Our Guide to Food Ingredients is very helpful in deciphering ingredient labels. Many of the following answers were provided by research gathered for the guide. The Guide to Food Ingredients lists the uses, sources, and definitions of 200 common food ingredients. The guide also states whether the ingredient is vegan, typically vegan, vegetarian, typically vegetarian, typically non-vegetarian, or non-vegetarian. The guide is available for $6. You can read more about the Guide and order it at www.vrg.org/catalog/fing.htm. You can also order by mailing a check to VRG, P.O. 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203, or by calling (410) 366-8343 M-F 9-5 (EST) to order with a Visa or MasterCard.
(Editor's note: The purpose of our food ingredient research is intended to educate people to enable them to make informed decisions about the foods that they choose to eat. It is very easy to get wrapped up in the microscopic details and ignore larger issues. There is no such thing as a perfect vegetarian or vegan. Vegetarians and vegans will draw their own lines at what they will or won't eat. Do the best you can, it is all any of us can do.)
*The contents of this brochure and our other publications are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional.
What is B-12 derived from? Isn't it always from an animal product?
B-12, when used to fortify foods, is generally synthetic or fungal in origin. While it is commonly found in animal products, it is now more readily available in soy milks, meat analogues, and Vegetarian Support Formula (Red Star T-6635+) nutritional yeast.
What are "natural flavors"?
According to our research department, the exact definition of natural flavorings and flavors from Title 21, Section 101, part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations is as follows:
"The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional."
In other words, natural flavors can be pretty much anything approved for use in food. It's basically impossible to tell what is in natural flavors unless the company has specified it on the label. A few of the vegetarian & vegan-oriented companies are doing this now, but the overwhelming majority of food manufacturers do not.
Why do companies "hide" ingredients under "natural flavors"? It's considered a way of preserving the product's identity and uniqueness. Sort of like a "secret recipe" - they worry that if people knew what the flavorings were, then someone would be able to duplicate their product.
So what is a vegetarian to do? Call the company. Ask them what's in the flavorings. Chances are they may not be able to tell you, or may be unwilling to tell you. But the more they hear this question, the more likely they are to become concerned about putting a clarifying statement on their labels. It does work in some cases (remember what happened when enough people wrote to the USDA about the organic standards), although it tends to take awhile. We have already had several large food companies call us concerning their natural flavors and how to word their labels if they use only vegetarian or vegan flavorings. They called because it had come to their attention that this was a concern for vegetarians and vegans.
* Many of the numbers listed on food labels are customer service call centers staffed by people who can only read from the information provided to them by the company. While it's tempting to get frustrated and yell at them, please don't. It's sort of like taking it out on the stock clerk because you don't like the grocery store's policies.
Are McDonald's fries made with beef?
From our Guide to Fast Food: In February 1997, McDonald's informed us by telephone that the natural flavor (see above) in their French fries is a "beef product." At that time, they declined to send us this information in writing. In July 1997, McDonald's sent us a fax stating that "[t]he natural flavor used in French fries is from an animal source."
Do you know the origin of thiamine hydrochloride, disodium guanylate, and disodium inosinate? They are from a package of TVP.
thiamine hydrochloride: This is vitamin B-1 and is typically vegan. It is typically synthetic.
disodium guanylate: This is a flavor enhancer derived from fungal sources.
disodium inosinate: This is a flavor enhancer, which may be non-vegetarian. Its sources are mineral, animal (meat/fish), vegetable, or fungal.
If it is TVP, the disodium inosinate is probably of vegetable or fungal origin.
Is wine vegetarian?
In January 1997, we published an article about the manufacturing processes involved in wine making and the animal products that are used in the production. "Why is Wine So Fined?", by Caroline Pyevich, has become one of the most requested articles that was not already on the VRG website. We decided to put it online. You can read the whole article at www.vrg.org/journal/vj97jan/971wine.htm
Here is an excerpt: "Some clarifiers are animal-based products, while others are earth-based. Common animal-based agents include egg whites, milk, casein, gelatin, and isinglass. Gelatin is an animal protein derived from the skin and connective tissue of pigs and cows. Isinglass is prepared from the bladder of the sturgeon fish. Bentonite, a clay earth product, serves as a popular fining agent."
