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Check Those Ingredients! Surprising Products That Might Not Be Vegan!

Look out for hidden non-vegan ingredients in some of these common foods.
| | July 12, 2018

When you switch to a vegan diet, you quickly realize that you have to become an expert label reader. Unfortunately, sometimes labels don’t tell the whole truth.  If an animal product was used in the process of making something, it might not appear on the label. Knowing precisely what is in packaged foods or how they were made can be tricky. To help, we have put together this list of some surprising foods that are often not vegan.

One of the biggest culprits is the use of gelatin. Gelatin is an animal protein that is obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments and/or bones. Food makers love to use gelatin because it acts as a natural glue. From marshmallows to gelatin dessert, to cereals, non-dairy creamers and more, gelatin shows up in tons of unexpected places.

Gelatin isn’t the only sneaky ingredient you have to worry about. Check out this list of foods to watch out for!


What you might be consuming: gelatin

Yup, those colorful little candies might not be vegan. We know that sprinkles are 100% free from any nutritional value, but we still love to see them on our sweet treats.  However, dessert eater beware! Sprinkles often contain gelatin and confectioner’s glaze. Gelatin is a sneaky ingredient that shows up in unexpected places. It is made from cattle hide, bones and pig skins. Confectioner’s glaze is also a common ingredient that is a resin excreted by certain female Asian beetles.

Orange Juice

What you might be consuming: Fish Oil

Oranges by themselves are healthy, but to make them more appealing manufacturers add omega-3s so it can be called “heart-healthy.” The Omega-3s added are sourced from anchovies, tilapia and sardines. Any product that markets itself as having “Omega-3s” does not make the cut!

Soy Cheese

What you might be consuming: Casein

What’s the point of soy cheese if it’s not vegan? We aren’t sure, but companies who are marketing to the lactose-free market don’t mind adding ingredients that come from milk making them not vegan. Casein (or sometimes called calcium caseinate) can be found in some soy cheeses. Casein is a protein that comes from milk and is added to give a more cheese-like consistency.  The key is to stay away from cheeses labeled “lactose-free” and be sure to make sure it says vegan.

Breakfast Cereals

What you might be consuming: Lanolin

That innocent looking breakfast cereal may not be vegan. Cereals fortified with Vitamin D most likely comes from Lanolin. Lanolin, also called wool wax or wool grease, is a wax secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals. Unless the Vitamin D in your cereal is specified as D2 or Vitashine (the only plant-based D3), it is likely from lanolin.


Processed with: Bone Char

Bone char (sometimes called “natural carbon”) is commonly used as a decolorizing filter, giving refined sugar its white color. This process is used for a lot of different types of sugar including brown sugar and confectioner’s sugar. The FDA prohibits the use of bones from the US meat industry. Bones are imported and are required to come from animals that die of natural causes. Most bags of sugar list one ingredient, sugar. To find out if the sugar you buy uses bone char, you have to ask the manufacturer. Fortunately, you can find quite a few vegan sugars including Zulka, Sugar in the Raw, Florida Crystals Organic Cane Sugar, Wholesome Sweeteners Fair Trade Organic Sugar, and more.

Packaged Nuts

What you might be consuming: gelatin

This one came as a surprise to us and proves to be more evidence that you have to pay attention to labels. Certain brands of packaged nuts use gelatin as an adhesive to ensure that all of the spices and flavorings stick to the peanuts. So, next time you are reaching for a cocktail nut medley you might just be eating gelatin too.

Wine (and sometimes beer)

Processed with: Where do we start? Beetles, fish, eggs, milk, shells, bones

Wine and Beer (specifically Stout Beer) use a large variety of ingredients in the fining or clarification process. Consumers expect their wines to be clear and bright. The fining process uses fining agents that can include casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). These fining agents act like magnets, pulling out all the haze-causing molecules. The same process is used in stout beers. The good news is that you can find winemakers who are opting for a different fining process that use clay-based agents or even activated charcoal.  Use the website www.barnivore.com to help determine if your favorite wine or beer is considered vegan.

Red Food Coloring

What you might be consuming: Crushed insects

Many red foods such as red candies are colored with natural red dye #4. This red dye contains carmine which is a polite way to say crushed up beetles! How do they even think of these things? Reportedly 70,000 beetles must be crushed to produce 1 pound of the dye. In 2011 the FDA began requiring food companies to list carmine on their labels, but not everyone uses the name carmine. Watch out for: Natural Red 4, Crimson Lake, Cochineal, C.I. 75470, and E120.

Veggie Burgers

What you might be consuming: eggs, dairy

Watch out! That spicy black bean burger that you love may contain eggs! Not all veggie burgers are vegan. Some use eggs and dairy. The good news is that typically veggie burgers that aren’t vegan are clearly marked and there are a ton of vegan varieties to choose from.


Here are a few resources to help you navigate these tricky ingredients…


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