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

3. Gelatin

You dutifully take your daily vitamins—a storehouse of important nutrients all packed into a tiny gel cap. A tiny “gel” cap made of gelatin. A generic definition of gelatin might go something like this: “A colorless, flavorless thickening agent that is used to give body to molded salads and desserts.” Once you get a little more technical, it gets a lot uglier: Gelatin is “prepared by the thermal denaturation of collagen, isolated from animal skin and bones, with very dilute acid. It can also be extracted from fish skins.” Skin, hooves, claws, etc.—all of which are by-products of the slaughterhouse—are also used. Gelatin is not vegan, not vegetarian, and definitely not necessary. A natural gelatin replacement is agar agar also known as “kanten.”

Where is gelatin hidden?
Gel caps, yogurt, cereals, marshmallows, and some candies.

Related: Got Gelatin?

4. Isinglass

Are you ready for this? Isinglass is obtained from the swimbladders of fish (in particular, Beluga sturgeon) and is used to “clarify” some wine and beer. Uh, cheers? Thus, in name of avoiding such ingredients and greening your drinking habits, you might want to let the fish keep their bladders while you choose vegan and organic options. For example, vegan wines use carbon, limestone, silica gel, and other non-animal products for equally smooth end results. Buy local, buy organic, buy vegan.

Where is the isinglass hidden?
Wines and beers.

5. Rennet

Even those who become vegetarians often balk at going all the way to veganism. Quite often, the reason is cheese. More specifically, they don’t want to stop eating cheese and the horrors of animal products are less obvious with dairy products than they are for meat. Then, of course, there’s rennet: “The stomach contents of an unweaned animal” of which the chief source is “the fourth stomach of young calves.” PETA puts it this way: “Certain words just make you cringe, like coagulate, congeal, clot—which is what rennet, an enzyme taken from baby calves’ stomachs, is used for in cheese production.” To make matters worse, the powers that be have conjured up genetically engineered rennet. Roughly 80 to 90% of commercially made cheeses in the U.S. and England contain GMO-based rennet.

Where is the rennet hidden?
Cheese.

Related: What is Rennet?

6. Whey

A by-product of cheese making, whey is formed when the curds separate from the milk or cream. Those following a vegan lifestyle have no trouble classifying whey as a no-no. However, thanks to the enduring protein myth, many actively seek out whey as an ingredient. So, now that we’ve brought it up, how much protein do we really need? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says 2.5% of our daily calories should come from protein. According to the World Health Organization, it’s about 5%. How does that work out in grams? A lot lower than the U.S. average of 100 grams a day, that’s for sure. “An adult male on a fast only puts out 4.32 grams of urinary nitrogen per day,” says William Harris, M.D. author of The Scientific Basis for Vegetarianism. “Each gram represents 6.25 grams of broken down protein, so under conditions in which some protein is actually being catabolized and used for fuel, only about 4.32 x 6.25 = 27 grams/day are actually needed.” Twenty-seven grams. Whey? No way. Watch out for it in a few surprising places.

Where is the whey hidden?
Boxed cereals, bread, granola.

7. Cruelty

The morally indefensible and scientifically tenuous institution of animal experimentation is the hidden ingredient in a frighteningly wide range of products. Do you know which companies do and don’t rely on this practice? Aysha Z Akhtar, M.D., M.P.H., is a senior medical advisor and Jarrod Bailey, Ph.D., is a senior research consultant for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “The more we study the relevance of animal tests, the more apparent their shortcomings become,” Akhtar and Bailey state. “Even subtle physiological differences between humans and animals can manifest as profound differences in disease physiology and treatment effectiveness and safety. For example, numerous differences in spinal cord physiology and reaction to injury exist between species and even strains within a species. These differences likely contribute to the repeated failure of spinal cord treatments that have tested safe and effective in animals to translate into human benefit … A major shift in our research paradigm is long overdue. The move away from animal experiments toward more accurate methods of studying disease and intervention is scientifically superior and more ethical for humanity, as well as for animals.” To help end this archaic practice, we must educate ourselves and work toward alternative methods of discovery to create cruelty-free products.

Related:
9 Surprising Items Made with Animal Ingredients
Are Animal Fats Hiding in Your Favorite Products?
Make the Vegan Resolution

287 comments

Yvette Sloan
Yvette Sloan21 days ago

Thanks for sharing

Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer9 months ago

Wow! Who would have thought!

Elisa F.
Elisa F.2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Kay M.
Kay M.3 years ago

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

Natasha Salgado
natasha salgado3 years ago

Great info-thanks 4 posting!

Valentina R.
Valentina R.3 years ago

Truly informative, thanks.

Debbie N.
Debbie N.4 years ago

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.

Nancy B.
N B.4 years ago

thanks

Hali Cespedes-Chorin

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.

Hali Cespedes-Chorin

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.)