15 Surprising Foods That Aren’t Vegetarian


Food · Posted on Apr 25, 2021 I haven’t eaten red meat in years, but some of these I still had to learn the hard way. People don’t eat meat for a variety of reasons, but if you’ve gone vegetarian or vegan because of animal cruelty, you’ll have to do […]

I haven’t eaten red meat in years, but some of these I still had to learn the hard way.

People don’t eat meat for a variety of reasons, but if you’ve gone vegetarian or vegan because of animal cruelty, you’ll have to do more than just skip that Big Mac.

Evie Carrick

As a pescatarian (I do eat fish) for more than six years now, I’ve learned this firsthand.

The reality is that animal-derived products are used to make A LOT of foods — including many that many well-meaning vegetarians and vegans eat regularly.

NBC / Via giphy.com

For example, while some of these foods might not be made from cow flesh, they may be made from enzymes found in a cow’s stomach. And if you (like me) decided to abstain from meat because of animal cruelty, chances are you don’t want to support the industry in any way.

And while I’m not trying to tell anyone how they *should* eat, I wanted to share these in case you’re in the same boat as I am. Here are some foods that many vegetarians and vegans eat — that are technically *not* free of animal products.


McDonald’s Fries

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These days you can pick up a veggie burger at most fast-food chains, but some french fries are still made using animal ingredients. Say hello (and perhaps goodbye) to the crispy amazingness of McDonald’s fries, which, sadly, are made with “natural beef flavor” — or, as PETA calls it, “beef tallow.”

The good news? Burger King’s fries are vegan, as are Wendy’s.


Parmesan Cheese

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Love Parm? Yeah, me, too. But unfortunately, most Parmesan cheeses (in addition to Gruyère, Gorgonzola, Pecorino Romano, and manchego) use rennet to coagulate the milk. And what is rennet, you ask? Well, it’s an enzyme that’s removed from the lining of a goat’s or calf’s stomach.

These cheeses can be, and sometimes are, made without rennet, but I’d suggest giving your labels a thorough read to be sure.


Frosted Pop-Tarts

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Every once in a while, a Pop-Tart just hits the spot — but if you’re a vegetarian, you’ll have to avoid the frosted variety. That’s because the frosting is made using gelatin, a protein made by boiling animal skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones.


Frosted Mini-Wheats

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At a glance, you might be drawn to the fact that this cereal has more whole grains and fiber than many others on the shelves. But all that doesn’t make up for the fact that the frosting on the little pillows of goodness is made using gelatin.


Refried Beans

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Many vegetarians rely on beans as a source of daily protein, but arguably the best variation on the legume — refried beans — is often made using lard (rendered pig fat). I personally stick to Amy’s beans, which are always vegetarian.


Premade Piecrust


This stuff is a lifesaver (we’re not all Martha Stewart types), but much of it isn’t vegetarian. Most brands — including Pillsbury — use lard to obtain that tender, flaky finish we all love. Next time you’re putting together a baked Brie, I recommend this stuff from Wewalka.


Flavored Yogurts

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This one is hard because many of us vegetarians and pescatarians use dairy to get a good dose of protein. But some (though not all) yogurts use gelatin to give the stuff a better texture. Yoplait is an easy target (although certain products, including Yoplait Tubes, Source Greek, and Whole Milk yogurt, aren’t made with gelatin), but it isn’t the only offender. Even “fancy” brands like Noosa use a cow-derived gelatin.

Read the labels closely, or stick with plain Greek yogurt.



Heather Winters / Getty Images

The golden snack known for its scarily long shelf life is made using “tallow,” a rendered form of beef or mutton fat. If you just can’t imagine life without the little cakey fingers, seek out a truly vegetarian option — I recommend the Katz variety (which are also gluten-free).



Ozgurcankaya / Getty Images

It seems impossible that a liquid could contain animal-derived products, but some brands do. That’s because when it comes time to filter or refine the wine, certain “fining agents” are used to remove particles, yeast, protein, and cloudiness. These fining agents often include “blood and bone marrow, casein (milk protein), chitin (fiber from crustacean shells), egg albumen (derived from egg whites), fish oil, gelatin (protein from boiling animal parts), and isinglass (gelatin from fish bladder membranes),” according to PETA.

The good news? The site Barnivore lets you search companies so you can find a wine you like that doesn’t rely on bone marrow as a filtration agent.




Like wine, during the refining process, some beer brands rely on animal products (most commonly, isinglass and gelatin). But that isn’t always the case. Many of the mass-produced varieties (Coors, Budweiser, Corona, Miller) are vegan, and you can always look up your favorite craft brew on Barnivore.


Protein Powder

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As a vegetarian, you might think you’re doing yourself a world of good by slipping a spoonful of protein powder into your morning smoothie — but many protein powders, including whey protein, are not vegetarian. Whey protein typically contains bovine serum albumin — a protein derived from cows — and both whey and other protein powders often rely on L-cysteine, a dietary supplement often made from chicken feathers or human hair.



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Processed bagels — like that everything bagel you just picked up from Dunkin’ — are often made using L-cysteine as well. The amino acid, which is found naturally in the human body (hello, hair), is sometimes used as a “bread conditioner” to extend the shelf life of commercial bread products.


Original Altoids

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White Sugar

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Strange but true: Many regular white sugar brands use bone char (usually a derivative of cow bones) to make the sugar whiter. Your best bet may be to stick with a slightly less white vegan sugar instead.

Keep in mind that the ingredient list may instead say “natural carbon” — sneaky commercial-speak for the less appealing bone char.


Gummy Bears (and Pretty Much Gummy Everything)

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I love, love, love gummy candy. But most brands rely on a dose of gelatin to obtain that chewy consistency we all love. And it isn’t just gummy bears — marshmallows, Starbursts, and candy corn are all culprits, too.

Vegetarians might want to stick with Airheads, Jujubes, and Swedish Fish — or opt for organic gummies like certain vegetarian-friendly candies made by SmartSweets and YumEarth (their take on Starbursts is amazing, IMO).

Did I miss any? Or do you have any favorite vegetarian-friendly substitutes for anything on the list? Share in the comments!

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