Taco Bell is ringing in the changes with a new vegetarian menu with lots of vegan-friendly options.
In April 2019, multi-billion dollar global company Taco Bell listened to public demand by launching a new vegetarian menu with plenty of opportunity for vegan indulgence. As the eatery which made the double-decker burrito a mainstream delicacy, Taco Bell is au-fait with giving the public what they really want, and it’s usually smothered in guacamole.
Taco Bell originally considered launching the vegetarian menu as a new year’s resolution for 2019, but instead decided to make a longer-term commitment. This is in keeping with the company’s initiative “Tacos with a Side of Purpose,” which highlighted seven areas of focus for change for 2019.
The company intends to move towards greater sustainability with the addition of recyclable cold cups and lids in all its U.S. branches and has banned the controversial preservative tert-Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) from all its menus. The eatery has also committed to banning eggs from battery caged hens and the use of non-sustainable palm oil.
The New Vegetarian Menu
This is the first time Taco Bell has offered a vegetarian specific menu since its founding by Glenn Bell in 1964.
Of course, as Tex-Mex cuisine is founded on the classic plant-based rice and beans combination, the chain has always been popular with vegetarians and vegans. In fact, Taco Bell is the only fast-food chain which is certified by the American Vegetarian Association and according to Nation’s Restaurant News, nine percent of all its sales are for vegetarian items.
Meat-free patrons have always simply tweaked the menu items, as per the instructions on Taco Bell’s website, which beckons “Customise your favorites. Order now.” A rather staggering fact direct from Taco Bell is that the current menu allows for over 8 million vegetarian combinations. This would provide the patron with a bespoke meal every day for the next 20,000 years. Sounds like a pretty tasty way to live out eternity.
The new menu — which has been rolled out at 200 Taco Bell restaurants in Dallas — features three new items which will be added to menus nationwide if they prove popular. The new items are the 7-Layer Burrito, Vegetarian Quesarito, and the hotly anticipated Vegetarian Crunchwrap Supreme.
While many of the sides at the global chain are vegan-friendly, none of the main menu items are currently pure plant-based. This is due to the inclusion of dairy products such as soured cream and cheese. However, simply uttering the two key phrases “fresco-style” and “make it meatless” when placing your order guarantees a plant-based dish.
On its website, Taco Bell explains that “make it fresco” means replacing dairy, mayo-sauces, and guacamole with pico de gallo, which is made with fresh tomato, onions, and cilantro. “Make it meatless” means replacing the meat with beans, of either the refried or the black variety. The vegan-friendly company even has an official webpage dedicated to veganizing menu items.
The webpage, titled “How to Eat Vegan at Taco Bell,” notes, “luckily for all you vegans out there, we got your back.” It continues, “with just a few modifications to some of your favorite menu items, you can create a delicious vegan feast in the restaurant, online at Ta.co or through the Taco Bell mobile app.”
The Rise of the Vegan Market
As a company which serves up spice n’ rice to over two million people each day in 26 different countries, Taco Bell is used to listening to market trends.
In 2018, Food Revolution reported that the number of vegans in the US had soared by 600 percent in just three years. If you thought the movement towards plant-based eating was at its most poignant in the U.S., you’d be mistaken. In the UK, one study reports that 91 percent of Brits have adopted a flexitarian diet, while veganism and meat-reduced diets are gaining momentum in countries including Kenya and China.
As the motherland of all things taco, Mexico has seen a considerable rise in the number of vegans in the last decade. Research collected by the 2018 Gourmet Show food festival showed that 20 percent of Mexicans follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.
As Mexican cuisine is strongly focused around rice, pulses, and vegetables, many dishes are plant-based. This way of eating is highly nutritious, as the pairing of rice with beans makes a complete protein, meaning it provides all nine essential amino acids.
