Vodka is a popular alcoholic beverage enjoyed by many all around the world. With roots in Eastern Europe, vodka has rich histories in countries such as Poland, Russia, and Sweden. While many people associate vodka with potatoes, the alcoholic beverage can be made using any raw material that is high in starch content such as wheat, rye, barley, and corn. Since vodka is a highly popular drink and is used as a base for many cocktail recipes, it is important to understand if it is appropriate for vegan individuals.
Vodka is vegan. Since vodka uses plant-based raw materials and the processes involved do not include any animal product or derivative, the the resulting alcoholic beverage is vegan as well. There might be some vodka products that are non-vegan when they are used with a dairy or honey base. However, those vodkas are not very common and checking the label will help ease all uncertainty.
Table of Contents
History of Vodka
The history of vodka is one that has been debated by many scholars in the field. While a consensus has not been reached, it is commonly agreed that the alcoholic beverage known as vodka has developed independently in various Eastern European countries. However, the etymology of vodka has been attributed as the diminutive form of the Russian word ‘voda’ which means ‘water’ (1).
Vodka has not been properly dated but it is known that it has already existed in Eastern Europe as early as the 14th century. Although, the alcohol content of vodka back then might not be as high as it is now. Currently, minimum alcohol content for vodka has been established – in the European Union, vodka must contain at least 37.5% alcohol while vodka in the US must have at least 40%.
Bright Future Recovery, an Alcohol Detox center notes that alcohol is primarily broken down in the liver through the actions of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. The liver can metabolize 1 standard drink (1.5 fl.oz. of vodka) per hour or 100 mL/hour (reduction in BAC by 0.015 per hour). Roughly 10 percent of alcohol is also eliminated through other physiological processes like sweat, breath, and urine excretion.
Current production methods of vodka are highly parallel with the production of gin (2). Raw materials are first prepared. Preparation might differ among different raw materials. For example, grains and cereals would need to be milled to release their fermentable sugars. On the other hand, grapes and other fleshy fruits are pressed.
Once properly prepared, the raw materials are then put in a fermentation tank with yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae – the same yeast used for many other food and beverages that need fermenting. The raw materials are then left to ferment up to 8-9% alcohol content.
The fermented solution is then transferred to a series of columns such as an analyzer column and a rectifier column that would help concentrate the alcohol produced. In the rectifier column, the solution will be distilled at least three times. This step will result in a neutral alcohol that would be at least 96% alcohol.
To make vodka, the neutral alcohol would then be filtered and diluted to the appropriate alcohol concentration for vodka which is about 40-45%. The neutral alcohol can also be processed with the addition of flavorings and other rectifying processes to produce gin instead.
Is Vodka Vegan?
The process of making vodka is very similar to making alcoholic beverages in general and the only way to distinguish one from another would be the raw materials used, the processes involved, or the resulting alcohol content.
The current European Union defines vodka as a spirit produced from ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin (3). The European Parliament has even declared back in 2007 that traditional vodka and the name vodka itself should only reflect spirits that are made from grain or potatoes. This movement was significantly backed by traditional vodka-producing countries such as Finland, Poland, and Sweden.
With that said, it is safe to say that vodka is practically vegan as all it is would be alcohol produced from fermented grains or potatoes.
However, there are some vodkas that would be considered non-vegan by using animal-derived bases such as honey or milk. For example, some countries in Europe would produce local alcohol with additional ingredients using vodka as a base. In Poland, a traditional drink called ‘krupnik’ would use vodka as a base, and it can then be added by additional ingredients such as honey that would then render the beverage non-vegan.
Vodka can also be made of milk as proven by Black Cow Vodka (4), supposedly the world’s only milk vodka. Instead of using a starchy raw material, milk vodka uses whey as its raw material. Whey is typically considered to be a byproduct of cheesemaking as it is produced when the milk is curdled. Unfortunately, vodka produced this way cannot be considered vegan.
While most vodka would be perfectly vegan, it is recommended to simply check the ingredients list or the label to alleviate any concern for a particular bottle of vodka. While vodka itself is vegan, flavored vodka might contain other ingredients. Thus, it is important to always check the ingredients list. Cocktails using vodka are also not guaranteed to be vegan due to the other ingredients added to the vodka.