You made the switch to a plant-based diet — congrats! — and you’re probably learning that ketchup is a savior when it comes to a dry black bean burger or tofu scramble. But is ketchup vegan? The truth is more complicated than you might think.

Is ketchup vegan?

The answer is yes — most of the time. Most ketchups are made from tomatoes, vinegar, salt, spices, and some kind of sweetener, such as sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

While these ingredients may seem vegan at first glance, the sugar is where things can get technical. Not all processed sugar is vegan, because a lot of conventional white sugar is bleached by being filtered through animal bone char, according to PETA. Some companies, like American Sugar Refining, have made the switch to ion-exchange systems or granular carbon, but it’s impossible to know exactly how sugar in a product is made just from reading the ingredients on the bottle, according to America’s Test Kitchen.

Kennedy Dierks

Wondering if brown sugar is any different? Since it’s typically made by adding molasses to white sugar, conventional brown sugar is processed the same way as white sugar —unless it’s organic. So, if you’re a strict vegan, ketchups made with conventional sugar may be a no-go. (For what it’s worth, PETA says obsessing over micro-ingredients in food can make veganism seem difficult to non-vegans, which could potentially hurt the cause down the road.) In addition, ketchups sweetened with honey also aren’t vegan, since honey comes from bees.

Organic granulated white sugar, brown sugar and confectioners’ sugar are never processed with bone char, so ketchups made with these sweeteners are vegan. Next time you’re shopping for a bottle, check the ingredients for organic sugar if you want to play it safe, since organic products are never processed with bone char. Or, stick to vegan brands entirely.

Which ketchup brands are vegan?

Heinz Classic Tomato Ketchup — the household staple, barbeque classic, and undisputed king of ketchups — is vegan because it’s sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (which is always vegan). Representatives for Heinz Tomato Ketchup have “confirmed that the product is suitable for a vegan diet,” since their “sugar is not refined using bone char from animal bones.” Hunt’s Classic Tomato Ketchup is also vegan for the same reason.

It’s important to note, though, that Heinz Simply Tomato Ketchup and Hunt’s 100% Natural Tomato Ketchup, unlike their classic counterparts, might not be totally vegan because they’re non-organic and sweetened with cane sugar, which might have been filtered through bone char. Target’s Market Pantry and Organic Simply Balanced ketchups are also vegan.

Organic picks, such as Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup or Annie’s Naturals Organic Ketchup, are also vegan because they’re made with organic sugar, and sugar that’s certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture cannot be filtered through bone char.

When it comes to fast food restaurants, the ketchup available at McDonald’s, Burger King, In-N-Out, and Wendy’s are vegan, as they are made with high fructose corn syrup rather than processed sugar. Ketchup packets at Chick-Fil-A, Dairy Queen, and Shake Shack are also vegan, given that the fast food chains serve Heinz ketchup packets.

Photo by Jacob Rice on Unsplash

Here are a few other popular vegan brands:

365 Everyday Value Organic Tomato Ketchup

Tessemae’s Organic Ketchup

Primal Kitchen Organic Unsweetened Ketchup

True Made Foods Ketchup

Westbrae Natural Organic Unsweetened Ketchup

Sir Kensington’s Ketchup

Fody Foods Vegan Tomato Ketchup

Is ketchup plant-based?

Here’s the thing: being plant-based and vegan are two different things. Vegan diets eliminate animal products entirely, while plant-based is a little more flexible; being plant-based doesn't mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy, it simply emphasizes a diet consisting mainly of food from plants, such as whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans, and produce.

Given that its primary ingredient is tomatoes, ketchup is always plant-based — regardless of whether the sugar in it is truly vegan. In fact, you can eat animal products and even meat on a plant-based or flexitarian diet every so often.

Are there animal products in ketchup?

If a ketchup is vegan, that means there are no animal products in it whatsoever; however, if it contains a sweetener such as honey, it’s not entirely free of animal products. If we’re looking at technicalities, while granulated sugar bleached through bone char isn’t *technically* an animal product, strict vegans might choose to abstain from eating ketchup made with it. Regardless of sugar content, ketchup is naturally dairy-free.

Ketchup can also upgrade any bland meal, especially when you’re trying to follow a vegan diet. Here are some of our favorite plant-based recipes that call for ketchup:

Easy Vegan Macaroni & Cheese Cups

Fiesta Baked Bean Dip (omit the cheese to make it vegan)

Mac & Cheese Fries

Veggie Black Bean Burger