On international vegan forums, I regularly see people asking about being vegan in the Netherlands. Since the internet apparently has no English guide to veganism in Holland, I decided to make one. I’m a born and bred Dutch woman, so I may not have the best perspective on problems foreign vegans face in this country, but I figure something is better than nothing.
This guide covers important Dutch terms and phrases, shopping for groceries and cosmetics at supermarkets, health food stores and online, finding food while travelling, and ways to meet other vegans. I’ll try to keep it updated as new options become available (this happens all the time!). If you have any tips or questions, I’d love to hear from you!
Handy terms and phrases
Most Dutch people speak English reasonably well, so you should be okay asking questions in shops and restaurants. They might not know what ‘vegan’ means, so you’ll have to explain in detail what you do and don’t eat. I’ve listed a few Dutch phrases and terms that will help you communicate and read ingredient labels.
- I’m vegan – Ik ben veganist
- I don’t eat meat, eggs or dairy – Ik eet geen vlees, eieren of zuivel
- I don’t eat animal products – Ik eet geen dierlijke producten
- Is that vegan? – Is dat veganistisch?
- Milk – Melk
- Butter – Boter
- Cheese – Kaas
- Whey (powder) – Wei(poeder)
- Honey – Honing
- Egg, eggs – Ei, eieren
- Egg white – Eiwit
- Protein – Eiwit (yes, the word for both egg white and protein is ‘eiwit’. Keep an eye on the specifics like soja-eiwit (soy protein) and kippeneiwit (chicken eggwhite))
- Chicken – Kip
- Fish – Vis
- Cattle/beef – Rund
- Pig – Varken
- Vegetable(s) – Groente
- Meat analogue – Vleesvervanger
- Plant-based – Plantaardig
- Organic – Biologisch
- Vegetarian – Vegetarisch (most products marked as ‘vegetarisch’ contain milk and/or eggs)
- Vegan – Veganist (person) / Veganistisch (food)
There is a growing number of veggie/vegan grocery stores in the Netherlands. The biggest are Vegabond in Amsterdam, Veggie4U in Den Haag and HAP in Den Bosch. These stores stock all your vegan essentials and luxury products such as cheese and meat substitutes, chocolate, coffee creamer, sauces and energy bars. If you are not near one of these stores, look at Happycow to find your local options for vegan specialty products, or check out the online order section at the bottom of the page. Veggie4U also has an online store.
If you know what to look for, you’ll find that most Dutch supermarkets are relatively well stocked with vegan products, although they are usually not labelled as such. If worst comes to worst you can always survive on fruit, vegetables, beans and grains, but unless you are in a very rural area you’ll have plenty of other options.
Volunteers from the Dutch vegan society maintain a wiki with a list of vegan products that can be found in supermarkets and health food stores. The list is definitely not complete, but it will help you find (accidentally) vegan versions of most common products. I also have my own shortlists of vegan supermarket convenience foods and ‘junk food’, and I’ve also started a vegan product review website.
Almost every Dutch supermarket carries Alpro plant milks (flavors and unsweetened) and soy yogurt. Most milks can be found in the shelf stable dairy section, while the yogurts and some ‘fresh’ milks are in the fridge with the perishable dairy. All Alpro products, including their margarine and meat analogues are vegan. Remia now has a vegan mayonnaise (Mayolijn, 100% plantaardig) that’s available in many supermarkets.
Beware that most meat analogues contain eggs and/or milk. Only a few are vegan, including some Sofine, Goodbite, Vivera and Vegetarische Slager products, and various store-specific types of falafel and tofu-based products like spicy tofu cubes, tofu mince crumbles and of course plain tofu and tempeh.
Bread and spreads
Bread is a Dutch staple food. Most people eat simple sandwiches for lunch and/or breakfast and sometimes even for dinner. Finding vegan bread can be a bit of a hassle, since the ingredients aren’t always on the label and many breads contain e-numbers that can be of animal origin. Organic bread does not have these e-numbers, so it’s usually a safe bet. Some stores such as Albert Heijn, Dirk, Deen, Deka, Aldi and Lidl ensure that the e-numbers in their bread are plant-based. Check the vegan wiki for detailed information on vegan bread.
