As tempting as it is to blindly eat something, and assume it’s entirely vegetarian, it’s actually the worst thing you could do.
When I became entirely vegetarian, I learned, mostly by accident and always after I eat something, that what I just ate wasn’t entirely vegetarian. There are some things in our food’s ingredient list that won’t blatantly say “made with animal parts”, because they are put under completely different names.
In the UK and Ireland, they have a system where they have well-marked symbols which labels whether or not the product is vegetarian, (they have yet to have vegan-labelled products as far as I’m concerned). Unfortunately, we have nothing like that here in Canada or the US.
This is why it is important to educate and research beforehand, so you are prepared and well-equipped before your next snack or meal.
Here are a few food ingredients that can be rather common in an ingredient list, that you may or may not know are not vegetarian:
Gelatin – I never thought anything of this ingredient before, and had assumed once that it was entirely plant-based. But when I did my research, I was shocked that gelatin is actually what you get from boiling a certain protein in animal bones, intestines, organs and connective tissue from horse, cattle and pig.
There are many things that can be found with gelatin, sometimes foods that you don’t expect to have it (some Pop Tart flavours for example), so it is important to read the ingredient list before buying or eating a product.
Some foods that will almost always have gelatin in them are: Jell-O, marshmallow, gummy candy (Though I’ve been finding more and more made with pectin and gum base. Just check to be sure), low-fat yogurt and gel capsule pills. Some ice cream may have gelatin as well.
Rennet – This is only a cause for concern if you still consume diary, as it is a common part in making them. Although it looks harmless on the ingredient list, what rennet actually is, is that it contains the forth stomach chamber from unweaned, infant calves. Sometimes stomachs from older cows are used for special milk or cheeses. When it comes to milk from different animals, sometimes those animal’s stomachs are used instead, kid for goat milk and lamb for sheep milk.
It’s not a pleasant thought, to be sure, so even if you still eat cheese and milk, be extra careful to check the carton, container, or bag for rennet before consuming the product.
Cochineal – I have not come across this particular ingredient yet during the last few months of intently reading food labels, but it’s another hidden non-vegetarian ingredient to look out for. Although made from crushing the female insects of Dactylopius Coccus, it isn’t acceptable in a vegetarian diet. The female Dactylopius Coccus is usually boiled alive or cooked by sun exposure. Their scales, which are then crushed, make a red powder.
Cochineal is used mainly for red food colouring, it can also go under the name Carminic Acid, and Carmines Natural Red 4.
Foods you have to especially watch out for Cochineal are alcoholic drinks, jams, fruit pie filling, candy and some cheeses.
Disodium inosinate – This is a flavour enhancer, and can be tricky to recognize on the ingredient list, since it has a tricky name (at least one I would have trouble remembering), also known as MSG. It is made from meat extracts and fish (dried sardines).
Some foods that regularly contain disodium inosinate are instant noodles, potato chips and a variety of similar snacks.
Disodium 5′-ribonucleotides – Like disodium inosinate, it’s used as a flavour enhancer, made from meat extracts. Foods that commonly use this additive are fast foods, snack foods, sauces, chips, crackers and flavoured noodles.
Bone Phosphate – Used as an anti-caking agent, emulsifier and/or, source of phosphorous in food supplements made of, you guessed it, animal bones from cows and pigs. It may also come up as calcium phosphate or tricalcium phosphate in some ingredient list.
Bone Phosphate is primarily used in toothpaste, cosmetics, meal supplements, and some cheeses.
I have found this amazingly detailed list of food additives that are not vegetarian, which is much longer than the list I have given you, but it’s worth a look anyhow: http://www.veggieglobal.com/nutrition/non-vegetarian-food-additives.htm
And for a Vegan-friendly (can be used for Vegetarians as well) list I have found this one:
It may look daunting, but most of the things on this list are not at all common. Do look at it and be sure, and do your research.
What takes up much of this list is food dye, which is bad for you to begin with, but many contain animal products. Cochineal is just one of many to look out for. Some food dyes contain bone phosphate or shellac (another insect).
As a side note, I have come across some people who weren’t aware that chicken broth or flavourings, was in fact not vegetarian. Any sort of flavouring, such as those used on instant noodles, they do contain animal parts, or made from boiling the bones of chicken (for chicken broth) or cow (for beef broth). Next time you see chicken flavourings, chicken broth, chicken powder, beef flavourings etc, on the ingredient list, remember that it is not vegetarian. Also be very careful reading any soup ingredients, as I have come across many “vegetable” soups with chicken broth.
For vegans, there are many, many more things to look out for, but that’s for another day, another article. Essentially, the only tip I would like to share with some vegan readers today, is to check your soy products to make sure they don’t contain dairy products. I have heard more than once, that some soy “dairy” companies do add diary to their products, and as contradicting as it may sound, it happens more than you may think.
Now you know what these hidden non-veg food ingredients are, now you can feel confident the next time you read the ingredient list that what you put in your mouth is vegetarian-friendly.
As most of this may seem daunting, especially for newer vegetarians, the best way to avoid, or at least screen some of these things out of your grocery shopping routine, is shopping in vegetarian/vegan specialty stores, or staying in the organic aisle of your grocery store (as they usually have less ingredients in the products and fewer if no food dyes or additives).
Remember, ALWAYS READ THE INGREDIENT LIST, even if you think that it’s perfectly vegetarian, I have come across more than a few surprises already from not doing so. And, it doesn’t cost you anything to check.