12 surprising foods that aren’t vegetarian

March 19, 2017

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When I went vegetarian 8 years ago, I didn’t fully understand what I was doing. I just knew I didn’t want to eat meat anymore. I didn’t know anything about gelatine or animal enzymes in food. And to be fair, it’s difficult to know what you can and can’t eat when so many foods have animal products in, and I have for sure eaten some (if not all) of the items on this list since turning vegetarian. So, to make it slightly easier, I’ve compiled this list of 12 unlikely items that may have animal products in them.


1. Marshmallows

Marshmallows contain gelatine, which is a thickner obtained from animal skin, tendons, ligaments and bones. While most popular brands of marshmallows contain gelatine, it is possible to get gelatine-free marshmallows online and from speciality stores, like wholefood stores. Here is a link to Ananda’s vegan marshmallows, which are vanilla flavoured, but they also make coconut and strawberry flavoured too.


2. Gummy sweets

Like marshmallows, gummy sweets often contain gelatine. It’s always worth checking the ingredients list of any sweets you buy to check for gelatine. However, it is easy to get sweets without gelatine in them, even some of the Haribo range are vegetarian.


3. Red sweets

Red sweets are often coloured with carmine, which is made from crushed beetles. Carmine can also be called natural red #4, E120 and cochineal extract.


4. Some cheeses

This one might hit cheese lovers quite hard. Parmesan, grana padano, gorgonzola and even camembert are often made using rennet, an enzyme taken from the stomach of animals, usually cows. As the enzyme can’t be extracted without killing the animal, cheese made with rennet are definitely not vegetarian. Fortunately, rennet can be sourced from bacteria and there are several vegetarian versions of these cheeses, but they may be hard to come by.


5. Pesto

Following on from cheese, pesto is another product that might not be vegetarian as it is often made using parmesan cheese. You might be able to find vegetarian pesto options in supermarkets, but, fortunately, pesto is very easy to make, so it may be worth making your own. I always buy this brand of pesto.


6. Cheesecake

Now, this one hurt my heart. Gelatine, found in marshmallows and gummy sweets, is also found in cheesecake. Fortunately, there are lots of cheesecakes that don’t contain gelatine and they’re very easy to find in supermarkets, it’s a simple case of reading the ingredients list.


7. Mousse

Similarly to cheesecake, mousse contains gelatine to thicken it. This includes mousse yoghurt, gateaux, cake with mousse frosting and many other desserts. Unfortunately, there aren’t many vegetarian mousse alternatives.


8. Some soups

Soups are made with stock, which can either be a meat stock, like beef or chicken, or a vegetable stock. Even some vegetable soups are made with animal stock, but many are made with vegetable stock. Another situation where you just need to read the ingredient list.


9. Fries

Fries are often just made from potato, but they are sometimes cooked in animal fat. McDonald’s switched from cooking their fries in beef fat to vegetable oil in the 1990s. However, not all restaurants and brands cook in vegetable oils, so it is worth checking ingredients lists and asking restaurants to ensure your food doesn’t contain animal fats.


10. Orange juice

Store-bought orange juice may contain added omega 3 to boost the nutritional content. However, the most common source of omega 3 oils are from fish, although they can also be found in nuts and seeds. To ensure your juice doesn’t contain fish oils, check the company websites to find the source of their omega 3 oils.


11. Salad dressings

Some salad dressings are made using beef fat or bacon fat to add flavour. Caesar salad dressing is made using anchovies, a small fish. Reading the bottles of dressing can help avoid accidentally eating non-vegetarian dressings. Also, salad dressings can be very easy to make at home.


12. Pies

Any pies, sweet or savoury, can contain lard in their crust, a type of animal fat from pigs. This is especially true of traditional, British desserts, like mince pies. It is reasonable easy to find vegetarian alternatives, especially if you are buying pre-made pastry.


Having gone through this list, you may be thinking that a lot of your favourite foods aren’t vegetarian, and sometimes it is hard to find alternatives. It’s a personal decision how strict you want to be with vegetarianism: some people don’t eat meat, but still eat gelatine and wear leather, others rule out all products that come from the killing of animals.

One thing is clear: if you choose to not eat gelatine and animal fats, you will be that person reading ingredient lists in the aisle of the supermarket!


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