It's easy to avoid meat, eggs and dairy on a vegan diet, but some non-vegan ingredients are less obvious and can catch you by surprise. Hidden in food labels with confusing names, it's not always easy to tell whether ingredients are vegan or not. This handy guide will show you all the ingredients to watch out for on a vegan diet.
We all know the obvious foods to avoid on a vegan diet, such as dairy and meat products. However, there are many other products that can often, surprisingly, contain non-vegan ingredients too.
Foods can often contain non-vegan ingredients that are not obviously labelled as being derived from animals and it’s easy to get caught out.
But remember, don’t beat yourself if you accidentally consume products with non-vegan ingredients. They can be hard to spot unless you know their names.
If you’re new to veganism, take a look at this list of non-vegan ingredients to be cautious of.
Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
So with this in mind, it goes without saying that vegans obviously will not consume foods of animal origin, such as:
Beef, lamb, pork, veal, horse, organ meat, wild meat, etc.
Chicken, turkey, goose, duck, quail, etc.
3. Fish and seafood
All types of fish including anchovies, shrimp, squid, scallops, calamari, mussels, crab, lobster, and fish sauce.
Milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, etc.
From chickens, quails, ostriches, and fish.
6. Bee products
Although plant-based dieters consider honey to be a grey area, honey isn’t vegan.
That means that vegans will avoid products containing honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, and beeswax.
Beeswax is often added to sweets and candy to give them a shiny coating.
Ingredients or additives derived from animals
Many foods contain animal-derived ingredients or additives that most people don’t know about. For this reason, vegans also avoid consuming foods containing:
7. E Numbers
All food additives in Europe must be marked on the ingredients list and are given an E number, which can make navigating labels a little more difficult. Many of these E numbers are fine for vegans, however there are a few to look out for that are not cruelty-free:
- E120 Carmine, also known as cochineal, carminic acid or natural red 4. Crushed up beetles used as red food colouring
- E441 Gelatine. A gelling agent made from ground up animal bone and skin, often found in confectionery
- E542 Bone phosphate. Ground up animal bones used to keep foods moist
- E901 Beeswax. As the name suggests, this is wax that’s made by bees and is used as a glazing agent
- E904 Shellac. Glazing agent, made from the secretions of an insect called the lac bug
- E910, E920, E921 L-cysteine and its derivatives. Made from animal hair and feathers, these additives are found in some breads as a proving agent
- E913 Lanolin. A greasy substance secreted by sheep and other woolly animals. Mostly used in cosmetics, but also used to make vitamin D3, rendering many multi-vitamins and fortified foods unsuitable for vegans
- E966 Lactitol. A sweetener derived from lactose, which is made from milk
8. Cochineal or carmine
Ground cochineal scale insects are used to make carmine, a natural dye used to give a red colour to many food products.
When purchasing red coloured foods, look to see whether they have been dyed with Red dye number 40. This is a vegan-friendly red dye that contains no bugs.
This thickening agent comes from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of cows and pigs.
This gelatine-like substance is derived from fish bladders. It’s often used in the making of beer or wine.
11. Natural flavourings
Some of these ingredients are animal-based. One example is castoreum, a food flavouring that comes from the secretions of beavers’ anal scent glands.
12. Omega-3 fatty acids
Many products that are enriched with omega-3s are not vegan since most omega-3s come from fish. Omega-3s derived from algae are vegan alternatives.
This is a substance secreted by the female lac insect. It’s sometimes used to make a food glaze for sweets or a wax coating for fresh produce like citrus fruits.
Some fresh produce like oranges, lemons and limes are coated in beeswax or shellac to help keep them fresher for longer. If you’re at a supermarket the clearest and easiest way of ensuring the fruits you buy are vegan is to opt for one clearly marked as unwaxed or organic.
14. Vitamin D3
Most vitamin D3 is derived from fish oil or the lanolin found in sheep’s wool and is often used to fortify foods like cereals.
Vitamin D2 and D3 from lichen are vegan alternatives.
Some fortified foods such as cereals contain vitamin D3 derived from animals.
15. Dairy ingredients
Whey, casein and lactose are all derived from dairy.
