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Vegan versus Plant-Based: What is the Difference?

Plant-based cuisine has become a familiar feature on menus and in the supermarket, whereas a few years ago it would have been a challenge to find anywhere except a speciality store or restaurant. Now there’s even an entire month dedicated to encouraging people to embracing veganism.

As more people than ever embrace a diet partially or entirely free from animal products, it is important to understand what the major differences are between a plant-based and vegan diet. Le Cordon Bleu London has put together the guide below to help distinguish the two, and help you understand more about the world the plant-based culinary arts.

What is Veganism?

Although it is largely based on what one consumes, veganism is not just a type of diet. Someone who follows a vegan lifestyle believes it is wrong to consume or use any products which contain an animal product. Like vegetarians, vegans do not eat meat, but will also avoid dairy products and eggs.

Further to this, vegans won’t use honey, collagen, gelatine, wear leather, silk, fur, cashmere or wool and will avoid any products which are tested on animals.

It is an important distinction to make as many products that appear suitable for vegans may contain animal products, and it can be tricky to navigate whether something has something unwanted in the ingredients list.

There are some products that might surprise you, such as wine and beer, which don’t necessarily contain animal products, but due to the production method are deemed as not vegan. Fining agents used in the production of wine include blood and bone marrow, milk protein, egg albumen, fish oil, gelatine and isinglass. Isinglass is derived from fish swim bladders and is also used in the clarifying of some beers.

Outside of food and beverages there are some less obvious products such as candles, which can contain either beeswax or stearic acid which is usually produced from animal fat but can be made using coconut.

The above is by no means definitive but should clarify that being vegan is more than a dietary choice and serve as an insight into what it takes to lead the lifestyle.

What is meant by plant-based?

A plant-based diet is in essence the same as a vegan diet, but someone observing the former will not necessarily go out of their way to avoid other things which contain animal products.

Someone who eats a plant-based diet may still for example wear leather, use products containing beeswax and drink wine which has been produced using isinglass.

There are different reasons for following a plant-based diet besides following a vegan lifestyle, a major factor being for health reasons. Consuming a higher proportion of plants, including fruits and vegetables, and no to very limited amount of animal products including meat, animal fats, eggs and dairy has been seen to contribute to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and premature death according to many studies.

Another reason is sustainability, as a plant-based diet has been determined as having a much smaller impact on the environment than a diet that includes a lot of meat or animal products. Generally, farming meat and dairy products has a higher volume of greenhouse gas emissions than crop farming, depending on the farming practices. You can read more about sustainability in relation to food systems from the SDG2 Advocacy Hub and Chefs’ Manifesto.

Why has plant-based cuisine become so popular?

Plant-based and vegan cuisines have exploded into the mainstream market in recent years. With more transparency around animal welfare and the environmental impact of farming practices, people are deciding to either cut out animal products all together or buying better quality meat and animal products but less often.

As a result, demand has grown for more quality vegan and vegetarian options on menus and in shops, and the industry has responded to this with innovative dishes in restaurants and products on shelves.

Branding products as plant-based has also helped to make them more accessible, as those who may not identify with the vegan lifestyle still strive to eat a plant-based diet. As the term doesn’t have a specific definition, it works for people who don’t fit into a specific category, giving the freedom to label oneself without committing to a stricter lifestyle choice.

Expanding your plant-based knowledge

As it became apparent that the demand for plant-based cuisine wasn’t going anywhere, it was clear that chefs and home cooks alike needed some guidance on how to work with the wealth of plant-based ingredients now much more readily available.

In 2020 Le Cordon Bleu London launched its three-month Diploma in Plant-Based Culinary Arts, designed for professionals who want to expand their plant-based culinary skills, which covers both cuisine and pâtisserie.

The programme excludes animal products and incorporates a diverse range of ingredients which are naturally available, avoiding heavily processed ingredients. Alongside fruits and vegetables, the diploma covers the use of egg replacements, non-dairy milk and cheeses, fungi, roots, seaweeds, grains, leaves and microgreens for sweet and savoury use.

In addition to the diploma, there are a range of short courses available for a more casual foray into the world of plant-based cuisine. Below is a list of all the courses covering plant-based cuisine and pâtisserie currently available at Le Cordon Bleu London.