Crispy Chinese Noodles — What’s in Those Wonton Strips Anyway?

By Abby Mudd, Jacqueline Tang, Adhi Muthukumar, and Simon
Brown (VRG interns and volunteers)

If you’ve ever frequented an Asian eatery, you may have
indulged in those delicious wonton strips that are often included with soups or
chow mein, and are occasionally served as small bites. These deep fried, crispy
noodles have been a topic among the vegan community. We were recently asked by
a reader if the noodles were vegan and whether alternative healthier options
existed.

     The answer varies,
since every Asian restaurant differs in their production or sourcing of these
wonton strips. The strips typically include egg and may be cooked in animal
fat. However, it is possible to make them without using animal products, and
one company, Wonton Food Inc., makes a vegan-friendly version (which they
call ‘All Natural’), and these are available for restaurants to buy in bulk if
they choose.1 We have also included some vegan recipes for making
your own wonton strips, as well as some healthier cooking methods. 

     When ordering dishes
that are likely to include these strips (especially soups) but otherwise look
vegan, it may be worth confirming directly with the restaurant whether they
include these strips, and if so whether they include egg or have been cooked
without animal fats. Activists may want to work on getting more local
restaurants who cater to vegans to either make their own crispy wonton strips
using only vegan-friendly ingredients or to order vegan-friendly crispy wonton
strips from Wonton Food Inc.

     A lot of
restaurants in your area may have only non-vegan wonton strip/chip options
because they tend to order ingredients from suppliers. Many companies use eggs,
especially for packaged dry noodles, to help preserve texture and color. If
eggs are not used, the strips are often cooked in the same deep fryer as meat
products. We contacted a number of Chinese or Asian Fusion restaurants which
serve meat but also have vegetarian/vegan options (6 restaurants in MD, 5 in
KY, 1 in IN, 1 in TN).  All but one of
these either obtain their noodle strips from a distributor who use egg, or make
them directly in house using egg. Furthermore, most cooked them in the same
deep fryer as meat products. The all-vegan Asian restaurants we contacted (5 in
NY) said they do not serve wonton strips. Just one restaurant with a sizeable
vegetarian/vegan menu, Mr Chan
Restaurant in Pikesville MD
, confirmed both that they
sell these strips (they include them with all of their soups), and that they
are suitable for vegans. They stated that they make them from scratch (with
flour) without egg.2 

     We also contacted
some of the largest chains about their policies on crispy wonton strips. Panda
Express told us that they do not sell Crispy Wonton Strips, but do sell Crispy
Noodles in separate bags often displayed by the register: you can check the
ingredients on the bag for egg and other animal products. They also pointed
out, however, that most of their menu is not suitable for vegans in any case.3
 Neither P.F. Chang’s nor Pei Wei
Asian Kitchen responded to requests for information, but both have allergens
lists on their websites giving information about which dishes contain egg and
other non-vegan ingredients (here
and here).  In 2017, Pei Wei did talk with VRG about
their menu at the time, and said that their Edamame Hummus was not vegan
specifically because it included wonton chips, which included egg. However,
this dish no longer appears on their menu.

     If you are looking
to enjoy these crispy wontons strips at home, try making them yourself! They
are easy to make and suitable for any level of cooking experience. To start,
you can either make the vegan wonton wrappers homemade or pick up a vegan brand
at the store, like Nasoya Wonton Wraps. The homemade option uses just a few
ingredients (flour, warm water, salt, and cornstarch) and takes about 30
minutes to make. After you purchase or make the wrappers, you should cut them
into smaller pieces and prepare to either bake or fry your wrappers. If you
want to bake the wrappers, add some cooking
spray and seasoning of your choice and place this into an oven preheated to 400
Fahrenheit for 6-8 minutes or until brown. This method will be slightly
healthier than frying since it uses less oil. You can also fry the wrappers on a pan with any
type of oil. Fry them until they are crispy brown

References:

1. Xiaojing Zhou, the R&D/QA manager of Wonton Food Inc.,
confirmed by email on 7/1/2020 that the ‘all natural’ wonton strips are vegan,
and contain only wheat flour, Non-GMO canola oil, and salt. On 08/17/2020 they
confirmed that while they continue to make efforts to expand their business in
‘all natural’ products into the mainstream foodservice marketplace, most of
their ‘all natural’ products are currently sold as a component in salad kits
like one might see at local grocery stores rather than to restaurants.

2. Phone call to (410) 484-11000, 08/16/2020. Also asked another time while picking up a takeout order.

3. Email from Panda Guest Care, 08/04/2020, Reference #
1171766.

The contents of this posting, our website, and our other
publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide
personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified
health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from
company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info
can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use
your best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do
further research or confirmation on your own.

You may also be interested in these sources of ingredients,
and if vegetarian or vegan. See:

https://www.vrg.org/ingredients/index.php

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