Thought These Nine Products Were Plant-Based? Think Again!
Endless interrogation is all part and parcel of going vegan. For a while at least, you can expect to be quizzed on your motivations, your intake of nutrients and whether you intend to stick it out long term.
All of which quickly subsides, paving the way for a sublimely satisfying plant-based lifestyle you’ll never come to regret.
But what happens next has a tendency to take some of the more unsuspecting plant-based converts by surprise. Your good intentions and strategic shopping habits are suddenly thrown into disarray, by the realisation that several things you thought were vegan are nothing of the sort.
Some of which do a fantastic job masquerading as plant-based, when the reality is no less than shocking.
Animal Products Are Hiding (Almost) Everywhere
Back in 2018, the BBC published an eye-opening article on the various everyday products and ingredients that are not nearly as plant-based as they appear to be. Some of which are best avoided for entirely different reasons, but in all instances could easily fool you into thinking they’re vegan friendly.
As a stark reminder of the perils of taking things for granted, here’s a brief overview of nine things no vegan should be going anywhere near:
First up, it shouldn’t take the inclusion of animal products in cigarettes to motivate anyone to quit tobacco. The fact that every cigarette is killing you slowly and painfully from the inside out should be all the motivation you need.
Still, all vegans and vegetarians who smoke might be interested to learn that quite a lot of big-name cigarettes contain castoreum. If you’ve never heard of castoreum, it’s probably for the best. Castoreum is a secretion that comes from glands positioned right next to a beaver’s rectum.
You read that right - cigarettes routinely contain a liquid that’s more or less squeezed out of the backside of a beaver.
As for why cigarette manufacturers go to such bizarre lengths, castoreum supposedly improves the flavour and smoothness of the smoke. And if all this wasn’t enough, castoreum is also routinely used in a bunch of low-grade artificial food flavourings and in the manufacture of many perfumes.
Still feel like lighting up?
2. Soft drinks
An expose several years ago found that without making any real attempts to clarify its inclusion, some of the world’s biggest soft drink producers were using animal-based ingredients in their products. Lilt and Diet Pepsi were two of the offending items, which were found to be anything but suitable for vegans.
Fruit juices in particular were determined to be nowhere near as plant-based as they appeared, which in many cases contained beef gelatine as a clarifying agent. Traces of shellac were also detected in countless fruit juices and soft drinks - a resin secreted by the female lac bug.
Hence, taking things for granted with the juices and soft drinks you buy probably isn’t a good idea. Unless every ingredient can be traced back to its plant-based origins, it might not be nearly as vegan as you think.
3. Some ciders
The same also applies to some ciders, which in many instances still contain traces of cochineal and/or gelatine. As you may or may not know by now, cochineal is an ingredient made from the crushed shells of beetles.
Mercifully - at least four vegan cider-lovers - there are now countless quality ciders available that are 100% vegan and proud of the fact. Though it’s worth remembering that unless a cider specifically states that it is suitable for vegans, there’s a good chance it probably isn’t.
Ever heard the rumour that the vast majority of wines contain fish bladder extract? It may sound too disgusting to be even remotely plausible, but it’s true as true can be. Isinglass is one of the most commonly utilised clarifying agents used in the production of wine, which is made from the bladders of certain types of fish.
And just in case you wondered, the answer is yes - isinglass finds its way into the vast majority of mass-produced wines from all the most notable and recognisable vineyards worldwide.
As above, the only wines you can count on as 100% vegan are those that specifically state that they are vegan on the label. It’s perfectly possible to produce premium-quality wine without using any animal-based ingredients whatsoever, but it’s cheaper to stick with isinglass - and that’s what most do.
Something to bear in mind next time you order a glass of the house red, which you can rest assured is almost definitely not vegan!
Continuing the booze-based theme, brewers all over the world have been using isinglass in their recipes for exactly the same reasons for decades. It’s a widely available and cheap clarifying agent that makes beer look brighter and more attractive, which means it inevitably finds its way into most generic beers, lagers and mass-produced alcoholic drinks.
Still, the good news in this instance is that more forward-thinking breweries than ever before are setting their sights on alternatives to isinglass. One of which being the Guinness brewery, which over the past couple of years phased out the use of isinglass in most of its products.
In addition to this, the market for craft vegan beers - many of which are simply incredible - is growing at its fastest ever pace. Picking up 100% vegan beer is a piece of (plant-based) cake, so there’s really no need to take chances on anything that may contain fish bladder juice.
6. Some types of breakfast cereals
You’d be forgiven for thinking that breakfast cereals manufactured primarily from grains and other healthy goodies couldn’t possibly contain animal products. You’d also be completely wrong, as a quite surprising proportion of breakfast cereals aren’t suitable for vegan diets.
Something to be on the lookout for - breakfast cereals that stake claim to being “fortified with Vitamin D3” almost always contain lanolin. This is one of the primary components of most Vitamin D3 supplements, and routinely finds its way into breakfast cereals.
Cereals that contain chocolate are often manufactured using milk, others contain whey which is a milk byproduct and so on. The same rule therefore applies once again - only breakfast cereals that clearly state they are 100% vegan can be counted on as such.
7. Standard store-bought sweets
We say ‘standard store-bought’ sweets because this applies to pretty much everything that is not a specialist vegan product. You probably know that gelatine is made using the bones of cows, which means you also staying away from the usual jellies is a good idea.
But what many fail to realise is how gelatine and countless other animal-based ingredients routinely find their way into sweets, treats and snacks in supermarkets. On the plus side, there’s no shortage of alternatives to gelatine (and other animal products) that can be used by manufacturers to make vegan sweets.
It’s just that unless you buy sweets that are clearly labelled as vegan and have been produced with plant-based lifestyles in mind, there’s a strong chance they’ll contain at least one animal derived product.
8. Worcestershire sauce
Vegan Worcestershire sauce is the ultimate pantry essential, which can make just about anything you cook taste a million times better. We stressed the ‘vegan’ in this particular statement, given how conventional Worcestershire sauce is neither vegan not vegetarian.
One of the most important ingredients that gives conventional Worcestershire sauce its signature flavour is anchovies. Not that you can pick them out in the taste of the final product, but they’re in there - or at least some kind of extract based on fish of a similar variety.
On the plus side, it’s clearly featured on the label, so there’s no reason why you need to slip up.
9. Icing sugar
Last but not least, the final product the BBC showcased in its expose came as a major surprise to many. Overseas, a surprising proportion of the everyday granulated sugar produced is not suitable for vegans, as it is produced using the powdered bones of animals. Though in the UK, most granulated sugar is vegan, due to different production methods being used.
However, this unfortunately does not apply to most types of icing sugar. This is because icing sugar almost always contains powdered egg white, which is incorporated to give icing sugar its resulting effect when it sets hard.
As with most things, there’s no shortage of vegan alternatives available. Though as with all items in this list, you have to assume that if it does not clearly say that it is vegan-friendly, it almost definitely isn’t.