Adhering to a strict vegan diet is tough, especially in the age of additives and highly processed foods. Just because you’re avoiding the products that are obviously derived from animals—meat, cheese, eggs, the list goes on—doesn’t mean you aren’t consuming ingredients that are secretly nonvegan. (Perhaps your favorite vintner uses fining agents containing fish bladders, for example. That glass of wine, therefore, is nonvegan. Go figure, right?) We came across many of these ingredients while conducting research for our new book, Vegan for Everybody. To help you avoid some common pitfalls, we’ve developed a primer on ingredients and products that you think are vegan that might actually be nonvegan.
3 Common Ingredients You Think Are Vegan That Might Not Be
Believe it or not, not all sugar is vegan. Most white sugar is filtered through animal bone char to bleach it. Some companies turn to granular carbon to do this job, but it’s impossible to be sure, so conventional sugar is out for strict vegans. The same goes for brown sugar since it’s made by adding molasses to white sugar. (If you’re not a strict vegan, feel free to use conventional sugars when cooking.)
Where Sugar Hides: Ketchup (the test kitchen’s favorite ketchup, Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup, is vegan), sandwich bread, bread crumbs, shredded coconut, chocolate, and jams, jellies, and preserves.
Choose Instead: Organic granulated, brown, and confectioners’ sugar are never processed with bone char. If you’re strict vegan, look for organic products and condiments.
Devastating, we know. We’ve found pastas of all varieties, from spaghetti to lasagna noodles, with eggs in the ingredient lists. But don’t worry—there are alternatives.
Choose Instead: Most of our favorite pastas are vegan, including spaghetti (De Cecco Spaghetti No. 12), elbow noodles (Barilla Elbows), whole-wheat spaghetti (Bionaturae Organic 100% Whole Wheat Spaghetti), and fettuccine (Garofalo Fettucce). For no-boil lasagna noodles, we used Prince Oven Ready Lasagna. So while a lot of pasta isn’t vegan, a lot of the best pasta is.
Again: ugh. Wine fining agents include casein, albumin, gelatin, and isinglass (fish bladder), and traces of these items can end up in the wine. But many producers are now using bentonite clay or activated charcoal, which are vegan. Check labels for a vegan demarcation or ask a store clerk.
Other Nonvegan Ingredients to Look Out For
Albumin, casein, gelatin, lactose, and whey are all nonvegan. Do you ever see these ingredients and wonder what they are? Well, they’re all animal products. Here's how:
- Albumin is an animal protein (most notably found in eggs) that is used as a binder.
- Casein is a protein found in milk that gives some nondairy cheeses meltability.
- Gelatin is used as a thickener, especially in desserts, and is made from animal bones and skin. (Agar-agar is a vegan alternative.)
- Lactose is a milk sugar found in many confections.
- Whey, a byproduct of cheese making, is found in snack foods and even breads.
Be careful too with anything that contains colorings: Many red dyes are made from crushed insects.
Vegan for EverybodyIn this cookbook, America's Test Kitchen decodes and demystifies vegan cooking, so you can reap its many benefits and avoid the pitfalls of bland food, lack of variety, and overprocessed ingredients. You'll find approachable, fresh, vibrant recipes that you'll not only feel good about eating but also come to love, whether you're a first-timer or a committed vegan.
How do you remain vigilant when trying to adhere to a strict vegan diet? Let us know in the comments! For more on veganism, read these posts: