How to Identify Vegan Products

Have you ever bought a product, with a mindset such as “Oh this product must be vegan, what animal ingredients could this simple and innocent product possibly have?” only to reach home and realize that the seemingly simple and innocent product is in fact not vegan? If so then you aren’t alone. Through this blog, we’ll explain to you why such instances may be a lot more common than you’d expect and how you could do your due diligence to not land up in such situations yourself.

Why does such a confusion exist?

If we talk about people who aren’t actively looking for vegan products, then there is obviously no scope for any confusion to occur. However, if we talk about people who’re actively looking to choose healthier (vegan) products, then this confusion is pretty widespread. The reason behind the existence of this confusion is that when we talk about vegan products, the products that generally come to people’s minds are dairy products and meat based products. What customers don’t know is that the vast majority of products that are currently in the market have at least some form of animal product in them, be it to enhance the taste, to give a certain texture to give a certain aroma, or to bind the product. These can be found in all sorts of products, right from chocolates and cereals, to orange juices and salted peanuts. While in some cases, animal products are used as additives for adding nutritional value or flavour, in other cases, animal products are used as adhesives, curing agents, or even as preservatives. Since customers are not aware of such applications of animal products and their extremely widespread use, they often make the mistake of assuming a product to be vegan because of factors such as its nature, without inspecting the ingredient’s list. To help out our fellow newly turned vegans, we’ve created this list of ingredients which aren’t vegan, which customers need to look out for to ensure that the foods that they buy are vegan. We’ll begin with the ingredients most commonly found in Indian products, followed by the rest of the ingredients.

Ingredients found most commonly in Indian Food Items

  1. Gelatin - This ingredient is made from collagen and is used as a binding, thickening or stabilizing agent in foods. It is also used in adhesives, clearing alcohols etc.
  2. Honey - Honey is a sweet liquid made by bees using nectar from flowers.In foods, it is generally used as a sweetener and is also used in certain medicinal applications.
  3. Lecithin - Lecithin is a generic term used to describe any group of yellow-brownish fatty substances which attract both water and fatty substances. They generally occur in animal and plant tissues.
  4. Margarine - This is a spread which is generally used as a substitute for butter. While this ingredient too is naturally plant based, some versions do contain dairy as whey or lactose. It is generally used for flavouring, baking and cooking. 
  5. Milk Solids - Milk solids are small, dairy-derived food particles that contain lactose, caseins, whey proteins they are made from milk, cheeses, yogurt and other lactose-containing food items. They are added to many types of foods such as mayonnaise, biscuits, breads and chocolates to create a uniform texture and sometimes enhance taste.
  6. Varakh/Silver Foil - It is a thin delicate foil of very pure silver that is generally used for garnishing purposes. It is made by pounding silver metal between two surfaces of animal tissue. As alluded to earlier, it is used to garnish Indian sweets and is also used in some ayurvedic medicines. However, Vegan varakh can also be found nowadays.
  7. Whey - It is one of the two main proteins in milk. It's a cloudy and yellowish liquid that's expelled from cheese curds during the cheese-making process. It is used to increase the protein content of products and as such is found in products such as protein bars, smoothies and supplements.

The following are the animal based ingredients found in products all over the world!

