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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

Are Hot Cheetos Vegan?

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Cheetos is one of those childhood snacks that is hugely popular. You can find bags of Cheetos at the grocery store or convenience stores, in the United States and all around the world! If you are vegan, you may be asking the question ‘are Hot Cheetos vegan?’. The short answer is: unfortunately not. Read on to learn more about this popular savory snack, whether Hot Cheetos are vegan or vegetarian, key ingredients, and vegan alternatives to Hot Cheetos!

are hot cheetos vegan, photo of flamin hot cheetos

When I was growing up, so many of my friends’ favorite foods was Cheetos. And who could blame them? Original Cheetos and all of its varieties: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Cheetos Puffs, Cheetos Popcorn have become one of those crunchy snacks people can’t get enough of.

But now, with more people prioritizing their health, there has been an increase in individuals choosing to lead a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, and looking more closely at the ingredients lists of popular packaged products.

But what’s surprising is, that so many of these processed snacks are not in fact vegan or vegetarian friendly! They may include ingredients like gelatin, or animal rennet, cheese powder or milk products.

Which is why, in this post, we are going to dive deep into one of these snacks: Hot Cheetos. We will take a look at whether Hot Cheetos are suitable for vegans and/or vegetarians, key ingredients, and alternatives to Hot Cheetos!

What Are Hot Cheetos?

If you went looking for Hot Cheetos, you would probably find them in the chips aisle along with other Frito-Lay products like Doritos, Lays and Sun Chips.

Hot Cheetos come from the Frito-Lay Snacks division — which is owned by Pepsi. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is one of the varieties of Cheetos: a spicy snack, with a cheesy flavor. It has the crunch of a potato chip, but is shaped like a long red twisty straw.

What Is A Vegan Diet?

A vegan diet is where an individual does not consume any animal products or animal ingredients. Vegans consume food that originated as a plant e.g. fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds.

Vegans do not consume:

  • Meat
  • Dairy Products
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Honey

Instead, vegans have several product replacements they can use e.g. plant based milk, tempeh, tofu, nuts, seeds, maple syrup, etc.

What Is A Vegetarian Diet?

Similar to a vegan diet, vegetarians do not consume meat or fish. However, they do eat bi-products from animals including dairy and eggs.

Vegetarian meals are similar to vegan meals, but may include milk, cheese, cream, honey, or eggs.

List Of Ingredients In Flamin Hot Cheetos

Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are listed as being a cheesy snack made from real cheese. While there are all kinds of artificial and processed ingredients in the traditional recipe, it does contain cheddar cheese and other milk products, which is the main reason why Hot Cheetos are not vegan. Here are is the short list of the natural and artificial ingredients in Hot Cheetos:

  • Enriched Corn Meal (includes Corn Meal, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid)
  • Vegetable Oil (a combination of Corn, Canola, and/or Sunflower Oil)
  • Salt
  • Flamin’ Hot Seasoning (this is where all of the cheese and artificial ingredients come in!)

What Ingredients Are Included in Flamin’ Hot Seasoning?

This “seasoning” is packed with artificial flavors, lots of artificial colors, and dairy ingredients, all of which make this not on the vegan foods approved list!

Here are the ingredients in the Flamin’ Hot Seasoning used in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. I have highlighted the milk ingredients that are not vegan friendly in bold.

  • Maltodextrin [Made from Corn]
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Monosodium Glutamate
  • Yeast Extract
  • Citric Acid
  • Artificial Color [Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Yellow 6, Yellow 5] — note: many of these artificial colors are banned in Europe due to their links to ADD/ADHD in kids and a variety of other health issues. And four of them are added to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Cheddar Cheese [Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes]
  • Onion Powder
  • Whey
  • Whey Protein Concentrate
  • Garlic Powder
  • Natural Flavor
  • Buttermilk
  • Sodium Diacetate
  • Disodium Inosinate
  • Disodium Guanylate

Are Hot Cheetos Vegan?

Hot Cheetos are not vegan as they contain the following ingredients:

  • Cheddar cheese
  • Milk
  • Whey
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Buttermilk

Vegans do not consume milk or cheese, so Hot Cheetos would not be a snack option for vegans. If you are vegan, as a general rule, I recommend reading the ingredients label of packaged products in detail to determine whether the product is suitable for vegans or not!

