A Whole Bunch of Foods You Thought Were Vegan but Aren't

As a vegan, It can be a nightmare finding out what is safe to eat. With the food industry always trying to reduce costs it’s becoming increasingly shocking the variety of animal products finding their way in to foods we thought were cruelty free. Surely fruit and vegetables are safe? Fruit juice must be safe? Well, I can tell you now, nothing is safe. Okay, that’s a slight overstatement but you do need to be vigilant. To make things easy for you here are a whole bunch of foods you thought were vegan but aren’t. 

“Shit, so there are even more things that aren’t vegan!?!?”

Unfortunately there are animal products in the most surprising of places so it’s best to know about them. It takes commitment, planning and A LOT of ingredient checking to be completely free of animal products but it’s worth it. This list was put together so you know and are aware of what to look out for. For a long-term, healthy vegan lifestyle we believe you need to WANT to be vegan. It’s hard to make things work long term if you feel you HAVE to do them. For this reason, if all of the items listed below are staples of your diet, don’t cut them all out straight away. It is a great time to be vegan and we are surrounding by ethical products, so take your time and find alternatives one by one.

A Whole Bunch of Foods You Thought Were Vegan But Aren’t

Foods labelled as ‘dairy free’

What’s in it?
Animal additives, E-numbers or just plain meat

Don’t be fooled by that dairy free stamp! This one may seem obvious but although things marked with ‘dairy free’ won’t contain dairy they may contain other animal products. A chicken breast is dairy free, so is a prawn, they’re still not vegan. Check for the vegan stamp!

A Whole Bunch of Foods You Thought Were Vegan but Aren't
All these amazing vegan alternatives used in one of our recipes


What’s in it?
Dead bees

Many people may not realise but honey is not vegan. Although there are many reasons for this, the key points are that many many bees are killed during honey production, the honey we take is actually the bee’s food and beekeepers often kill the queen bee to keep production levels high. If you want to know more, here’s some interesting information from a beekeeper. 

Foods you thought were vegan but aren't
Ditch the honey and use this, maple or agave!


What’s in it?
Casein or lactose 

Although a lot of margarine is vegan, it’s not always the case. Some brands use casein or lactose so make sure you check their ingredients or look for a vegan stamp. Your daily Vegan has a very comprehensive list of vegan butters in the UK and USA which is great. Ingredients are constantly changing, so make sure you regularly check your shopping basket in case they’ve added some nasties.


What’s in it?
Egg whites, milk products, crustacean shell, bone and connective tissue, fish bladders

Be cautious all you vegan boozers, alcohol can contain a whole variety of different animal products that you’d never expect. Cider and wine can use gelatine (cow and pig bone and connective tissue), albumin (derived from egg whites) and casein (milk based protein) in the filtration process. Wines use crustacean shells for fining and ales commonly use Isinglass to filter yeast which is taken from fish bladders (you’ve gotta be taking the piss, fish bladders?). To find out if your favourite booze is meat-free then check out Barnivore.

Foods you thought were vegan but aren't
Vegan Boozer?

Red coloured foods

What’s in it?
Crushed insects

How do they even think of these things? Red food colouring or carmine is made from the cochineal insect which is crushed to produce the colour. Reportedly 70,000 beetles must be crushed to produce 1 pound of the dye. It’s used in many red sweets and foods along with cosmetics and household items. Find out more here from PETA’s article.

Fruit juices

What’s in it?
Fish oil, sheep’s wool, crushed insects or animal bones

How have they managed to put animal products in juice? To seem extra healthy many companies add extra nutrients and vitamins like omega-3 oils which are derived from fish and vitamin D – sometimes sourced from sheep’s wool. Not only this but some juices use gelatine for thickness and use carmine for red colouring.

A Whole Bunch of Things You Thought Were Vegan but Aren't
A whole bunch of foods you thought were vegan but aren’t


What’s in it?
Meat stock

Many soups which may seem vegan actually use meat stock for flavouring. This is very common in traditional restaurants throughout Europe, so have a word with the waiter before you order that vegetable soup.

Check out our vegan spin on the delicious Portuguese caldo verde here

Foods you thought were vegan but aren't
Pin me!

Marshmallows and Haribo style soft sweets

What’s in it?
Crushed insects, bone and connective tissue

Most marshmallows and Haribo style soft sweets contain gelatine and many red ones also use carmine. If you felt left out not being able to eat sweets with the rest of your friends when you were younger we know how you feel. Now there’s a huge variety of vegan sweets so you can have tooth fillings like the rest of your friends!

A Whole Bunch of Foods You Thought Were Vegan but Aren't
Now everyone can have fillings!

Roast vegetables and Mash

What’s in it?
Goose fat, butter, milk or cream

Whether it’s ready made from the shops or from a restaurant, be careful as roast vegetables may have butter or goose fat used for baking. Mash is regularly cooked with cream, butter or milk (or all three) so keep an eye out!

A Whole Bunch of Foods You Thought Were Vegan but Aren't
100% Plant Based

White sugar

What’s in it?
Cow bone

Whilst this is less common in the UK, many sugar companies use bone char (charred bones) to whiten their sugar. This also applies to brown sugar as it goes through the same process as white sugar and then has molasses added. A huge amount of products have added sugar, so there may be a lot of foods you thought were vegan but aren’t.

