Veganuary is a thing and this year it has taken off like never before. People in the UK and across the world are trying out veganism for the month of January and it’s likely to have been a tricky task to take on for meat, cheese and chocolate lovers – whether they took on the challenge due to health reasons, ethical concerns or environmental causes.
But if you’ve been sticking to your resolutions up until now, you might be disappointed to discover that there are a fair amount of rather surprising non-vegan foods and beverages around to trip you up.
Some of these unexpected non-vegan foods may be the deal breaker for those weighing up whether Veganuary should become a long-term lifestyle commitment, or whether it should remain a short-term experiment.
Either way, the more you know about what’s vegan and what’s not, the easier it’ll be to avoid temptation or to make informed lifestyle decisions.
Too often, though, it seems that animal-derived products are hidden in the small print.
Here is a list of some items that may or may not include animal products:
Certain beers (particularly British ones) are filtered with isinglass, which is a membrane that comes from tropical fish bladders. The ingredient is used as a fining agent to remove haziness from beers and to make them look clearer, brighter and more appealing to drinkers.
But although some beers use isinglass, gelatin, glycerin or casein, German and Belgian beers using traditional methods of brewing, which are vegan – according to German purity law or Reinheitsgebot, which ruled that only the ingredients of water, grain (barley or wheat), hops and yeast could be used.
Thankfully, other brewers, both multi-national and micro, are cottoning on to customers feeling sea-sick about the fishy product, and to the fact that they’re thirsty for vegan beer. The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) has called on brewers to remove isinglass, and Guinness announced in 2016 that its draft stout would be vegan-friendly, and other big brewers including Carlsberg, Stella Artois and Heineken also get the green light for Veganuary after-work pints. Prost!
During the wine making process, the wine is filtered through agents which can include blood and marrow, milk protein, and fibres from crustacean shells and gelatin, in order to reduce haziness and cloudiness in the liquid.
However, if your day has been really tough, do not fear – there are vegan wines available. Animal-friendly winemakers are turning to activated charcoal and the volcanic clay bentonite to process their products, and these vegan wines are hitting supermarket shelves.
This website has a comprehensive list of vegan and non-vegan NZ wines.
3. Worcestershire sauce
While Lea & Perrins is often the key ingredient in completing your dish or perfecting your Bloody Mary at the weekend, its worth considering that it is in fact fermented anchovies that give this British brand its famous umami flavour.
Luckily, there are other brands to choose from or you could even make your own Worcestershire sauce at home (vegan resource One Green Planet has a recipe available online, as does blogger Martha Stewart).
It’s commonly believed that margarine is the vegan alternative to butter. However, the truth is that it often contains traces of whey, gelatin and milk proteins. Checking the ingredients list is one of the only ways to be sure that your margarine isn’t harbouring any milk-derived ingredients.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), have a guide to plant-based, vegan butter and margarine.
Synthetic and microbial versions of L-cysteine do exist and are used in some products, but at present are more costly than hair- or feather-derived L-cysteine. So if you want to avoid human or animal sourced products, it’s worth doing some research.
For reference, the E number for L-cysteine is E920. According to The Vegan Society, a number of other food additives can be derived from animal products. Examples include E120, E322, E422, E 471, E542, E631, E901 and E904.
6. Orange juice
Fruit juice might seem like the perfect vegan breakfast drink, but if you’re drinking it from a carton, it could be time to start reading the ingredients more closely.
Some fortified juices (those that have added ingredients to up the vitamin count) contain vitamin D3 obtained from lanolin, the waxy substance from sheep’s wool. If your orange juice is promising you a healthy heart, you’re even even bigger trouble, since added omega-3 fatty acids are derived from fish oil and fish gelatin. Anchovies are a common source.
To avoid breaking any vegan diets, look for 100 per cent orange juice on the packaging – or start squeezing your own.
You should also look for the presence of carmine in pink lemonades and grapefruit juices, which is made from the ground-up shells of cochineal bugs.
To avoid a sticky end to Veganuary, figs are worth avoiding. Having laid their eggs inside the fruit, female wasps are often unable to escape and decompose inside.
Non-vegans shouldn’t worry too much as the fig plant produces an enzyme that breaks the wasp down into a protein, but technically when you bite into a fig, you’re often munching on the by-product of a wasp carcass.
Despite this, you’re unlikely to have ingested too many dead wasps over the years. UK edible figs are normally varieties of the common fig which are still pollinated by wasps but don’t act as a fruity incubator for eggs. And some varieties have even been bred to self-pollinate, removing waspish involvement from the entire process.
8. Red sweets and lipstick
Artificial sugars seem to go hand in hand with the natural colouring contained in red sweets, which are given their colour by crushed bugs, mainly cochineal insects. Carmine, the red dye often used in confectionery, is made by boiling the crushed bugs with sodium carbonate or ammonia.
It’s used as a dye in makeup such as red lipsticks, foundations and eyeshadows, while boiled animal bones provide the fat – or tallow, as it’s more commonly called.
9. Chewing gum
Before you tuck into a piece of chewing gum to stifle a hunger pang or resist a chocolate temptation, it’s worth checking the back of the pack, as some gums use bases which are made of gelatin or stearic acid, derived from animals.
Marshmallows, gummy bears, and jelly products often use gelatin as a thickener. Gelatin is made from boiling animal products such as leftover skin and bones from meat processing. You can also find it in some pill coatings, jellies, yogurts, and beauty products.
10. White sugar
For those of you that look forward to the odd one or two sugar cubes in your almond milk tea in the afternoon, it might be best to stick to coconut sugar or maple syrup.
White sugar is often bleached after it has been filtered through animal bones. Bone char is made by heating animal bones to incredibly high temperatures and helps removes impurities from sugar.
But don’t think switching to brown sugar will make your sweet tooth more Veganuary-friendly: brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses added back in, so there’s no guarantee that it’s avoided the animal bones filtration process. The nutritional value of the molasses is minimal, so it’s another myth that brown sugar is healthier (as debunked by the New York Times.)
As always, it’s worth checking the label and referring to The Vegan Society’s guide to avoiding non-vegan products.
Meanwhile, products such as Silver Spoon royal icing sugar contains dried egg white and therefore would not be suitable for vegans, although it doesn’t use the bone char process.