Nobody said being vegan was easy. Whether you’ve made the decision for ethical, environmental, lifestyle or health reasons, we’re sure it’s not one that’s been made lightly. And as a result you’ll likely want to stick to your choice as strictly as you can. But this is where people can easily trip up.
Gelatine, an ever-present on the sweetie aisle, for example, is a sticky, flavourless goo derived from the collagen in animal body parts, and as such, one of the most widely-known banes (goodbye Starmix). Unfortunately that’s just the start, with a whole smorgasbord of foods you naturally thought would be vegan turning out not to be. Here we highlight just a few, along with some tips on how to get around them.
Chunks of avocado, a splash of lime, and a sprinkle of sea salt, sounds like vegan heaven. So what could possibly go wrong? Well, as with most on this list, the traditional ingredients can vary when bought pre-prepared. As such you’ll find a fair few supermarket guacamoles with milk powder or double cream added (it’s meant to make the mix creamier).
Our tip instead would be to store your avocados at room temperature. That way the softness will allow you to get that mushed up texture without having to add in any animal products.
An inexpensive butter substitute made from vegetable oil and water, margarine has long been a saviour for veggies and vegans. And while most margarines will contain absolutely no animal products, some manufacturers use milk instead of water or add ingredients derived from animals, such as lactose, whey, or casein. The moral of the story: always read the label.
Thai curry paste
Anyone into their Asian cooking will surely have a tube or pot of Thai curry paste knocking about their kitchen. Shrimp paste and fish sauce are bedrocks of Thai cuisine though, and so it’s no surprise to find the former regularly propping up in various incarnations of the magical mix.
Traditional pesto is made from fresh basil leaves, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and a surprise for some (ourselves included), Parmesan cheese. Over time, various incarnations have left the latter out, much to the relief of vegans everywhere, but you will have to keep an eye out as cheese is still used nine times out of 10 when making this Italian staple.
The less processed the bread is, the higher the likelihood that animal products haven’t been used, and as such, flatbreads are invariably classed as vegan as a result. Indian food is also great for the number of vegan alternatives. Sadly though naan bread is usually not one of them.
A clarified butter called ghee, yoghurt, milk, and eggs are all regularly used in naan bread recipes to achieve a fluffy texture, but you can get away with swapping the yoghurt for a dairy-free option if you’re making them yourself.
Tinned vegetable soup
This one is more a matter of reading the label properly. After all, you wouldn’t expect anything called ‘vegetable soup’ to contain anything but vegetables, right? Well, some will stew those veggies in a savoury beef stock. And while this is usually signposted on the tin, it is a case of blink and you’ll likely miss it.
Most vegans will make an exception on this one, but you might be surprised to find some medication to be non-vegan. Gelatine is widely used to encapsulate medicines, while lactose, which is derived from cow’s milk is used as a filler and an aid in manufacturing.
This is before we even dare to go into the use of animals in medical testing. It’s an ethical dilemma, and one that always requires consultation with a medical professional beforehand.
Pink fondant fancies
The main culprit here is a substance called carmine. One of the most widely used red food colourings, carmine is made from crushed up cochineals, an insect which is native to Latin America where they live on cacti. Along with pink fondant fancies, you can also find the colouring used in jams and chewing gum.
Even non-vegans might question whether fish bladders are an absolutely vital part of the wine-making process. Isinglass is the substance under fire and is obtained from the fish’s dried swim bladders. A form of collagen, it is used mainly for the clarification or fining of some beer and wine to give it a crystal clear appearance (egg whites and milk protein are also commonly used fining agents).
While these agents are removed after their job is done, traces remain. So if you have no problem with drinking cloudy wine, make sure you look out for wines that are labelled as vegan or unfined.
While some meat flavoured crisps might surprise you with their non-vegan credentials (hello Bacon Wheat Crunchies) others may do the reverse. The main culprit is milk powder which seemingly creeps into a lot of things you’d be surprised to find it in (salt and vinegar crisps for example).
As a result, always make sure you take a cursory glance at the allergens on the back of the packet.
Saviour of sauces everywhere, Worcestershire sauce is a lot of home cooks’ secret weapon. Great dashed into a tomato sauce, it’s a shame then that one of the main ingredients in the fermented liquid is anchovies. A way around this is by making your own homemade version, with several DIY recipes using soy sauce as its base.
Well, this is sure to make many a vegan gulp. The potassium-rich fruit is naturally vegan, although chitosan, a bacteria-fighting compound that is sometimes sprayed on to them to extend their shelf life is derived from shrimp and crab shells.
However, do note that the preservative isn’t ‘strictly’ eaten as it is sprayed onto the skin which is then obviously peeled. Most UK supermarkets have also come out and said that chitosan is no longer used in their banana production.