We know a few organic wine companies that produce vegan wines. Note: some organic wine companies do use egg whites as clarifiers. You can contact Hallcrest Vineyards at (408) 335-4441 and Frey Vineyards at (800) 760-3739. Hallcrest offers mail order, and Frey is distributed across the US, and will let you know where their wine can be purchased locally. Offerings From The Vine produces wine that is made with fresh fruits and maple syrup, without sulfites, preservatives, or additives. For information contact Yafah B. Asiel at SVS (404) 752-5194.
Why won't some vegans eat sugar?
Because some sugar companies process sugar through a bone char. The bone char decolorizes the sugar. For more information read "Sugar and Other Sweeteners: Do they Contain Animal Products?" by Caroline Pyevich. It is online at: www.journal/vj97mar/973sugar.htm
Why are some cheeses labeled as "vegetarian cheese"? Why wouldn't cheese be vegetarian? What is rennet?
Cheese is often made with rennet or rennin, which is used to coagulate the dairy product. According to the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, rennin, which is an enzyme used in coagulating cheese, is obtained from milk-fed calves. "After butchering, the fourth stomach...is removed and freed of its food content." After this the stomach goes through several steps including being dry-salted, washed, scraped to remove surface fat, stretched onto racks where moisture is removed, then finally ground and mixed with a salt solution until the rennin is extracted. To read more go to: www.vrg.org/nutshell/cheese.htm
There are some cheeses that are made with vegetable, fungal, or microbial enzymes. We now have a list of vegetarian cheeses on our site at www.vrg.org/nutshell/cheesebybrand.htm. You can also take a look at Trader Joe's lists (note - I'm not sure when these lists were last updated, and some companies might have changed production ingredients): East Coast: www.traderjoes.com/tj/products/brochures/rennet_east.stm and West Coast: www.traderjoes.com/tj/products/brochures/rennet_west.stm.
What is FD & C Red #40 and is it vegan?
FD & C Red #40 is 99% coal tar derivatives. We don't know of any animal products in it. For years a rumor has claimed that it is made of cochineal or carmine, but that is not true.
What is chewing gum made out of?
Most chewing gums innocuously list "gum base" as one of their ingredients, masking the fact that petroleum, lanolin, glycerin, polyethylene, polyvinyl acetate, petroleum wax, stearic acid, and latex may be among the components. Because of standards of identity for items such as gum base and flavoring, manufacturers are not required to list everything in their product. According to Dertoline, a French chemical manufacturer, their adhesive "dercolytes" are used as a label and tape adhesive, as well as a chewing gum base. Many brands also list glycerin and glycerol as ingredients on the label. Both of those compounds can be animal-derived.
What is cochineal (carmine)?
Some red dyes are made from the cochineal beetle. These are usually labeled as cochineal, carmine, or carminic acid.
Is the ingredient known as pre-gelatinized wheat starch vegetarian?
According to A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives: " When starch and water are heated the starch molecules burst and form a gelatin."
According to The Dictionary of Food Ingredients it is a starch that has been created by swelling wheat in cold water. It is also known as gelatinized wheat starch.
According to Food Chemistry: "Pregelatinized flour is made from ground cereals....and is sometimes blended with guar flour or alginates."
It appears to be a completely vegetarian product.
What is sodium stearoyl lactylate?
An animal-mineral (cow or hog-derived, or milk), or vegetable mineral. It is a common food additive, which is often used to condition dough or to blend together ingredients that do not normally blend, such as oil and water. Our Guide reports it "May be non-vegetarian." Archer Daniels Midland Co., a manufacturer of sodium stearoyl lactylate reports that their product is of vegetable origin; the lactic acid is produced from microbial fermentation and the stearic acid, from soy oil. Sodium is a mineral which is added.
What are "E" numbers?
There are different words for different food ingredients across the world. In Europe, some food ingredients are noted as "E" numbers. Those that vegans and vegetarians will want to avoid include:
Ingredients with the following "E" numbers may be animal derived: 101, 101a, 153, 203, 213, 227, 270, 282, 302, 322, 325, 326, 327, 333, 341a, 341b, 341c, 404, 422, 430, 431, 432, 433, 434, 435, 436, 470, 471, 472a, 472b, 472c, 472d, 472e, 473, 474, 475, 476, 477, 478, 481, 482, 483, 491, 492, 493, 494, 495, 570, 572, 627, and 635. To read more go to: www.ivu.org/faq/food.html
What is whey?
