Sneaky Non-Vegan Ingredients

Honey, honeycomb and honey dipper
Getty Images/Arx0nt

When following a vegan diet, you'll want to be aware of a few ingredients that may be lurking in foods that don't quite meet the definition. Vegans avoid animal products of any kind, including dairy. 

But some ingredients are trickier to spot, especially those used as additives or fillers in processed foods. They're not as easy to spot as the obvious no-no’s like meat, eggs, and milk, but these ingredients are still derived from animals, and thus are generally avoided on a vegan diet.

Here’s a quick list of a few ingredients that you may not realize aren’t vegan, or in some cases, not even vegetarian.

Beeswax and Honey 

This ingredient can be found in candies and many beauty products. Usually found in lip balms or lotions, beeswax is a common ingredient that vegans avoid. The wax is produced by worker bees in hives and is used to build honeycombs, and therefore does not meet the standard of being a non-animal product. 

Honey is used as a sweetener in a variety of products, and of course is a popular enhancement for tea. But if you're sticking to the true definition of vegan foods, honey should be avoided. 

Casein or Milk Byproducts

Casein is a protein derived from animal’s milk (usually cow's or sheep) and is the main component in cheese making. Sometimes casein will be listed as an ingredient in non-dairy food items -- such as soy cheese or coffee creamer -- but many non-dairy items exist which do not contain casein

Be sure to read labels and check for this additive. Many true vegan types of cheese, such as Daiya, Follow Your Heart, and GoVeggie!, are all casein free. This ingredient is usually listed as Casein, Calcium Caseinate, or Sodium Caseinate.

Confectioner’s Glaze on Candy

Also listed as Resinous Glaze, Shellac, Natural Glaze, or Pure Food Glaze, this glaze comes from the hardened resinous material secreted by the lac insect (yeah it's kind of gross), mainly harvested from the trees in which these insects reside.

You can most likely find this ingredient on candies that have a super glossy sheen, which is a result of confectioner's glaze.

Gelatin and Gelatin Products

Derived from animal collagen, gelatin is a colorless odorless gelling agent often found in candies or other processed foods, particularly marshmallows, fruit snacks and jelly candies. It's sold under the brand-name of Jell-O.

There are vegan alternatives to gelatin if you need it for a recipe. Carageenan, which is a powder derived from seaweed, and agar agar (yes, you say it twice) is made from cooked and pressed algae, a plant product. Either of these are fine substitutes for gelatin. 

Isinglass in Beer and Wine

Isinglass is a clarifying agent used in wine making and beer brewing. It is derived from fish bladders and is therefore not vegan. There's no way of knowing by tasting whether your beer or wine has been filtered through fish bladders, but many brewers and wineries list their ingredients on their websites. 

L. Cysteine in Bread Products

This ingredient, often sourced from feathers or human hair, is a dough conditioner listed in many pre-packaged breads and baked goods. Check labels carefully for this ingredient that may be hiding in the ingredient lists of many white and wheat bread.

Whey in Bread and Sweets

Whey is a common ingredient in many foods, especially bread and candies, and is a by-product of cheese making. Whey is the remaining liquid once milk has been curdled, or churned, and then strained. Once milk has been curdled, it easily separates into curd (solid) and whey (liquid). Whey protein is often added to many nutritional supplements and protein shakes.