Foods you never knew were vegan

Vegan: It's a word you're likely hearing (and seeing) more and more these days. But what does the term really mean, and what exactly constitutes a vegan diet? The answers may surprise you.

PETA describes a vegan, also known as a strict vegetarian, as someone who "does not consume meat, dairy products, eggs, honey, or any product derived from an animal. Many refuse to use products that are made with animal ingredients, products that are filtered using animal parts (such as some wines, beers, and white sugars), and products that have been tested on animals."

Most people associate veganism with a super healthy diet — one that involves eliminating all animal products and by-products, and loading up on fresh fruits and veggies, plenty of greens, and whole grains.

Although this is all true, many processed foods that are often thought of as being "unhealthy" are, in fact, vegan. As it turns out, even the freshest, strictest vegan diet can include cheat days featuring universally loved snacks, ranging from Oreos to Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili chips.

Keep reading to discover 11 foods that you never knew were vegan. (Psst, many are likely in your cupboard or pantry right now!)

Oreos

This delicious, chocolatey, creamy treat has held the coveted title of "the No. 1 selling cookie in America since its introduction in 1912," and maybe that has something to do with the fact that it can be enjoyed by everyone. Whether you choose to dunk yours in milk, twist them apart, or bite right in, you can do so without having to worry about allergens. Despite having a creamy center, you can rest assured that Oreos contain no dairy products, which makes them vegan.

Pillsbury Crescent Rolls

There's nothing quite like filling your house with the smell of freshly baked croissants that can be enjoyed by the whole family. One Pillsbury roll is just 100 calories and contains just seven basic ingredients. As seen on Pillsbury's official site, these flaky, buttery pastries are made from enriched flour, water, baking powder, sugar, soybean and palm oil, and hydrogenated oil. It's this blend of oils that gives the crescent rolls their unbeatable buttery flavor, not actual butter, so vegans can dig right in.

Unfrosted Pop-Tarts

That's right: everyone's favorite toaster pastry, introduced in 1964, is totally vegan-friendly… as long as you pick the right flavor. Although the frosted varieties contain off-limit ingredients like whey, confectioner's glaze, and gelatin, a look at the ingredient labels of unfrosted Pop-Tarts (like classic Unfrosted Strawberry and Unfrosted Blueberry) reveals that they skip out on all of these no-no ingredients, which makes them vegan.

 

Hershey's chocolate syrup

Chocolate makes everything better, and Hershey's chocolate syrup is the perfect guilt-free way to indulge your sweet tooth while adding a yummy finishing touch to any dessert. Pour it over a bowl of dairy-free ice cream and you'll have a dessert even non-vegans will be fighting for. What's more, a tablespoon clocks in at just 45 calories and boasts absolutely no saturated fat, no cholesterol, and no gluten.

Duncan Hines cake mixes

You can bake your cake and eat it, too. That's because a whole slew of Duncan Hines cake mixes and frostings are in fact vegan and, as one innovative baker points out in Duncan Hines' baking tips section, all you have to do is replace the eggs and butter in your recipe with flavored soda (like cola or root beer for dark cake and Sprite for white) or apple sauce, pop your dessert in the oven, and voila! So go ahead and choose from one of 13 (yes, 13) delicious flavors — including classic carrot, moist deluxe butter golden, classic yellow, dark chocolate fudge, devil's food, fudge marble, German chocolate, red velvet, Swiss chocolate, coconut supreme, lemon supreme, pineapple supreme, and strawberry supreme — and bake up a storm.

Duncan Hines Creamy Home-Style Frosting

The only way to perfectly complete your Duncan Hines vegan cake is with some home-style frosting. It's creamy, it's yummy, and yes, most flavors are completely vegan. Taking a look at the complete ingredient lists on Duncan Hines' official website reveals that as many as 11 frosting varieties are in fact vegan. Choose between favorites like the home-style butter cream, caramel, classic chocolate, vanilla, coconut pecan, dark chocolate fudge, lemon supreme, or strawberry cream flavors, and you're off to the races.

The blog Is It Vegan? even contacted Duncan Hines directly to ask for clarification on some ingredients, namely mono and diglyceridess, which are featured in their frosting and cake mixes and received this positive response: "These are part of our vegetable oil shortening and are not from animal source. It is Kosher pareve." Just be sure you're not picking up any of the options featuring dairy, like the whipped cream cheese flavor.

Kraft Creamy Italian Dressing

Sometimes salads need a little dressing up, and the rich, creamy taste of Kraft's best-selling Creamy Italian Dressing is a great way to add some kick to a bowl of greens. Luckily for all the vegans out there, despite its appearance and taste, this dressing is brought to life without the use of any dairy products and gets the go-ahead for anyone trying to cut animal-derived products from their diet. Plus, it's totally yummy.

Ritz Crackers

This childhood favorite is a golden brown treat packed with salty, buttery perfection and yet, rather surprisingly, is vegan. Made with unbleached flour, soybean oil, sugar, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, salt, leavening, corn syrup, and a few other ingredients, these little crackers have no dairy or animal products and are the perfect vehicle for some fresh veggies (or tasty just on their own).

Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili Chips

Nothing kicks a savory craving quite like crunchy, salty chips. Although most Doritos varieties, like Nacho Cheese, use milk, cheese and whey to achieve their addictive cheesy flavor, Huffington Post found that Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili tortilla chips feature none of those ingredients and are totally dairy-free. If you're looking to downsize on calories and MSG, however, this might not be the best choice.

Jell-O Instant Pudding Mix

Ah, Jell-O! It's one of the most vegan-friendly brands out there, boasting a slew of options that can be combined with non-dairy milk for heavenly treats. Making the cut are Jell-O's Instant Pudding & Pie Filling mixes (in flavors like banana cream, butterscotch, cheesecake, chocolate, coconut cream, French vanilla, lemon, Oreo cookies 'n creme, pumpkin spice, and more), as well as their Cook & Serve Pudding & Pie Filling mixes (in flavors like chocolate fudge, rice pudding, and vanilla). Feeling a little more adventurous? The Jell-O Flan is good to go, too!

Betty Crocker Bac-Os Bacon Flavor Bits

You read that right: we said bacon bits. As PETA reports, this brand's bacon bits aren't made from any bacon bits at all. We know, we know, their name suggests otherwise, and the fact that they definitely look like little bits of bacon-y goodness doesn't help, either. But rest assured that Betty Crocker Bac-Os Bacon Flavor Bits are made with zero animal products and are vegan-approved. Hooray!