Hidden Animal Ingredients in Common “Vegetarian Friendly” Foods

As if being vegetarian is not hard enough, we must also keep an open eye for animal products in foods that we’re allowed to eat.

Vegetarian friendly foods like cheese, beans, and more can have animal by-product hidden in the ingredients label. Find out which ingredients to lookout for.

Gelatin in dairy, candies, and desserts

Before you read the rest of this section, I’d like to apologize to gummy bear enthusiasts. The list of fun things we can eat gets shorter and shorter by the day.

Gelatin is a, well, gelatin, made of animal by-product. Bones, ligaments, tendons, hooves, and cartilage are boiled together to make gelatin, and later added to the things that we enjoy the most: ice cream, whipped cream, yogurt, marshmallows, frosting, sour cream, chips, cookies, and you guessed it, gummy bears.

The good thing is that gelatin is labeled as gelatin, so just stay away from anything that says gelatin. Some labels will say the animal source, like pork gelatin. But that doesn’t mean that a label that reads only “gelatin” may not be from animal by-product. All gelatin is made of animal byproduct.

The alternatives are carrageenan and agar. Carrageenan is derived from red Irish moss and will be clearly labeled as it is named. It is commonly used in the same type of products that use gelatin. It has been known to cause stomach discomfort in those with IBS and other gastrointestinal disorders. Please do your research.

Agar, also known as agar agar, also known as kanten, is derived from algae. It is available for consumer purchase in powder, flakes, or bar form. If you do a Google search for agar agar you will find many vegan dessert recipes.

I am not sure if agar is used industrially in a massive scale and my research didn’t take me anywhere. I was mostly able to find vegan jello recipes. I’ve only seen it used in a few products, like boxed cake mixes, and it is labeled as agar or agar powder.

Lard in a variety of products

It is amazing that lard, pig fat, is used in such a wide range of products. Look for it in boxed and frozen pastries, boxed cake mixes, canned beans, potato chips, tortillas, and even cookies.

It could be labeled as lard, hydrogenated lard, partially hydrogenated lard, animal shortening, and vegetable and/or animal shortening. Do not take any chances with and/or. More than likely it is lard. Look for products that are clearly labeled “vegetable shortening.” Do not accept any and’s or or’s.

Bone char in sugar

Bone char is exactly what is sounds like, charred animal bones. It is not found in sugar, but it comes into contact with it during the manufacturing process. It is used to refine and bleach sugar. Will we ever be able to enjoy sweets? Yes! Buy unrefined sugar or beet sugar instead.

Animal rennet in cheese

Rennet is an enzyme found in the stomach lining of calves, lambs, and goats. It is used to separate milk into curds and liquid whey. The curds then become cheese. Rennet is labeled as “rennet” or “enzyme.” You may run across “animal rennet/enzyme.”

The vegetarian friendly alternatives you should look for are “vegetable rennet/enzyme” or “microbial rennet/enzyme.” Microbial rennet is derived from mold. It sounds disgusting, but I don’t think it’s too bad when compared to the alternative.

So how do you know if the cheese in your fridge or at your grocery store contains rennet? The truth is that if the rennet source is not clearly labeled then we don’t really know. The law doesn’t require the source to be specified. Most labels only say “rennet/enzyme” which does not necessarily mean animal rennet.

Take Galbani cheese for example. The ingredients label reads “enzyme” but they confirmed to me that they use microbial rennet. Here’s the full list of cheese brands that I’ve verified to not use animal rennet.

Meat in vegetable stock, broth, and boullion cubes

This is insulting because they don’t even try to hide it from you. The packaging will say contains beef/pork/chicken/fish right smack in the front or in the back label.

Now, if you’re looking for veggie stock or veggie bouillon cubes then there’s a high probability that you’re vegetarian, right? Then why would they throw in animal content? Is it supposed to be a bonus? Even vegetable soup can contain stock with animal content. Look for vegetarian vegetable soup. So redundant.

Hopefully, you don’t have too many of these in your kitchen. Don’t feel bad if you do. When I found out about this I had 2 packs of sliced cheese with “enzyme” in my fridge!

Surely I’m missing a lot of stuff here. Tell me of any other secret ingredients in the comments.

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