10 Surprising Foods That Aren't Always Vegetarian or Vegan

You might think these common foods are animal product free, but they're often not!

When you've gone vegan or vegetarian it's easy at first to assume navigating what's safe to eat would be pretty straight forward. Just steer clear of the meat and dairy aisles right? Unfortunately, it's not always that simple.

While sticking to fresh produce and meatless recipes seems like the safest way to follow a vegetarian diet, animal products can actually sneak into ingredients you would have never suspected. Tortillas, refried beans, chips, even beer and wine often include ingredients with animal products in them. Most often in the form of an oil, preservative, or flavoring agent.

If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, it's important to always read the ingredients list before buying any packaged foods. But even when you do, it can be hard to figure out what's safe to eat and what's not. Ingredients listed as "natural flavors" or "red dye #4" can be misleading. No animal products are listed, but they might just be in there.

Here are 10 surprising foods that aren't always vegetarian or vegan to watch out for.

Worcestershire Sauce

Lea & Perrins Worchestershire sauceThe Daily Meal

This popular condiment is hard to pronounce and equally as hard to figure out exactly what it's made from. It's included in a lot of meat marinades and shepherd's pie recipes, but also in recipes for bloody Mary's and even caesar salad dressings. If you're following a vegan or vegetarian diet and see Worcestershire sauce listed as an ingredient, it's best to steer clear.

What exactly is this potent sauce made from? Distilled white vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, onions, water, garlic, tamarind extract, chili pepper extract, natural flavorings, and anchovies. Aside from the anchovies, those "natural flavorings" are likely to contain flavorings from animal products.

Beer and Wine

Women toasting with beer and wine Getty Images

It's hard to believe that beer and wine would be anything but vegetarian or vegan. These alcoholic beverages are most often made from grapes, wheat, hops, barely, and even rice. What's the issue?

Guinness, and other beer and wine brands sometimes use an ingredient call "isinglass" to filter out yeast particles and make their drinks look less cloudy. Isinglass is made from...fish bladders! Fortunately not all beer and wine includes isinglass, but it's can be tricky figuring out which brands actually include it. Isinglass usually isn't even included in the list of ingredients. To find out for sure you'll need to call the beer or wine company and ask.

Red Candy

grid of red sweets and candy, gummy treats & food Getty Images

Wondering why red candies are getting singled out? It's because red dye #4 contains carmine. Carmine is an ingredient you might want to stay away from whether you vegan or not. It's really just a code word for crushed up beetles. Yes..beetles. They're boiled in ammonia to extract the red coloring and then the extraction is added to red candy to give it it's coloring.

Parmesan Cheese

Shaved parmesan cheeseGetty Images

Vegans won't need to worry about this food making the list, since you already steer clear of all dairy, but vegetarians are likely to be disappointed. Fortunately not all parmesan is off limits.

Some parmesan manufacturers use an ingredient called rennet in the process of turning liquid milk into solid cheese. Rennet is an enzyme that's sourced from newly born calves. To make sure you're buying parmesan without it just look for cheese labeled "vegetarian" or check the list of ingredients.

Chewing Gum

Close-up of bubble gum Getty Images

Most chewing gum contains gelatin which is made from boiling the skin, cartilage, and bone of animals. Gelatin is included in a long list of foods and even beauty products like shampoo. You'll find gelatin in jell-o, candy corn, marshmallows and even packaged peanuts. Make sure you read the list of ingredients before buying.

Chips

Bon appetit

Chips are made from fried potatoes, a vegetable that completely safe to eat if you're vegan or vegetarian. But some potato chips are fried in lard and oils that come from animal fat. Luckily there are plenty of chips on the market that are fried or baked in vegetable oils instead. Just make sure to double check what kind of oil you're chips are being fried in before chowing down.

Orange Juice

Close-Up Of Orange Juice In Glass On Table Getty Images

Orange juice is often advertised as being "full of omega 3's" and "vitamin D". But those omega 3's are added in and sourced from animals products like anchovies, tilapia, and sardines and the vitamin D is usually sourced from lanolin, a substance that comes from sheep's wool. To enjoy your orange juice without any added animal products look for organic, natural brands that bottle pure orange juice without any additives.

Refried Beans

Traditional style bean dip Getty Images

When you've given up animal products, beans usually become an important staple in your diet. They're a quick and easy way to get enough protein in your diet, without eating any eggs or meat. But if you're a fan of refried beans you might want to double check the label for ingredients like animal lard. Traditional refried beans are actually made with pork fat, although you can find plenty of vegetarian and vegan friendly versions on the market.

Tortillas

White Corn Tortilla Getty Images

Even tortillas aren't safe. Most tortillas are made from flour, water, some kind of oil, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Make sure the tortillas you're eating are free of animal oils and you might want to steer clear of any that include refined white sugar too.

White Sugar

Food concept, sugar cubes inside fast food containers Getty Images

Refined white sugar is often bleached through a process that involves sifting the sugar through what's listed as "natural carbon". Natural carbon is really a fancy term for bone char or chattered cows bones. Some brown sugars are also processed this way. To avoid sugar that's been sifted through bones, stick to organic cane or turbinado sugar. Here's a sweet guide to everything else you need to know about sugar.


Karyn Bailey is a freelance writer covering food, health, wellness, and beauty. When she's not whipping up healthy new recipes in her kitchen you can find her trying new restaurants in her Brooklyn neighborhood or practicing yoga.