Following a vegetarian diet? Here’s a list of the most surprising foods that aren’t vegetarian

Vegetarians be warned - some 'animal-free' foods aren't what they appear!

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!), as these are some of the surprising foods that aren’t vegetarian.

Whether you’ve just made the decision to follow a vegetarian diet, or have been veggie for years, there’s a high number of surprising foods that aren’t vegetarian that might ‘catch you out’.

Here are some of the culprits you may not expect to contain animal products…

Surprising foods that aren’t vegetarian

Refried beans

This Mexican favourite is a no go for vegetarians. ‘Why?’ we hear you ask. Well they can often contain traces of pork fat. Some traditional Mexican restaurants make their refried beans with lard but if you’re buying a tin from your local supermarket many brands offer vegetarian versions.

Mints and chewing gums

Vegetarians need to check the label of their favourite mints and chewing gums before popping one in for fresh breath. Products such as Trebor Extra Strong Peppermints contain beef gelatine, while some chewing gums may contain ingredients derived from animal fats such as glycerine. Check the label that the product is suitable for vegetarians, or look out for a green ‘V’ to ensure your favourite mint doesn’t contain animal products.

mints: vegetarian foods

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Figs

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.

Worcestershire sauce

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…

Cheese

cheese: vegetarian foods

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…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!

Gummy sweets

These are possibly the most obvious of the surprising foods that aren’t vegetarian, but it is worth highlighting as gummy sweets come in vegetarian varieties. 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!

Read more: Vegetarian recipes

Red sweets

red sweets: vegetarian foods

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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!

Pesto

If your pesto sauce doesn’t have a label saying veggie/vegan it’s likely to contain parmesan which isn’t suitable for vegetarians. If you sometimes opt for ready-made pasta dishes and ready-made pizzas check that these don’t contain pesto.

Marshmallows

Marshmallows usually contain gelatine which gives them that wobble. It’s always best to check to see if your supermarket stocks vegetarian and vegan friendly alternatives.

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Cereal

Of all the surprising foods that aren’t vegetarian, we were particularly blown away by this one! While many boxes of cereal are vegetarian friendly, some of the frosted varieties including Kellogg’s Frosted Wheats contain beef gelatine. Better stick to bran flakes…

Low-fat yogurt

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.

Tortilla wraps

tortilla wraps: vegetarian foods

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Here’s another one we couldn’t quite believe made our list of surprising foods that aren’t vegetarian. 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!

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Omega-3 enriched products

Foods labelled omega-3 are sometimes not vegetarian and have ingredients such as fish included. Another word to watch out for is ‘heart-healthy’ as these products also may also have included in them fish-derived ingredients.

If you take vitamins and minerals in gummy or capsule form, these could also contain hidden animal products such as gelatine. However, gelatine-free and vegan options are available so look out for them.

Cake mix

Pre-made cake mixes can contain a number of non-vegetarian ingredients, including carmine (made from crushed up beetles) and lard (rendered pork fat). Ensure you check the packaging for the green ‘V’ symbol, which is a guarantee of the ingredients being vegetarian, or better yet bake your own from scratch using one of our delicious cake recipes.

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Mousse

Unfortunately even a gooey chocolate mousse might not be veggie. Some mousses actually contain gelatine to help them set. However to avoid this, you could try making your own with our how to make mousse recipe. And, you only need three ingredients.

Soft drinks

Surprisingly, some soft drinks contain gelatine-derived ingredients used as a stabiliser. And, if you’re a fan of red coloured drinks, always check the ingredients list as some of these contain the colouring cochineal from insects.

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Wine

We’ve kept the worst for 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!