Check the Label for These Sneaky Non-Vegan Ingredients

When you first go vegan, foods that used to be favorites can suddenly feel quite foreign. You begin to question even the most obvious meals, and supermarkets become a battlefield. Casein? What’s casein? These labels are too complicated!

Truthfully, there’s never been a better time to go vegan. There are more options available than ever before, and food companies are getting more and more creative every day. That said, labeling is still catching up. . . you won’t likely see products labeled “vegan,” plain and simple, no question.

Worried about sneaky non-vegan ingredients? Here’s a quick list of the animal ingredients that are most commonly found in processed foods. Or if you’d like to go even further, here’s a comprehensive list of animal-derived ingredients, courtesy of PETA.

12 Sneaky Non-Vegan Ingredients

woman checking info on package in supermarket

1. Casein

Casein, a milk-derived protein, is a major component of cheese. It behaves in a chemical manner similar to opioids, and is, unfortunately, often buried in the ingredients list of certain dairy-free and vegan cheeses. You can learn more about the addictive properties of casein here.

2. Lactose

Lactose is a large sugar molecule that’s found in milk. Though it isn’t added separately to many foods, it is often found in body care products and pharmaceuticals. Remember: just because a product says it’s lactose-free doesn’t mean it’s dairy-free!

3. Shellac

Shellac is a resin secretion that is obtained from the bodies of a female beetle that lives in the forests of India and Thailand. It’s commonly used on fruit, in candies and in pharmaceutical pills as a shiny glaze, as well as in non-food products like brush-on stains and wood finishes.

4. Aspic

An industry alternative to gelatin, aspic is made from clarified meat or fish stocks and was popularized in the 1950s. Just think of it as the savory equivalent to Jell-O.

5. Elastin

Found in the neck ligaments and aorta of bovine animals (gross!), elastin is a collagen-like ingredient that is often found in makeup products like mascara. That said, it’s been shown that applying elastin from cows to humans has little to no effect. . . better to skip it!

6. Collagen

Sourced from the skin, bones and connective tissues of animals such as cows, chickens, pigs and fish, collagen is often used in beauty products to help improve skin elasticity and firmness. Because collagen is exclusively an animal protein, there is no vegan substitute. That said, you can still take vegan supplements that support the body’s natural production of collagen. Here are a few ideas!

two cows in a field

7. Carmine

Carmine or cochineal — the red dye that is used to color a variety of foods — comes from the dried bodies of the cochineal beetle. Look closely enough and you’ll find it in a multitude of products, from confectionary goods to ice creams and candy.

8. Isinglass

Isinglass is a gelatin-like substance that is obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. It is mainly used to clarify wine and beer, making it look brighter and less hazy. In other words, it’s all aesthetic! Here are a few companies that have stopped filtering their beer with isinglass.

9. Cod liver oil

A natural lubricant, cod liver oil is made by the prolonged soaking of wild cod livers in brine. The resulting oil is skimmed away and turned into supplements. Gross! Want the health benefits without the fish? Try seaweed, spiralina, kelp and dulse, or start integrating more vegetable oils, nuts and seeds into your diet.

10. Lard or tallow

Lard (also called suet or tallow) is strictly fat from the abdomen of a pig that has undergone a nasty process called rendering. Lard is often found in shortening, cooking oils, cake mix, candles and soaps, so check your labels!

11. Whey

Whey powder is a dairy-based byproduct that is a common addition to crackers and breads. It’s cheap, plentiful and full of protein, but it’s certainly not vegan. You will probably encounter it most in protein powder and baked goods.

12. Gelatin

Obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments and other body parts from cows or pigs, gelatin is the jelly-like substance that is commonly found in chewy sweets and gummy vitamins. If you’re cooking and the recipe requires gelatin, don’t panic! You can swap it for agar agar or some other kosher gelatin instead.

Which animal-derived ingredients are you most aware of? Which didn’t you know about? Let us know in the comments!


Caitlin L
Past Member 5 months ago

thanks for posting

Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

Thank you for posting.

mac C
mac C7 months ago

Thanks for the list of hidden dairy. Amazing, I didn't know about some of the less obvious ones.

Naomi R
Naomi Rabout a year ago


Teresa W
Teresa Wabout a year ago

I'm not vegan, only vegetarian, but thank you.

Amanda M
Amanda McConnellabout a year ago

thanks for sharing

Amanda M
Amanda McConnellabout a year ago

thanks for sharing

Jaime J
Jaime Jabout a year ago

Thank you!!

W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

William C
William Cabout a year ago