At first glance, being a vegetarian seems pretty straightforward – essentially, you’re just cutting out meat, right?
However, when you get down into the nitty-gritty of vegetarianism, it’s not just a case of skipping the bacon sarnies and burgers – you need to be checking the labels on everything from your cheese to your sweets, and even your wine (sob!)
Whether you’ve just made the decision to follow a vegetarian diet, or have been veggie for years, there are a shockingly high number of everyday items that might ‘catch you out’.
Here are some of the most suprising foods that aren’t suitable for vegetarians…
This Mexican favourite is a no go for vegetarians. ‘Why?’ we hear you ask. Well they can often contain traces of pork fat. Most traditional Mexican restaurants make their refried beans with lard but if you’re buying a tin from your local supermarket it doesn’t hurt to read the label!
Yep, that famous brew is certainly not one for vegetarians. Strained through fish bladders (yes, that’s a thing!) Guinness gets that smooth, glossy look through what they call the ‘fish bladder isinglass filtration process’ – sounds gross, right? Good news though, after 256 years of using this frowned upon method, Guinness have plans in the making to put a stop to it once and for all.
It’s a weird one but if you’re a strict vegetarian bananas might be off limits after reading this. According to recent research bananas (and other fruits) are sprayed with something called Chitosan which contains compounds from shellfish including crab and shrimp. This is sprayed onto the bananas to preserve them on supermarket shelves. The spray can then infiltrate the fruit. Oops!
We know, we were baffled too – but apparently, figs are not suitable for veggies, and it’s all to do with the way they’re pollinated. During the process, wasps often get stuck, meaning the most edible figs have the remains of at least one wasp in the centre (albeit broken down into protein). Suddenly our yogurt with figs and honey just got a whole lot less appetising.
Condiments can be a minefield for vegetarians and vegans, as animal products can be found in the most unlikely of places – in this instance, Worcestershire sauce. You may sprinkle this savoury sauce on your cheese on toast without a second thought, but if you’re a veggie, you need to think again on more than one count, because there’s anchovies in that innocent looking bottle…
…and your cheese might not be veggie either! Certain varieties, usually hard cheeses such as Parmesan, are made using animal rennet, which is an enzyme that (look away if you’re of a squeamish disposition) comes from the lining of a calves’ stomach. If in doubt, double check the label, and opt for ‘Parmesan-style’ hard cheese, which are available at most supermarkets, instead. And remember, Parmesan can also be an ingredient in other products, such as pesto, too!
Snaffling a few of the kids’ Haribos here and there seems harmless enough, but it isn’t an option for vegetarians, as this type of sweet contains gelatine, made through a process which involves boiling animal skin and bones. It’s not strictly limited to just the gummy variety either – softer sweets like foam shrimps and marshmallows also contain the setting agent, so it’s hands off the pick and mix stand, we’re afraid!
Sorry to be the bearer of even more bad news, but even if your favourite sweets are gelatine free, you still might not be able to eat the red ones! Many of them contain cochineal, which can also appear on labels as E120 or Carmine, which is a food and drink colouring made from crushed up beetles (yes, really!) It’s not just sweets you need to look out for – according to the Vegetarian Society, it’s also in some biscuits, desserts and coloured drinks, so once again, always check the label!
Remember gelatine, the pesky non-veggie ingredient in your bag of sweets? Well, it could be in your low-fat yogurt too. Yogurts that are reduced-cal often have lots of ingredients taken out of them, so they need something other than fat to set them, and most manufacturers use beef or pork gelatine in theirs, making things tricky for veggies on a diet.
This isn’t true of all tortilla wraps, but it’s worth keeping an eye on – particularly if you’re ordering a wrap in a restaurant or eating one that someone has homemade. In traditional recipes, part of what gives flour tortilla wraps their soft, almost-melt-in-the-mouth texture is lard, or animal fat, which vegetarians should definitely be avoiding, so check with the chef before eating!
Surprisingly, a can of your favourite fizz isn’t always exempt from animal product! Messaging on the Coca Cola website states that ‘vegans and vegetarians should note that a few of our drinks contain small traces of fish gelatine, which is used as a stabiliser for the beta-carotene colour. These products are Lilt, Lilt Zero, Kia-Ora Orange Squash No Added Sugar and Schweppes Orange Squash. Five Alive Apple Five Fruit Blend also contains traces of gelatine’. Time to start sticking to squash, we think!
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Guys, we kept the worst til last, but we can’t keep it a secret any longer – even a glass of vino might not be veggie. Yes, it’s mostly grapes, but sometimes animal products including gelatine, isinglass, chitosan, casein and egg albumen might be used during the manufacturing process. There’s no hard and fast rule, so once again, it’s a case of being vigilant and checking the label – and remember, all is not lost, because it’s not all wine!