Egg rolls are a staple appetizer that you can find at almost any Chinese-American restaurant. Vegans might automatically skip over it on the menu since we tend to assume that any food with the word “egg” in the name is egg-based. Surprisingly, that isn’t necessarily the case with egg rolls, but there may be other reasons for vegans to avoid them.
The name “egg roll” doesn’t come from eggs being a main ingredient. In fact, no one really knows where the name comes from. Unfortunately, many egg rolls are not vegan due to other ingredients, though it is possible to find some that are.
What are egg rolls made from?
The two main components of an egg roll are the wrapper and the filling. Most of the time, the problem ingredient is in the filling, as it’s very common for egg rolls to be filled with meat, usually pork or chicken. Some egg rolls do have egg in the wrapper, but many use a simple wheat flour wrapper that doesn’t contain any egg.
Although meat is common in the filling, the base ingredient is usually shredded cabbage. There used to be more options for the veggie base but at some point every Chinese-American restaurant decided that cabbage was the standard.
Some restaurants make egg rolls with only cabbage, spices, and other vegetables or are willing to make them without meat in the filling upon request.
Egg Rolls at Restaurants
We took a look at some of the most popular Chinese-American chains to see if they offer vegan egg rolls. Unfortunately, we were a bit disappointed.
Panda Express currently only has egg rolls with chicken filling on the menu. The Spring Rolls, pictured above, are a very similar vegan option. The Spring Roll wrapper does not contain eggs and their filling is cabbage, celery, carrots, green onions, and Chinese noodles.
Pick up Stix
Pick up Stix also only offers chicken egg rolls, with spring rolls still being the only close alternative for vegans. Like Panda Express, their wrappers are egg-free.
Pei Wei Asian Diner
Pei Wei’s egg rolls are filled with pork, and their spring rolls contain egg, so we’ll have to skip the crispy appetizer rolls at this one.
Egg Rolls in Grocery Stores
What about the egg rolls you can find in the frozen aisle at the store? You’re likely to have more luck here than at a restaurant, although meat fillings are still common.
P.F. Chang’s makes boxes of mini egg rolls that you can get at the grocery store. These are available with chicken, beef or vegetable filling. The P.F. Chang’s Vegetable Mini Egg Rolls are the vegan ones–just be sure to get the right one, as the boxes are almost identical!
You may be now realizing that we did not list P.F. Chang’s Egg Rolls in the restaurant section. Per their restaurant allergen page, they have a Vegetable Spring Roll but it contains milk, egg and shellfish. To see all of their vegan options, click here for their VeggL Vegan Guide.
Tai Pei frozen egg rolls are filled only with veggies — hooray! Their main ingredients are cabbage, carrot, and mung bean, and the wrapper is plain wheat flour.
So close! Chung’s vegetable egg rolls do not contain any meat but there is egg in the wrapper.
If you happen to have a Whole Foods store close by, you can find their own brand of Vegetable Egg Rolls which are vegan. The wrapper is made with wheat flour, cornstarch, oil and water. And the filling contains green cabbage, edamame, water chestnuts, carrots, celery, onion, brown rice, oats, oil and seasonings. Definitely an interesting mix but worth a try.
If you do find a local chain or franchise that offers plant-based egg rolls, remember to check the sauce, too! Egg rolls are often served with soy sauce, plum sauce, hot mustard or sweet & sour sauce.
Hot-and-sour sauce, which can be made with chicken broth, is also popular–just do a double check! Fortunately, if the rolls are vegan and the sauce is not, it’s easy to simply not dip them!
The Cooking Process
One of the biggest problems vegans encounter when eating out, and one of the hardest to verify, is the cooking process. Even if the food itself isn’t made with any animal products, it could be cooked using animal fats or the cooking surfaces could be shared with animal products.
This is something that varies a lot among restaurants, sometimes even within franchises of a chain, so it’s important to ask every time.
In this sense, egg rolls can be a bit of a question mark. They are normally deep-fried, which could be done using a non-vegan oil. However, the most common oil used is peanut oil, and you can always ask if you aren’t sure what a restaurant uses for deep-frying.
The deep-fryer itself is also a potential issue. Many items on a Chinese-American menu may be deep-fried, and most of them contain meat. This means that, unless the restaurant has a deep-fryer set aside for plant-based foods only, there’s a very good chance of veggie rolls being fried in the same oil as meat-based items.
Even restaurants that fry different items in separate fryers tend to do this to avoid cross-contamination of common allergens, so meat is rarely taken into consideration.
If you are lucky enough to have a restaurant offer to make special off-menu egg rolls without meat in the filling, you can be almost certain that they will be made in the same fryer as their normal meat-filled egg rolls.
Clearly, it can be a bit tricky to figure out whether a restaurant’s egg rolls are vegan. Meat fillings and sauces are easy enough to avoid, but you may need to ask an employee (or reference an article like this one!) to know if there are eggs in the wrapper.
You will definitely need to ask an employee if you want to know whether the frying oil is vegan and whether veggie rolls are made in the same fryer as meat-based rolls.
Of course, it’s up to you to decide if you are comfortable with the answer or if you’d rather pick another appetizer.
Fortunately, it’s much easier to eat vegan egg rolls at home. There are plenty of frozen vegetable egg roll options, and the ingredients list will let you know if there are any “hidden” animal products like eggs in the wrapper.
If all else fails, make your own! You can find all kinds of recipes for egg rolls that you can make from scratch and cook in your own oven, air fryer or deep fryer. They are surprisingly easy to make, and you may even find that making your own vegan egg rolls is more satisfying than buying them from a restaurant or store!