Vegan Frosting Is More Common Than You Might Think

Finding food products that truly qualify as vegan can be a challenge. Some ingredients to avoid are obvious, like milk, eggs, and honey. But some are less apparent, especially for those just starting their vegan journey. Per Healthline, gelatin, Omega-3 fatty acids, casein, whey, and isinglass are all derived from animals or animal products. Additives like these are used to enhance flavor, color, and shelf-stability, which means vegans need to go through the time-consuming process of investigating all ingredient labels. 

But surprisingly, there's one product on store shelves that is very often vegan, even though the label doesn't typically say so: Frosting, specifically the small containers of multi-flavored spreads from brands like Duncan Hines and Pillsbury, often picked up to throw together a quick birthday cake or to sneakily eat straight out of the can. 

The Duncan Hines website shows that out of its 14 different frosting flavors, 11 are vegan. These include varieties like Creamy Salted Caramel, Whipped Chocolate, Creamy Coconut Pecan, and Creamy White. Even a few flavors that sound like they should contain dairy, like Creamy Cream Cheese and Creamy Buttercream, actually do not. However, the Duncan Hines frostings that vegans should avoid are their Creamy Chocolate Buttercream, Strawberries N' Cream, and Creamy Milk Chocolate, all of which contain powdered milk and dairy products. 

This brand name frosting can be vegan, too

Pillsbury brand, with the happy, neckerchief-wearing Pillsbury Doughboy on every label, also has a surprising number of vegan frosting options. According to the ingredients listed on the Pillsbury website, 12 of its Creamy Supreme frostings are vegan, containing no animal products or by-products. These include flavors like Vanilla, Chocolate Fudge, Lemon, Buttercream, and Milk Chocolate. 

Sad news, however, for fans of sprinkles: Nearly all the Pillsbury Funfetti frosting flavors are not vegan. The sprinkles, which Pillsbury calls "candy bits," have an ingredient called confectioner's glaze. Scientific American explains that this ingredient, also called shellac or resinous glaze, is a by-product of the insect Kerria laccaTheir secretions, once hardened on tree branches, are ground into a powder and used to give foods shine and to make them more shelf-stable. (Insect parts also end up in confectioner's glaze, which is why it has the revolting nickname of "beetlejuice.") The only Funfetti flavor that doesn't include confectioner's glaze is Oreo Funfetti, as it is made with crushed Oreo cookies.

What if you're a big Betty Crocker fan? While all the brand's frosting flavors have ingredients listed on the Betty Crocker website, all of its frostings also have the label "may contain milk ingredients." So even though no milk products may be listed, this disclaimer means that the possibility of trace amounts can't be ruled out. 

Here are non-vegan ingredients to check for in frosting

When shopping for vegan frosting, there are specific ingredients that shoppers should check for. Dairy products are obvious ingredients to avoid, which may include milk, butter, or sour cream, which is in Betty Crocker's Cream Cheese Frosting. Healthline shares that whey, lactose, and casein are all milk products, too. Powdered dairy is also common in frostings: Duncan Hines Creamy Chocolate Buttercream frosting has powdered cream and nonfat dry milk according to its Amazon listing, and their Whipped Cream Cheese frosting uses cream cheese powder. Other non-vegan ingredients that may be in frosting are eggs, honey, gelatin, and confectioner's glaze. 

While store-bought frostings are great for when you need a last-minute solution, they still contain not-so-great ingredients like preservatives and artificial colors. Propylene glycol, a fossil fuel by-product used in antifreeze, is also used as a thickener and stabilizer in packaged foods like frosting, according to Leaf.TV. Many frostings are also made with palm oils, a problematic industry that The Guardian says is harming the environment and endangering animals. Instead of settling for store-bought, make your own easy vegan frosting: This recipe from Wilton uses vegetable shortening, non-dairy milk, and powdered sugar. Plus, our 3-ingredient peanut butter frosting recipe can be easily made vegan by using shortening instead of butter.