Wheat Thins is a popular cracker snack offered by Nabisco, an American subsidiary of Mondelez International which is also responsible for other popular food products such as Chips Ahoy, Oreo, Ritz Crackers, Triscuit, and Fig Newtons. First introduced by Nabisco in 1947, the snack has been disturbed mainly across the US, Canada, and even Australia. Even though Wheat Thins are characterized as plain cracker snacks, they were ranked among the top 10 of America’s favorite snacks in a 2012 survey (1).
Since the Original Wheat Thins do not contain any animal product or derivative, the cracker snack is completely suitable for vegan diets and lifestyles. Although some vegans might be wary due to its sugar content. Furthermore, Wheat Thins offer other flavors that contain ingredients of concern. For one, some flavors contain non-vegan ingredients such as dairy products. Additionally, other flavors also contain gray area ingredients such as natural flavors.
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Are Wheat Thins Vegan?
The Original Wheat Thins are completely vegan since they do not contain any obvious animal products. They are essentially sweet bread since they are made of ingredients such as flour, cornstarch, salt, and a lot of sweeteners.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) even adds Wheat Thins to a list they made of snacks that are completely vegan (2). This list included other popular snacks such as Airheads, Cracker Jack, Fruit by the Foot, and so on.
While no obvious animal products can be found in the ingredients list of the Original Wheat Thins, the cracker snack can in fact be considered vegan. However, there might be some vegans that would not be totally comfortable with sugar – a common gray area ingredient in the vegan community.
Furthermore, Wheat Thins can come in other flavors that also contain some questionable ingredients. For one, some Wheat Thins flavors are outright non-vegan due to the inclusion of dairy products. Other Wheat Thins flavors also contain another common gray area ingredient called natural flavors.
Wheat Thins Ingredients List
The list of ingredients of the Original Wheat Thins includes (3): whole grain wheat flour, canola oil, sugar, cornstarch, malt syrup (from corn and barley), salt, refiner’s syrup, leavening (calcium phosphate and baking soda). BHT added to packaging material to preserve freshness.
Other flavors of Wheat Thins also contain a variety of different ingredients. For this article, the flavors that will be evaluated are the ones available on their website (4). Currently, the flavors available include Original, Reduced Fat, Sundried Tomato and Basil, Big, Ranch, Hint of Salt, Multigrain, and Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil.
Non-Vegan Wheat Thins Ingredients
Dairy products are defined as products made from milk such as butter, cheese, yogurt, and more. Although vegan alternatives have been developed, dairy products are still conventionally derived from animal milk – typically from cows.
Many vegans view milk and dairy products as highly unethical products since the treatment for the cows in the milk industry can be quite inhumane. Particularly, cows are intentionally impregnated to induce milk production and lactation. Furthermore, the milk industry often separates the cows from their offspring to maximize milk collection.
Only one Wheat Thins flavor contains dairy products: Ranch. This flavor contains dairy products in the form of whey, buttermilk, lactose, and cheddar cheese powder.
Sugar is among the most common sweeteners used in the food industry. Typically derived from plant sources such as sugarcane and sugar beets, many vegans are wary about sugar due to its manufacturing process.
To make sugar more appealing to many people, sugar companies subject their sugar to numerous refinement processes. One such process is filtration. Different companies use different filtration methods. However, one particular filtration method makes use of bone char – the charred skeletal remains of animals. Once the bones are charred and pulverized, they serve as an excellent filter. However, once sugar is processed using bone char, it can no longer be considered vegan since its production involves an animal product.
This issue is more relevant in the US where the practice of using bone char is more common. Vegans in other countries are more relaxed when it comes to sugar with more confidence that their sugar was not produced using bone char.
Sugar is essentially considered a gray area ingredient since it is difficult to determine whether it is indeed vegan. Food manufacturers obtain their ingredients from different sources. Sometimes, they even have multiple sources for a single ingredient. Thus, it is difficult at times to track the source of the sugar used and determine if whether the sugar used in a food product is vegan or not.
Wheat Thins flavors that contain this ingredient include Original, Reduced Fat, Sundried Tomato and Basil, Big, Ranch, Hint of Salt, Multigrain, and Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil.
Natural flavors are a food additive that primarily functions as a flavoring agent – a substance that inherently imparts flavor. While many ingredients can be considered as flavoring agents, there are some substances that the FDA allows companies to list under the umbrella term. However, the issue arises due to the vague definition the FDA provides. Specifically, the FDA defines natural flavors as (5):
“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
Looking at the definition, it is unclear whether the contents of natural flavors are animal- or plant-derived since the umbrella definition includes both. Thus, natural flavors are considered a gray area since it is difficult to determine if whether this ingredient and products that contain it, are vegan or not.
Wheat Thins flavors that contain this ingredient include Sundried Tomato and Basil, Ranch, and Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil.