Everything That’s Vegan at Panda Express
Over the last two years, Panda Express has redesigned its menu to reinvigorate plant-based options, listening to the calls of vegan eaters nationwide. The company spent the last couple of years developing enough plant-based options that now any flexitarian, vegetarian, or vegan eater on the road or in the airport can rely on a Panda Express to offer some plant-based foods.
From having nearly zero plant-based options, the fast-food chain quickly rose to become one of the top quick-service options around. Following petitions from PETA and Vegan Outreach, the fast-food company removed chicken broth from some of its vegetable-forward dishes to ensure that these menu items did not unnecessarily use animal products.
Now, Panda Express is taking another leap of faith: The company announced that starting July 26 it will begin featuring a Beyond The Original Orange Chicken as its debut plant-based protein entree. The vegan orange chicken will use a completely vegan breading and sauce on Beyond’s newly released plant-based chicken. For the initial launch, consumers can get the new plant-based chicken in New York City and Los Angeles. While plant-based diners anticipate the nationwide release of the plant-based orange chicken, here is a quick guide to Panda Express' current options.
As the creator of The Original Orange Chicken, Panda has significant brand equity in this staple American Chinese comfort food. We co-developed Beyond the Original Orange Chicken with Beyond Meat to capture the irresistibly crunchy texture of our signature entrée, while still giving our guests a plant-based option of the dish they know and love,” Chef Jimmy Wang, Executive Director of Culinary Innovation at Panda Express, told VegNews. “This partnership perfectly brings together Panda’s expertise in American Chinese recipes and Beyond Meat’s category-leading plant-based protein knowledge to create a fresh new take on a classic favorite.”
Take Note: Panda Express has avoided calling its food vegan or plant-based over the last two years due to cross-contamination. Even though the company has pushed a vegetable-forward menu redesign, it's said it cannot promise its customers that its food is free from contamination. With the Beyond The Original Orange Chicken on the horizon, consumers will continue to anticipate further plant-based action from Panda Express that will hopefully continue to expand nationwide.
Vegan-Friendly Menu Options at Panda Express
- Vegetable Spring Rolls: You can never go wrong with the Vegetable Spring Rolls at Panda Express. The crispy wonton exterior is stuffed with cabbage, green onions, carrots, celery, and Chinese noodles. When ordering the spring rolls, make sure to order any of the vegan sauces listed below to enhance its flavor and your experience. The top choice will always be Sweet & Sour Sauce. The vegetable rolls work for a shared appetizer or a quick meal on the go, but regardless, the spring rolls remain a constant option at Panda Express.
- Chow Mein: The Chow Mein is a perfect choice for either a full meal without meat or a side item to either the Eggplant Tofu or the upcoming Beyond the Original Orange Chicken. The classic stir-fry wheat noodles come cooked with onions, cabbage, and celery. The Chow Mein used to contain chicken stock, but the menu item stopped using animal products following the PETA petition, making it a perfect item for any plant-based customer.
- Super Greens: This vegetable medley arrived on the Panda Express menu during the company's attempt to reinvent its formerly limited plant-based options. Best ordered alongside either the Chow Mein or Eggplant Tofu, the Super Green contains a healthy mixture of kale, cabbage, and broccoli to supplement any meal.
- Eggplant Tofu: When plant-based diners originally struggled to find a proper vegan entree, Panda Express debuted the Eggplant Tofu. The entree uses a glazy soy-based sauce to flavor its eggplant and tofu mixture, creating an addictively delicious plant-based option. Before the company's plant-based protein development, the Eggplant Tofu has been the go-to item to order and beyond its taste, the entree is a cheap and delicious lunch or dinner option.
Vegan-Friendly Sides at Panda Express
The meal options at Panda Express would not be complete without proper sides. Before 2019, none of the sides were free from animal products, but following the company's widespread redesign, plant-based eaters can order from four options. Even though there is no fried rice without eggs, the fast-food chain's plant-based development could lead to substitutions from companies creating plant-based eggs. For now, choose from either option of the steamed rice or the super greens.
As mentioned before, another perfect option for a side is the Chow Mein. If the entree selection doesn't immediately appeal to you, it is possible to get all three of the sides to make a veggie plate from Panda Express. Pair this plate with your favorite sauce for the best experience.
- Steamed Brown Rice
- Steamed White Rice
- Super Greens
- Chow Mein
Vegan-Friendly Sauces at Panda Express
To complete any of the meals at Panda Express, it is essential to pick from the company's list of sauces. Below we compiled the entire list of sauces free from animal products so that consumers can make sure that they enhance their meals with the proper, plant-based sauce. Each sauce gives the dish or combo a different style, making any experience at the fast-food chain different to the customer's liking.
- Sweet & Sour Sauce
- Potsticker Sauce
- Chili Sauce
- Hot Mustard
- Plum Sauce
- Soy Sauce
Panda Express' Vegan Controversy
Even though Panda Express has recently expanded its vegan menu options, the fast-food chain faced controversy two years ago due to the fact that it cooks most of its dishes (including the ones marketed as vegan) in chicken broth. After learning that some of the chain’s veg-forward menu items still contained chicken broth, Vegan Outreach led a campaign to have Panda Express remove the chicken broth from its vegan or plant-based items, including the Chow Mein and Eggplant Tofu. The campaign was a success and now Panda Express has removed chicken broth from the ingredients of these veggie sides. However, the chain’s corporate statement emphasizes that even the plant-based menu is not actually strictly vegan because those dishes are cooked in the same areas as the rest of the food, and there is a likelihood of cross-contamination in the kitchen.
Panda Express also notes that it cannot classify its food as vegetarian or vegan due to cross-contamination risks. The statement at the bottom of the nutritional page reads:
“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.”