Surprising Foods That Are NOT Vegan
Whether you’re new to veganism or a seasoned pro, these surprising foods that are not vegan are likely to shock you!
One caveat: This post is not meant to incite fear mongering or to cause any discouragement. It’s simply to help with anyone interested in veganism and to highlight common foods that may contain non-vegan items. Veganism is not about perfection, and so accidentally consuming these products does not make you non-vegan. I hope this is a helpful post!
When I became a vegan, there was a lot that I expected—no cheese, no dairy, no eggs, and no meat. But no Altoids?! That was news to me!
In fact, there’s a surprising number of everyday foods that contain animal by-products, which means they’re not suitable for vegan diets. If you’re a vegan for ethical reasons, it’s important to know what these foods are so you can avoid them.
Below, I list some of the most surprising foods that are not vegan, along with some vegan-friendly substitutes to try.
These little breath mints contain gelatin, a protein derived from animal collagen. Don’t worry, though, there are plenty of vegan-friendly breath mints out there—just look for ones that don’t contain any gelatin or other animal-derived ingredients.
Most marshmallows contain gelatin and are definitely not vegan. Luckily, there are some tasty vegan marshmallow brands on the market these days—try Dandies or Sweet & Sara in your next mug of hot chocolate for a delicious vegan treat!
Gummy bears and other gummy candies are also made with gelatin. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying your favourite gummy candy—there are some amazing vegan-friendly options out there! I recommend Surf Sweets and Yum Earth, which are gelatin-free gummies.
Beer and Wine
Yep, you read that right. Beer and wine are often made with animal-derived ingredients like isinglass (made from fish bladders) or casein (a dairy protein). It’s not always easy to determine which beers and wines are made with animal ingredients by reading the labels, but Barnivore is an awesome resource that allows you to check almost any brand by name.
Bread and other baked goods are usually vegan, but you should always read the label to make sure. Some breads—especially enriched breads like brioche or challah—contain eggs or dairy, so it’s best to double-check before you take a bite. Try my vegan Japanese milk bread if you love the taste and texture of enriched bread, but want to skip the dairy and eggs!
Sugar may seem like a food that should be vegan, but many brands of sugar use bone char (a form of animal charcoal) for processing. To avoid this, look for brands of sugar that explicitly state they’re vegan-friendly or buy beet sugar, rather than cane, which is vegan by default. Using organic sugar also helps to ensure it is vegan-friendly.
Okay, not all French fries, but some French fries are cooked in beef tallow or made with beef flavouring, like McDonald’s. To make sure you’re getting vegan-friendly fries, look for restaurants that use vegetable oil, or make your own vegan fries at home.
Store-Bought Pie Crust
Surprise! Store-bought pie crusts often contain lard or butter, so they’re not vegan. To ensure that your pies are vegan-friendly, look for brands that use vegetable oil instead of animal fat or make my vegan pie crust or gluten-free vegan pie crust.
Some bagels contain eggs or honey, so look for brands that explicitly state they’re free of animal products. Another ingredient to look for is L-cysteine, which is sometimes used to make bagels soft and chewy and give them a longer shelf-life—this is derived from animal sources, so you’ll want to avoid it if you’re on a strict vegan diet.
Red Sodas (and Other Red Foods)
Surprisingly, many red-coloured foods are made with cochineal or carmine, which is an insect-derived dye. Look for brands that use vegetable-based dyes instead of animal-derived ones, and if you’re unsure, it’s best to pass and buy something that’s not bright red instead!
Most pastas are vegan, but you should always check the label to be positive. Some brands of pasta, especially those sold fresh in the refrigerated section, use eggs as an ingredient. Dried pasta is more likely to be vegan, or you can try your hand at making your own fresh pasta at home.
You’d think refried beans are a reliable vegan food, but many brands contain lard, or animal fat. To find vegan-friendly refried beans, look for brands that use vegetable oil instead of animal fat, like Amy’s. You can also make your own refried beans by cooking black beans or pinto beans in vegetable broth with a quartered onion and a few garlic cloves, then pureeing them and seasoning to taste.
Most gums are gelatin-free, so they’re suitable for vegans, but there are a few brands that add gelatin for some extra chewiness, like Trident. Look for brands that use natural plant extracts instead of animal-derived ingredients.
I mean, it says non-dairy right in the name—it’s got to be a vegan food, right?! Surprise! Non-dairy creamers can contain casein, which is a dairy protein. I like to use my vegan heavy cream substitute in my coffee, or try full-fat coconut milk.
Chocolate may seem like a vegan-friendly food, but many brands of chocolate contain milk or milk products—and yes, this includes dark chocolate. Read the label and be on the lookout for dairy ingredients. If you’re baking, Enjoy Life chocolate chips are vegan as well as dozens of other brands.
Worcestershire sauce may contain anchovies, so it’s not vegan. To make sure your Worcestershire sauce is vegan-friendly, look for brands that don’t contain any fish or other animal products, like Amy’s.
Surprisingly, many brands of non-dairy yogurt contain ingredients like casein or whey (both dairy proteins). To ensure your yogurt is vegan-friendly, read the ingredient list or look for the word vegan on the packaging. Kite Hill, Silk, Forager, and So Delicious are vegan, or you can make your own vegan yogurt at home.
Sprinkles may seem like a vegan-friendly food, but many brands contain confectioner’s glaze—an ingredient that is made from beetle shells. Insect-derived food dye and gelatin may also be ingredients in sprinkles. To avoid this, look for brands of sprinkles that explicitly state that they’re vegan on the label.
Artificial Vanilla Flavour
Artificial vanilla flavour is usually made with castoreum, which is an extract from beavers’ glands. (Gross, right?!) To make sure your vanilla is vegan-friendly, buy pure vanilla extract, rather than the bottles of artificial vanilla flavouring. (The real stuff tastes better too!)
Many cereals are vegan-friendly, but some brands contain honey, gelatin, animal-derived vitamin D3, or other animal products—and you might be surprised by which ones aren’t vegan! Even Frosted Mini Wheats are made with gelatin in the glaze. I love starting my day with homemade granola for breakfast instead of cereal, but if you go with store-bought, be sure to read the label carefully before making your purchase.
When you became vegan, were you surprised by some of the foods that are not vegan? Are there any foods you’d add to my list? Leave a comment below!