Cheez-Its are a popular cheese cracker snack manufactured by the Sunshine Biscuits division of the Kellogg Company – the same company known for other household-name food products such as Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, Eggo, and Pringles (1). First introduced back in 1921, Cheez-Its are characteristically rectangular in shape. While Cheez-Its were originally owned by an Ohio-based company called the Green & Green Company, Kellogg made Cheez-Its one of the leading cracker brands in the US (2).
Vegans who have grown up enjoying Cheez-Its might be disappointed to learn that Cheez-Its are not vegan. As their marketing claims, the cracker snack uses real cheese and that holds true when inspecting their ingredients list. The Cheez-It Original contains cheese made from skim milk which means that it cannot be considered vegan. The cheese cracker snack also comes in a variety of different flavors, but they all contain cheese and other ingredients that would not sit well with vegans.
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Are Cheez-Its Vegan?
Unfortunately, Cheez-Its cannot be considered vegan since it contains animal products – specifically, Cheez-Its contain dairy products. Checking the ingredients lists of the Cheez-It and the different flavors under the Baked Snack Crackers line, the various dairy products used include milk, buttermilk, whey, butter, and different kinds of cheeses.
While this may be disappointing to vegans who have enjoyed Cheez-Its before, it should come as no surprise that Cheez-Its are not vegan since the marketing of the cheese cracker snack revolves around how the snack uses real cheese.
Furthermore, Cheez-Its also contain other ingredients that are considered gray area ingredients because they are quite problematic and cause divides in the vegan community. These ingredients include sugar, natural flavors, and artificial coloring agents. These gray area ingredients will be further discussed below.
Cheez-It Ingredients List
The list of ingredients of the Original Cheez-It includes (3): enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, vitamin B1 [thiamin mononitrate], vitamin B2 [riboflavin], folic acid), vegetable oil (high oleic soybean, soybean, palm, and/or canola oil with TBHQ for freshness), cheese made with skim milk (skim milk, whey protein, salt, cheese cultures, enzymes, annatto extract color). Contains 2% or less of salt, paprika, yeast, paprika extract color, soy lecithin.
Looking at the different ingredients used to make the Original Cheez-It, it is apparent that the cheese cracker snack contains a wide host of nutritious ingredients. The snack also contains a wide variety of vitamins that confer different kinds of health benefits.
Cheez-It offers an extensive line of Cheez-It products such as Cheez-It Snap’d, Cheez-It Grooves, Cheez-It Duoz, Cheez-It Snack Mix, and Cheez-It Loaded Popcorn (4). However, this article will only refer to the Cheez-It Baked Snack Crackers which include the Original, Extra Toasty, Extra Cheesy, Extra Big, White Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Cheddar Jack, Whole Grain, Italian Four Cheese, Cheese Pizza, Hot and Spicy, Reduced Fat, and Buffalo Wing (5).
Non-Vegan Cheez-It Ingredients
Dairy products essentially refer to milk and other food products that are derived from milk. These include milk, cheese, butter, and yogurts. As the main selling point of Cheez-Its, dairy products can be found in all flavors under the Baked Snack Cracker line.
Dairy products found in Cheez-Its include cheese made from skim milk, buttermilk, non-fat milk, cheddar cheese, whey, whey protein concentrate, butter, Monterey Jack cheese, Romano cheese, Parmesan cheese, Mozzarella cheese, Asiago cheese, and Blue Cheese.
Milk and dairy products are especially frowned upon in the vegan community as the milk industry in general is perceived to be greatly unethical. Cows are intentionally impregnated to produce milk and many milk producers separate the offspring from the mothers to maximize the milk that can be collected. From forcing the cow to get pregnant to stealing the milk from the offspring, vegans strongly abstain from milk and dairy products to boycott the milk industry.
All Cheez-It flavors under the Baked Snack Cracker line contain dairy products. These flavors include the Original, Extra Toasty, Extra Cheesy, Extra Big, White Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Cheddar Jack, Whole Grain, Italian Four Cheese, Cheese Pizza, Hot and Spicy, Reduced Fat, and Buffalo Wing.
Gray Area Cheez-It Ingredients
Food companies are required to list all the ingredients used in the product packaging. However, to protect some of their propriety blends that contribute to their food products’ distinct flavor profiles, the FDA allows food companies to put natural flavors instead of listing all the minuscule natural flavoring agents individually. The use of natural flavors then allows companies to keep some ingredients in privacy. However, the problem arises for vegans due to the vague wording of the definition (6). The FDA defines natural flavors as:
“The essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”FDA.gov
As one can see, the umbrella definition provided by the FDA specifically says that natural flavors can encompass both animal- and plant-derived products. This makes it difficult to determine whether food products that include natural flavors are vegan or not.
The Cheez-It flavors under the Baked Snack Cracker line that includes this ingredient include Extra Cheese, White Cheddar, Cheddar Jack, Cheese Pizza, Hot and Spicy, and Buffalo Wing.
One of the most conventional sweeteners used in the food industry, sugar is a common ingredient found in many food products. While sugar is indeed obtained from plant sources such as sugarcane and sugar beets, the ingredient has been heavily debated in the vegan community.
After harvesting sugar from plant sources, sugar companies often subject their sugar to further refinement processes to make them more appealing to the general public. One process used for sugar refinement is filtration. Different companies use different filtration methods. One filtration method in particular that is of concern is when bone char is involved.
Bone char is the charred skeletal remains of animals. As a source of carbon, it serves as an effective filter. However, sugar processed with bone char can no longer be considered vegan since that would mean that sugar produced this way would involve animal products.
The Cheez-It flavors under the Baked Snack Cracker line that includes this ingredient include Extra Toasty, Extra Cheesy, Cheddar Jack, Cheese Pizza, and Buffalo Wing.
Artificial Coloring Agents
Color is an important part of food presentation which is why food manufacturers actively use various coloring agents to make their food products more appealing. Some ingredients can naturally give the food product an appealing aesthetic. However, some food products have to be manipulated with substances such as artificial coloring agents.
Artificial coloring agents are synthetic substances that help make food look a certain way. Looking at them objectively, they can be considered vegan to many people since artificial coloring agents are made completely from scratch in laboratories without the use of animal products. However, artificial coloring agents are also very problematic in the vegan community.
To get the approval of various food safety authorities, artificial coloring agents have to undergo numerous safety tests to make sure they are safe for human consumption. While this is understandably important, the methods used are debatable. Safety tests on artificial coloring agents have long been documented to use animal models.
The use of animal models for safety testing is considered a highly unethical practice as the tests typically subject the animals to inhumane conditions. The animals are usually tested to death, or simply killed after use. Ethical vegans tend to avoid all products that have undergone animal testing since the use of animal models leads to their unethical treatment. Nowadays, modern techniques are available to replace the use of animal models altogether. These techniques include the use of cell models and in silico studies (i.e., the use of computer models and algorithms).
Specifically, only one flavor of Cheez-Its uses artificial coloring agents: Cheddar Jack. The flavor contains Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. These synthetic food dyes have been documented to be used on various animals such as mice, rats, guinea pigs, miniature pigs, and hamsters (7, 8).