Foods That Seem Vegetarian But Aren’t

french fries
Before becoming vegan I never realized just how many animal by-products are incorporated into so many packaged foods and beverages. Recently, I attended the Los Angeles Beer and Food Festival and it got me wondering: “isn’t all beer vegan?” This question prompted me to do a little research which led me down a rabbit hole.

What I’ve discovered is that there are many ingredients used in processing and filtration of beer and other alcohols that we might not consider when thinking about the finished product. Unfortunately, this is the case with many other food products as well. Fortunately, it is possible to educate yourself on the main offenders and foods to watch out for if you are trying to avoid animal products. Below, you will find some of the commonly used ingredients and foods you may find them in.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of animal products in foods as I have skipped over the obvious non-vegan ingredients such as cream and butter. Instead, I chose to focus on the less obvious animal products that are very well hidden. My hope is that this post will help people to realize just how many foods actually use animal by-products and how to choose a more compassionate healthy diet.

Beer & Wine

Animal by-product used: isinglass
Isinglass is also found in: some jellies

Some non-vegan ingredients are commonly used in beer such as dairy and honey. But who would have thought that a substance derived from fish bladders would end up in our alcohol? Unfortunately, this substance is frequently used in the beer and wine industries during the clarification process. Check out this handy list to see if your favorite beverages are, in fact, vegetarian. 

Vitamin and Medicine Capsules

Animal by-product used: gelatin
Geltain is also found in: Jello, marshmallows, some ice creams, yogurts, dips

When I was younger, I remember hearing that jello was made of horse-hooves but I always thought it was a myth. Turns out that this is not a wive’s tale. According to Wikipedia, gelatin is in fact a substance made from collagen “extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken, pigs, and fish.” It’s been a while since I ate animals but seriously, doesn’t this seem gross to anyone? Who wants pig collagen in their ice cream?

Another way gelatin can sneak into your diet is via medicine and vitamin capsules. There are many products on the shelves that promote 100% vegetarian ingredients. If your item does not say vegetarian, I recommend you check your labels to make sure gelatin is not in the ingredients list. Or opt for the regular tablets instead of gel capsules.


Animal by-product used: rennet, casein
Rennet is also found in: most products that contain cheese

If you thought that eating cheese does not contribute to the killing of animals, this one is going to sting a bit. In addition to the fact that dairy products are not actually cruelty-free, many cheeses such as cheddar and parmesan are made with rennet, which is an enzyme extracted from baby calves’ stomachs. Fortunately there are rennet-free cheeses and of course, you’re always safe with vegan cheeses. As with the vitamin capsules, always check the ingredients list – sometimes even soy cheeses use casein which is a milk protein!

French Fries

Animal by-product used: animal fats, sometimes in the form of lard
Animal fats are also found in: fried foods, refried beans, pastries

I have to admit that when I went vegan at least once I thought to myself, “at least I can still have french fries.” And fortunately this is true – for the most part. I have discovered that some restaurants actually use animal fats to fry their french fries and other deep-fried foods. When ordering, simply ask what kind of oil they use to fry. Other items to watch for that may seem vegetarian at first glance are refried beans and pastries, both of which are commonly made with animal fats in the form of lard.


Animal by-product used: animal-based broths, bonito
Animal-based broths are also found in: rice and pasta dishes, many pre-made or frozen meals

Since going vegan I’ve become increasingly disappointed at the lack of animal-free salad options. Luckily, it’s easy enough to ask for no chicken or cheese on a salad and request a vegan dressing. Soups on the other hand are a little trickier. Many soups may seem vegetarian but actually contain broths made from animals. French onion soup is a perfect example of this. If someone was unfamiliar with the ingredients of this classic soup they may not know that even though it contains no meat, it is made with beef broth. Sometimes even “vegetable” soups are made with chicken broth. Rice dishes are commonly made with chicken broth as well. Some asian soups such as miso or udon are commonly made with bonito, a flavoring derived from fish. Check ingredient labels when purchasing products in the store and ask your waiter, if eating in a restaurant.


Animal by-product used: carmine
Carmine is also found in: some juices, ice creams and candies

Although yogurts are clearly not vegan, I never would have guessed they weren’t vegetarian! Some yogurts are made with carmine, which is a pigment derived from insects and used to color foods, cosmetics and other items. Luckily, the FDA decided in 2009 that it must be listed on the ingredient label as either “cochineal extract” or “carmine.”

Hopefully you are seeing a trend by now – check your labels everyone!

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Something I feel strongly about and I feel this post underlines the importance of, is preparing fresh food at home, from scratch. Many of the items on this list can be avoided by preparing food ourselves. Clearly, it’s unrealistic to think that we can make every single meal we consume, but we can improve the quality of the food we consume by setting the intention and planning ahead. Learning to recognize ingredients on food labels or simply avoiding foods which contain long lists of ingredients with which we are not familiar is just one step towards empowerment over out health and where we choose to spend our money.

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  • annie

    Hi, vegan good post. I like to know where the recipies for French Fries picture on the top ? I like to make this if you have the recipies. thank you in advance

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