Dark chocolate

What’s in it?

I was eternally grateful when I found out that a lot of dark chocolates don’t use any dairy. Beware though, this tends to be better quality chocolates with a higher percentage of cocoa. Other dark chocolate brands may still use milk products so check the ingredients list or look for a vegan stamp!

A Whole Bunch of Things You Thought Were Vegan but Aren't
A whole bunch of foods you thought were vegan but aren’t

Worcestershire sauce

What’s in it?

Yup, one of Britain’s favourites is not vegan or vegetarian, it contains anchovies. Instead go for the proud Sheffield staple Henderson’s Relish as it’s cruelty free!


What’s in it?
Animal stomach

Not only are many types of pesto not vegan, many are not vegetarian either. Most traditional types contain Parmesan cheese which may use rennet. Rennet is taken from the stomach lining of mammals, most commonly young calves. Find out more here.

Foods you thought were vegan but aren't
Gotta love vegan pesto!


And something interesting for you….


What’s in it?
Dead wasps

Hard to believe but completely true, for some figs to be pollinated it requires a female wasp to die inside! The wasp enters to lay her eggs, is then unable to escape and is broken down by enzymes in the fig. Figs would be unable to pollinate without the female wasps but wasps also need the figs to lay their eggs, so they both need each other to survive. As this is a completely natural process and no animals were exploited figs are still considered vegan but it’s something interesting to know. It seems crazy but it’s true folks. If you want to read more about it, check out this article.

Crushed insects, fish bladders, stomach lining, how do they even think of using it!?!?

If this is all new information to you then I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. There may be many foods you thought were vegan but aren’t, but there are also an increasing amount of foods you thought weren’t vegan but are. Right now we are experiencing the Vegan Revolution and every day more and more vegan items are going on the shelves. Our numbers are growing and we’re putting pressure on companies to get meat off the menu and out of our products. As I mentioned in the opening lines, it’s all about baby steps. If these are products you regularly consume then take your time finding the right alternatives and be a life-long, happy vegan!

If you’re reading this and need more inspiration to either continue or switch to a vegan diet then check out this article.

Want to keep up to date with our latest articles and adventures? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and join the gang!

Are there any other foods you thought were vegan but aren’t? Let us know in the comments box bellow!

22 Responses

    • I’m glad it was helpful! Yes, label checking is crucial, we’re going to be putting up a post showing the things to look out for on labels!

  • Hey what about Palm oil /fat and other parts that are drastically contributing to the mass deforestation, and habitat loss for orangutangs and other species Not ethically vegan !

    • We’ve got another article coming about ethical products, not necessarily direct animal products, but products or ingredients that have terrible environmental impacts. I completely agree that palm oil is a huge issue that needs to be faced by vegans and all consumers!

  • Great article. 🙂 It is often I find myself looking over labels for hours just to try to establish if it is safe to eat! There are so many different brands that are now trying to be more progressive in their labelling and that is really helpful. I would love to see it come into law that labelling animal products should be statutory, what do you think? I often make my own pesto which is delicious and much tastier than the Tesco one (although I don’t think there is such thing as a bad pesto 😉 )

    • Hey Robert, sorry it’s taken so long to respond to you! Ahh, label checking is tedious but it’s also quite a good way to spot vegans in a shop, going from one item to the other reading labels, ha! I definitely agree that mandatory label checking should be law, it would be more convenient and safer for vegans and also people with dietary requirements and allergies. We love pesto! Have you got a recipe? We’d love to see it 😀

  • Many people think the vegan diet is unhealthy and difficult, but a well planned vegan diet can be the healthiest around. Also, there are egg, dairy, meat, pretty much everything replacements, although most vegans agree it’s better to stick to whole foods.

    • To people who think it’s unhealthy or difficult I invite them to come and live with us for a week, ha! You’re right though, there are a lot of replacements which can make food variety easier but we still try and opt for whole foods. Do you prepare much food yourself? To us that’s key for a happy and healthy vegan diet 🙂

  • It isn’t true that “for all figs to be pollinated it requires a female wasp to die inside”. Not all figs sold for consumption require this. Even in cases where a wasp is involved, it doesn’t matter for people whose vegan ethics are about not killing or abusing a living creature, the point being that the wasp has already died doing what it does naturally, and isn’t even a wasp any more because it’s been dissolved.

    • Hey Jason, thanks for the correction, you’re right not all figs do need wasps to pollinate them, but very interesting that some do. As we said in the post though, we don’t think this makes figs non-vegan, just something interesting to think about 🙂

  • I’m doing some research for my vegan girlfriend and I am a bit shocked that a vegan diet is so incredibly strict. No honey? No orange juice? I’m sure most people had no idea that these products are non-vegan.

    • Hey Adam, first of all nice one for researching for your vegan girlfriend!

      This post is highlighting products which may seem vegan but are sometimes not, so that’s why it may seem shocking. Although honey is never vegan a number of other things on the list MAY contain the animal products shown, it will not be the case for all companies. With orange juice some companies may use animal ingredients whilst a lot of others don’t, this is why label checking is important.

      I’m not sure where you’re posting from but in the UK there are now more vegan products than ever. It’s really opening up food options and there’s now a massive selection of products and alternatives to choose from which is great!

      Good luck with your researching, feel free to contact us if you want any advice 🙂

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