Are Hot Cheetos Vegetarian?

Though Hot Cheetos may appear vegetarian on the surface, when you take a deep look at the ingredients, it is quite hard to be 100% certain.

Hot Cheetos contains animal enzymes, and while they don’t specify which enzymes, a typical one used in cheese is called rennet. Rennet is taken from the stomach of a slaughtered animal (typically the stomach lining of nursing calves) to help with making cheese.

Some enzymes can originate from plant-based sources. However, Hot Cheetos do not state where the enzyme is from, so to be on the safe side, avoid this savory snack if you are vegetarian.

Are Hot Cheetos Healthy? 

Unfortunately, not at all! As you can see from the ingredients above, there are almost more chemicals, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors than there is real food in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (which is common among all Cheetos products). Which is why, this snack is categorized as a nutritionless snack, or as ‘junk food’, due to the high number of artificial and processed ingredients used.

The lack of nutritional value is also evident when you look at the nutrition label. 21 pieces of Hot Cheetos (1 serving) has 170 calories, 11 grams of fat (14% of your daily recommended amount), less than 1 gram of fiber, 15 grams of carbs, 1 gram of protein, virtually no vitamins, and 250mg of sodium (11% of the daily recommended amount). So basically, Cheetos are a bunch of empty calories with a lot of fat and salt.

So even if these crunchy Cheetos seem appealing as a tasty snack, they will provide no nutritional benefit to your body, and are best enjoyed only once in a while (or not at all!)

Vegan Friendly Alternatives for Hot Cheetos

If you love the flavor of Hot Cheetos, there is good news! There are some packaged food alternatives that capture the unique flavors of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Doritos Chilli Heatwave

Not all Doritos chips are vegan so double check the ingredients list before purchasing it. If you are wanting a hint of spice, then the Chilli Heatwave flavor will satisfy your taste buds, especially if eaten with a salsa dip.

Pringles Sweet Chilli

Though not as spicy as Hot Cheetos, these still can pack a punch and taste delicious. You are safe in the knowledge that Sweet Chilli Pringles are vegan, but watch out for other flavors such as Salt and Vinegar or Prawn Cocktail. These are not vegan options from the Pringles chip range.

Nik Naks

Nik Naks is a British snack that has a slightly similar appearance to Hot Cheetos being long and slightly bumpy in shape. Nik Nak flavors such as Nice ‘N’ Spicy and Rib ‘N’ Saucy are great vegan alternatives to Hot Cheetos.

The UK’s Vegan Version of Hot Cheetos

Surprise! There are actually vegan Hot Cheetos available in Europe. The catch, they are only available in the UK. If you are outside of the UK, you should be able to purchase them online from Amazon.

Healthier Alternatives for Hot Cheetos

If upon reading the ingredients list above you’ve decided you would like to eat a healthier version of Cheetos, then consider:

  • Making your own “Cheetos flavored” snack using puffs or popcorn, tossing with olive oil or a melted vegan butter like Earth Balance, and then sprinkling on some chili powder and hot paprika, tossing to coat.
  • Choosing chips made from plants e.g. peas, chickpeas, or lentil flour that have a spicy seasoning added
  • Finding snacks that are baked rather than fried

Here is a list of chip suggestions that are all vegan and a much healthier alternative if you are looking for a crunchy and satisfying savoury snack:

Beanfields Snacks Vegan Cracklings

These chips are full of crunch and offered in a variety of flavors including Cheddar Sour Cream, Jalapeno Nacho, and Spicy Queso.

Vegan cracklings are vegan, non-GMO, and still contain 3g of fiber and 4g of protein.

Flourish by PopCorners

Flourish are low in calories whilst offering 4g of protein. They are made from real vegetables that are baked instead of fried making them healthier than the average chip. 

Organic Leafy Green Chips by Forgaer

If it is spice you are looking for then definitely try the BBQ Chipotle Greens flavor. The great thing about Forager chips is that they appear like an ordinary tortilla, but are made from brown rice and quinoa, making them healthier than chips made from corn.

Hot Cheetos are most certainly not vegan and do not offer a healthy snack choice. If you are vegan or vegetarian, or just want to be more mindful of the ingredients included in packaged snack products, then I highly recommend trying some of the alternatives listed in this post.

For more eye-opening health guides on what goes into your favorite products, take a look at these food guides:

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