If you’re a vegetarian, you may be consuming some animal products without knowing it. It can be difficult to know when restaurants use chicken stock in your vegetable soup or if there is fish sauce in the Thai food you ordered. When dining out, ask your waiter about the broth or sauce used in your entree to ensure that it is vegetarian.
The foods listed below likely have animal products in them so be sure to avoid them.
1. Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
Cheese makers use an enzyme called either “rennet” or “chymosin”, which is derived from the stomachs of young animals like lambs and calves, to coagulate liquid milk into curds and whey. Although all hard cheeses used to be made with animal rennet, Sue Sturman, director of the Academie Opus Caseus cheese academy, says about 95% of American-made cheese is now made with Fermentation Produced Chymosin (FPC), a vegetarian, kosher, and halal ingredient. But the recipes for certain cheeses, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, are protected by European law and therefore always use animal rennet.
Words to look out for: Most cheeses use some kind of enzyme to curdle the milk. The nutrition label may say rennet, chymosin, rennin, or enzymes but none of those necessarily means the cheese was made with animal rennet. You’ll need to check with the manufacturer to be sure, or look for cheeses labeled “vegetarian”.
Alternatives: Some companies make “parmesan style” cheese that doesn’t use animal rennet. For example, Kraft grated Parmesan and Stella Parmesan are both vegetarian.
2. Red Candy
Many red candies—and anything else that’s colored with natural red dye #4, like some ice cream, yogurt and fruit punch—contains carmine. Carmine is the PC term for crushed up beetles (yes, beetles) that are boiled in ammonia or sodium carbonate to extract a red dye. Some companies use it to avoid artificial dyes but keep the bright colors people associate with candy. “If you want to stay away from artificial colors, carmine produces the best-looking red,” says Carol Zamojcin, secretary at the Long Island Institute of Food Technologists. There are other ways to get a natural red, typically from grape skins and beets, but nothing that makes the bright hue you see in candies like Nerds and Good n’ Plenty.
Words to look out for: In 2011 the FDA began requiring food companies to list carmine on their labels, but not all list the ingredient under the name “carmine.” You should also watch for: Natural Red 4, Crimson Lake, Cochineal, C.I. 75470, and E120.
Alternatives: If you’re not into artificial dyes, look for products colored with natural, plant-based compounds like lycopene, which comes from tomatoes, or anthocyanin, which can come from plants like flowers and fruits.
Not all yogurts are created equal, and certain brands use gelatin to get that silky-smooth texture. Gelatin is an additive made from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals, and is the main reason JELLO is so darn jiggly. It’s also commonly used in marshmallows and gummy candy. Some yogurts use carrageenan or agar, which are plant-based, “but if it says ‘gelatin,’ it’s an animal-derived product,” says Zamojcin.
Words to look out for: Food producers usually label gelatin as “gelatin,” but sometimes it slips into the ingredient list under the guise of “hydrolyzed collagen protein.”
Alternatives: Gelatin isn’t a necessary ingredient in yogurt, so it’s not too difficult to find a vegetarian-friendly brand. Just make sure to look at the ingredient list before you throw the container into your cart.
4. Processed Sugar
It isn’t a bleach bath that takes sugar from coarse and brown to fine and white. Most raw sugar is actually refined with a bone char. To make bone char, imported cow bones are incinerated and reduced to activated carbon, which can pick up color impurities in sugar. White sugar, as well as brown sugar and confectioner’s sugar derived from white sugar, comes into direct contact with the bone carbon throughout the filtration process. The sugar that ends up on grocery store shelves, however, rarely contains bone particles, which Zamojcin says makes it OK for some vegetarians to eat. But strict vegetarians and vegans still say no to refined, white sugar because animals were used in processing.
Words to look out for: There’s usually one ingredient listed on a bag of sugar: “sugar.” So to know for sure if your sugar is processed with a bone char you’ll have to ask the manufacturer. Some sugar companies are explicit with their terminology, but others will simply use the term “natural carbon.”
Alternatives: Raw cane sugar, beet sugar, and organic sugar are never processed with a bone char. Some white sugar manufacturers, including C&H Sugar Company and Imperial Sugar, have also opted out of the process and refine their sugar without animal byproducts.
5. Beer and Wine
Guinness, most British beer brands, and some wine manufacturers use “isinglass” (aka ground up fish bladders) to filter out leftover yeast particles that make beer and wine look cloudy.
Words to look out for: Isinglass is often not listed on labels since it’s used for filtration and not an actual ingredient in the beer or wine. To know for sure if there could be fish particles floating around your booze, ask the company.
Alternatives: Most American and German-made beers are isinglass-free. But if you’re looking for a new beer-of-choice, check Barnivore’s vegan beer, wine, and liquor guide.
Image Source: Darren Moloney