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Common Ingredients You Think Are Vegan That Might Not Be

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.

Is pasta vegan?

Plant-Based Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Beans, Greens, and Tomatoes
Plant-Based Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Beans, Greens, and Tomatoes

Unfortunately, not all pasta is vegan. We’ve found pastas of all varieties, from spaghetti to lasagna noodles, with eggs in the ingredient lists.

But don’t worry—there are widely available vegan pastas that don’t involve eggs or dairy and don’t skimp on the texture you’ve come to love. In fact, many of our favorite pasta brands are vegan. So while a lot of pasta isn’t vegan, a lot of the best pasta is.

Choose Instead: 

Is sugar vegan?

Fudgy Brownies
Vegan Fudgy Brownies

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 strict vegan, look for organic products and condiments which are not processed with bone char. (If you’re not a strict vegan, feel free to use conventional sugars when cooking.)

Where Sugar Hides:

Choose Instead (never processed with bone char):

  • organic granulated sugar
  • organic brown sugar
  • organic confectioners’ sugar 

Is wine vegan?

Unfortunately, not all wine is vegan. 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.

Buy the Book

140+ Recipes Vegan for Everybody

With creative and delicious vegan options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in-between, these recipes will appeal to you whether you are looking to freshen up your cooking, are a committed vegan, or cook for someone who is.


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.