This guide to surprisingly non-vegan foods will help make it easier to navigate your way through the maze of vegan and non-vegan foods and make your choice based on information rather than speculation.
But remember, as well as not buying leather or non-vegan cosmetics etc, giving up eating meat, dairy, fish and seafood is the single most important step to living a vegan lifestyle.
One of the most commonly asked vegan FAQ is how to go vegan when there are so many complicated ingredients to avoid.
But in my opinion, by far the most impact we can have is by starting with the big things. Sending a message to the food industry that we don’t want to support the suffering any more.
Make delicious healthy meals like vegan buddha bowls, curries, salads and other simple whole food meals.
While the ingredients on this page are completely anti-vegan philosophy, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been eating /drinking these things. Start with the big things and move on to the small in your own time.
For an active vegan, the learning curve never ends, it just flattens out somewhat. So instead of worrying about how to be 100% vegan, just take the steps you can right now.
There are layers upon layers upon layers of foods or ingredients which go against the vegan philosophy and it takes a lifetime to actually get to know all of them.
Just when you think you understand all the red flags in your food for example, you discover some cosmetic or household product which you hadn’t known about before.
So the purpose of this post is to share with you those food and drink items which you may not suspect are not vegan, when you’re on your vegan journey.
Table of Contents
Don’t Get Scared Off – Go at Your Own Pace
Just because there’s an ingredient on this list, you don’t have to immediately stop eating it.
The purpose of this list is so that you can be aware of them and make your own choices.
Being vegan is a lifestyle choice. It’s about choosing to reduce the amount of harm you cause in the world as much as you can.
That’s all anybody can ask for.
We try to be a bit better than we were yesterday.
It takes time.
So don’t knock yourself . . .
You’re a great person doing your bit to help create a more compassionate world.
Remember that, and let your vegan journey shine in the way it shines best.
Be you and do you.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the list.
Hidden Ingredients that are Surprisingly Non-Vegan
- E120 Carmine, cochineal, carminic acid or natural red 4 – red dye/food colouring made from crushed cochineal beetles.
- E441 Gelatine – derived from boiling bones, skin and connective tissue taken from carcasses of cows and pigs.
- E542 bone phosphate – anti caking agent, emulsifier and source of phosphorus made from ground up bones.
- E901 beeswax
- E904 shellac or confectioners glaze – used as a preservative and to give foods an attractive shine, shellac is made up of a substance produced by the female lac bug and the lac bugs’ crushed bodies.
- E910, E920, E921 L-cysteine – prolongs shelf life and is derived from feathers, hair, bristle and hooves. According a post in the The Guardian, the most common form of L-cysteine commonly found in commercial breads comes from human hair that’s collected from barber shops and imported from China.
- E913 Lanolin – secreted by sheep and used in the non-vegan form of vitamin D3
- E966 Lactitol – sweetener made from lactose
- Sugar – sugar can be produced using bone char. See Is it true that sugar is processed with bone char?
- Monoglycerides, Diglycerides, Triglycerides – emulsifiers which contain some trans-fats and are used in many types of processed food products. They can be vegan sourced or non-vegan, sourced from animal fat, for example from pork or beef.
- Lecithin – food additive that’s commonly sourced from soy but can also be non-vegan, from animals, eggs or fish.
- Chitosan – a food preservative used as a protective natural film due to its antimicrobial properties. Chitosan comes from the shell of shellfish such as crab, lobster and shrimp and is also used as a supplement in the weight loss industry.
- Palm oil – not considered vegan because of the farming methods and mass deforestation leading to devastation of the natural habitat of many species.
- Castoreum – this yellow secretion comes from the castor glands on the backside of beavers and is used along with urine to mark their territory, that is unless the humans have sequestered it, in which case you can find it in your vanilla flavoured foods, like ice-cream, cakes etc.
Foods & Drink that Can be Non-Vegan
The ingredients mentioned here are not exclusive, i.e. there could be even more non-vegan ingredients other than those I’ve listed.
The moral is to always read labels and to try to source foods which have only whole foods as ingredients, that way you won’t have to read a long list of ingredients anyway.
Foods which are Surprisingly Non-Vegan
The list format: name of the food – ingredients (which the food may contain).
- Bread – milk, eggs, honey, royal jelly, gelatine, butter, buttermilk, whey, casein, mono- and di-glycerides and lecithin.
- Flour tortillas – milk, whey, mono- and diglycerides, glycerine, a-Amylases.
- Nan bread – ghee (clarified butter traditionally used in Indian cooking), yogurt, milk, eggs.
- Biscuits – milk, butter, egg, lecithin, buttermilk, sugar if non-vegan.
- Cakes – eggs, butter, milk, lecithin, sugar if non-vegan, confectioners glaze.
- Hundreds and thousands (sprinkles) – whey, beeswax, shellac/confectioner’s glaze.
- Vanilla flavouring – castoreum.
- Jelly – gelatine E441, cochineal E120.
- Breakfast cereals – honey, non-vegan vitamins, lanolin.
