A nicely displayed meal on the first class tray table of an emirates aircraft

Emirates is the latest airline to focus on vegan cuisine

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For many airline catering designers, COVID-19 required an urgent about-turn to how inflight meals were conceived, produced, structured, and delivered. Some even went full vegetarian on their economy meals for cost and simplicity.

But at this point in time, honoring the growing trend towards vegan, vegetarian, meat-free and plant-based food is increasingly important when it comes to catering to passengers. And airlines are modifying their menus to make these foods mainstream rather than relegated to a four-letter-coded special meal.

The latest airline is powerhouse Emirates, which is releasing a new vegan menu called Purposefully Vegan Choices alongside a set of other inflight catering and service moves,  including, for non-vegans in first class, a new unlimited caviar option. It’s notable that the move towards offering vegan meals is promoted quite so highly in the announcement, with two of the six images showcasing the plant-based options, and both in first class.

“Explore new flavours with our selection of inventive vegan dishes, whether it’s a full three-course meal or a movie snack,” Emirates says enticingly in its marketing material, highlighting a vegan mapo tofu (a popular spicy beancurd dish from China’s Sichuan province, traditionally made with ground meat for flavour) and a zucchini tart.

The zucchini tart, which looks to be shown in the airline’s new glossy first class snaps, is somewhat amusingly presented alongside premium branded French butter from Isigny Sainte-Mère, which will be either an oversight or an acknowledgement that choosing plant-based food isn’t just for strict vegans any more.

A nicely displayed meal on the first class tray table of an emirates aircraft

Butter — even the really good French stuff — is, of course, not vegan. Image: Emirates

Indeed, “Emirates’ new vegan menu is carefully curated to cater to the growing numbers of customers pursuing this thoughtful lifestyle,” the airline says. “Vegans, or anyone interested in a delicious and healthy plant-based meal, will enjoy handcrafted gourmet dishes such as pan-roasted king oyster mushrooms, flavoursome jackfruit biryani and sliced kohlrabi garnished with burnt orange.”

This all sounds, frankly, delicious — and it’s a series of smart meat-free choices when it comes to catering. Making it part of familiar dishes like a biryani will also help people whose familiarity with vegan protein sources like jackfruit is lower, to make meat-free choices. 

“Desserts” — a relatively more simple course when it comes to removing animal products — “are a decadent affair with choices of chocolate truffle cake with hazelnut, pistachio and gold leaf, or green grape tart adorned with candied rose petals, vanilla custard, and berry compote glistening with yuzu pearls,” Emirates notes.


The year-round vegan focus is a step change for Emirates, which has been impressive in how it designs attractive, enticing plant-based food. In previous years, and indeed in 2022, the airline has been adding extra plant-based options to menus during the Veganuary movement — promoting veganism and eating more plant-based food — during the month of January.

With some of the market for vegan, vegetarian and plant-based inflight catering being driven by an enthusiasm for sustainability, it’s timely that Emirates is also highlighting its newly opened hydroponic produce facility joint venture, Bustanica. With investment from Emirates Flight Catering, this new vertical farm reduces water use and creates reliable premium supply year-round for the airline’s use.

Onboard the aircraft, “vegan dishes are available to pre-order in all cabin classes,” Emirates notes, but suggests that passengers also “look out for the vegan icon on our menus” to recognise the meat- and animal product-free meals.

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Featured image credited to Emirates