Does Panda orange chicken have dairy?

Panda Express is a popular American Chinese fast food restaurant chain that serves a variety of Chinese-American dishes like orange chicken, chow mein, fried rice, and more. Their orange chicken is one of their most iconic and beloved menu items. But a common question that many people have is – does Panda orange chicken contain dairy?

Quick Answer

The quick answer is that yes, Panda’s original orange chicken does contain some dairy ingredients. Specifically, their orange chicken contains small amounts of natural butter flavor and whey protein concentrate. So those with dairy allergies or avoiding dairy for other reasons should be aware that Panda’s standard orange chicken is not dairy-free.

Ingredients in Panda’s Orange Chicken

To fully understand if Panda orange chicken contains dairy, we need to look at the ingredient list that Panda provides:

Chicken Breast with Rib Meat, Water, Seasoning [Sugar, Maltodextrin, Salt, Modified Corn Starch, Orange Peel, Natural Butter Flavor, Chicken Fat, Dextrose, Spices, Paprika, Yeast Extract, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Natural Flavors (Plant Source), Chicken Broth, Whey Protein Concentrate, Lactic Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Disodium Inosinate & Disodium Guanylate], Corn Starch, Batter [Water, Corn Starch, Modified Corn Starch, Rice Flour, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Salt, Dextrose, Egg White Powder, Spice], Cooking Oil (Canola Oil, Palm Oil), Orange Sauce [Sugar, White Distilled Vinegar, Water, Orange Peel, Modified Corn Starch, Ginger, Garlic, Sesame Oil, Salt, Natural Flavors (Plant Source), Paprika, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Xanthan Gum].

So looking closely at the ingredients list, we can see two dairy-derived ingredients:

– Natural butter flavor – contains dairy derivatives from butter
– Whey protein concentrate – derived from milk

So while the amounts of each dairy ingredient are likely small, they confirm that Panda’s standard orange chicken recipe does contain some dairy components.

Why Panda’s Orange Chicken Contains Dairy

Panda uses those small amounts of dairy ingredients like natural butter flavor and whey protein concentrate for specific purposes:

– Butter flavor – adds a rich, buttery taste that enhances the orange chicken’s flavor profile. Butter flavors are very commonly used in Chinese restaurant dishes.

– Whey protein – helps bind the batter and breading to the chicken to improve texture and moisture. Whey protein isolate is commonly used as a binder and moisture enhancer in battered fried foods.

So while the dairy ingredients aren’t absolutely vital, Panda uses them intentionally in small quantities to provide a better flavor and texture in their popular orange chicken dish. Removing them would alter the taste, crispiness, and mouthfeel that customers expect.

Alternatives for Customers Avoiding Dairy

For customers avoiding dairy due to allergies, diet preferences, or lifestyle choices like veganism, Panda does offer some alternative options:

– Order the orange chicken with tofu instead of chicken – this replaces the dairy-containing chicken batter with non-dairy tofu

– Request the steamed orange chicken – this avoids the fried batter coating entirely

– Choose another non-dairy protein like shrimp or beef

– Order one of Panda’s dairy-free entrée options instead, like the vegetable spring roll, chow mein, or mixed vegetables

– Request the sauce on the side – the orange sauce itself appears to be dairy-free.

So with some modifications, Panda’s menu can accommodate those seeking to avoid dairy. Their staff should be familiar with making such substitutions. But the standard pre-made orange chicken entrée does contain small amounts of natural butter flavor and whey.

Amount of Dairy in Panda’s Orange Chicken

Given that the orange chicken contains minor dairy-derived ingredients, how much actual dairy is present?

Looking at the position of natural butter flavor and whey protein concentrate on the ingredients list, the amounts appear quite small. Dairy content is likely substantially less than 1 gram per serving. Many estimate around 0.5 grams of dairy ingredients per full entrée order.

For comparison, 1 cup of milk contains about 8 grams of protein. So the whey protein in Panda’s orange chicken supplies only trace amounts compared to a glass of cow’s milk.

This means that those with minor dairy sensitivities can potentially consume Panda’s orange chicken without issue. But for those with severe dairy allergies or avoiding dairy entirely, the small risk may not be worth it.

Can Customers with Dairy Allergies Eat It Safely?

Those with severe dairy allergies need to exercise caution with Panda’s standard orange chicken. Allergies can range greatly in severity. While the dairy content is relatively low, it is still present. Those who are highly sensitive could still potentially react.

