Updated: Mar 15
Vegans in the supermarket, they can be easy spot as they pick an item up from the shelf, turn it round, squint at the label, then put the item back. What are they doing? Checking for non-vegan ingredients, if you walk past them you'll sometimes hear them sigh as they put the thing back, or they'll mutter "why is there milk in this?"
Vegans can read an ingredient list incredibly quickly, it's a skill that we all have to learn, that can be learnt quite easily, the thing is knowing what to look for. The easy ones are the items with vegan right there on the front, for other products you have to dig a little deeper.
How To Check For Vegan Friendliness Does it say vegan on the packaging? This can be in the form of the vegan "V", The Vegan Society's sunflower or just the word vegan. This may be printed on the front or the back of the packet so check all sides. Does it say vegetarian on the packaging? This can be a tricky one as items that are labelled vegetarian may not be vegan, but it also doesn't guarantee that it isn't as not all vegetarian products contain dairy or eggs. Legally, companies must explicitly state what allergens are contained within a product, and these typically will be highlighted in bold within the ingredients list, or stated separately below it. If you see a non-vegan allergen ingredient such as eggs, milk, whey or casein then that item isn't vegan. If none are listed on a vegetarian product, it is most likely vegan but it is always a good idea to scan the ingredients more closely just to be sure.
Common non-vegan ingredients to look out for. • Casein - is a milk protein. • Lactose - a type of sugar that comes from milk, not to be confused with lactic acid, which is almost always vegan. • Whey - another milk protein. Whey powder is in a lot products where you wouldn't expect to find it, look out for it in crisps, bread and baked products. • Collagen - this comes from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as cows, chickens, pigs, and fish – often used in cosmetics. • Elastin - is found in the neck ligaments and aortas of cows, it is similar to collagen. • Keratin - comes from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as cows, chickens, pigs, and fish. • Gelatine - is a substance that it used to make things jelly-like and chewy. It is made by boiling the skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones of cows, pigs or fish. It is used in jelly sweets, chewy sweets, cakes, and in vitamins as a coating or to make capsules. • Aspic - is an industry alternative to gelatine and is made from clarified meat, fish or vegetable stocks and gelatine. • Lard/tallow - is simply animal fat. • Shellac - obtained from the bodies of the female scale insects. • Honey - a food that bees make so that they will be able to eat in the winter. • Propolis - is used by bees to build their their hives • Royal Jelly - is a secretion of a throat gland of honeybees • Vitamin D3 - from fish-liver oil; used in creams, lotions and other cosmetics and also as a vitamin supplement. Vitamin D3 can also be made from algae, but always check. • Albumen/albumin - is typically made from eggs • Isinglass - a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish, and is used mainly in the making of wine and beer • Cod liver oil - is the oil extracted from the livers of cod fish and is used in lubricating creams and lotions, vitamins and supplements • Pepsin - comes from the stomachs of pigs and is a clotting agent used in vitamins
There are many more ingredients to look out for and if you're not sure check items or individual ingredients online.
In Europe, food additives have to be declared in ingredients lists and are referred to as 'E numbers'. E120, for example, is a food colouring made from crushed insects. Most E numbers are vegan-friendly, but if in doubt check them using an app or website as it can be hard to memorise the list. 'May contain' labelling Quite often food will have a warning that it 'may contain milk' or 'traces of milk', does this mean that there is milk in the product or not? In the UK, manufacturers must declare whether a product is made in a factory where allergens are present. This is because most food factories don't make just one item, they will switch to make different products and some of these other products may contain milk or other allergens. This can cause cross contamination. Most food allergens are in animal products and so you may find a warning about milk, eggs or even shellfish on a product that otherwise appears vegan. These things aren't used to make the food, but, because of the risk of tiny traces being present, they have to be noted for those with allergies. Other things to watch out for ‘Dairy-free’ or ‘lactose-free’ doesn’t mean vegan and can contain egg or other animal derived ingredients. Read these labels as you would any other. Be particularly careful with 'lactose-free' as this only declares that there is no milk sugar in it, there can still be other milk products in the item.
Glycerine/glycerol, mono or diglycerides, and stearic acid can all be from slaughterhouse fat, but they could also be vegan. If they are plant-derived then it should say so on the label but they don't always state the origin. If in doubt don't buy it. Check With The Manufacturer If you have worked through the list and are still unsure if something is vegan, contact the manufacturer. When contacting them, whether by email, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram try to ask a specific question. Quite often manufacturers will say that an item isn't vegan if it isn't certified just to be safe. You can get a clearer answer if you were to ask if they could you please confirm if there is anything that makes the item unsuitable for vegans as there is nothing obvious in the packaging, i.e. cross-contamination during manufacture, or ingredients involving animal products?' You are more likely to receive a detailed reply. If you don't find that you're getting a good answer you can try saying that you have allergies and just want to make sure that the food is safe for you, they are often more helpful.
Making sure that foods, beauty products and even cleaning products are vegan friendly can be daunting, but over time you will get better at spotting things that aren't suitable, but you also learn which items you can buy without having to check every time you go shopping.