Everyday Lifestyle

8 Foods You Think Are Vegan — But Aren’t

Being able to figure out what foods are not suitable for vegans or vegetarians, at first glance, may seem really easy. We often assume that certain foods, snacks, cereals, ingredients or drinks are free from animal products or are entirely plant-based, which can lead to some unintended surprises …

For those of us who are vegan or vegetarian, carefully reading ingredient lists and labels for anything that may compromise our dietary needs or choices has become part of our routine — but even we can get caught out sometimes. Spotting what isn’t safe or appropriate to eat can be made more difficult, especially for non-vegans/vegetarians, if there’s any uncertainty about what to be on the lookout for.

Here are 8 common food items that may not always be vegan …

graphic link to an everyday lifestyle post on transatlantic notes called 8 foods you think are vegan but aren't

Orange Juice

Not all orange juice is vegan — no, really. If it’s 100% orange juice then it’s safe, but things become a bit more complicated when it’s a fortified juice. If it has vitamin D added to it, it can go one of two ways: vitamin D2 is plant-based, but D3 is most likely derived from lanolin (oil from sheep’s wool). There is a type of vitamin D3 that is vegan (from lichen) but unless the fortified orange juice brand you’re buying specifically states the vitamin D it’s using is vegan — it isn’t. Omega-3 fatty acids are also sometimes added to orange juice and if not clearly labelled as coming from a vegan-friendly source, it’s likely to be fish-based (from fish oil or fish-derived gelatin). Tropicana’s Heart Healthy Orange Juice, for example, is made with anchovy and sardine oil and tilapia gelatin. I never thought I’d have to check orange juice for animal products but it just goes to show how careful we all have to be.

Cereal

Much like orange juice, if it’s a variety that’s been fortified with vitamin D (specifically vitamin D3) unless you know it’s come from a vegan-friendly source, it’s likely to be animal-derived (lanolin). Frosted varieties of cereal can also be deceptive as the frosting can contain gelatin, such as in Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats.

White Sugar

As a staple in most households, you’d be forgiven for thinking that white sugar is always going to be vegan, but some types are processed using bone char (also called natural carbon). Bone char is a decolourizing filter that whitens the sugar and is made from high-heated animal bones. It can be confusing because not all white sugar is made this way, but if you want to be sure, there are clearly labelled ‘bone char free’ varieties available in most stores.

close up of some white sugar on a spoon

Peanuts

A go-to protein snack for a lot of us is roasted peanuts, but some varieties use gelatin to help the salt (and any other spices used) to stick to the nuts — Planter’s Dry Roasted Peanuts are an example of this — so it’s worth checking the ingredients label carefully. If you want to make sure your nuts are vegan-friendly you may have to consider making your own — if you do, check out this recipe recently shared on TN.

Worcestershire Sauce

There are many fish-free varieties available to buy, but just be aware that it can be common for some Worcestershire sauces to contain anchovies (they add a saltiness and umami texture).

Cake Sprinkles

Finding vegan-friendly sprinkles can prove difficult because most types either contain gelatin and/or confectioner’s glaze (which is made from shellac, a hardened insect secretion). Confectioner’s glaze may also be present in a lot of candy and sweet treats so if someone is a strict vegan, this may be an issue.

photo of some cake squares topped with white icing and multi-coloured sprinkles

Marshmallows

I think it’s commonly known that most brands of marshmallows contain gelatin, but I just wanted to include it here in this article to make sure that everyone is aware that there are vegan-friendly options available, you’ve just got to check the ingredient list and look for them carefully.

McDonald’s Fries

Iconic? Yes. A modern pop culture fast food classic? Yes. Vegan? No. Even though they are fried in vegetable oil, a natural beef flavouring is added to them that also contains dairy. There are fast food vegan fries available (like Burger King), you just might have to do a bit of research first to make sure there aren’t any added ingredients that are not expected.

If someone is a strict, ethical vegan none of the food items listed in this article are appropriate to give them. Some vegetarians and dietary vegans (sometimes referred to as plant-based) may not be concerned about avoiding things like vitamin D3, shellac or bone char — it all comes down to personal choice — but knowing what we consume and put into our bodies (or give to other people) should be something that we’re all aware of no matter what our diet or lifestyle.

Have you found any unexpected ingredients in some of your favourite food and drink?

Further Info:

Vegan Fast Food: 33 Plant-Based Options – Medical News Today

20 Packaged Foods That Are Surprisingly Vegan – Eat This, Not That!

The Best Vegan Make-Up & Skin-Care Brands You Should Know – Glamour

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26 thoughts on “8 Foods You Think Are Vegan — But Aren’t”

  1. Very interesting! I had no idea these were not vegan. I am not a vegan, but I eat a mainly vegetarian diet and while I knew living a vegan lifestyle presented challenges, I had no idea how many it could present for those seeking to eat purely vegan.

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  2. Hi Molly. Very interesting article. The one that always surprises be is parmesan – apparently it has animal rennet in it! Now I have the OJ to be surprised at too 🙂

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  3. Definitely some surprises on this lost! Cereal and orange juice? I never would have guessed they were not vegan. Then again, I only ever buy organic orange juice that is 100 % juice, so it is possible I never had reason to think about it.

    I love that you share this list; it is so important to know what might be going into what we eat, depending on how we buy. 🙂

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  4. I’m vegetarian & I knew about Worcestershire sauce, marshmallows, and McDonald’s fries, and I don’t like nuts or orange juice, but that’s disgusting that some peanut varieties use gelatin to make the salt & spices stick. I also had no idea that sugar can be processed with bone char!

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  5. This was a really interesting read. I knew of a few of these, but the orange juice, in particular, really took me by surprise. I had no idea that something seemingly as simple as orange juice may actually be hiding animal-based ingredients like that.

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    1. The orange juice was such a shock. Most juices are okay but as everyone pretty much assumes it’s vegan by default it’s not something many people think to check. I certainly assumed that fortified juice would still be vegan as why turn a naturally vegan product into one that’s not even vegetarian? Thanks for commenting!

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