Roti is the cornerstone of South Asian cuisine and is served all around the world in various forms. But when it comes to dietary restrictions, how accommodating is the humble roti?
Is roti vegan? Traditionally, roti is made using simple ingredients like flour, water, and oil – which makes it completely vegan. But other types of roti may contain dairy products like milk, yogurt, or butter which makes them non-vegan.
Read below to learn more about this simple flatbread, how it is made, what it is made from, and some vegan and non-vegan varieties of roti that you need to look out for.
The Origin Of Roti
Roti is simply a type of flatbread that is served as a side for gravies, stews, or any other food that is traditionally not consumed with rice.
The origin of roti goes back many centuries and is as old as human civilization. The core ingredients of roti have remained unchanged for centuries. Even today, many people in South Asia enjoy a simple flatbread made from nothing but water and flour.
That’s right, the traditional recipe required for preparing the dough and rolling out flat roti is just a mixture of water and flour.
Indian cuisine has played a huge role in the globalization of roti – and butter chicken may be at the center of all of it.
Interestingly, most cuisines already have a form of flatbread. Some cultures use starters or yeast to make leavened bread and others prefer to make an elongated flatbread using different ingredients – however, the basic idea is generally the same.
How Is Vegan Roti Made?
To make 100% vegan-friendly roti, you must first start with either refined or unrefined flour.
Unrefined or stone-ground flour is a popular choice to make round and nutritionally-dense roti.
Since the wheat isn’t milled and processed using heat and is instead ground using stones, the resulting flour retains a lot of nutritional value and is usually referred to as “chaki ka atta.”
Rotis can also be made using all-purpose flour but this type of dough is usually reserved for frying purposes. We’ll come back to this in a bit.
Here is how you make plain roti at home:
- In a large bowl, add 1-2 cups of flour of your choice and create a well in the center.
- Slowly add 1-2 tablespoons of water (or more as needed) and collapse the surrounding flour into the pool of water until all of it has been absorbed. Repeat this step until all of the flour has been fully incorporated. You should aim to create a light, puffy dough – be careful not to add too much water!
- Knead the dough for a few minutes and then cover with a cloth and leave it to rest for about 30 minutes.
- Lightly dust your hands with flour and take out the dough on a lightly dusted work surface.
- Portion the rested dough and divide it into equal sections. Take each section and roll it into a ball. At the same time, preheat a flat pan at medium heat – cast iron is preferred.
- Put the ball over a dusted work surface and then roll it out into a circle using a rolling pin. Make sure that you equally flatten the dough or it won’t cook through.
- Add a very light coating of oil to the top layer. Carefully pick up the prepared roti off the work surface and put it down on the pan, oil-surface down first.
- Add some oil to the exposed surface of the roti and then flip after 3-4 minutes or when the appearance of flour changes to a dark color. Press down on the roti and then cook for another 3-4 minutes. That’s it! Serve hot and enjoy a range of delicious food with it.
If you’re more of a visual learner, take a look at this video from ChefDave VeganJourney on YouTube.
If someone tells you about non-vegan roti, then they may be simply referring to a leavened Naan, which is a similar flatbread product that is made with a mixture of yeast, all-purpose flour, water, sugar, and at times, dairy.
Some varieties of roti can also be mixed with butter and then fried; this sub-type of roti is referred to as “puri.”
Fun fact: in many regions of South Asia, the terms “roti” and “naan” can be used interchangeably. There are several types of flatbread products like “kulcha,” “chapati,” and “taftan,” and they can all be referred to as roti – which is a common point of contention for foreigners who don’t exactly know what to order.
Non-vegan naan, also sometimes known as milk bread, is a traditionally thick leavened bread that is usually enjoyed with the same foods as roti – but naan or milk bread is more common in restaurants and dedicated roti shops than in households.
The reason for this is that naan usually requires a vertical oven with a heat source at the bottom.
All the ingredients are mixed and then kneaded together until a dough is formed. The dough is then divided and shaped in pretty much the same way as described in the steps above.
Once cooked, the leavened bread is then taken out of the oven and put in a collection basket where it is then picked off.
Signs Of Vegan And Non-Vegan Roti
Is roti always vegan? Traditionally, yes. But it can be complicated, especially when roti is used as a generic term for flatbread.
Luckily, there are a few visual characteristics that you can use to quickly identify vegan and non-vegan roti.
Here are a few signs to look out for:
Traditionally-made roti from wheat flour, water, and oil has a light brown color.
This color will indicate two things: 1) the roti is NOT made from all-purpose flour and 2) it does not contain dairy products.
Even if you find the color of the roti to be a lighter shade of brown or even white, there are a few other characteristics that you can use to figure out if it’s vegan.
This is another helpful giveaway between vegan and non-vegan roti. Traditional rotis are very thin with an overall flat surface and even flat edges.
If you’re at a restaurant and are served with white roti, then determine its thickness. If it’s half an inch thick then you should probably inquire about the type of bread and ingredients because it is likely leavened.
As already discussed, thick bread can be any type of naan – you just need to figure out which one! As long as it’s not milk bread, you should be fine.
Remember, milk bread or naan is usually made in a deep vertical oven while traditional rotis are made over a flat or concave cast iron pan (or an inverted wok).
Vegan rotis can also be made in horizontal brick ovens that are fueled either by gas or wood – but they will seldom be made in vertical ovens.
If you spot a vertical oven that’s being used to make generic naan, then we recommend inquiring about the ingredients of the bread. In most cases, you should be fine, but it is always best to ask before consuming generic naan!
Here is a summarized list of differences:
|Vegan Roti||Non-Vegan roti/naan|
|Texture||Soft and lightly chewy||Dense and very chewy|
|Thickness||Usually thin||Can be very thick|
|Flavor||Earthy, wheat flavor||Slightly salty, earthy, and subtly tart in some cases|
|Prepared Using||Flat cast-iron pan or horizontal oven||Vertical or horizontal ovens, or fried|
|Color||Brown to light brown||Bright white or off-white|
|Ingredients||Flour, water, and oil||Flour, sugar, salt, yeast, water, and dairy|
When In Doubt, Ask!
Up till now, we have discussed all of the traditional methods and ingredients for making roti and identified different types of naan too.
But there is always the factor of outliers in every cuisine.
See, traditionally, dairy in roti products is either non-existent or used sparingly but some people prefer to add a twist to traditional methods to make them taste better.
For example, some naan shops may prepare naan or even regular roti with yogurt. While this isn’t a hugely popular method and you can make the same recipes without yogurt, it still exists in the world of rotis. Yogurt is thought to add a mild flavor and may also help soften roti.
Another more common way dairy can be used is when bakers opt for a light brush of garlic butter over cooked rotis. This type of bread can easily be found in restaurants and you may also commonly find it at parties and events too.
This is why asking beforehand is the best policy when dealing with a broad food category like roti.
Always check the menu for a detailed description of the bread product that you are ordering. If the information is not provided to you in writing, then you can always ask someone about the ingredients.
Roti is prepared and served in many ways and while it is traditionally 100% vegan, some varieties may include the use of dairy products.
Now that you know all about rotis, and how to tell if they are vegan, here are some related questions:
Does roti contain eggs?
No. Roti is made using simple ingredients and none of the traditional South Asian flatbread varieties contain egg or other animal by-products.
Do frozen or pre-packaged rotis contain dairy?
If you are shopping for traditional half-cooked or premade frozen rotis then it is probable that these products will be vegan but it’s always best to check the back of the packaging for more ingredient information.