If it’s not difficult enough to decide to be a vegetarian, the world’s gone and made it even harder for those with convictions to live a meat-free lifestyle. Innocuous foods like cheese and cake can be filled with unsavory substances, and the worst part is a lot of food labels contain jargon that no one understands. Worse yet, labels omit certain rogue ingredients all together. Sneaky, isn’t it? To best avoid consuming things like human hair and calf stomach, read every label or avoid store-bought foods. The more you know, the more power you’ll have. So, the next time you think about drinking a glass of vitamin-enriched orange juice, consider what scary ingredients you might be putting into your body.
9. Worcestershire Sauce
A staple used on steaks, hamburgers, Caesar salad and in drinks like Bloody Marys, Worcestershire contains fermented anchovies, malt vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, tamarind extract, onions and garlic. It’s not required by law to mention on the label that it’s actually a fish product but last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recalled beef jerky, because it didn’t list Worcestershire on the label and many people are allergic to fish products. To avoid consuming anchovies, look for sauces labeled as vegetarian—those supposedly do not contain any fish.
8. Orange Juice
Like Worcestershire sauce, some orange juices contain fish parts. Tropicana’s Heart Healthy OJ’s filled with healthy omega-3s, which are derived from fish. Health experts encourage our intake of omega-3s through eating fish like salmon, but drinking a glass of o.j. provides a necessary dosage of fatty acids, too. Tropicana also has other juices containing vitamin D3—lanolin, obtained from sheep’s wool. Maybe it’s best for vegetarians to buy a juicer and squeeze a few oranges at home.
Something as wonderful as beer isn’t safe for non-pescatarians and for those who dislike fish components in their suds. During the brewing process, isinglass is dumped into the beer, and trace amounts can be found in a pint or bottle of the famed Irish beer. The membrane, which is extracted from the bladders of fish, is “used as a fining agent for settling out suspended matter in the vat.” Fear not vegetarians: some microbreweries use Irish moss as an alternative to the fishiness, but not Guinness.
6. Cake Mixes
Beef fat has not only ruined beans, but it’s also ruined cake for vegetarians. Boxed cake mixes are the worst because they contain beef lard instead of butter (lard is cheaper than butter). Betty Crocker’s done a better job in excluding lard and including some butter in their mixes, but be sure to read the labels carefully, or just make your own cake from scratch. Besides cake mixes, Hostess products also contain either beef or pork fat—avoid Twinkies at all cost (for a multitude of reasons).
5. Refried Beans
Every time you eat at a chain Mexican restaurant and order re-fried pinto or black beans with your burrito, realize you’re ingesting beef lard. If you’re okay with this, fine, but if you’re a vegetarian, you’re going to want to order something else. Canned beans, like El Paso’s traditional beans, lists partially hydrogenated lard on their label. Lard is created from beef fat, which makes the food taste better but isn’t particularly healthy for anyone, especially vegetarians. El Paso and other brands sell vegetarian versions (it’ll say so on the label). The next time you dine at a Mexican eatery, be sure to ask if they can cook up beans without the lard.
We all know about gluten in breads and bagels, but what about L-cysteine? It’s an amino acid derived from duck feathers, sheep wool, hog hair and, wait for it, human hair. Yes, probably a stranger from China’s locks. In bread, L-cysteine’s used as a dough conditioner, and it’ll appear on the label. The protein can be found in store-bought tortillas, McDonalds’ honey wheat roll and their baked apple pies. But, a synthetic version of L-cysteine pops up in a lot of breads nowadays (make sure the food label specifies this before purchasing the bread).
3. Red-Dyed Foods
Remember two years ago when Starbucks came under fire for their red-colored strawberry Frappuccino, which was created with crushed beetles? Yeah, those things are called cochineals and they’re in foods like yogurt, candy, facial cosmetics, shampoos, food coloring and red apple sauce. Basically, every year 70,000 female Dactylopius coccus costa are pulverized into a red dye that’s inserted in products to make a red hue. After the backlash, Starbucks switched out the bug for a benign vegetable extract, but Dannon still uses the bugs to dye their strawberry yogurts (it’ll say carmine or natural red #4 on the label). When ingested, the dye can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
If you’re a vegan, you already don’t eat cheese but for vegetarians, cheese can be a nightmare. An enzyme called rennet is used to make a lot of cheeses, especially ricotta and Parmesan. Scraped from the fourth stomach chamber of an unweaned, slaughtered calf, rennet contains chymosin, an enzyme which helps the calves digest their mothers’ milk. It’s a cruel way to make cheese, so consider what you’re actually eating the next time you devour a block of cheese. Luckily for vegetarians, there are vegetarian cheeses that replace rennet with vegetarian rennet, or microbial matter made from molds. Halal cheeses are safe, but check the labels on cheeses for ingredients like “vegetarian rennet” or “microbial rennet.” Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have entire sections dedicated to vegetarian cheeses.
Gelatin is in everything, from Gummy Bears to pill capsules, so it’s difficult to avoid it. Bones and hides of beef, pork, horses, chicken and fish contain a protein called collagen, which is extracted from the animals. It’s then boiled in hot water and placed aside until it cools and “gels.” Pig skin is the biggest culprit used in gelatin production, followed by bovine hides and bones. If you consume gummy candies, Altoids, marshmallows and swallow gelatin capsule pills, you’re basically eating meat. You can opt for vegetarian capsules instead, which are made from a polymer called Hypromellose.