Think your sugar and orange juice are vegan? Think again! Learn about surprising foods you think are vegan but they’re not really.
The first week we went vegan, someone messaged us and was like, “hey just a heads up, sugar isn’t vegan“.
Hold up, what!?
What do you mean sugar isn’t vegan? Isn’t it just made from a plant?
And thus, the learning began of finding out about surprising foods you think are vegan but they’re not really.
There have been so many foods that we assumed were vegan that now we consistently read labels to try to figure out if it is vegan-friendly.
Should I feel guilty for eating foods I thought were vegan but learn they aren’t?
It’s easy to feel guilty, right?
We live in a society that wants us to constantly feel shame for doing something different or making a mistake.
The truth is when it comes to veganism, no one, literally no one, can be 100% vegan in our current way of obtaining goods and services.
What we can do is be as careful as possible, not get down if we mess up, and continue to keep trying our best to reduce the amount of animal products we knowingly consume.
So no, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you find out that your veggie burger was made with egg whites after eating it. And no you shouldn’t hold onto shame if you enjoyed the piece of cake your grandma made you as her first vegan cake but you aren’t sure if the sugar is vegan.
Again you being vegan is already making the most impact daily. Be proud of that.
How do I guarantee my foods are vegan?
Being completely honest, if you want to be nit picky, there’s never a 100% sure way to guarantee foods are completely vegan. Even if you grow your own food, there’s a chance that you are disturbing nature in some way.
But like we said above, we just try to do our best.
The best way to ensure that everything you eat is as vegan as possible is to look for labels of products that have a vegan label, especially ones that have a Certified Vegan logo.
What are Surprising Foods You Think Are Vegan But They’re Not
If you live in the US, there’s a strong chance that your sugar has been processed through animal bone char in an outdated bleaching process. White sugar, brown sugar, and powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar) all go through this process. Learn more about how to find vegan sugar.
2. Orange Juice
Orange juice that has been fortified with Omega-3s to be heart healthy (example: Tropicana Healthy Heart) gets its boast from fish oil or other fish products like tilapia and sardines. Chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts are a good source of vegan Omega-3s.
If you see any other products boasting Omega-3s it should immediately send a warning signal to double check.
3. Orange, Apples, and Lemons, OH MY!
Many fruits naturally produce a protective wax; however, when mass produced, they are washed which removed that coating. In order to get it from the farm to the store to your table, another coating is added (also to maintain appearance).
Sometimes this coating is made from Beeswax and our Lac-resin, an insect based wax.
Products are supposed to be labeled but when you buy individual pieces of produce, it’s sometimes harder to figure out.
Organic produce is supposed to only use plant based waxes, such as carnauba wax.
Another option would be to only buy in-season produce like apples from farm stands as they likely haven’t had wax added to them.
If organic fruit isn’t an option for you to purchase, please do not stop buying fresh fruit. It’s one of those unavoidable things that shouldn’t happen, but fruit is still overall healthier for you to consume and naturally vegan.
If you live in a region that gets 4 seasons, bananas are likely shipped in to your area. However, unless you are buying organic bananas, they likely contain shellfish.
There are a spray that acts as a preservative made from shrimp and crab shells that helps to kill off the bacterium causing bananas to decompose.
Again, if you can’t afford organic bananas, please keep buying bananas as they are a healthy food and you are doing your best.
5. Beer, Wine, and other Alcoholic Beverages
We hate to be the bearer of bad news but your wine is likely not vegan, and some other alcoholic favorites may not be either.
Many companies use isinglass as a clarifying agent in the finishing product of both wines and beers. It is a gelantin-based substance that comes from fish.
Additionally, other products like dairy (casein), honey, and egg whites have been found in final recipes. Alcoholic companies are not required to have nutritional labels, so if you aren’t sure it’s best to contact the company, especially if you have food allergies.
Barnivore is a great place to check to see if your favorite alcoholic beverage is safe.
6. Non-dairy creamers
Just because a coffee creamer says non-dairy, don’t be tricked! Many still contain sodium caseinate, a milk-based derivative. Learn more about how dairy can be labeled and what ingredients to avoid.
7. Herb Paste Blends
You can buy herbal pastes, like basil paste, garlic paste, ginger paste. Some of these contain milk, so always double check the labels.
8. Red Dyed Foods
Candy, juice, gummies, etc. If the food you are eating is not naturally red, then the way it’s been dyed red is likely animal derived. The color comes from crushing beetles and other insects in the cochineal family that are then boiled with other additives.
Your sprinkles likely contain bugs. This includes Wilton’s and other popular and widely available sprinkles (or Jimmies if you like in Philly).
Similar to the red dyed foods above, if the ingredients list says “shellac” or “confectioner’s glaze” then the sprinkles aren’t vegan. They are derived from insects in the cochineal family to dye the sprinkles their color.
Check out Safe Vegan Sprinkles.
Gum seems so harmless, but yet it can contain gelatin, stearic acid and/or glycerin, all of which are derived from animals.
Some gums brands that are vegan are PUR, Spry, Juicy Fruit, and Eclipse. Always double check the labels though.
Most marshmallows are made from gelatin. Gelatin is obtained by boiling bones, tendons, skins, and ligaments of animals, mostly cows or pigs. Even kosher gelatin is usually from fish.
