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7 Common Animal-Derived Ingredients to Avoid

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7 Common Animal-Derived Ingredients to Avoid

By Mickey Z., Planet Green

At first glance, it might seem like a simple task to avoid animal products in your food if you’ve elected to do so. After all, meat, dairy, eggs, fish, honey, etc. need no introduction. Not so fast. There’s more out there (or should I say “in there”?) than even the most seasoned vegan could imagine. Who knew the dirty little secret behind something called lipase? It’s an enzyme from the stomach and tongue glands of calves, kids, and lambs found in some vitamin supplements.

No matter where you stand on the animal exploitation meter, you might want to know that blood from slaughtered animals is used as adhesive in plywood, or that the keratin in your shampoo comes from ground-up horns, hoofs, feathers, quills, and hair of various creatures. Go ahead and see if those aromatic folks behind the cosmetics counter know amylase is an enzyme prepared from the pancreas of hogs. Musk may or may not sound animal-derived, but how enticing is that pricey perfume after discovering it is obtained from the genitals of the North Asian small hornless deer?

This indigestion-inducing inventory goes on below and won’t be popular in your local tavern. Some beers contain gelatin, but it’s wine that would send shudders down any veggie’s spine: isinglass (internal membranes of fish bladders), egg albumen, and even ox blood are often added as fining agents. Yikes…and I haven’t yet mentioned abstract ingredients like “cruelty.”

So, brace yourselves, here comes the top 8 hidden animal-derived ingredients to avoid:

1. Carmine

Nope, this ain’t a character on The Sopranos but rather a red food coloring made from ground up cochineal beetles. Found in fruit drinks, sauces, and bottled cherries, carmine, says Wiki, is also used as a fabric and cosmetics dye, “as well as for oil paints, pigments, and watercolors. When used as a food additive, the dye must be labeled on packaging labels.” The cultivation of cochineal beetles dates back to Mexico nearly 400 years ago. “Today,” reports The Wall Street Journal, “the bugs are raised on farms in Peru, Mexico, and the Canary Islands, where they feed on cacti. The bodies of female beetles are dried, ground, and heated, and the colored powder is filtered out. It takes 70,000 beetles to make one pound of marketable carmine.” This insect version of the slaughterhouse is not only non-vegan, it’s a potential health hazard. Allergies to carmine can be severe. If you prefer your candy didn’t contain crushed beetles, PETA has some suggestions for bug-free sweets.

Where is the carmine hidden?
Fruit drinks, sauces, bottled cherries, fabric and cosmetics dye, oil paints, pigments, and watercolors.

Related: The Gross Truth About Natural Colors

2. Casein

A protein found in milk and used in many foods as a binding agent, casein is often used in bread, processed cereals, instant soups, instant potatoes, margarine, salad dressings, sweets, and mixes for cakes. Casein is also found in some medication. To make things especially confusing, it’s even in some products labeled “lactose-free.” While this is a hidden trap for those seeking a truly vegan diet, the implications can run deeper for anyone allergic to this animal product. Another reason to read those ingredient labels carefully is the growing evidence of a link between casein and autism. As reported by PETA,” scientific studies have shown that many autistic kids improve dramatically when put on a diet free of dairy foods. One study of 20 children found a major reduction in autistic behavior in kids who were put on a casein-free diet.” Again, “lactose-free” doesn’t always mean “dairy-free,” even in products like soy cheese, so read those labels.

Where is the casein hidden?
Some soy cheeses, bread, processed cereals, instant soups, instant potatoes, margarine, salad dressings, sweets, and mixes for cakes.

Related: Addicted to Cheese? Here’s Why

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Read more: Conscious Consumer, Diet & Nutrition, Do Good, Eating for Health, Food, Health, Vegan, Vegetarian

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Samantha, selected from Planet Green

Planet Green is the multi-platform media destination devoted to the environment and dedicated to helping people understand how humans impact the planet and how to live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle. Its two robust websites, and, offer original, inspiring, and entertaining content related to how we can evolve to live a better, brighter future. Planet Green is a division of Discovery Communications.


+ add your own
6:34PM PDT on Sep 9, 2015

Wow! Who would have thought!

12:44PM PST on Jan 24, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

6:35PM PDT on Jun 5, 2013

I don't know how anyone can claim gelatin is vegetarian.

6:25PM PDT on Jun 5, 2013

Great info-thanks 4 posting!

11:52AM PDT on Jul 3, 2012

Truly informative, thanks.

8:19PM PDT on Jul 1, 2012

It's good to know what some of these words mean now... so many times I skip over all the things I don't really understand in labels without going back to check them out.

5:16AM PDT on Jun 29, 2012


4:09PM PDT on Apr 16, 2012

Also, the gumdrops pictured above the gelatin warning probably don't contain gelatin. They most often have pectin (vegetable carbohydrate matrix) plus all those nasty artificial colors. Gummy bears/worms/whatever are the biggest culprit, along with marshmallows :( :( :( You can get vegan marshmallows, but they're extremely expensive.

4:01PM PDT on Apr 16, 2012

I would much prefer GM rennet over dead-baby-cow rennet. GMO's are not inherently evil; only their corporatist applications are (usually because of their devastating effects on the environment and consumer health). Rennet-producing bacteria aren't one of them. I'd be WAY more concerned about GM corn and soy, even though those are vegan.

Also, since the title of the article implies ANIMAL-derived ingredients, this is rather deceptive. (Of course, if you're communicating to vegans, then they won't be eating dairy-based cheese anyway, so they don't need to bother with rennet.)

4:17AM PDT on Jun 7, 2011

Great article.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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