The watery material that remains after most of the protein and fat have been removed from milk during the cheese-making process. It is also the liquid that rises to the top of yogurt. It is typically vegetarian.
What are enyzmes, are they vegetarian?
They are proteins added to foods as modifiers. They can be animal, vegetable, bacterial, or fungal. Those used in cheese-making are often animal- derived, others are used in breadmaking and are often fungal. Examples of enzymes are: lactase (fungal), lipase (animal, fungal), papain (vegetable), pectinase (fruit), protease (animal, vegetable, bacterial, or fungal), rennet (animal), and trypsin (animal).
Does guacamole contain gelatin?
Some processed kinds found in the supermarket do, but fresh guacamole usually does not contain it.
What is L-cysteine/cysteine/cystine?
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about L-Cysteine but Were Afraid to Ask
by Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
Research Editor, The Vegetarian Resource Group
Did you know that L-cysteine, a common dough conditioner, flavor enhancer in human and pet foods, and precursor in some dietary supplements, is most often derived from human hair or duck feathers, and to a lesser extent from pigs' bristles and hooves? We reported the human and animal origins of L-cysteine in The Vegetarian Resource Group's Dictionary of Food Ingredients ten years ago. Then, the most common source was human hair found on the floors of Chinese barbershops. Today, it is derived from Chinese duck feathers approximately 80% of the time (estimation based on values given by several companies that manufacture and sell L-cysteine).
At least two forms of synthetic L-cysteine that were not readily available in 1997 when we first reported on L-cysteine are manufactured today. They are produced by Ajinomoto and Wacker Biochem. Ajinomoto told us that it uses industrial chemicals that undergo a biochemical transformation brought about by non-animal enzymes. Previously selling both the "natural," (i.e., animal- or human- derived L-cysteine), and synthetic forms, Ajinomoto completely switched in 2000 to selling just the synthetic form of L-cysteine. Wacker Biochem informed us that they produce L-cysteine through a microbial fermentation process developed in 2001 using corn sugar as the growth medium. Since both forms are expensive, they are not commonly used. According to both companies, the synthetic forms of L-cysteine are certified kosher and halal. L-cysteine derived from human hair or duck feathers may or may not be certified kosher and/or halal.
The use of synthetic L-cysteine could increase over time. Doug Hackett of Premium Ingredients, a major supplier of L-cysteine derived from human hair or duck feathers, told us that he's recently had to turn away several potential customers looking for synthetic L-cysteine because Premium sells only the non-synthetic variety. Requests from customers concerned about human- or animal-derived ingredients in their foods could also accelerate the use of synthetic L-cysteine in foods over feather- or human hair-derived L-cysteine.
L-cysteine is considered a substance that is generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration. It must be labeled by its "common and usual name," (i.e., "L-cysteine"), on food packages, even if present in very small amounts, as long as it has a functional effect in foods. In other cases, such as when it is used to make flavors that are in foods, it does not have to be labeled. When L-cysteine does have to be labeled, its source does not have to be specified according to the FDA.
While researching L-cysteine, The VRG asked several fast food chains and a major vegetarian food company about the sources of L-cysteine in their products. McDonald's told us that L-cysteine derived from duck feathers is in their Honey Wheat Roll, the Deluxe Warm Cinnamon Roll, and the Baked Apple Pie. The L-cysteine in several items offered at Dunkin' Donuts is also derived from duck feathers. Burger King told us in June 2007 that it "could not guarantee" the source of L-cysteine in its products.
On the other hand, Subway recently announced in March 2007 that it has removed the L-cysteine from its otherwise animal product-free Carb Conscious Wrap. When asked about the source of L-cysteine in several of its products, Domino's Pizza told us that L-cysteine is "microbially derived" in its Hand-Tossed Crust and informed us that the L-cysteine in Domino's Breadsticks, Cheesy Bread, and Cinna Stix is "vegetable-derived."
The public relations firm for Morningstar Farms told us that the L-cysteine in their Veggie Bites Country Scramble, Veggie Bites Spinach Artichoke, and Veggie Bites Eggs Florentine was a "microbial fermentation product."
