Last night at dinner, two seasoned lacto-vegetarians exchanged an ingredient slap-down about seemingly animal-free foods that really aren’t. My friends talk endlessly about vegetarianism. They can be evangelical, comical and tedious. Don’t hear me wrong. I’m omnivorous, but eat mostly plants. I love eating and I love eating with friends, but I hate talking about what my friends and I are eating. But this conversation was an eye-opener.
Animal products often hide in processed foods. As example, dairy derivatives whey and casein, included in commercial baked goods, may be acceptable to vegetarians but avoided by vegans. Where you draw the line is a personal choice, but those choices need to be informed.
How many of these veggie-imposters surprise you?
- Beer and Wine, particularly those made in Britain, use isinglass (a byproduct of fish bladders) in the clarification process. Most is removed in production, but traces can remain.
- Fruit Juice frequently contains Vitamin D derived from lanolin (sheep oil), Omega-3 sourced from fish oil, and gelatin (a collagen obtained from beef skin and pig hide). Apple juice is often clarified using isinglass (refer back to Beer and Wine).
- Enhanced Breads, as with juices, may include Omega-3 amino acids originating from fish oil. Commercial baked goods may also contain non-vegan ingredients such as milk, eggs, butter, whey, and honey.
- Parmesan Cheese and other regional cheeses such as Pecorino Romano, are required by law to use rennet in the curdling process to retain their “authenticity”. Rennet, sometimes called “enzymes” on product labels, is derived from animal stomachs.
- Boxed Cake Mix uses beef fat, sometimes listed as lard, as a common ingredient. It’s also present in many cakes, cupcakes, and cookies.
- Bagels use a dough conditioner “enzyme L. Cysteine”, commonly sourced from duck and chicken feathers. It’s used in other processed bread products, particularly those served in fast food joints. (Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s all admit to the practice respectively in their donuts, garlic bread, and apple pie.)
- White Sugar bags typically list only “sugar” as an ingredient, but most processed sugar (including brown and confectioner’s) is whitened by a process that uses bone char.
- Red Candy and most any food that’s colored red contains pigments extracted from the female Dactylopius coccus costa. This red bug dye is typically listed as cochineal, carminic acid or carmine in the ingredients. It’s found in candy, 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:”.
- Soups, particularly those prepared in restaurant kitchens, are usually made with stock made from chicken, beef, or fish. Canned vegetable soups can also contain animal stock and gelatin thickeners.
- Salad Dressings in restaurants often start with bacon fat for added flavor, undermining the classic vegetarian go-to in restaurants. Caesar dressing contains anchovies, and creamy dressings often include gelatin.
- BBQ-Flavored Chips, well, if you’re tucking into a bag of greasy chips, food purity may not be paramount. But know that most brands of BBQ-flavored chips get their punch from chicken fat.
- Worcestershire Sauce is made with anchovies.
- Packaged Peanuts, high in quality protein, are an easy snack, but beware of gelatin coatings.
- Breath Mints, Gummy Bears, Marshmallows, Jello and Fruit Jellies frequently contain gelatin made from animal skin and bones.
This duplicity has nutritional, philosophical and religious implications: a triple motivation for the buyer to beware. It comes down to buying organic, single ingredient foods. Or making your own food using these ingredients. Or reading the labels with a dictionary handy.
More reasons for ditching processed foods.
Image of a veggie dog from Shutterstock.