These non-vegan ingredients and additives can be found in a wide variety of different processed foods. It is very important that you check ingredients lists carefully.
Collagen is made from the skin, bones and connective tissues of animals such as cows, chickens, pigs and fish.
Elastin is found in the neck ligaments and aorta of bovine and is similar to collagen.
Keratin is derived from the skin, bones and connective tissues of animals such as cows, chickens, pigs and fish.
Keratin helps to support wound healing and to promote healthy hair and nail growth.
But vegans don’t need to eat keratin from animals because there are plenty of plants foods that boost keratin production.
Try adding sweet potato, garlic, mangoes, kale, and sunflower seeds to your diet to naturally support your body’s synthesis of keratin.
Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious and great for promoting keratin production.
Aspic is the industry alternative to gelatine and is made from clarified meat, fish or vegetable stocks and gelatine.
Aspic is most often used to coat and glaze foods such as cold meats or roasted poultry so is thankfully relatively easy to avoid on a vegan diet.
Lard and tallow is animal fat and is not suitable for vegans. In fact, when the UK government announced that the new banknotes would contain tallow as an ingredient, many vegans pledged to boycott them.
Lard is typically found in baked goods, pre-made foods and even items like canned soups.
Albumen is made from egg.
Foods that often (but don’t always) contain animal ingredients
Some foods you might expect to be 100% vegan sometimes contain one or more animal-derived ingredients.
For this reason, vegans must be cautious and check the labelling carefully when deciding whether to consume or avoid the following foods:
22. Bread products
Some bakery products, such as bagels and breads, contain L-cysteine. This amino acid is used as a softening agent and often comes from poultry feathers.
23. Beer and wine
Some manufacturers use egg white albumen, gelatine or casein in the beer brewing or winemaking process. Others sometimes use isinglass, a substance collected from fish bladders, to clarify their final product.
These days, there are plenty of options when it comes to vegan alcohol. But be sure to check sites like Barnivore to make sure they're vegan.
24. Sweets and candy
Many varieties of jelly, marshmallows, gummy bears and chewing gum contain gelatine. Others are coated in shellac or contain a red dye called carmine, which is made from cochineal insects.
25. French fries
Some varieties are fried in animal fat.
Although fries are often the only vegan option on the menu, some restaurants such as McDonald's in the US fry them in animal fat, so be sure to check before eating.
26. Deep-fried foods
The batter used to make deep-fried foods like onion rings or vegetable tempura sometimes contains eggs.
Many varieties of store-bought pesto contain Parmesan cheese.
Try making your own pesto at home using fresh ingredients.
Some types of pasta, especially fresh pasta, contain eggs.
Some crisps are flavoured with powdered cheese or contain other dairy ingredients such as casein, whey or animal-derived enzymes.
30. Refined sugar
Whilst most brands sold in the UK are bone-char free, manufacturers sometimes lighten sugar with bone char (often referred to as natural carbon), which is made from the bones of cattle.
31. Roasted peanuts
Gelatine is sometimes used when manufacturing roasted peanuts in order to help salt and spices stick to the peanuts better.
32. Some dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is usually vegan. However, some varieties contain animal-derived products such as whey, milk fat, milk solids, clarified butter or nonfat milk powder.
33. Fresh produce with wax coatings
One thing that often surprises people to learn is that some fresh fruits and veggies are coated with wax.
The wax can be petroleum- or palm-based, but may also be made using beeswax or shellac. These waxes are used to slow down moisture loss and prolong shelf life.
Citrus fruits are often coated in wax to preserve the fruit while in transit. Typically, lemons are coated in shellac which is derived from resin secreted by the female lac bug found in India and Thailand.
If you’re not sure whether the coating is suitable for vegans, try to opt for unwaxed versions instead.
34. Worcestershire sauce
Many varieties contain anchovies, however these days brands such as Biona offer vegan Worcestershire sauce alternatives. If you can’t get your hands on these products then soy sauce and ketchup is a good substitute.
Don’t know where to start on your vegan journey?
Here are 13 vegan substitutes that will make going vegan simple.