To make their own assessment, dairy-allergic individuals can:

– Ask Panda staff detailed questions about preparation and risk of cross-contamination.

– Review allergen information that should be available at their location.

– Start with a small portion and wait to observe for any reaction.

Again, creating a modified version using tofu, shrimp, or no batter coating are likely the safest options for those with dairy allergies who still want to enjoy the orange sauce flavor.

Is Panda’s Orange Chicken Suitable for Dairy-Free or Vegan Diets?

For those adhering to a 100% dairy-free or vegan diet for health, ethical or other reasons, Panda’s standard orange chicken is not the best choice:

– It does contain small amounts of whey protein concentrate and natural butter flavor.

– The chicken and egg-based batter are non-vegan.

So with the dairy ingredients and animal products, Panda’s regular orange chicken is not dairy-free or vegan. Customers on those diets would need to make substitutions or select a different menu item.

But Panda does report that the orange sauce itself is dairy-free. So getting it with mixed veggies or tofu, or as a side, would provide a tasty plant-based option. Their vegetable spring roll is another good dairy and meat-free choice.

Does Panda Offer Any Dairy-Free Orange Chicken?

Panda unfortunately does not offer any specific dairy-free or vegan version of their orange chicken on their regular menu. Even just the sauce contains natural butter flavor.

However, some individual locations may be willing to prepare a modified version if requested. This could potentially be made dairy-free by:

– Using garlic oil instead of natural butter flavor

– Subbing potato starch for the whey protein concentrate

– Frying in dedicated dairy-free oil

So it may be possible to request dairy-free orange chicken specially prepared by the chef. But it would likely need to be made fresh and not just ordered off the regular menu.

Panda does list dairy-free options online, but orange chicken is not included. So for a truly dairy-free orange chicken entrée, some customization is required.

Nutrition Info for Panda Orange Chicken

Here is the nutrition information for Panda’s regular orange chicken, provided per entrée serving:

Calories 760
Fat 32 g
Carbs 82 g
Protein 26 g
Sodium 1280 mg
Sugar 12 g

As a fried, sauced dish, the orange chicken is high in calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrates. About 340 calories come from fat. But it does deliver a good amount of protein as well.

Those watching calories, fat and sodium may want to enjoy this treat in moderation or look for lower-calorie preparations. But overall, orange chicken can be part of a balanced diet for most in reasonable portions.

Cost of Panda Orange Chicken

Panda’s orange chicken is one of their most budget-friendly combo options. Here are the current prices:

– 2-item small combo with orange chicken: $6.75
– 2-item regular combo with orange chicken: $8.15
– Large entrée-size orange chicken by itself: $5.99

Extra sides like chow mein or fried rice cost $2 to add. Prices may be a bit higher in some metro areas.

Compared to other chains, these costs are quite reasonable. Making homemade orange chicken costs just a fraction of restaurant prices but requires more effort.

For those looking for the crave-worthy orange chicken taste on a budget, Panda provides a nicely affordable option.

How to Order Dairy-Free at Panda Express

Here are some tips for customers wishing to order dairy-free when dining at Panda Express:

– Review the regular menu options online and identify dairy-free dishes. Steamed entrees are often safest.

– Inform staff when ordering of your dairy restriction and ask for guidance. They may have ideas or preparations.

– For dishes like orange chicken, request modifications like using tofu, no batter, or sauce on the side.

– Ask to confirm that cooking oils and prep surfaces are dairy-free. Cross-contamination is a risk.

– Check labels and allergen info for the latest details on ingredients and preparation.

– Be aware that worker knowledge and kitchen protocols vary by location. Some are better than others at accommodations.

– Thank staff for their efforts and provide feedback on how they can better serve dairy-free patrons.

With some planning and adjustments, those avoiding dairy can find tasty options at Panda. But as a standard, their orange chicken does contain small amounts of dairy ingredients.


In summary, Panda Express’ signature orange chicken does contain trace amounts of dairy in the form of natural butter flavor and whey protein concentrate, according to the ingredients label. These are added for flavor and texture.

For those with severe dairy allergies, the orange chicken is likely unsafe due to potential cross-contamination even if modified. Dairy-free eaters may need to avoid it or choose another menu item.

But the dairy content is low enough that those with minor sensitivities can potentially consume it, especially if ordering in a dairy-free combo. With some accommodations from staff, Panda can be a reasonably dairy-free-friendly option for fast Chinese food.

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