13 ‘Vegan’ Foods That Could Contain Hidden Animal Ingredients
Ever had that moment when you eat something and realize later on it’s not vegan? It happens to all of us. Unless you cook virtually everything you eat from scratch (including pasta and condiments), you’re going to have to navigate some product labels or ask a few questions at a restaurant. Although vegan products are continually on the rise, some animal ingredients are still found in the seemingly most innocent of places – from breads and broths to candy and condiments. Next time you go shopping or dine out at a non-vegan restaurant, scan through this list so you won’t be blindsided by hidden animal ingredients. That being said, we’re not perfect, and you don’t have to reset your vegan clock if you make an honest mistake. All we can do is our best, and we’re here to help you every step of the way!
Foods With Hidden Animal Ingredients
1. Vegetable Soups
You’re out with friends at a restaurant. You scan the menu and find the minestrone. Safe bet, right? Unfortunately, unless there’s a clear vegan label next to it, that minestrone may not even be vegetarian. Many restaurants use beef or chicken stock for the veggie-based soups; the same goes for the canned variety in stores. When dining out at a non-vegan restaurant, politely ask the waiter if there is any dairy or animal broth in the soup. At the store, a quick glance over the soup ingredient label will do the trick.
2. Asian Condiments & Sauces
Two words: fish sauce. It’s a staple in many traditional Asian cuisines, and it is often used as liberally as vegans use nutritional yeast – sprinkled on everything! Fish sauce is easy to spot when you’re scanning the ingredient label of a peanut or black bean sauce, but it can be trickier to detect in restaurants. Always ask your waiter, and be specific. Don’t ask, “Is the pho vegan?” Instead, ask, “Does the broth (dipping sauce, etc) have fish sauce in it?” Soy sauce is virtually safe, however. Worst comes to worst, order steamed rice with plain steamed vegetables and take advantage of the complimentary bottle of soy sauce.
3. American Condiments
Worcestershire and barbeque sauce are the two main culprits here. Worcestershire usually contains anchovies, but there are vegan versions out there, such as Annie’s brand. Some barbeque sauces also contain Worcestershire, in addition to other potential animal-derived ingredients like honey. A few vegan-friendly barbecue sauce brands include Annie’s, Sweet Baby Ray’s, and various brands at Trader Joe’s (among countless others, just check the label).
This one is for vegetarians, too – marshmallows contain bones. The seemingly harmless confections are made with gelatin, which is made of crushed animal bones. Marshmallows also contain egg whites, making them decidedly not vegan-friendly, but there are several companies that now make animal-free versions. Dandies is a popular vegan option. The company offers both full size and minis, along with pumpkin and peppermint flavors during the holidays.
5. Jelly Bellies & Other Candies
Although the Buttered Popcorn variety of Jelly Bellies has sparked some heated arguments (you either love it or hate it), many vegans found comfort in the flavor, as it allowed them a taste without consuming dairy. Unfortunately, though Jelly Bellies do not contain gelatin, they are made with beeswax to give them their iconic shine. Other fruity and gummy candy can also contain hidden animal products. Be wary of red sweets, as they often contain crushed beetles, which is labeled as carmine or cochineal extract. Further, most gummy candies contain gelatin (crushed bones) so check the ingredients before you dive in to a bowl of gummy worms. For a full list of vegan-friendly candy, check out our vegan Halloween candy guide.
6. Popcorn & Flavored Chips
As classic as it is, if you’re diet is dairy-free you may wish to skip the popcorn at most movie theaters. Yes, butter pumps abound, but that is for patrons to put extra butter on – the pre-made kernels popping away are typically coated with some powdered form of dairy. Vegan store-bought popcorn is easier to find, but again, make sure you check the label for “milk” or “whey.” Another snacking staple, flavored chips, may also have animal products. For example, Lay’s baked barbecue chips contain both dairy and chicken products. Oddly enough, the original fried version of Lay’s barbecue chips are vegan. Other flavors of chips, like SunChips Garden Salsa, also contain animal product derivatives, so check the label before you start snacking.
Handmade pasta always makes a meal special, but it’s traditionally made with eggs. When you’re at the store, do a quick scan of the ingredients to ensure your fresh pasta is egg and dairy-free. At a restaurant, menus typically advertise when a dish involves housemade pasta (it’s a lot of work!), so if the spaghetti marinara you’re eyeing is made with fresh noodles, ask the waiter if the pasta or gnocchi contains eggs or dairy.
Bread should really just be flour, water, and salt. However, when we get into specialty breads or processed versions, things can get more complex. Always check the label if you’re purchasing pre-sliced bread at a supermarket. Processed sandwich bread is notorious for using dairy and egg derivatives to preserve shelf life. A few breads that are not vegan (unless otherwise stated) include brioche and challah. Both include eggs. However, you can make your own vegan challah at home. What’s shocking is the hidden duck and chicken feathers in some bagels. Many large-scale bagel companies, such as Einstein Bro’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, use an enzyme called L. Cysteine. This is a “dough conditioner” sourced from duck and chicken feathers. The company just lists this ingredient as “enzymes.” Panera Bread, on the other hand, is vegan-friendly.
9. Wine & Beer
Many wine and beer manufacturers are moving away from animal ingredients in their products, but unfortunately, some still exist. Winemakers often use animal-derived products as fining agents, which help clarify the wine. In the beer world, fish bladder, also called isinglass, is also frequently used in the clarifying process, although Guinness finally phased it out of its beverages in recent years. For vegan-friendly alcohol, check your favorite brand on Barnivore.com.
10. Mexican Beans, Rice, and Tortillas
Beyond being delicious and comforting, Mexican food is typically a safe option for finding vegan food. Beans, rice, fajita veggies, guac – done. Not to mention the plant-friendly Mexican-inspired chains like Taco Bell and Chipotle. However, if you’re going for authenticity, you might run into lard, or animal fat. Some traditional Mexican cooks add lard to a variety of their dishes, including beans, rice, and tortillas. Many often use chicken stock while cooking rice as well. If you’re buying a can of beans at the store or ordering some freshly made corn tortillas from a local taco stand, be sure to double check before you put away that infant-sized burrito or two-for-one tacos.
11. French Fries
Yes, even the humble, plain french fry can surprise you. Most fast-food concepts have phased this practice out, but if you’re dining at a non-vegan restaurant, particularly an upscale one or a trendy gastropub, the fries may be cooked in beef or duck fat. Like with handmade pasta, most menus mention this. Read the fine print, and you should know if you’re in the clear.
12. Pasta Sauce
Tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, onion, herbs…and milk? Yes, there can be dairy even in a simple marinara. The vast majority is plant-based, but some restaurants will add a dash of milk or cream even in this most basic tomato sauce. The rule remains the same: always ask politely if you are unsure. Jarred sauces are a bit more likely to have hidden animal ingredients as well, though there are a plethora of sauces that are vegan-friendly, no matter where you shop. Many pesto sauces also contain cheese. If you find yourself at an Italian eatery that goes heavy on the cream sauces, just ask for a simple drizzle of olive oil and some fresh herbs for your (vegan) pasta.
13. Dark Chocolate
Most dark chocolate is vegan, but this is not an absolute. Large commercial companies often add milk products to their dark mixes, such as Lindt, See’s, and some Ghirardelli bars. Luckily, there are dozens if not hundreds of brands worldwide that are committed to manufacturing pure, plant-based dark chocolate that will make any sweet lover swoon.
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