Why Is A Caesar Salad NOT Vegan?

Why is Caesar Salad not vegetarian?

Back in 2012, when I became vegan, I remember being sad to learn that the Caesar Salad I adored was no longer an option. But what was shocking was that it wasn’t even vegetarian!

Why it was extra for me was because my whole life, even while I was apprehensively eating meat, I was never a fan of eating anything that came from the ocean. So to learn that when I would consume a Caesar Salad, I was in fact eating something from the ocean, it really grossed me out. 

So that leads us to…

What Is In A Caesar Salad?

According to the many recipes I reviewed, a Classic Caesar Salad consists of:

  • Romaine Hearts
  • Croutons
  • Caesar Dressing
  • Parmesan Cheese

Of course, looking at this list, and as I did in my naivety that dressings are all at the max vegetarian, I learned that there is a sneaky ingredient in the one used for a Caesar Salad. 

To answer the question,

Why Is A Caesar Salad NOT Vegan?

First, let’s start with the dressing because it’s the first one I was surprised by. The animal-based items in a Caesar Dressing are parmesan (not vegan, nor vegetarian), egg yolk (vegetarian) and the sneaky ingredient… anchovies. 

Let me repeat that. Anchovies are in a classic Caesar Dressing. These tiny fish are used in dressings because they have a very salty umami flavor. 

Do you know what else can have that combined flavor profile? Kelp flakes, vegan fish sauce, soy sauce, red or yellow miso and seaweed.

The second ingredient is Croutons. Croutons typically have dairy in them. Can you get them with no dairy? Absolutely, but you would need to ask the restaurant for an ingredient list or check the ones on the package if buying from a grocery store. 

And the third ingredient is the Parmesan Cheese. This is not only used in the dressing but also is typically shaved on top of the salad for extra flavor. Parmesan Cheese is an animal-based dairy product so that makes it not vegan but continue on and I share why it is also not vegetarian. 

Why Is Parmesan Cheese NOT Vegetarian?

Did I throw you off with the note that parmesan cheese isn’t vegetarian? That makes sense because I’ll be honest this was one I was NOT aware of until I began creating VeggL! I had become vegetarian in 2008 and then vegan, as I already mentioned, in 2012. 

So this would have been important information for me to have in my years of being a vegetarian.

To go back a few years, I had put in an FAQ, on one of our Vegan Chain Restaurant GuidesOpens in a new tab., that a dish was not vegan but mentioned it was vegetarian. I received a contact form from one of our VeggL users letting me know that parmesan cheese isn’t even vegetarian. 

Woah. What? …Why?

Come to find out, parmesan cheese is made with animal rennet which is an enzyme that comes from the fourth lining of the stomach of animals, typically calves, goats, and lambs. 

Unreal. Still makes me wonder if vegetarians are aware of this. 

How Can I Make a Vegan Caesar Salad?

Let’s go back thru what we need to create a Caesar Salad and then see what substitutions or recipes we can use to achieve an animal-free version of it. 

–> The following products are available and vegan as of 2023; however, we always suggest checking the packaging to verify.

And if you prefer to make your own, we suggest Google searching… vegan croutons recipe, vegan Caesar dressing recipe, vegan parmesan recipe and then decide which looks good for you. Add oil-free to the search if you prefer recipes with no oil (whole food plant based).

Please note, we have not tried all of these to verify their goodness. 😉

Romaine Lettuce

Romaine is a plant which means it’s already vegan. Easy.


  • 365 Whole Foods Organic Seasoned Croutons
  • Simple Truth Organic Seasoned Croutons (garlic, onion & parsley)
  • Good & Gather Organic Seasoned Croutons 
  • Fresh Gourmet Seasoned Croutons, Organic
  • Greenwise Seasoned Croutons, Organic

Caesar Dressing

  • Primal Kitchen Plant Based Caesar Dressing made with Avocado Oil
  • Simple Truth Plant Based Caesar Dressing
  • Follow Your Heart Caesar Dressing, vegan
  • Chef Hak’s Plant Based Caesar Dressing made with Avocado Oil
  • Gotham Greens Vegan Caesar
  • Mother Raw Caesar Dressing

Parmesan Cheese

  • Violife Just Like Parmesan Wedge
  • Violife Plant Based Shaved Parmesan
  • Follow Your Heart Grated Parmesan
  • Go Veggie Dairy Free Grated Parmesan Topping
  • Nooch It! Fair-Trade Cashew Grated Parmesan Cheese

In Conclusion…

We hope our breakdown of why classic Caesar Salad’s are not vegan was easy to understand but also has left you with hope and direction for how to create your own vegan version!


VeggL (Jen and Ryan)

VeggL is the passion project of Jen & Ryan. Both vegan (Jen since 2012, Ryan since 2018), they wanted to help other vegans & plant based folks through an incredibly frustrating process--trying to figure out what you can eat & where in the US. Pictured w/ our pups, Mia & Chompers.

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