For more information about ingredients in foods, see Vegetarian Journal's Guide to Food Ingredients.
What are Mono- and diglycerides?
Monoglycerides and diglycerides are common food additives used to blend together certain ingredients, such as oil and water, which would not otherwise blend well. The commercial source may be either animal (cow- or hog-derived) or vegetable, and they may be synthetically made as well. They are often found in bakery products, beverages, ice cream, chewing gum, shortening, whipped toppings, margarine, and confections. Our Guide classifies them as "May be non-vegetarian." Archer Daniels Midland Co., a large manufacturer of monoglycerides, reports that they use soybean oil.
What is amylase?
Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down starch into a simpler form. It can be derived from bacterial, fungal, or animal (pig-derived) sources.Typically vegan.
What is Royal Jelly?
Royal jelly is a substance produced by the glands of bees and used as a source of B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It is considered vegetarian.
What is wrong with using honey?
For production methods and ethics concerns please read the Vegetarian Journal article "Busy Bees: Honey Production and Agricultural Pollination." This article is online at: www.vrg.org/journal/vj96nov/bee.htm
What is stearic acid?
Stearic acid is used as a binder in foods, and its source may be either animal or vegetable. It is found in vegetable and animal oils, animal fats, cascarilla bark extract, and in synthetic form. It is used in butter flavoring, vanilla flavoring, chewing gum and candy, fruit waxes, and may not be vegetarian.
What is calcium lactate? Is it vegan?
It should be a vegan ingredient. It is a calcium salt of lactic acid. According to our research, domestically made lactic acid is produced without whey as the fermentation medium. It is typically vegan. Archer Daniels Midland Co. reports that they use only hydrolyzed cornstarch as the fermentation medium. Purac America Inc., says that they use only beet sugar. However, with imported products, such as some olives, the source of the lactic acid is unknown.
What about those ingredients that sound like they are from milk, such as lactic acid, lactose, and lactate?
If it's lactate or lactic acid, it's not from dairy (exception - sterol lactate due to the stearic acid). "Lac" ingredients are usually produced by a fermentation process using cornstarch or beet sugar. Lactose is always from dairy. Most ingredients made with with calcium are vegan (i.e. calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, calcium sulfate). The exceptions are calcium caseinate and calcium stearate. Drink up the calcium fortified o.j. - it's vegan!
What is the difference between vitamin D2 and D3?
D-2 (ergocalciferol) is derived from yeast, while D-3 (cholecalciferol) is derived from lanolin (from sheep) or fish. D-2 and D-3 are both used to fortify milk and other dairy products. Some D-3 vitamin supplements are made with fish oil.
What are agar-agar and guar gum?
Both are thickening agents.
Agar (also known as agar-agar) - A vegetable gum obtained from seaweeds used to thicken foods. Agar is a vegan product.
Guar gum - A common and versatile vegetable gum often used to thicken products. Guar gum is also a vegan product.
Is caramel color vegan?
Carmel color is a common food coloring and flavoring that is usually derived from corn. It is derived from vegetable sources, and is considered vegan. It is used in soft drinks, baked goods, candy, ice cream, and meats to impart a brown color, and also as a flavoring.
What is aspartic acid?
Aspartic acid is an amino acid needed by humans, and can be produced by the body. It is considered typically vegetarian, and its commercial source is generally bacterial or fungal.
What is glutamic acid?
Glutamic acid is an amino acid generally used as a flavor enhancer. It is considered typically vegetarian. Its commercial source is generally vegetable.
Is casein animal-derived?
Casein is a milk derivative. It is often used to enhance texture in soy and rice cheeses because it helps the "cheese" melt.
What is niacin?
Niacin (also known as nicotinic acid, nicotinamide, niacinamide, vitamin B-3) is a B vitamin that is important in the normal functioning of the nervous system. Its commercial source is synthetic, and it may also be found in liver, yeast, meat, legumes, and whole cereals. It is typically vegan
Does "lecithin" come from beans, such as soybeans, or is it from an animal?