  1. Albumen - This is simply another word for the whites of eggs. They’re generally used in baked food items such as pastries and cakes. 
  2. Anchovy - They are small, common forage fishes which are generally found in marine waters. These can be eaten raw, are used in condiments and dressings, and are also used in small quantities to flavor many dishes. 
  3. Aspic - Generally made of fish stack or clarified meat, Aspic is a clear and savoury jelly that’s used as a mould to incase foods such as meat and fish, and is also used for garnishing.
  4. Butter - Made from animal milk, this widely known ingredient is also used in applications where it can not be directly seen or consumed in its most popular state. Such applications include baked goods such as cakes and pastries. 
  5. Carmine - Also known as cochineal extract, is a bright red pigment which is derived from carminic acid. This acid is extracted from some insects and the pigment derived from it is generally used as a colouring agent in food products such as curd.
  6. Casein - This is a complete protein which contains all of the amino acids required for our body to function. It is a white coloured solid with no taste and is found in the milks produced by all mammals. It is generally used in foods either to provide texture or to add nutritional value. 
  7. Collagen - Collagen is a protein which provides structure to most of the body, including the bones, ligaments, tendons and even skin. In foods, collagen is found in supplements, where it isn’t used as a helping ingredient, but is rather used as a nutritional additive for its consumers.
  8. Castoreum - This is a substance which is extracted from beavers’ buttholes. It has a pleasant smell and is generally used as a flavouring agent in food items.
  9. Cultured Dextrose - While dextrose is plant based, cultured dextrose is derived from dairy. This is generally used as an ingredient in salads, spreads and dips, and is also used to increase the shelf life of products such as sausages, cheeses, pastas and baked goods such as tortillas, cereal bars and muffins. 
  10. Curd - Curd is the thick, casein rich part of coagulated milk which is used in the vast majority of Indian Dishes and curries, and also in many condiments. 
  11. Fish Sauce - This ingredient is derived by fermenting fish. While this ingredient is revered for its ability to really elevate any dish, it does so at the cost of the fishes themselves. It is generally used either as a condiment or as a flavouring agent.
  12. Ghee - Ghee is a type of clarified butter which is generally used in Indian, Pakistani and Middle Eastern Cuisines. While this may not be found in packaged products, it may be found in many dishes, curries etc.
  13. Isinglass - This is a sort of gelatin which is semi transparent, whitish and very pure in nature. They are prepared from the air bladders of fish and are often used as a clarifying agent in jellies and in glue. It is also used in some beers and wines.
  14. Khoya - Also known as mawa or khoa, this ingredient is basically dried and evaporated milk solids.This ingredient can be hard or soft depending on its type and is used in almost all indian sweets and even in some curry recipes. 
  15. Lactose - Lactose is basically a sugar molecule that’s made up of 2 sugars. Its uses include pharmaceutical uses, food processing and fermentation. In food processing, it is mainly used to reduce cost and regulate sweetness whereas in fermentation, it is used to produce foods such as yogurt, cheese and sour milk.
  16. Lanolin/E913 - Lanolin is a waxy substance naturally produced as a protective barrier for sheep's wool. It is often found in chewing gums, some fortified foods and is found in a variety of other products such as lip balms, eye creams, shaving creams, medicated shampoos etc.
  17. Lard/Tallow - Lard is the semi-soft, white fat which is generally found in the fattiest portions of a pig. It is a cooking fat which can be used for roasting, grilling, sautéing, frying, and baking. It can also be used as a substitute to butter in its solid form. As a result, it is often found in cake mixes and in canned beans.
  18. L-Cysteine - It is a semi essential amino acid which is generally derived from human hair. It is generally found in breads, baked items and in some supplements.
  19. Malai - This is a type of clotted cream which originates from the Indian Subcontinent. It is used in a wide variety of foods in India, ranging from some breads and curries, to a lot of vegetable dishes and sweets.
  20. Mono/Di-Glycerides - Mono and Diglycerides are emulsifiers, which means they help oil and water to blend. As a result, they're commonly used as food additives. They are generally added to foods such as bread, tortillas, baked goods, nut butters, mayonnaise, ice creams, candies, soft drinks, chewing gums and some processed meats and meat substitutes.
  21. Musk Oil - Musk Oil refers to the musk compound that’s extracted from the musk deer or from its musk pods. It has an earthy, woody, sharp, pleasant and fragrant aroma and is generally used as the base for perfumes.
  22. Pepsin - Pepsin is an enzyme that’s produced by the stomach. This enzyme breaks down proteins into smaller peptides. It is extracted from the stomach lining of pigs and is generally found in vitamins and supplements.  
  23. Rennet - This is an enzyme which is used in the process of cheese making. It is usually derived from animals and is found in cheeses such as Parmesan, Gorgonzola, pecorino Romano, Camembert and other artisanal cheese varieties, and is also used in liquid whey.
  24. Royal Jelly - Royal jelly is a substance that is secreted by nurse bees in a colony to feed larvae and the queen bee. It is generally consumed as is and is found in jellies.
  25. Shellac/E904 - This is a glazing agent made from the secretion of female lac bugs. As mentioned, it is used as a glazing agent and is found in products such as candies, cosmetics, nail polishes and chocolates. 

Last but not the least, an ingredient of concern is Palm Oil. While Palm Oil is technically Vegan, there is a lot of debate surrounding this particular product as it requires a lot of deforestation to be carried out. However, in our humble opinion, of all the oils, palm oil is the least resource intensive and as such, is the best of all the necessary evils.  

Looking out for these ingredients will ensure that the food items which you buy are actually vegan. However, you might be shocked to know that these animal-based ingredients are also used in other types of products that you use such as clothing, household and even beauty products. The ingredients used in said product types and the types of products which usually have such ingredients will both be covered in another blog.