Hidden Animal Ingredients

Excerpted from Vegan Planet © 2014 by Robin Robertson. Many animal-based ingredients lurk in seemingly vegetarian and vegan foods. Beyond the obvious anchovy-laced Worcestershire sauce and the“milk”contained in milk chocolate, animal products such as gelatin and lard can be found in commercial items such as marshmallows, cookies, crackers, chips, candies, pastries, and refried beans.

Vegetarians who eat cheese should know that most dairy cheese is made with pepsin, rennet, or lipase, coagulated enzymes from the stomach linings of slaughtered cows and pigs. An alternative to dairy cheese is soy cheese, which contains no animal byproducts. However, most soy cheeses are made with casein, which is obtained from cow’s milk. A few brands of soy cheese are casein-free, but they do not melt well. They are usually labeled “vegan.”

Vegans also should be aware that many products labeled as “vegetarian” may contain egg and dairy byproducts. In addition to avoiding products that contain butter, milk, eggs, and honey, vegans should be on the lookout for products with ingredients such as casein, albumin, whey, and lactose.

Fortunately, virtually every animal-based ingredient has a plant-based alternative. For example, there are vegan versions of Worcestershire sauce and chocolate chips, and gelatin-like desserts and puddings can be made with vegetable-based jelling ingredients such as the sea vegetables agar and carrageen.

The best defense against unwittingly buying foods with animal-derived ingredients is quite simple: read the labels. As a rule, the more processed a food item is, the more likely it is to contain animal products—often not listed in easily recognizable terms. To cut down on the chances of ingesting hidden animal ingredients, try to eat more fresh whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans, and to make more foods, such as salad dressings, from scratch. Not only will this help you avoid hidden animal ingredients, but homemade dressings and other foods generally taste better and are more economical.

Avoiding Hidden Animal Ingredients

Here are some common hidden animal-based ingredients and the types of foods in which they are often found.

  • Albumin: Used to thicken or bind baked goods, soups, cereals, puddings, and other products, albumin is a protein found in eggs, milk, and blood. 
  • Carmine, cochineal, or carminic acid: A common red food dye made from ground beetles, it is used to color juices, baked goods, candies, and other processed foods. 
  • Casein: This protein derived from animal milk is used in dairy products such as sour cream and cream cheese. It is also added to nondairy cheese to improve the texture. 
  • Gelatin: This thickener is made by boiling the bones, skin, and other parts of cows and other animals. It is found in gelatin desserts, marshmallows, candies, puddings, and other products.
  • Lactose: Also called milk sugar, it is derived from cow’s milk and is found in baked goods and processed foods. 
  • Lard: This fat taken from hogs is an ingredient in crackers, pie crusts, and baked goods, as well as refried beans and other fried or processed foods. 
  • Suet: This hard, white fat from cattle and sheep is sometimes found in margarine and baked goods. 
  • Whey: Derived from milk as it is processed into cheese, whey is found in commercial food products such as crackers and breads. 

For lots more features on healthy lifestyle, explore VegKitchen’s Healthy Vegan Kitchen page.

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