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Is Baklava Vegan? (7 Problematic Ingredients)

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: February 26, 2023

This mouth-watering, rich dessert is a favorite around the world. If you have a sweet tooth but practice a vegan diet, you may wonder — is baklava vegan?

The answer depends on several factors, so let’s dive in and find out!

Quick Summary

  • Baklava is vegan and is made from phyllo dough, popularly known as filo pastry.
  • Baklava is a traditional Greek, Turkish, and middle east dessert whose phyllo layers are covered with fillings of chopped nuts and spices.
  • The spices used to prepare baklava are mostly cinnamon and cardamom.
  • Avoid using some controversial ingredients like animal fats when preparing your Baklava if you are a strict vegan.

What is Baklava?

Baklava closeup

Baklava is a traditional Turkish, Greek, and Middle Eastern dessert made of phyllo dough, also known as filo pastry.

Phyllo layers are covered with a rich filling of chopped nuts (typically walnuts, almonds, and pistachios) and spices (most commonly cinnamon and cardamom).

Finally, the dessert is covered with sweet syrup that makes it juicy.

A Brief History

Baklava has been around for centuries and its exact origin isn’t clear and is a topic of many disputes and debates, as with other foods that are centuries old.

However, food historians are pretty sure the dessert was developed in the imperial kitchens of Istanbul, during the height of the Ottoman Empire, which was from the 15th to 16th century.

Is Baklava Vegan?

Baklava is vegan. However, it all depends on the ingredients and syrup, so there may be some cases on non-vegan baklava. I’ll get into more detail.

Can Vegans Eat Filo Pastry (Phyllo Dough)?

Yes, vegans can eat phyllo dough. Is baklava vegan, isn’t the only question that torments vegans.

It’s typically made from unleavened dough, which means there’s no rising agent, such as yeast. Other ingredients include vegetable oil (most commonly olive oil), a dash of salt, and warm water.

7 Problematic Ingredients

Baklava's non-vegan ingredients

There are different baklava recipes, and some aren’t vegan, so let’s see what could make this dessert not vegan-friendly:

1. Butter

Having in mind that baklava originates from the place with an abundance of olives, olive oil is typically the go-to ingredient when making the dough. However, some recipes call for butter, so be careful when purchasing the dough.

2. Palm Oil

As I’ve said many times, palm oil is vegan, but how it’s produced is making many vegans (myself included) consider it non-vegan. To plant palms that give the oil, the land is cleared, which leads to habitat loss, endangering the animals, and harming the environment.

3. Animal Fats

Animal fats are another possible non-vegan ingredient in store-bought phyllo dough.

4. L-Cysteine

L-cysteine is an amino acid commonly found in bread, but it can sometimes be used in making the dough. The trouble with L-cysteine is that it can be sourced from plants or animals, and even human hair [1].

Even though it’s rarely derived from animal and human hair, there still might be non-vegan L-cysteine, so be careful.

5. Glycerol/Glycerine

This is another ingredient commonly found in store-bought pastry. Like L-cysteine, it can also be sourced from plants (typically soy) or animals (rendered animal fat) [2]. Unless the product is marked as vegan, stay away from dough containing glycerol or glycerine.

6. Eggs

As I said, some phyllo dough recipes require eggs or egg yolk, so this is another ingredient to pay attention to.

7. E Numbers

Store-bought phyllo pastry can contain various E numbers. They can be vegan or animal-derived, so unless the product is marked as vegan, you might want to refrain from experimenting with it.

What About Baklava's Fillings?

Non vegan fillings for Baklava

Baklava's fillings include chopped nuts, cinnamon, and cardamom. These are vegan, so what could be non-vegan about these plant-based ingredients?

It might come as a shock, but nuts can be non-vegan.

For example, growing almonds include bee exploitation, where farmers use bees for the so-called "managed pollination."

Because of this, many vegans today don't consider almonds vegan.

Is the Syrup Vegan?

In most cases, Baklava syrup is vegan. Baklava syrup is often made from sugar, lemon juice, rose water, orange blossom water, or similar flower waters.

However, some recipes call for honey, and I don’t even need to emphasize honey isn’t vegan.

Makos Koukakis, founder of The Hungry Bites, suggests using maple syrup as substitute if the recipe calls for honey.

Always use Vegetable Oil

You’re supposed to grease the pan before baking baklava, so if you use butter, even vegan baklava will be non-vegan. Always use vegetable oil or vegan butter.

There’s also the issue of possible cross-contamination.

Vegan Homemade Baklava Recipe

Tutorial for a vegan Baklava

It's pretty easy to make vegan baklava if you buy pre-made phyllo dough. This is my favorite Middle Eastern baklava recipe, which requires some time, but the result is worth it. For this recipe, you'll need:

For the filling:

  • Chopped pecans, pistachios, and walnuts — 1 cup of each
  • 5 tbsp agave or maple syrup
  • 1 ½  tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp orange zest

For assembling the vegan baklava:

  • 8oz pre-made phyllo pastry
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

For the baklava syrup:

  • ¾ cup water
  • 6 tbsp agave nectar or maple syrup
  • 1 stick cinnamon (optional)
  • 5 whole cloves (optional)
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tsp fresh orange juice (optional)
  1. Start by making the syrup so it can cool down while you make vegan baklava. Put all the syrup ingredients into a saucepan, bring them to a boil, and reduce it to a steady simmer.
  2. Cook for 15–20 minutes, or until it's reduced and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Set aside and leave to cool.
  3. Next, you want to make the filling. Combine the chopped nuts, spices, lemon, and orange zest, and add maple or agave nectar to the mixture.
  4. Preheat your oven to 350℉ and grease an 8x8-inch baking dish.
  5. Next, open your filo pastry, unroll it gently, and trim the edges to fit your baking dish. Add two sheets of dough to the pan at a time. Lightly brush the layers of phyllo dough with olive oil, add the nuts, and drizzle with some agave nectar if you like.
  6. Add another layer of the pastry and repeat the process until your baklava reaches a 1.5-inch thickness. Or, make it as thick as you want.
  7. Bake for some 40-45 minutes and use a sharp knife to cut it while it’s still hot. Drizzle the syrup, put some nuts on top of the baklava, let cool, and serve.

“The oldest recipes for baklava are fried. They had to fry them in a pan and put another pan on top and flip it over so it would cook on both sides. Obviously, once they got a chance to get ovens it was a lot more convenient.”

- Charles Perry, Food Historian

Is Baklava Vegan? The Final Verdict

We come back to the burning question —  is baklava vegan?

Luckily, it is. You can enjoy this Middle Eastern dessert guilt-free. Just pay attention to the ingredients if you're buying the dessert or make your baklava.

Share your favorite recipe or thoughts if you made baklava following my recipe!


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