Lecithin is found in egg yolks, the tissues and organs of many animals, and some vegetables such as soybeans, peanuts, and corn. Lecithin is commonly used in foods that are high in fats and oils in order to make dissimilar substances, such as oil and water, blend and/or stay blended. We list it as typically vegetarian. Archer Daniels Midland Co., a major manufacturer of lecithin, extracts it from soybeans. Soy is the standard for lecithin in the food industry these days.
What are dextrose and maltodextrin?
Dextrose has a vegetable source, but may be processed through a bone char filter (see sugar question above). It is a simple sugar, which functions as a sweetener in foods and drinks. Our guide lists it as typically vegan.
Maltodextrin has a vegetable source. It is a modified food starch, which may be used to give body to foods. Our guide lists it as vegan.
Is "gluten" vegan?
Gluten is a mixture of proteins from wheat flour. It is a vegan product. You will often see it mentioned as wheat gluten or seitan.
What is gelatin made from?
Gelatin is derived on a commercial scale in the United States today from, (in order of predominance), pigskins, cattle bones, and cattle hides. A very small percentage used today is from fish bones and skins. It is an animal protein with many functional properties in food applications such as a gelling agent, a thickener, an emulsifier, a whipping agent, a stabilizer, and substance that imparts a smooth mouth feel to foods. Gelatin is often used in confectionery, such as gummy bears and marshmallows; desserts including Jell-O®; "lite" or low-fat foods including some margarines; and dairy products such as yogurt and ice cream. Gelatin is also used in hard and soft gel capsules for the pharmaceutical industry. Gelatin is always animal-derived although there are several all-vegetable gelatin alternatives available today that may be erroneously referred to as "vegetable gelatin" or something similar.
Is kosher gelatin vegetarian?
Kosher gelatin can be made with fish bones, and/or beef or pork skins. Contrary to assumptions, it is also considered kosher to use it with dairy products.
Kosher law is very complex and the bones and hides used in gelatin production are considered pareve. The general meaning of pareve refers to foods that are neither milk nor meat, and many people assume this means that the product is vegetarian. However, OU pareve certified ingredients can have animal products, such as fish, eggs, and gelatin, in them. "Kosher Gelatin Marshmallows: Glatt Kosher and 'OU-Pareve'," an article that appeared in Kashrus Magazine, explains the distinctions. A quote from the article follows:
"...since the gelatin product is from hides or bones - not real flesh - and has undergone such significant changes, it is no longer considered 'fleishig' (meat) but 'pareve', and can be eaten with dairy products."
Is maple syrup processed with lard?
Maple syrup can be treated with a very small amount of animal fat, butter, or cream to reduce foaming. Most modern producers use synthetic compounds in order to reduce foaming during production. It is typically vegan. Spring Tree, Maple Groves, and Holsum Foods all report that their maple syrups do not use an animal-derived defoaming agent.
Is glycerine safe for vegetarians?
Glycerine can be animal, vegetable or synthetic. It is commonly animal based, or a blend of animal and vegetable oils. Even kosher glycerine can be animal based. Asking particular companies about their food ingredients is often the only way to find out if the source is animal or vegetable.
Our Guide to Food Ingredients is very helpful in deciphering ingredient labels. Many of the following answers were provided by research gathered for the guide. The Guide to Food Ingredients lists the uses, sources, and definitions of 200 common food ingredients. The guide also states whether the ingredient is vegan, typically vegan, vegetarian, typically vegetarian, typically non-vegetarian, or non-vegetarian. The guide is available for $6. You can read more about the guide at www.vrg.org/press/97juningred.htm. You can order online at www.vrg.org/catalog/order.htm. You can also order by mailing a check to VRG, P.O. 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203, or by calling (410) 366-8343 M-F 9-5 (EST) to order with a Visa or MasterCard.
The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on vegetarianism and the interrelated issues of health, nutrition, ecology, ethics, and world hunger. In addition to publishing the Vegetarian Journal, VRG produces and sells cookbooks, other books, pamphlets, and article reprints.
Our health professionals, activists, and educators work with businesses and individuals to bring about healthy changes in your school, workplace, and community. Registered dietitians and physicians aid in the development of nutrition related publications and answer member or media questions about the vegetarian and vegan diet. The Vegetarian Resource Group is a non-profit organization. Financial support comes primarily from memberships, contributions, and book sales.
For more information go to www.vrg.org/nutshell/about.htm