Still there are safe marshmallows that do not contain animal products like Trader Joe’s seasonally available marshmallow and Dandies.
12. Bread and Bagels
If you eat store packaged bread, bagels, pizza doughs, etc, then you want to look for the ingredient: L-cysteine. It is an amino acid that usually comes from dog or pig hair.
Learn how to make your own easy no yeast vegan bread at home today!
If you are in an Italian restaurant that makes fresh pasta, it likely contains eggs. Most store bought dry pastas do not contain eggs; however, it’s one of those ingredient lists that you should always read just in case.
Also if you are buying pre-made pastas like ravioli or tortellini, they most often contain milk, but so do gnocchi sometimes so read your labels.
14. Packaged Nuts
We remember a friend sending us an ingredient label of a mixed nut blend that contained gelatin. NUTS! (pun intended).
Never would you think you need to check, but many nut mixes, especially salted varieties contain gelatin. In fact, Planter’s Peanuts, one of the most popular brands, coat their peanuts with gelatin in order to make them taste extra salty.
Luckily, there’s still plenty of vegan options.
Probably not so surprising, as milk chocolate literally has milk in the name of it. But even dark chocolate varieties sometimes contain milk or milk derived ingredients like whey or casein.
16. Veggie Burgers
I remember being newly vegan and traveling and trying to find a place to eat. We pulled up to a fast food place that had a veggie burger on the menu, but I still checked the ingredients. Sure enough, it contained egg whites.
Many restaurant and store bought veggie burgers still contain eggs or dairy so check the labels. Thankfully more and more options are popping up. If you are near an Aldi, check out their vegan line of frozen veggie burgers that are delicious (but again check labels because even they have a few vegetarian but not vegan ones).
17. Canned vegetable soup
Your sick and all you want is vegetable soup, but you better check your labels first. While it’s loaded up with veggies, many companies use beef or chicken broth in the soup instead of vegetable broth.
It’s easy to make your own though, check out our vegan lentil soup.
18. Worcestershire Sauce
This may not come as a surprise to some if you know how it’s made, but Worcestershire sauce is traditionally made with anchovies. There are vegan versions that are becoming more widely available in most grocery stores like Annie’s Naturals Organic Worcestershire Sauce or The Wizard’s Organic Worcestershire Sauce (this one is also gluten free).
We really hate to be the bearer of continued bad news, but most cereals are fortified with vitamin D3. D3 comes from lanolin, which is …sheep’s wool. Many popular Kellogg’s and General Mill’s cereals contain D3 making them not suitable for vegans. This, like the sugar, seems to be an issue only in the US.
Not only this though, but cereals like Frosted Mini Wheats and Lucky Charms also contain gelatin.
20. Potato Chips
Don’t start throwing things at us. Most potato chips are safe; however, some still contain milk ingredients. You’d assume Cheddar chips or even Sour Cream & Onion would, but even plain chips contain milk sometimes. Most notably almost all Sea Salt & Vinegar chips still contain milk.
Hat Tip: Doritos Sweet Chili variety are vegan friendly.
Also, double check, especially if eating in a Mexican restaurant, that the tortilla chips weren’t fried in or made with lard.
21. Soy and Almond Cheese
Soy cheese and almond cheese are made from soy and almonds, end of story. Right? Wrong.
In fact, many of these are just lactose-free, but still contain casein, which is a still a milk protein.
Trader Joe’s soy and almond cheese are notorious for this, along with Go Veggie brand.
22. Spaghetti Sauce
You may rightly assume that a Four Cheese spaghetti sauce would have milk in it, but what about the Traditional Marinara?
Yup, even the classic versions sometimes have parmesan added to it, so it’s best to always double check.
23. McDonald’s French Fries
Eyeroll to the US again. (yes, we are in the US).
McDonald’s in the US (no other country) cooks their fries in beef fat before freezing and shipping to stores. They also contain dairy.
24. BBQ Sauce
Many BBQ sauces contain honey, which is not vegan as is comes from animals. Thankfully, it’s super easy to make your own vegan BBQ sauce!
Before you go to freshener your breath, hold on just a second. Altoids brand contains gelatin. Therefore not vegan.
Margarine isn’t butter, so it’s just oil and safe. Wrong again.
Many margarines still contain whey and some use yogurt to lower the fat content. So always double check or use a labeled vegan butter. Some good ones are Earth Balance (not Smart Balance) and Miyokos.
27. Jams, Jellies, and Preserves
If you make your own jams and jellies, you likely use pectin. However, some commercial brands use gelatin instead.
Finally, something that the US doesn’t usually contain; however, if you are overseas, some sodas contain beta-carotene coloring which comes from fish gelatin. However, just because it’s the US, still remember about the white sugar source from above
29. Store Bought Cake Mixes
On the back of many store bought cake mixes, it says add eggs, oil, and water. However, the ingredients don’t contain any animal products and using something like applesauce or flax eggs can ensure that you can still make a quick cake vegan.
However, always double check the labels because some boxed cake mixes contain lard or red dye, both of which aren’t vegan friendly.
30. Cornbread Mix
Most cornbread boxed mixes contain lard. However, recently Jiffy came out with a vegetarian version that does not. Use applesauce or flax egg to make instead of eggs to make vegan.
31. Refried Beans
Many refried beans are made with lard. Usually fat-free versions are safe, but it’s always best to check.