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.
I personally like this one from Annie's and this one from Old El Paso.
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.
Regarding white sugars:
I found in Canada if you live on the East Coast the Roger's factory does not use bone char but the West does. So provinces from B.C. to Manitoba the sugar is filtered through bone char. If you want to avoid it go with Red Path sugar (available at Walmart) for all their sugars and it's vegan. I even emailed companies. I'm not vegan or vegetarian but I make darn sure when I bake for vegetarians and especially vegans that what I'm baking is exactly that.
It’s not that we “can’t” eat them, it’s that we choose not to, it’s a choice not a restriction. Many of those foods listed actually do have vegetarian varieties readily available in most stores.
Katie Trant says
Good point, Tom!
Tom you my friend are a genius
Tom you are so correct
David Murray says
Many years ago, long before the era of processed foods, people knew just what they were eating. Meat from a butcher, fish from a fishmonger and fruit, vegetables from the fruit and veg shop. The bakers used ingredients that were clear, you only had to ask. If you wanted to avoid meat, don’t go to the butcher or fishmonger. If you wanted to avoid eggs, don’t ask for them in the shop etc.
Now we have highly processed foods and we struggle to discern their content. At one time, life in an English village was far simpler.
vegan lady/ vl says
yes we as vegans/vegetarians have a option to eat these we must not eat meat as vegans/vegetarians (vv) but overall i feel like we still should not eat gelatine because it does require the animal to be dead and meat also requires the animal to be dead so it would be the same thing eating gelatine etc; and if you do eat gelatine you still are vegetarian/vegan(vv) but not really because yoU have consumed animal etc me as a vegetarian would never eat that stuff but we can still eat it?
vegan lady/ vl says
lol sorry for late reply
sincerely vegan lady/vl
as a child vegetarian some of those were annoying but i get though it
This article talks about what VEGETARIANS 'can't eat.' It should be what vegans 'can't eat.' Vegetarians still eat these things, they just do not eat MEAT. Vegans do not eat anything coming from an animal, such as gelatin.
Katie Trant says
Hey Hannah, lots of vegetarians don't eat gelatin or rennet but do eat animal products such as dairy, eggs, and honey that vegans don't eat. The difference is that gelatin and rennet both require the animal to be dead, where as eggs and dairy do not.
Exactly Katie. Thank you! I have to admit that it's a bit disappointing that in this day and age we still have to explain what being a vegetarian means.
This reply for me didn't make much sense.. I mean, the definition of a vegetarian is that they don't eat meat.
A vegan is someone who doesn't eat any animal products.
I think this article was a bit strange, the title definitely a provocative one.
Tiffany Marhut says
I love you for saying what you just said I 100% agree!! ❤❤
vegan lady/ vl says
Yes 👍👍 i also 100 % agree ❤
Mia King says
Actually, when you purchase dairy products you’re supporting the dairy industry, that forcefully impregnates cows and separates them from their children to take their milk, until they can’t produce anymore, and then are sent off to be slaughtered. When you buy eggs you’re supporting the industry the macerates baby chicks that are born because it’s cheaper to kill them them to grow them into chickens, and they can’t produce eggs. And with honey, it’s often easier to kill off colonies in the winter as they don’t produce enough honey, and they also impregnate the queen bee or chose her by force. All this to say, although it doesn’t seem like vegetarians pay for the killing of animals, they are often unaware they do because of what the industry hides from us. Hopefully after learning this you can do a little more research cut out all animal products as life is more important than taste (from a fifteen year old in a family of meat eaters).
Cristian G says
What’s your opinion on plant based milk and cage free eggs? Personally coconut milk is ok for me but idk how I feel abt cage free eggs, I mean their still locked up, I’m not sure.
Mia. I agree completely with you. I’m proud of you also. Keep it up.
I'm 12, and went from pescatarian to vegetarian and hope when I'm older to be vegan, I just love animals so much and hate that their mistreated! This article was really helpful, now I know to check different foods that I would'nt even imagine to not be vegetarian friendly!
I'm only 9 and I am trying to be a vegetarian cause all those animals have a life like us . (Sheep,pig,cows and lots more)
Micarah Tewers says
Same here! I’m 10!
You make my heart happy. Keep it up!
It makes me so happy to see young people with such respect for life.
Same, I'm 12!
Jere David says
Why is so hard being vegetarian, they put these name that i dont know and think that there is no flesh in it like rennet gelatin and lard. what is this stuff?
these ingredients are very common in actuality. gelatin is used in so many products, and lard is used often in Mexican cuisine from my experience. it's not that they're meat necessarily, they're animal products.
dang i need to start looking at the labels of what i eat and see how they make them i'm a vegetarian and i didn't know what lard was or and tallow was made out of so now i'm going to be more careful on what i eat thank you this helped a lot for me
Vegetarians ARE allowed to consume dairy products considering there was no harm due to the animal. So most things on this list are very misleading and can confuse a person wanting to be vegetarian. You did, however, forget to put EGGS as one the main things vegetarians can not eat. Due to the fact that if you were to incubate the egg, a chick would form from the “yolk.”
The eggs that are sold in stores aren't inseminated, so a chick would not form. Hens lay eggs regardless of weather or not they have mated.
Cap'n Dave says
Most, if not all eggs sold for consumption are infertile. Therefore, vegetarians can, and do, eat eggs. I'm vegan, so I do not.
Very informative list thank you, just a note though, lard is not the rendered fat of beef, it's pork, suet or tallow is what beef fat is called.
skit reve says
does egge fall in the dairy category also ??
Thanks for this, became vegetarian a few weeks ago and I had no idea that these things contained meat/gelatin etc
Lard is rendered pork fat. Tallow is rendered beef fat.
Oops, I missed John's comment above 🙂
Regarding eating eggs. It’s a form of enslavement. And if you care about animals and that’s why your a vegetarian then any form of animal enslavement should be wrong or at least strike a cord with you. I’m vegetarian but starting tomorrow I will be taking the black vegan challenge for the month of June and consume only vegan food items. I hope to continue this forever. I love animals and I’m very spiritual. I don’t believe in enslavement of any kinds. Thank you for this list. It was perfect and opened up my eyes to things I needed to be more aware of. I appreciate you for this.
Perhaps this should be titled "Foods with animal products".