If you’re a vegetarian you know to stay away from meat, poultry, and fish at the very least, and vegans also avoid eggs and dairy. That’s obvious and easy.
But what about foods that seem to be vegetarian but actually aren’t? What can vegetarians eat? What can't vegetarians eat?
We’re sorry to say that there are hidden animal products lurking in lots of things you may not have thought of. To help you out, we’ve put together this list of 23 foods vegetarians can't eat.
Most people know this one, but in case you don’t, gelatin is a thickening and gelling agent made from the skin, bones, and hooves of animals. Marshmallows are made from sugar and gelatin.
But! There are several brands of vegan marshmallows on the market these days, so be sure to seek those out for all your campfire needs. These vegan marshmallows from Dandies are the most popular.
Here, again, the culprit is gelatin. Read your labels because not all gummy candies contain gelatin (some use cornstarch instead) but the vast majority do. These Annie's fruit snacks are a great gelatin-free brand.
Yup, gelatin again. It’s in the frosting spread over the top of Pop Tarts. But you'll be happy to know that many of the unfrosted varieties are vegan-friendly, like these unfrosted strawberry, blueberry, and brown sugar cinnamon flavors.
Frosted Mini Wheats
And it turns up again in Frosted Mini Wheats. Why, gelatin? Why? Try this Whole Foods brand for a gelatin-free alternative.
If you’re buying yogurt, read your labels. Many low and reduced fat yoghurts use thickening and gelling agents to help them achieve a thick and creamy texture, and quite often that gelling agent is, yep, gelatin.
The Stonyfield Farms, Dannon All Natural, and Horizon brands are usually gelatin free.
This one is pretty obvious because it’s in the name, but Jello isn’t vegetarian. You can, however, find some vegan Jello on the market that’s made with agar agar, a seaweed product, instead of gelatin. I recommend trying this one.
Gelatin! Again. But Tic Tacs are vegan friendly.
This milky, jiggly dessert is always so tempting! But traditionally gelatin is used to set the milk, so unfortunately panna cotta isn’t vegetarian.
But if you're up for a homemade version, this recipe uses agar agar instead of gelatin. And it's delicious!
Many hard cheeses, including Parmesan, contain rennet, which is an enzyme found in the lining of a cow’s intestines. Rennet causes the milk to coagulate in the cheese making process, which is how we get hard cheeses.
But for the cheese lovers out there, there are plenty of cheeses made with vegetarian microbial enzymes instead of rennet, so you just need to read your labels. Here's a nice guide to rennet-free cheeses.
Traditional Caesar dressing is made with anchovies, and anchovies ain’t vegetarian. Psst — we use miso paste instead of anchovies in our kale Caesar salad.
For a bottled vegetarian-friendly Caesar dressing, this one from Follow your Heart is pretty good.
Anchovies, again. But the good news is that there are a handful of vegetarian Worcestershire sauces available these days, so look out for those. This one from the Wizard's is probably the most well known.
Bad news for bean lovers, there may be lard – rendered beef fat – lurking in your beans.
Check the labels when you’re buying canned refried beans, or ask before you order them at your favourite Mexican restaurant.
Lard! Lard does make for a really tender flaky pie crust, so it’s used in a lot of commercially prepared pastry.
Tenderflake, for example, uses lard in their crust. But they do also now have a vegetarian crust available, so, again, check your labels.
I really like this one from Wewalka.
There may be lard lurking in your tortillas. Check your labels, and ask when ordering at Mexican restaurant. All of the Mission brand tortillas are lard free.
Corn Bread Mix
Check your labels! You’ll be surprised to find lard listed as an ingredient in many commercial corn bread mixes. This Jiffy cornbread mix is a safe option.
Commercial Cupcakes + Twinkies
More lard! This stuff is in everything! These creme cakes from Katz are a good lard-free option.
Check what your fries are cooked in. Often times it’s vegetable fat, but some restaurants and fast food chains still cook their fries in beef fat.
I’ve even been to a restaurant that cooked their fries in duck fat, so it’s always a good idea to ask.
In the US, Burger King fries are vegetarian friendly but McDonald's are not!
Mince Meat Tarts
You wouldn’t think that these holiday tarts would have any lurking animal ingredients, but traditionally they are made with beef tallow / lard. Of course, you can make a homemade version that is lard free.
So many dreamy vegetable-based curries on the menu. And tofu! Unfortunately, many Thai curry pastes are made with shrimp paste.
Even pad Thai usually has fish sauce in it, so be sure to ask before you order. Usually yellow curry is reliably vegan, but red and green curries are often not.
For my own cooking, I use these Thai Kitchen curry pastes, which are vegetarian friendly.
How annoying is it to see a beautiful vegetable soup on the menu only to find out that it’s been made with chicken broth? It’s always a good idea to ask.
Split pea soup should be a vegetarian dream come true. All those protein-packed peas! But traditionally this soup is made with ham hock, so be sure to check before you buy it. Or try this Herbed Fresh Pea Soup as an alternative.
And French Onion soup? Sounds so good, but it's usually made with beef stock. Try making your own Vegan French Onion soup at home instead.
Those canned beans in tomato sauce are such a great easy meal fix. Who doesn’t love beans on toast?!
But as with split pea soup, traditionally the beans are made with a ham hock in the pot. Lots of brands now have vegetarian versions, so read your labels!
A lot of white sugar is refined using bone char, so it’s technically not vegetarian! Look for unrefined sugars for your baking instead, like this brand.
Some Wines and Beer
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but some wines and beer are filtered with isinglass, a fining product that comes from fish bladders. There are still lots of good vegetarian options out there, however, so just get to know your brands. Barnivore is a great resource for vegetarian-friendly drinks.