Lay’s is a popular brand of potato chips offered by the Frito-Lay company, the same company that also produces Fritos, Cheetos, Doritos, Tostitos, Ruffles, and more. Historically, Lay’s found its beginning being sold from the trunk of salesman Herman Lay’s car before eventually becoming the first national brand. Merging with the Frito company in 1961, Frito-Lay became the only global player in the snacks market (1). With its significant popularity, it is important for consumers to know whether their favorite potato chip snack is vegan or not.
The Classic flavor of Lay’s is vegan as it is made of entirely vegan ingredients (potatoes, vegetable oil, and salt). However, the other Lay’s flavors contain non-vegan ingredients. As with most food products, the best way to make sure they are vegan is to check the ingredients list and become familiar with what ingredients to look out for.
Lay's most popular flavor, dubbed "Classic" are considered dietarily and ethically vegan.
However, the issue arises with the other flavors. To give each variant of Lay’s their distinct flavor profiles, additional ingredients are added. Unfortunately, some ingredients are problematic for vegans. Examples of such ingredients include dairy products such as cheese and milk which are sourced from cows.
Some ingredients used in other flavors are also considered gray areas (its difficult to determine exact sourcing procedures and modes/mechanism of filtration); Examples include natural flavors and sugar.
The list of ingredients for the Classic Lay’s potato chips includes (2): potatoes, vegetable oil (sunflower, corn and/or canola oil), and salt.
Essentially, the Classic flavor of Lay’s pays homage to its roots; Being fried potato chips with salt for taste. Meaning the Classic Lay's chips are vegan.
However, Lay’s chips comes in a wide variety of flavors to choose from. Over the years, different flavors have been debuted and made available to the public. Furthermore, different regions in the world have specific flavors as well. Examples of country-specific flavors include the Esan Hot Pot flavor in Thailand, Lu Rou Fan flavor in Taiwan, and the Nori flavor in Japan.
For this article, the ingredients that will be evaluated will be from the flavors available on the official Lay’s website (3). Aside from the Classic, these flavors include Cheddar Jalapeño, BBQ, Sour Cream and Onion, Cheddar and Sour Cream, Flamin’ Hot, Salt and Vinegar, Sweet Southern Heat BBQ, Honey BBQ, Chile Limón, Limón, Fiery Habanero, Dill Pickle, Flamin’ Hot Dill Pickle, and Chesapeake Bay Crab Spice.
First, the non-vegan ingredients will be discussed, followed by gray area ingredients. The flavors where they can be found will also be included.
Many Lay’s flavors utilize a wide variety of dairy products in their ingredients. These dairy products include cheddar cheese, butter, lactose, buttermilk, skim milk, milk, blue cheese, whey, sour cream, and cream.
Dairy products are strictly non-vegan because they are derived from cow milk. Consumption of milk and other dairy products is believed to be unethical in the vegan community since the milk industry intentionally impregnates cows to induce their bodies to make milk. Furthermore, their offspring are usually separated from them to maximize the milk that can be acquired.
Many Lay’s flavors include dairy products as their ingredients. These include Cheddar Jalapeño, Cheddar and Sour Cream, Flamin' Hot, Sour Cream and Onion, Fiery Habanero, Sweet Southern Heat BBQ, Flamin' Hot Dill Pickle, Honey BBQ, and Chile Limón.
Honey is a natural sweetener commonly used in many food products. Although honey is suggested to be a healthier sweetener option compared to sugar, it cannot be considered vegan because it is strictly an animal-derived product.
Honey is obtained from bees and thus is not vegan. It is believed that the practice of beekeeping is actually harmful to bees and harvesting their honey is unethical since bees produce honey to feed their larvae (4). Rearing honeybees is also considered to be harmful to the environment as honeybees have to compete with the native bees in the area for pollen collection.
Only one flavor in the list above includes honey and that is the Honey BBQ flavor.
Natural flavors are a common ingredient for food products to give them their distinct flavor profile. In order to protect the propriety blend of ingredients that make food products unique, the FDA allows companies to label many substances under the label “natural flavors.”
However, a problem arises for vegans because it is difficult to determine the contents of natural flavors since the FDA definition is very vague. According to the FDA, natural flavors are defined 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
Due to the vagueness of the umbrella definition given by the FDA, natural flavors remain as a gray area ingredient because it is practically impossible to determine whether a food product with natural flavors is vegan or not.
Many Lay’s flavors include natural flavors as an ingredient. These include Cheddar Jalapeno, BBQ, Sour Cream and Onion, Cheddar and Sour Cream, Flamin’ Hot, Salt and Vinegar, Sweet Southern Heat BBQ, Honey BBQ, Chile Limón, Limon, Fiery Habanero, Dill Pickle, Flamin’ Hot Dill Pickle, and Chesapeake Bay Crab Spice.
Sugar is one of the most utilized sweeteners in the food industry. Although sugar is conventionally derived from plant sources (e.g., sugarcane, sugar beet, etc.), it remains a controversial ingredient in the vegan community because of how it is produced (6).
In order to make sugar more appealing to consumers, sugar companies usually further refine their products. Further refinement can include a filtration phase. Some companies use methods that are perfectly suitable for vegans such as using granulated carbon. However, many US sugar companies use bone char (the charred skeletal remains of animals) as their filter.
If sugar has been processed using bone char, then it can no longer be vegan since an animal product was involved in its production.
Lay’s flavors that include sugar include Cheddar Jalapeno, BBQ, Sweet Southern Heat BBQ, Honey BBQ, Chile Limón, Limon, Fiery Habanero, and Chesapeake Bay Crab Spice.