For everyone wanting to know more about hidden non-vegan food and ingredients in your food


Having been vegan for over 6 years, I’ve had a couple of ‘accidents’ due to not knowing the actual contents of the food I purchased. Even though I would check the ingredient list thoroughly, sometimes there might be ingredients that you just don’t know enough about to realise they might not be vegan.

Gelatin, Casein, and Shellac are among the very common non-vegan food ingredients derived from animals, which you may be consuming more frequently than you realise.

I thought it would be helpful to actually make a list of the most popular non-vegan food ingredients that you can find in your goods.

Hidden non-vegan food and ingredients list:

  • Gelatin
  • Collagen
  • Shellac and Carmine (E120)
  • Beeswax (E901)
  • Whey and Casein
  • Lactic Acid
  • Vitamin D3
  • Oleic Acid
  • Lard
  • Isinglass

1. Gelatin – Non-vegan food ingredient

What is Gelatin?

Gelatin derives from boiling cows’ or pigs’ connective tissues like bones, skin, tendons, and ligaments with water.

It serves as a gelling agent, stabilizer, thickener, or texturizer in various food sources.

Where can you find gelatin?

You can usually find gelatin in sweets such as gummy bears, marshmallows, jelly beans, cakes, puddings, and ice creams. Except for food, you can find gelatin in shampoos, face masks and other beauty products.

2. Collagen – Non-vegan Ingredient

What is Collagen?

Collagen is also a protein that is found in animal bodily tissues. Usually, it comes from beef or fish. Previously mentioned gelatin comes from collagen. When you heat collagen, it turns into gelatin. The major difference is that gelatin solidifies in water while collagen doesn’t. Hope that makes sense.

Where can you find Collagen?

You can find Collagen in popular dietary supplements for skin, hair, some protein or superfood powders.

Collagen - Hidden non-vegan ingredients in food

3. Shellac and Carmine (E120) – Non-vegan food Ingredient

What are Shellac and Carmine?

Shellac is another well-hidden non-vegan ingredient. It is a red colour pigment made from a resin excreted by the female lac beetle. (say what?!) The beetle produces a resin to cocoon the eggs she lays. When the eggs hatch they eat the female (which dies naturally after laying eggs). Once the newly hatched insects leave the cocoon, it is then harvested to produce shellac.

It’s used as a glazing agent to make food look more shiny, or as a wood finish.

Carmine (E120) is a red colour pigment made from beetle shells. The pigment is produced by drying, crushing, and then boiling the bodies of cochineal beetles to extract carminic acid.

Where can you find Carmine and Shellac?

You can find Carmine and Shellac in chocolates, chewing gum, coffee beans, sweets, jelly beans, red-coloured pasta, juices, wine etc.

Shellac is also popular in cosmetics and nail polishes and it is used as a coating on drug tablets.

Fun fact: Before 2009, Skittles used to create the red colour of the strawberry-flavoured ones using Carmine.

shellac - non vegan ingredient

4. Beeswax (E901) – Non-vegan Ingredient

What is Beeswax?

As the name says, beeswax is a natural wax produced by honey bees. Bees are using beeswax for building their hives and contain honey.

It’s used as a glazing agent.

Where can you find beeswax in food?

Beeswax (E901) is usually found in sweets, gummy bears, and chocolate.

Hidden non-vegan food ingredients

5. Whey – Non-vegan Ingredient

What is Whey?

Whey is derived from milk. It is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is a byproduct of the manufacture of cheese or casein.

Where can you find Whey in food?

The most popular product that contains whey is Whey protein which you probably heard of.

Other foods that contain whey are: sweets, ready meals, instant drinks, baked goods, some spice blends, supplements, and even non-foods such as medications, cosmetics and personal care products

Hidden non-vegan ingredients in food

6. Casein – Non-vegan Ingredient

What is Casein?

Casein is sometimes referred to as the younger sibling of whey protein. It is a protein derived from animal milk.

Where can you find Casein?

Mostly in food supplements, but can also be found in sherbets, chocolate, ice cream, creamed soups and sauces, puddings etc.

7. Vitamin D3 supplements

As you probably know, your skin makes vitamin D3 when it’s exposed to sunlight. But during those winter months and if you spend most of your time indoors you should be taking vitamin D3 supplements. There are two types of Vitamin D – Vitamin D2 which is suitable for vegans as it’s derived from plants, and Vitamin D3 which is usually made from cholecalciferol derived from lanolin (wool fat), which is extracted from sheep’s wool.

There is a vegan version of Vitamin D3 which is derived from lichen – a symbiotic organism composed of fungi and algae/cyanobacteria.

Read more about what to eat on a vegan diet

Hidden non-vegan ingredients in food

Have you checked my “Essential Foods for a Vegan Diet: What to Eat” post?

8. Oleic Acid – Non-vegan Ingredient

What is Oleic acid?

Oleic acid is a type of monounsaturated fatty acid, specifically an omega-9 fatty acid. It is a colourless or pale yellow liquid that is odourless and tasteless.

Where can you find Oleic acid?

Plant-based oils like canola oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil, as well as avocados, nuts, and seeds, primarily contain oleic acid. However, certain animal-derived products, such as tallow or lard, also contain significant amounts of oleic acid.

9. Lard

What is Lard?

Lard originates from the fatty tissues of pigs, where it’s obtained by rendering or melting the fat, separating it from other components. Many cultures use it in traditional cooking and baking. It imparts a unique flavour and texture to dishes.

Where can you find Lard?

You can find lard in pastries, some bread, biscuits, pie crusts, Mexican, Chinese and European cuisine even though many modern recipes have replaced it with alternative options.

10. Isinglass – Non-vegan Ingredient

What is Isinglass?

Isinglass is a substance that is derived from the swim bladders of fish, primarily sturgeon. It is commonly used as a fining agent in the clarification process of alcoholic beverages, particularly in the production of beer and wine.

Where can you find Isinglass?

Beer and wine

Nowadays, beers and wines are labelled but you can also check this website to see if your drink is suitable for vegans – https://www.barnivore.com/


This should give you a good insight into what to check at the back of certain products in the ingredients list. Most modern foods use alternatives but you should still double-check if there are any hidden non-vegan ingredients in your food.

Did you know most of these ingredients weren’t vegan? Let me know in the comments below which hidden non-vegan food ingredient surprised you the most.

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1 Comment

  1. Audrey August 9, 2023 at 2:19 pm

    This is so good to know!

    Reply

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