- Kellogg’s cereals in the UK (but not in Australia) are non-vegan because they are fortified with non vegan vitamin D – Corn Flakes, Coco Pops, Rice Krispies, Frosties, Fruit ‘n Fibre, Crunchy Nut, All bran, Special K – according to this list.
- Flavoured crisps – meat extract, whey, lactose, buttermilk, milk, palm oil.
- Sweets/candy and chewy gums – gelatine E441, cochineal (aka carmine, carminic acid, natural red or E120), non-vegan sugar.
- Marshmallows – gelatine E441, Carmine E120, non-vegan sugar.
- Some dark chocolate – milk, non-vegan sugar.
- Nutella – milk powder.
- honey – see why isn’t honey vegan?
- Margarine – animal fats, palm oil, whey, lecithin, lactose, buttermilk, non-vegan vitamin D.
- Flavoured peanuts – honey and/or gelatine.
- Peanut butter – palm oil, honey, trans fats, fish oil.
- Soups – chicken or beef stock cubes, milk, cream.
- Chips – cooked in non-vegan fat or contaminated with meat via sharing the same fryer.
- Fresh or dried egg pasta – egg.
- Egg noodles – egg.
- Refried beans – lard.
- Thai curries – shrimp paste.
- Indian curries – ghee, milk, yoghurt, paneer.
- Miso soup – fish stock from tuna, sardines or other fish.
- Non-dairy creamer – whey, lactose or casein.
- Soy based yogurts or creams – casein.
- Fruits and vegetables – can be coated in shellac, a substance produced by the lac bug.
- Bananas – sprayed with chitosan as a preservative.
Sauces Which Can Be (or Are) Non-Vegan
- Worcester sauce – contains anchovies.
- Pesto sauce – cheese.
- Curry sauce – dairy or fish.
- Thai curry sauces – fish, shrimp paste.
- Salad dressings – egg, milk, mayonnaise.
- Alioli – made from mayonnaise.
- Gravy – juices from the meat, meat stock cube.
- BBQ sauce – check the ingredients for animal products.
- Fish sauce
- Honey mustard dressing
- Horseradish sauce – according to Peta, it can contain dairy.
- Oyster sauce
- Ranch dressing – eggs and dairy.
- Sour cream
- Tartar sauce – dairy.
- Tzatziki – yogurt.
- Raita – yogurt.
Drinks That Might Be Non-Vegan
- Wine – blood & bone marrow, casein from milk, chitin from crustacean shells, egg albumen, fish oil, gelatine, or isinglass from fish bladder.
- Beer – gelatine, isinglass, honey.
- Cider – gelatine, isinglass, honey.
- Other alcoholic drinks – milk, honey, eggs, fish bladder.
- Schweppes tonic water – honey.
- Apple juice – fish bladder.
- Grapefruit juice – fish bladder.
- Orange juice – non-vegan vitamin D3.
- Fruit juices in general – fish when fortified with omega 3, non-vegan vitamin D, Cochineal E120.
- Soft drinks – fish gelatine as a stabiliser for the beta-carotene colour, non-vegan vitamin D.
- Diet Pepsi – shockingly at the time of writing Pepsi doesn’t reveal what the non-vegan ingredient in Diet Pepsi is, though it states that it is not suitable for vegans.
- Lilt and Lilt zero – fish gelatine as a stabiliser for the beta-carotene colour (see source).
- Kia Ora orange squash no added sugar – fish gelatine as a stabiliser for the beta-carotene colour.
- Schweppes Orange Squash – fish gelatine as a stabiliser for the beta-carotene colour.
Foods Rumoured to be Non-Vegan and Why
- Avocado (+ almonds, kiwi, and butternut squash) – according to the bbc they need bees for the pollination and the query revolves around how the fruit and vegetables are produced. some farmers ship bees across the country in lorries to pollinate the trees.
- Figs – figs are pollinated by a wasp which gets trapped inside the fruit and absorbed by it. However this is a completely natural process which takes place and figs can therefore be called vegan. Unless you don’t like the idea of a wasp in your fruit!
Other Non-Vegan Items We Consume
Just because something is on this list doesn’t mean you have to eliminate it from your life. It means you should be aware of it. Remember, when we change our intentions as a whole species, the method of making things will also change. Focus on what we can change, focus on the big picture. There will be some things which are beyond our reach. Just do your best.
- Vitamin or medicine capsules – gelatine capsules (apart from the ingredients inside the capsule).
- All medicine – has to be tested on animals before going to human testing phase.
Random Non-Vegan, Non-Food Things
- Tattoo ink – often contains gelatine. Black tattoo ink can also contain bone char. According to this article in SavedTattoo the ink can also contain beeswax, shellac (from the lac bug), cod liver oil and animal fat glycerin.
- Disposable razors with a lubricating strip – the lubrication strip can be made from animal fat glycerin.
- Tattoo transfer paper – often contains lanolin.
I hope you find this guide to surprisingly non-vegan foods useful. Do you know of any other surprising foods that aren’t vegan? If so, drop them into the comments below and I’ll add them to the list.