At present, all of Taco Bell’s vegetarian items, both the existing and the three trialing dishes contain cheese. Queso is, of course, a popular ingredient in many Mexican dishes. Mexico is not alone in its reverence for fromage. A study conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in 2013 reported that the average American munches their way through 23 pounds of cheese each year. While a love of curd may be something to bond over, studies show that this foodstuff is in fact, bad for our health.
Most dairy cheeses are high in saturated fat, which has been linked to increased risk of heart disease and even reduced life expectancy, according to Dr. Meghan Jardine, associate director of diabetes nutrition education at Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).
As well as the high fat, salt, and cholesterol content of most dairy cheeses, its milk base is also a cause for concern. The human body has not yet evolved to produce the correct digestive enzymes to process cow’s milk, which in some cases shows itself as lactose intolerance. It is estimated that 65 percent of the global population is lactose intolerant, and the ingestion of the milk protein can lead to diarrhea, bloating, and rashes. Dairy has also been linked to various illnesses, including type-2 diabetes and some cancers.
The late Professor Jane Plant wrote in her 2007 book “Your Life in Your Hands: Understanding, Preventing, and Overcoming Breast Cancer,” “Cow’s milk [organic or otherwise] has been shown to contain 35 different hormones and 11 growth factors,” she continued. “This means that a vegan diet is lower in cancer-promoting molecules and higher in the binding proteins that reduce the action of these molecules.”
For those ditching the dairy, there are plenty of plant-based options available, but when it comes to Taco Bell ordering, simply ask for the cheese to be replaced with extra salsa or the king of vegan luxury, guacamole.
How to Order Vegan at Taco Bell
The chain is not overly vegan-friendly when it comes to your morning meal, but patrons can enjoy the following.
- Hash Browns, crispy and hot
- Iced Coffee, made with plant milk
- Rainforest coffee either black or with plant milk
- Tropicana Orange juice for vitamin C boost
2. Starters and Sides
- Chips and Salsa, with the salty tortilla chips served warm
- Chips and Pico De Gallo, made fresh daily
- Chips and Guacamole, for avocado lovers
- Seasoned Rice, flavored with paprika, garlic and bell peppers
- Black Beans, for some chewy texture
- Black Beans and Rice, for a complete protein
- Potato Bites
- Seasoned Fries
3. Main Dishes
The three new vegetarian items are currently being trialed in a number of Dallas branches. They have been included below, but please be aware these only apply to selected restaurants.
All of Taco Bell’s tortillas, taco shells and flatbreads are certified vegan by the American Vegetarian Association, so it is simply a case of filling the casing of your choice with your favorite items.
To make the items below vegan, ask your server to “make it fresco.”
- New 7-Layer Burrito, packed with rice, black beans, salad, and guacamole
- New Vegetarian Quesarito, with rice and salsa
- New Crunchwrap Supreme, a crisp tostada shell filled with black beans and salad
- Bean Burrito, filled with refried beans and salsa. Additional vegan fillings include potatoes and onions.
- Power Menu Burrito-Veggie, crammed with black beans, guacamole, and romaine lettuce. Add jalapenos if you like added heat.
- Spicy Tostada, topped with refried beans, lettuce, and tomatoes. Add Fritos and red strips for extra texture.
- Power Menu Bowl-Veggie, spilling over with rice, black beans, guacamole, and Pico De Gallo
To make the items below vegan, ask your server to swap meat for beans and “make it fresco,” which removes cheese and sour cream and replaces it with pico de gallo.
- Crunchwrap Supreme, for those not in Dallas — pro-tip: add avocado!
- Soft or Crunchy Taco, ask for black beans instead of meat
To truly round off a meal, something sweet is usually advisable. Taco Bell offers the following:
- Cinnamon Twists, hot twirls of cinnamon dusted dough
- Watermelon Candy Freeze, a fruity slushie with candy pieces masquerading as seeds
- Mountain Dew® Baja Blast™ Freeze, thick and refreshing
- Strawberry Skittles Freeze, the popular vegan confectionery, as a drink