A growing number of people are choosing to eat (and drink) a plant based diet, so what does this mean for tequila – is tequila vegan friendly? Good news, blanco tequila is vegan. However, while aged tequila (reposado, anejo) is probably vegan, if it has additives it may contain animal based products (glycerin) or sugars which have been refined using animal products. Unfortunately these additives are not required by authorities to be labeled although they must make up less than 1% of the finished product.
|Type of tequila||Blanco||Joven or Oro||Reposado / Anejo / Extra Anejo||Cristalino|
|Also called||Silver / white||Young / gold||Aged / Extra aged / Ultra aged|
|Appearance||Clear / colorless||Goldish tint||Goldish to darker caramel color||Clear / colorless|
|Production treatment||Bottled after distillation||Blend of blanco and aged tequila||Aged in oak barrels for a period of months to years depending on class||Aged tequila that has then been charcoal filtered to remove color|
|Is it vegan friendly?||Yes||Possibly not, depending on additives||Possibly not, depending on additives||Possibly not, depending on additives|
|Products with additives||Zero additives by regulation||Since additives are not disclosed, the tequila may be vegan but it’s impossible to tell for sure||Since additives are not disclosed, the tequila may be vegan but it’s impossible to tell for sure||Since additives are not disclosed, the tequila may be vegan but it’s impossible to tell for sure|
What is tequila and how is it made?
Tequila is the distilled beverage of the blue agave plant, produced mainly from around the city of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. It is one of several agave spirits which also include mezcal. Tequila is a protected term, much like champagne in France, and there are specific rules controlling how and where it is made.
Tequila is made from a distillation of the fermented juices taken from the roasted core of the blue agave. Fermentation is the natural process where bacteria and yeasts feast on the sugars in the plant and change them to alcohol. The highest level of alcohol that can be reached from fermenting the agave juices is around 6%. The fermented juices must be distilled to reach higher levels and then water added to bring the alcohol content down to the 40% more common in tequila. Think of distillation as like reducing and concentrating a soup using a slow simmer, only instead of boiling off the excess water it is the alcohol that boils off first and then collected. The distillation process happens twice, with liquids from the first round used again.
The juices used to make tequila must be at least 51% from blue agave. Mid-range and high end tequila is typically 100% from blue agave. Cheaper tequila often uses a portion of juices from other sources, typically sugar cane. In all instances, the primary tequila ingredients are fully plant based and vegan friendly. But does that mean that all tequila is vegan friendly? Unfortunately not, as many tequilas contain additives which may not be vegan.
Learn more about how tequila is made and its history.
Are any additives used in tequila, and are there animal products?
Here’s where the problem may lie. Under the official tequila regulations, certain additives can be used as long as they are less than 1% of the finished product. Unfortunately, these additives do not need to be displayed on the label, so there is no certainty of what extra ingredients may have been put in some bottles of tequila. There are four categories of additives that are permitted:
- Oak extract
- Added as a shortcut to replicate the smells and tastes from the oak barrel aging process
- Produced from pieces of oak and extracted with alcohol
- Vegan friendly
- Byproduct from fermentation and distillation, but can also be produced from animal fats
- Used to create a “thicker” feeling in the mouth when sipped
- May not be vegan friendly, if using animal derived glycerin
- Caramel coloring
- Adds color to replicate the oak barrel aging process
- Although real caramel is made from cooked milk, and is definitely not vegan, caramel coloring is typically made from heating sugar
- Most likely vegan friendly but read below discussion on sugar syrup
- Sugar syrups
- Adds sweetness to finished product
- From natural sources, e.g. agave nectar, cane sugar
- More industrialized, e.g. aspartame or Splenda
- May not be vegan friendly
Sugar syrups may not be vegan
For tequilas using sugar additives there is no way to tell if the sugar is vegan friendly. White sugar is sometimes refined using bone char which would make it not vegan friendly. Tequila may contain sucralose, known as Splenda. While Splenda itself is not made from animal products, it has been tested on animals and so is considered not vegan friendly. Unrefined sugars and sugars labeled as USDA Certified Organic do not use bone char in their production and will be vegan friendly.
How can I tell if my tequila is vegan?
By regulation all blanco tequilas, also called silver or white tequila, are additive free so you can be sure that it’s vegan friendly. If the tequila has been aged, then it may contain additives which do not have to be labeled, and some of these additives may not be vegan friendly. Be careful of cristalino tequilas which look the same as blanco tequilas and may have had animal products added through undisclosed additives.
Understandably, the addition of undisclosed additives to tequila is controversial among purists. The team at tastetequila.com have established a certification program and database for additive free brands. The additive free tequila list currently has 67 entries which means you can be sure that tequila from these brands will be vegan friendly. Although with over 2,000 brands of tequila on the market, this represents just a small fraction. If you don’t see a brand on this list that doesn’t mean it has additives, just that it hasn’t been certified as additive free.
But what if it says 100% agave on the label?
Aged tequila products may still have additives which do not have to be disclosed on the label. Brands can still advertise 100% agave even if the bottles do contain additives. Under the regulations brands can add up to 1% of certain additives and still call themselves 100% agave. Because of this loophole there’s a chance that even if the label says 100% agave it is not vegan friendly tequila.
Be careful, tequila blended bottles may state something like “mixed with 100% agave” but can also contain honey or dairy products making them not suitable for vegans.
What about the worm?
Despite common thinking products sold as tequila never have a worm inside but some bottles of mezcal do. Mezcal is another regulated agave spirit made in Mexico. Certain bottles of mezcal are sold with a “worm”, actually a moth larva, and so are obviously not vegan friendly. Some brands of non-vegan mezcal even come with scorpions inside the bottle. A pechuga mezcal can be distilled with turkey or chicken breast (pechuga means “breast” in Spanish) or other animal products like deer. So plant based dieters should definitely stay clear of any mezcal labeled as pechuga.
Are animals used in the production of tequila?
Animals are not usually used in the production of tequila. Making tequila is largely an industrialized process using machines. However animals are more commonly used in the production of mezcal, typically a mule or donkey is used to help crush the roasted agave cores before fermentation. Mules and donkeys are also used to carry the cut agave centers in from the fields and also to carry the wood for roasting the agave.
What about other tequila based products?
Under the regulations for tequila any bottle containing additives above 1% must be labeled with the ingredients. These products are also regulated and do not classify as tequila, but are instead known as beverages containing tequila, such as liqueurs and creams. Common additives that are not vegan friendly include honey and dairy products used in tequila cream liquors.
So, is tequila vegan?
If the bottle is 100% agave and blanco/silver tequila then yes, it is vegan. Is the tequila known to have zero additives, for example through third party authentication then yes, it is vegan. If the bottle contains aged tequila (reposado, anejos or cristalino) then it may contain up to 1% undisclosed additives and these additives may not be vegan. The easiest way to be sure you are drinking vegan tequila is to buy tequila blanco.