As for spreads, every store has a huge selection of peanut butters and jams. Lotus Speculoos (biscoff) spread is also vegan. Most supermarkets have hummus and some other tapenade type of spreads (check to make sure they’re vegan!). If you want a very Dutch experience get some margarine (or peanut butter) and a box of chocolate sprinkles (many of the dark varieties are vegan) and make yourself an authentic ‘boterham met hagelslag’ (sandwich with chocolate sprinkles).
Another typical Dutch food that is usually vegan is ‘ontbijtkoek’ (translates as ‘breakfast cake’) a type of soft dark brown gingerbread. Every supermarket carries a huge variety of these and most are vegan (watch out that they have no honey/honing). They come in large loaves and individually wrapped snack size slices. They can be eaten plain or spread with margarine.
The most omnipresent supermarket chain in the Netherlands is Albert Heijn, easy to recognize from the big blue AH sign above the entrance to their stores. It is rapidly becoming more vegan-friendly. The majority of their vegetarian products contain eggs or cheese, but they have a few vegan ones too. These include vegan chicken, couscous burgers, lentil burgers, teriyaki strips, falafel and tofu products (spicy tofu cubes, crumbles and plain tofu). They also carry a decent selection of vegan dairy, hummus and other spreads, and a few vegan ready to eat meals (quinoa salad, couscous salad, grilled vegetable salad, Japanese noodle salad and a falafel couscous microwave meal). Their pre-baked pizza crusts with tomato sauce are also vegan.
Albert Heijn says their personal care products are not tested on animals, so it’s also a good place to shop for affordable vegan toiletries, just be sure to read the ingredient labels to see if the product is vegan.
Another vegan-friendly Dutch supermarket chain is Jumbo. They carry a large range of plant-based dairy, Sofine and Vivera meat analogues and Vegetarische Slager (vegetarian butcher) meats. The latter are not all vegan, but their kipstukjes are (very realistic ‘chicken’). Most of Jumbo’s Goudeerlijk bread is vegan. Some Jumbo supermarkets now stock Wilmersburger vegan cheese.
Health food stores
Most largish towns will have at least one and often multiple health food stores (Dutch: natuurwinkel). Some are independent businesses, but many are part of chains like Ekoplaza, Estafette, De Tuinen and De Natuurwinkel. Their vegan-friendliness varies, but many can supply you with nutritional yeast (edelgist), tvp (sojabrokken), vegan cheese (often Tofutti or Cheezly) and bulk bags of nuts, seeds, legumes and grains.
Health food stores are also the easiest place to find cruelty free vegan cosmetics, toiletries and cleaning products. Look for brands like Lavera, Urtekram, Weleda, Yes to, Dr. Organic and Sodasan. Many of these products have the vegan sunflower label.
Although more and more vegan specialty products are available in supermarkets and health food stores, you may want to order some groceries online, especially if you are in a rural area away from any big cities.
Do you like to make your own seitan? De Zuidmolen and De Hoop Klarenbeek miller’s webshops are good sources of vital wheat gluten (‘tarwegluten’ in Dutch). While you’re at it order some bulk baking supplies, nuts and dried fruit too.
Vega-Life stocks vegan shoes, bags, toys, candy, nutritional supplements, toiletries, dog and cat food. They also have a small IRL shop in the center of Amsterdam.
Saving money on groceries
Tokos (ethnic grocery stores)
If you are on a budget, the ethnic grocery store (‘toko’ in Dutch) is your friend. There are different types of tokos, Turkish, Eastern European, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and combinations of these and they all stock different products. Generally though, they’ll have fruit, veg, legumes, nuts, seeds, spices and sauces from their respective regional cuisines in more variety and for lower prices than the supermarkets. The Asian shops often stock cheap tvp, tofu, tempeh and seitan (mock duck).
The Netherlands do not have true ‘farmer’s markets’ where farmers offer their own produce, but most towns have open air produce markets where you can find a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and nuts, often at much lower prices than in regular stores. The open air markets are usually held in specific streets or squares once or twice a week, but some are there every day. Google ‘markt + placename’ to find markets near you. Beware that they usually also have cheese, meat and fish stalls, so not all parts of the market are equally pleasing to a vegan’s eyes or nose!
