It’s a lard-filled, bug-juice-coated jungle out there. Potato chips, peanuts, birthday cake, beer and more can be packed with unexpected animal products like fish gelatin, beef fat, bird feathers and insect innards. Just because a product sounds like it should be vegetarian or vegan doesn’t mean it’s safe! These 12 examples of surprisingly non-vegetarian foods will prompt you to become a professional label-reader or possibly ditch processed foods altogether.
Beer and Wine – Fish Bladder
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Mmm, this pinot noir has notes of chocolate, black cherries, oak and… fish. Isinglass, a membrane taken from the bladders of tropical fish, is used to filter cloudy yeast extracts out of many brands of beer and wine, particularly those made in Britain, so it’s not safe to assume that all yeasty beverages are vegan-friendly. Check the lists at Barnivore to find brands with vegan options.
Cake Mix and Hostess Products – Beef Fat
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If you’re vegetarian and not vegan, you might not think twice about eating a slice of homemade cake. What, after all, could possibly be in it that’s not vegetarian-friendly? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is one of the grossest animal products ever: beef fat. It’s a common ingredient in many boxed cake mixes (sometimes listed as lard). Beware all Hostess products, too, no matter how tempting those Twinkies might be: they all contain beef fat.
White Sugar – Animal Bones
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Most of the time, all that’s listed under ‘Ingredients’ on a bag of sugar is ‘sugar’. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have traces of animal products in it. Sugar isn’t naturally white, and in order to reach that color, manufacturers process it using bone char. Even brown sugar and confectioner’s sugar is made this way. To avoid sugar that has been filtered with bone char (sometimes referred to as ‘natural carbon’), look for unrefined sugar or buy from brands that don’t use bone-char filters.
Red Candies – Beetles
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Who can take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun and make a strawberry lemon pie? The candyman can, but watch out, because that dude puts crushed beetles in things, too. Red candies – and, as a matter of fact, practically anything that’s colored red – often contain red pigments extracted from the female Dactylopius coccus costa, or cochineal insect. Red bug dye is typically listed as cochineal, carminic acid or carmine in the ingredients, and it’s more pervasive than you might think, found in things like wine, vinegar, juice and colored pasta. Many candies are also coated with shellac, a resin excreted by the lac bug, which is usually listed as ‘confectioner’s glaze’.
Orange Juice – Fish Oil and Lanolin
Who knew that fish lurk in some brands of orange juice? If you want to avoid animal products altogether, skip any juices enhanced with Omega-3’s; some brands like Tropicana’s Heart Healthy Orange Juice get those amino acids from fish oil and gelatin. Also, the vitamin D in some enhanced juices is derived from lanolin, a natural oil in the fiber of sheep’s wool. Coca-Cola juices contain lanolin-derived vitamin D, while Tropicana juices are fortified with synthetic ingredients and Pepsi-Co juices contain no animal products or by-products at all. Typically, vitamin D3 is animal-derived.
Refried Beans – Lard
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You find yourself at a Mexican restaurant with a group of non-vegans – well, at least the refried bean tacos are safe, right? Maybe not. While many restaurants choose not to use lard (including, surprisingly enough, Taco Bell, though there’s beef gelatin in their sour cream), many still do include this traditional ingredient in what seems like it should be a vegan food. Always ask before ordering!
Enhanced Breads – Fish Oil
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Just as in orange juice, any Omega-3 enhanced bread products likely get those amino acids from fish oil. It’s yet another ingredient to look for when buying packaged bread, which typically contains such non-vegan ingredients as eggs, milk, whey, butter and honey.
Bagels – Bird Feathers
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You don’t want bird flesh in your bagel, so why would feathers be acceptable? The enzyme L. Cysteine is used as a dough conditioner in bagels and many other processed bread products, and is usually sourced from duck and chicken feathers. Einstein Bros. and Dunkin Donuts have both confirmed the use of poultry feather-based L. Cysteine in all of their bagels and many of their other products, and it can also be found in the garlic bread at Pizza Hut and the honey wheat roll, deluxe warm cinnamon roll and baked apple pie at McDonalds.
Margarine – Whey and Gelatin
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Before you toss that tub of ‘I’m So Glad It’s Not Butter’ into your shopping cart, check the label. Though it’s made with vegetable oils rather than dairy products, it’s not necessarily vegan. Margarine often contains whey, gelatin and a milk protein called casein, and some brands even contain suet, a type of animal fat. Earth Balance is one reliably vegan brand.
Packaged Peanuts – Gelatin
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Somebody puts out a bowl of peanuts at a party and you’re all over it – this vegan protein can really satisfy a salty craving. But next time, you might want to sneak into the kitchen and surreptitiously check the package (or, you know, just ask the host like a normal person). Some brands of packaged peanuts include gelatin. Planter’s Dry Roasted Peanuts are a notable example.
Soy Cheese – Casein
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Soy cheese should be intrinsically vegan, shouldn’t it? Doesn’t it exist purely because some people don’t want to eat animal products, but still crave cheese-like goodness every now and then? You might think so, but strangely enough, many soy cheeses still contain traces of dairy. The milk protein casein is often what gives soy cheese its (slightly) cheese-like flavor and texture. Luckily, not all brands make this oddly vegan-unfriendly decision; for example, none of the non-dairy cheeses produced by Galaxy Foods contain casein or any other animal product or by-product.
BBQ-Flavored Chips – Chicken Fat
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Vegans are used to scanning the ingredients list of virtually any food before they’ll consume it, but when you’re vegetarian, it’s easier to let your guard down, assuming that some foods are ‘safe’. Take chips, for example. Would you guess that a bag of BBQ-flavored Baked Lay’s contained chicken fat? Probably not – but they do. The same goes for many other brands of BBQ-flavored chips like KC Masterpiece BBQ Chips and Ruffles The Works chips.