bowl.  Turn the dough out on the counter and knead it well for 10 minutes.  There is so little butter in these that you can pop it in at the beginning.  Put the dough back in the bowl, cover and let it rest for 2 hours.

While the dough is resting, make the stuffing:

  1. Peel the potatoes and boil them until they are cooked.   Drain them and let them cool before you cut them into little cubes
  2. Heat the fat in a large frying pan and add the cumin seeds followed by the onion.  Cook over medium heat until the onion is translucent
  3. Add the turmeric, ginger, and chilli and stir for 30 seconds.  Add the potatoes and salt and lower the heat.  Stir gently to colour the potatoes evenly
  4. Remove from the heat and let cool completely

Shape the buns

  1. Gently pull the dough out onto a non floury surface and shape it into a tight sausage (if you are not sure how to do this you can watch a video here).  Divide the sausage into 8 equal pieces and then let them rest under a dry tea towel for 15 minutes
  2. Flatten one piece with your hand into a disc about 1/2 cm thick.  Brush the edge with water
  3. Place a spoonful of potato masala into the centre of the disc, bring the edges together to form a little parcel and pinch them firmly to seal them.  Don’t over fill them!
  4. Turn them over so the seal is down and place them on a baking tray that you have lined with non stick baking paper
  5. Let them rest for an hour

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees.

Brush the tops of the buns with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Bake the buns for 20 minutes and let them cool completely on a wire rack before you bite into them because the filling will be hot!  Pack them as an alternative to sandwiches and you will be the coolest person at the picnic.

The Book of Buns, available on Amazon
The Book of Buns, available on Amazon

1 thought on “Is bread vegetarian?”

  1. “However, the absence of animal products does not make food vegetarian or vegan…”

    Yes. Yes it does. That’s what those words mean. The fact that some vegetarians and vegans have other health and/or dietary requirements does not actually have any bearing on the definitions of those words. I can subsist on potato chips, chocolate, and pizza and still be a vegetarian. Tell people to be healthy as much as you like, but don’t tell them they’re not vegan or vegetarian because they don’t adhere to all the same rules as you think they should.

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