23 Foods Vegetarians Can’t Eat (But Don’t Know It!)

By Katie Trant | Last Updated: August 21, 2017

23 Foods Vegetarians Can't Eat (But Don't Know It!)

23 Foods Vegetarians Can't Eat (But Don't Know It!)

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? 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.

Marshmallows

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.

Gummy candy

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.

Pop Tarts

Yup, gelatin again. It’s in the frosting spread over the top of Pop Tarts.

Frosted Mini Wheats

And it turns up again in Frosted Mini Wheats. Why, gelatin? Why?

Yogurt

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.

Jello

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.

Altoid Mints

Gelatin!

Panna Cotta

This milky, jiggly dessert is always so tempting! But traditionally gelatin is used to set the milk, so unfortunately panna cotta isn’t vegetarian. Boo!

Hard Cheeses

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.

Caesar Salad

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.

Worcestershire Sauce

Anchovies, again. But the good news is that there are a handful of vegetarian Worcestershire sauces available these days, so look out for those.

Refried Beans

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.

Pie Pastry

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.

Tortillas

There may be lard lurking in your tortillas. Check your labels, and ask when ordering at Mexican restaurant.

Corn Bread Mix

Check your labels! You’ll be surprised to find lard listed as an ingredient in many commercial corn bread mixes.

Commercial Cupcakes + Twinkies

More lard! This stuff is in everything!

French Fries

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.

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.

Thai Curries

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.

Vegetable Soups

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. And French Onion soup? Sounds so good, but it’s usually made with beef stock.

Canned Beans

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!

White Sugar

A lot of white sugar is refined using bone char, so it’s technically not vegetarian! Look for unrefined sugars for your baking instead.

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.

Gummy bears photo via Shutterstock.

About Katie Trant

Katie is a university-trained nutritionist and professional writer based in Stockholm, Sweden. She is a vegetarian of more than two decades, and is passionate about real food. Her blog The Muffin Myth is all about approachable nutrition.

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Comments

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.

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