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15 Surprising Foods You Think Are Vegan…But Aren’t!

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

It’s usually pretty easy for vegans to know what to avoid: slabs of meat and cheese are pretty obvious, and any vegan worth their Himalayan rock salt knows it’s best to ask whether things like restaurant soup broths were made with animals, or if even plates of steamed veggies come slathered in butter.

But then there are those foods that we think of as being 100% plant derived, but thanks to modern food processing, somehow animals get involved. Why? Why?

While I can’t answer that question, I can answer which foods you think are vegan, but aren’t. You may be surprised!

1. Beer 

Ok, it’s not technically a ‘food’, but British vegans who are fond of their pint of beer will have to rethink their drinking habits, because many U.K. beers are filtered with isinglass. Never heard of it? It’s a membrane that comes from tropical fish bladders and is usually used to give beer that clear bright look. German and Belgian beers can be vegan-friendly alternatives, since they use more traditional methods of brewing. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is encouraging all brewers around the world to remove isinglass, and several legendary beer companies, including Guinness, Carlsberg, Stella Artois and Heineken, have announced their intention to be 100% vegan friendly.

2. Wine 

Most vegans know that during the winemaking process, filtering agents are used for the grapes, and can include blood and marrow, milk protein, fish bones, fibres from crustacean shells and gelatin. Luckily, there’s now a wide selection of vegan wines made using activated charcoal and volcanic clay.

3. Some orange juice brands

Fruit juice might seem like the ideal animal-friendly drink, but that is not always the case.   Some juices contain vitamin D3 obtained from lanolin, that comes from sheep’s wool. And the story doesn’t end here: a few brands also add omega-3 fatty acids that are derived from fish oil and fish gelatin. According to Business Insider, Tropicana Healthy Heart orange juice lists tilapia, sardine, and anchovy in the ingredients – but not all brands are as generously revealing on their ingredients lists, so it’s probably best for vegans to just squeeze their own.

4. White sugar

If you have a sweet tooth but want to stick to a vegan regime, look out for white sugar! White sugar is often bleached, which you probably know, but here’s the thing: first, it gets filtered through animal bones. If you were wondering whether brown sugar is better, the answer is no. The process is the same, with the addition of molasses. Coconut sugar or maple syrup can be a valid alternative.

5. Worcestershire sauce 

Love yourself a Bloody Mary at brunch? The Worcestershire sauce used in the drink comes from the fermentation of anchovies. Yipes! But if you’re an aficionado of this sauce (like many Brits are), there are vegan versions such as the Biona Organic Worcestershire Sauce.

6. Red candies 

As with many red lipstick brands, most red sweets obtain their colour from crushed insects, primarily those belonging to the cochineal family, that then get boiled with sodium carbonate or ammonia. Be careful when you pick your lipstick or candy, unless you want a bugicide on your conscience.

7. Margarine 

It’s often believed that margarine is a great vegan alternative to butter. But in truth, it often contains not only nasty hydrogenated fats, but also traces of whey, gelatin and milk proteins. PETA is helpful in advising consumers in these regards, with its guide to plant-based, vegan butter and margarine.

8. Chewing gum 

If you are accustomed to releasing stress and freshening your breath with chewing gum, be aware that some brands are made using gelatin or stearic acid, derived from boiling animal leftover skin and bones. This applies also to marshmallows, gummy bears, and jelly products – but most vegans know that, right?

9. Figs

Figs are natural fruits, so what could wrong? The situation here can be traced back to nature’s cycle, rather than men’s industrial processing. Female wasps lay their eggs inside figs, and they are often unable to escape from the fruit and decompose inside. The plant produces an enzyme that breaks the wasp down into a protein, but technically when you bite into certain kinds of figs, you’re also munching wasps.

10. Bread 

Bread is the most ancient food of early human societies, and goes all the way back to Ancient Egypt. It is present in all cultures, with its diverse interpretations of the wheat-based nourishment. However several breads, bagels and pizzas contain L-cysteine, which is an amino acid most commonly derived from human, duck or hog hair. Food manufacturers add it because it helps speed up large-scale factory production – a great reason to start baking at home!

11. Packaged peanuts

Popular brand Planter’s Peanuts are coated with an animal based gelatine that makes them taste extremely salty. Other companies might be doing the same. To stay on the safe side, buy organic peanuts, or go to a bulk food store.

12. Pasta

Italians, even vegan ones, will not give up their pasta! But since some contain eggs, especially fresh pasta, the selection for a conscious option will be required. Most of the dry pastas do not contain eggs, but it’s always better to read their labels.

13.  Sweet and sour sauce

Although this sauce is ostensibly Chinese, many brands contain that pungent Mediterranean favourite: anchovies. The solution is to simply make your own – it’s actually not all that hard.

14. Some crackers

I’ll never forget opening a pack of rice cakes – rice cakes, people! – eating a few, then feeling sick as I read the ingredients out of boredom and discovered milk powder was in there. Why, I have no idea! But since then, I’ve been really careful to check the ingredients of commercial crackers – you’d be surprised to see how many contain milk powder!

15. Refried beans

Vegans are usually savvy enough to read the ingredients to check for lard. But did you know that ‘natural flavours’ could also indicate meat products? As with cosmetics ‘fragrance’ listings, ‘natural ingredients’ don’t need to be revealed in detail, legally.

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

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