Chinese cooking is recognized as one of the healthiest in the world. All thanks to the way it balances proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
When it comes to fast food, Asian cuisine is seeing a growth explosion. One of the main winners in this is Panda Express which now has an estimated annual turnover of $3 billion.
Panda Express offers a range of Chinese meals and has 2,200 locations worldwide.
But of the food it offers, how much is vegan?
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Panda Express’ menu
Having a look at Panda Express’ meal options, you will see that they are typically Chinese with sometimes an American twist.
The entrees are mostly chicken-based, with some beef choices. For vegans, the Eggplant Tofu appears to be the best option.
When it comes to other meals, the choice is made up of an entree choice and a side. With the side orders, you can select from vegetables and rice.
Though Panda Express doesn’t state that it offers vegan meals, there are some choices available for vegans.
Here is an overview of meal options for vegans…
Beyond Orange Chicken
A serving of rice and plant-based chicken meat.
Here you have a mix of broccoli, kale, and cabbage.
The two main stars of the dish, eggplant, and tofu, are joined with a touch of red pepper and Panda Express’ sweet and sour sauce.
Yakisoba noodles mixed with celery, cabbage, and onions. Soy and oyster sauce adds to the flavor.
If you have a soy or seafood allergy, then this is off the menu.
A combination of rice noodles, bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, and ginger. Cooked in a mushroom sauce.
Steamed Rice (both white and brown)
This speaks for itself: simply rice with your choice of color…white or brown.
Vegetable Spring Roll
Wrapped in a crispy wonton shell are cabbage, celery, green onions, and noodles.
This delightful snack is made using Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Sugar, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Corn Starch, Salt, and Artificial Flavors.
The artificial flavors may need closer examination as they could be created using animal products.
Panda Express’ vegan-friendly sauces are Teriyaki, Sweet and Sour, Chilli, Soy, Potsticker, Hot Mustard, and Plum.
You may find that the menu choices vary slightly from country to country. So, pay careful attention to what’s available to you locally.
The ingredients may differ
Panda Express does warn that the ingredients it uses may differ in nutritional content. Regional differences also mean that some of these ingredients could also change completely.
With the cooking, Panda Express uses shared equipment which can lead to cross contamination with meat or a substance that contains animal derivatives. Also, cooking with a wok that has had seafood or soy in it can also increase the chance of an allergic reaction.
Here is the disclaimer from Panda Express’ nutritional guide:
“Panda uses ingredients that contain all the major FDA allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish, milk, soy and wheat). Panda prepares its entrees fresh with shared cooking equipment and therefore allergens could be present in any entree.
Panda Express does not have any vegetarian or gluten free dishes. No MSG added except for that naturally occurring in certain ingredients.”
So, it pays to be cautious when ordering your meal.
PETA and Panda Express
You will find that Panda Express is starting to offer plant-based meat substitutes in some of the dishes. One example is Beyond the original Orange Chicken.
The “meat” of this dish is made from fava beans and peas.
Though this dish is only available in a limited number of stores, it’s a step toward providing vegans with a better range of options.
However, this move seems to be motivated more by pressure from organizations like PETA, rather than Panda Expres taking the initiative.
It was only in February 2019, that Panda Express turned its Eggplant Tofu, Chow Mein, Spring Rolls, and Super Green items into vegan dishes.
A press release from PETA states:
“Following discussions with PETA, and after hearing from hundreds of thousands of PETA supporters, Panda Express has added the first-ever vegan entrées to its menu.
The new animal-free options are Eggplant Tofu, Chow Mein, Vegetable Spring Rolls, and Super Greens Mixed Veggies, which can be ordered with steamed white or brown rice.
Previously, Panda Express used chicken-based seasoning in every single dish except for its plain rice—but after hearing from more than 230,000 people, who urged the company to veganize its vegetable dishes, it agreed to upgrade its menu.
The new vegan options—which the company notes are prepared with shared equipment—will be added to all 2,000 Panda Express restaurants by the end of March.
‘By adding vegan entrées to its menu, Panda Express has made humane, Earth-friendly meals available in thousands of airports, shopping malls, and other high-traffic locations across the country,’ says PETA Director Danielle Katz.
‘The demand for vegan options is higher than ever, and PETA looks forward to seeing more and more restaurant chains join Panda Express in embracing the future of dining.'”
This move towards providing its customers with greater vegan options motivated Panda Express to seek plant-based proteins. Like many other fast-food chains, the company has partnered up with Beyond Meat to create viable non-meat alternatives.
Panda Express is moving in the right direction
Panda Express is dedicated to introducing innovative ways of cooking Chinese cuisine. The company’s food philosophy as found on its site is:
“Where the way we wok inspires a fresh, flavorful combination of Chinese regional cuisine and technique with bold American tastes.”
There has been a swelling demand for restaurants to offer more vegan options. Since 2019, Panda Express has bowed to the masses and changed the ingredients in some of its dishes.
Vegans will find that though Panda Express’ base menu is the same internationally, there may be variations in different countries. For instance, you may find extra dishes available in Japan than you do in the USA.
Regional tastes and preferences mean tweaking the menu to meet the local demand. That can lead to more vegan options to select from.
The latest improvisation from Panda Express is the swapping out of the chicken with a plant-based alternative. That’s a win for vegans.
However, there is still the possibility of cross-contamination. Don’t be afraid to ask about how your meal was cooked.
Overall, Panda Express can be a great restaurant for a vegan to pop into.