12 Surprising Foods You Should Never Serve a Vegan

To be a vegan is to avoid all animal products, yet it's not as easy as it sounds. Animal derivatives can be found in a whole array of surprising foods.

Hand pouring unhealthy non dairy creamer from sachet into hot coffeePhoto: Shutterstock / ThamKC
Photo: Shutterstock / ThamKC

1. Red Candy

At first glance, Rainbow Mentos seem to be vegan. But the candy’s plant-based colors also contain a food coloring called carmine. Alternately labeled natural red 4, E120, C.I. 75470, crimson lake, carmine lake or cochineal, the red color is made from cochineal beetles. Yep—insects. Carmine is a common ingredient in most red candies. Skittles, however, recently swapped carmine for red 40, which is derived from petroleum.

2. Orange Juice

Vegans can drink orange juice, right? Not necessarily. When it comes to fortified juices, it’s best to proceed with caution. Omega-3s are often derived from fish oil from sardines, anchovies and tilapia. And vitamin D can be plant-derived (D2), or it can come from sheep wool grease, known as lanolin (D3). Tasty!

3. Nondairy Creamer

Based on the name, you’d think nondairy creamer is dairy-free. Well, think again. Sodium caseinate, a milk protein, is one of its main ingredients.

4. Jelly Beans

That glossy shine on most jelly beans is what makes the delicious sweet treats non-vegan. It’s made from beeswax, along with a shellac derived from insects. Vegan jelly beans are out there. Just be sure to look closely to avoid these two ingredients.

5. Sugarcane

Refined white sugar is made from either sugarcane or sugar beets. Activated carbon from bone char is used to filter and bleach sugarcane to produce white (non-vegan) sugar. For vegan white sugar, look for one made from sugar beets.

6. Bread

Commercial bakery items like bread, bagels, pizza dough and pastries usually contain L-cysteine from cow horns, feathers and, most commonly, human hair. Yes, human hair. A nonessential amino acid, L-cysteine is added as a dough conditioner to speed processing. It is occasionally synthetically produced.

7. Peanuts

It seems safe to assume salted peanuts are vegan, but this is not always the case. Gelatin (derived from the skin, ligaments, tendons and/or bones of cows and pigs) is often used as an adhesive for salt, spices and other flavorings.

8. Margarine

An alternative to butter, margarine is not always free of animal-derived components. Ingredients to look out for include suet, tallow, oleic acid, gelatin, lecithin (if animal-derived), casein and whey. Vegan margarines are usually clearly marked.

9. Marshmallows, Gummy Bears and Jell-O

The consistency of marshmallows, gummy bears and Jell-O comes from gelatin. As with flavored peanuts, above, most gummy candies contain this animal-derived protein. Look for products that use seaweed-derived agar instead.

10. Refried Beans

On your next Mexican night, make sure you check that can of refried beans. Lard, which is fat from the abdomens of pigs, is a common ingredient.

11. Chewing Gum

Originally made from the chicle, a gum from the sapodilla tree, chewing gums are now produced using more readily available ingredients, including glycerin, a byproduct of soap, which can be derived from plant or animal fat. The source is not always indicated, so you may need to check with the manufacturer.

12. Wine

Fining agents, usually animal-derived, are used in some wines to eliminate tannins and the particles that give it a cloudy appearance. There are various fining agents, such as casein, chitin (fiber from crustacean shells), blood and bone marrow, fish oil, egg albumen, gelatin and isinglass (from fish bladder membranes). Look for wines marked as vegan, whose fining methods do not incorporate animal products.

All that said, should you have to cater to your vegan friends’ preferences at a dinner party? Here’s our take on this type of etiquette.

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Lucy Marinelli
Lucy is an Australian, Bali-based writer of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. She’s currently polishing three books for publication and has a poetry cycle (or three) in the works. Lucy also coaches writers, helping them to write their novel or nonfiction book, improve their writing skills and find their flow (no more writer’s block).