On the road
Finding vegan food ‘on the road’ can be a bit of a hassle, especially in rural areas. Honestly, your best bet is to bring your own. I usually carry some snacks like dried fruit, nuts or a granola bar. If I’m going to be away for longer I’ll also pack some sandwiches.
If you do find yourself stranded without food, a supermarket is your best bet. Depending on my mood, I might get some bananas or grapes, trail mix, aforementioned ‘ontbijtkoek’, cookies, crackers or crisps. If you are crazy like me you might want to carry a spork in your purse and eat soy yogurt and avocado in the park.
At train stations
Train stations are relatively good places to find vegan food. Depending on the size of the station, you may have several options to choose from. Some stations have a shawarma take-away that can make you a nice falafel stuffed pita with salad (hold the feta and garlic sauce) or a small AH To Go supermarket where they may sell quinoa meal salads, hummus-falafel wraps or at the very least some fruit and crackers.
In a couple stations there are Julia pasta take aways, where the whole wheat (volkoren) penne with tomato sauce is vegan if you order it without cheese (not sure anymore if the pasta is vegan, need to check). If all else fails, get yourself some French fries with ketchup or curry sauce at a Smullers snackbar. Dutch snackbars almost always fry in vegetable oil, making fries a ‘safe’ food for vegans.
Amsterdam Central Station even has a small health food store in the middle tunnel. Here you can find vegan candies and cookies (Billy’s Farm e.a.), toiletries (Lavera) and a small selection of staples like nutritional yeast, protein powder, dried fruit, superfoods, grains and legumes. On the left side of the store there is a shelf with sweet and savory pastries. The coconut-macaroon (kokosmakroon), wakame rolls and samosas are vegan. Beware that the seitan and tempeh rolls contain butter (roomboter).
On the highway
At most gas stations you’ll find at least some fruit and potato chips (the naturel variety is usually vegan). If you’re lucky they may have hummus peppadew wraps by Qizini or Sandays. In the north part of the country there are a few vegan friendly highway restaurants by the Hajé chain. Here you’ll find several vegan options, including the delicious Dutch weedburger.
Dutch sandwich places are often not very vegan friendly. Hummus and other plant-based toppings are still a bit of a rarity. If your luck is bad, you can get stuck with a sad veggie sandwich that holds only a few leaves of lettuce and a slice of tomato (hold the butter!). The Bagels&Beans chain that can be found in many cities and towns is a happy exception. Get yourself a wonderful soy latte and a hummus bagel or vegan burger.
The menu in traditional Dutch restaurants usually consists of large pieces of meat or fish served with some vegetables and potatoes. The vegetarian option is often cheese- or egg-based. As a vegan, you’ll get stuck with some side dishes and a green salad. Many restaurants are willing or even excited to accommodate vegans if you let them know a couple of days in advance, but if you just show up and ask for a vegan meal, you may get disappointed.
For spontaneous eating out, if there is no vegan or vegetarian restaurant available in the vicinity (check HappyCow or the Dutch VegaMap), I like to pick an Italian restaurant and ask for a vegetable pizza without cheese. This is one of the easiest ways to get a vegan meal, since crust is usually vegan and there is not much else to worry about. If they have a traditional stone oven, cheeseless pizzas often turn out quite delicious. I ask them to put on some extra fresh basil or arugula (rucola in Dutch) and won’t feel that anything is ‘missing’.
Indian food is another favorite, but check that your dish does not contain dairy. Ask specifically about paneer/cheese, ghee/butter and cream. The same goes for Ethiopian cuisine. Many of their delicious lentil and veggie stews are vegan, but make sure they are not cooked in butter and do not contain cheese.
Chinese, Indonesian, Suriname and Thai restaurants are also good places to find vegan food. They hardly use any dairy, so the vegetarian dishes are often vegan as long as they don’t contain eggs. Also beware that these restaurants often have a shady definition of ‘vegetarian’, so check that no meat broth, shrimp paste (trassi) or fish sauce is used in your dish.
Meeting other vegans
Being vegan in the Netherlands can be a lonely business, but it doesn’t have to be! In every major city there are vegan potlucks and other events where you can meet fellow vegans. Dutch vegans are mostly organised on Facebook, so that’s a good place to start. This particular Facebook group was created specifically to help non-Dutch vegans find their way. Also check the buddy map to see if you have vegan neighbors who want to meet you!