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Which foods are not vegan?

by Ezra 7 minutes read

Last updated: 18 Jan, 2023

If you’re new to the vegan diet, you’ll already know that it can be confusing trying to figure out which foods are vegan and which ones aren’t. The foods you expect to be vegan are not, and the ones you think aren’t vegan actually are!

As a vegan, you already know that you need to avoid meat, fish, eggs, and dairy as these are foods that are obviously derived from animals. However, there are many other ingredients hidden in foods that are animal by-products.

To be sure a food is vegan, you will need to check the ingredient list. A lot of brands will have a vegan or vegetarian logo on the label, and common allergens in bold. This makes it easy to scan for non-vegan food like eggs, dairy, crustacean shellfish, and fish.

Alongside these non-vegan foods are various other ingredients derived from animals, ones that are not so easy to spot. Some you may never have even heard of before! Always be sure to check the label on food to see if any of these popular animal derivatives appear.

Ingredient Why It’s Not Vegan Vegan Alternative
Gelatine Formed from the skin, bones, and ligaments of bovine animals Agar agar
Whey/Casein By-product of milk Plant-based proteins like pea, hemp, and soy
Carmine (found in red dyes) Made from cochineal beetles Natural food dyes
Shellac Made from the female lac bug FloZein
Beeswax Formed from the exploitation of bees Soy wax
White Sugar Filtered using animal bone char Raw sugar, stevia
Lard Pure animal fat Plant-based oils like coconut, vegetable, and olive
Honey Formed from the exploitation of bees Maple syrup, agave nectar
Ghee By-product of milk Avocado oil
Fish sauce/Shrimp Paste/Oyster Sauce Formed from fish and shellfish Soy sauce, miso soup, vegan fish sauces
Fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) Extracted from fish tissue Algae oil, seaweed, and spirulina

Is pesto vegan?

Pesto is another food that is commonly mistaken as vegan. It contains parmesan cheese, a byproduct of milk, so you will need to find a vegan pesto in the supermarket or make your own!

Home-made green pesto


  • 96g packed fresh basil (large stems removed)

  • 25g pine nuts or walnuts

  • 9g garlic cloves

  • 30ml lemon juice

  • 9-12 g nutritional yeast

  • ¼ tsp sea salt

  • 30-45ml extra virgin olive oil

  • 45-70ml water


  1. To begin, remove the large stems from the basil and peel the garlic cloves.

  2. In a blender or food processor, add the basil, nuts, garlic, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and sea salt. On the highest setting, blend the ingredients until a paste forms.

  3. Add a little of the oil into the paste, blending between additions. Add 1 tbsp of water at a time until the paste has become a thick but pourable sauce.

  4. After tasting, adjust the flavour to preference if necessary. You can add more nutritional yeast for a cheesier flavour, more salt for general flavour, more nuts for a nuttier taste, more garlic for zing, or more lemon juice for acidity.

Is chocolate vegan?

The short answer is yes, but also no. The foundation ingredient of chocolate is cacao beans, which comes from cacao trees, meaning it is a plant-based food. What can sometimes not make chocolate vegan, however, is the ingredients added to the cacao beans to create the final product. White chocolate and milk chocolate normally contain dairy and by-products of dairy.

Dark chocolate, however, is largely dairy-free! Chocolate with 50% cacao content or higher is likely to be vegan as milk is needed in the manufacturing process. There are also many vegan chocolate brands, including Moo Free and Vego, and vegan products by popular brands.

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Is alcohol vegan?

Although a lot of beers and wine are vegan friendly, some contain animal by-products.

A popular ‘fining agent’ in alcohol is isinglass, a form of collagen which is derived from fish bladders. Other animal derivatives used during the clarification process to remove cloudiness, protein, yeast, and particles from alcohol include egg whites, gelatin, fish oil, and casein. Always check the back of the label to make sure the alcohol you’re buying is vegan!

The Barnivore is a great website that tells you whether your favourite wine, beer, or liquor is vegan friendly!

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Is Worcestershire sauce vegan?

Unfortunately, Worcestershire sauce is not vegan as it contains anchovies (a type of fish). Luckily, there are many vegan alternatives to this sauce or you can make your own!

Home-made vegan Worcestershire sauce


  • 1 tbsp ketchup

  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar (or ½ tbsp white vinegar)

  • ½ tbsp soy sauce

  • Dash of hot sauce (optional)


  1. Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth.

Are French fries vegan?

French fries are another food that are only sometimes vegan.

If you are buying them from the store, it is easy to check the label for any non-vegan ingredients. If you are buying them from a restaurant, however, sometimes the potatoes may be fried with beef fat or include another animal by-product. When you are unsure of the specific ingredients of a menu item at a restaurant, be sure to ask for an allergen menu to check.

Is ice cream vegan?

Ice cream is not vegan as the main ingredient is dairy. In recent years, many brands have come out with vegan ice cream that is made with coconut, almond, or soy milk.

Sorbet is also a great alternative to ice cream, as it is made simply from fruit and sugar. You can even make it at home!

Home-made raspberry sorbet


  • 200g sugar (granulated)

  • 270ml water

  • 500g raspberries

  • 1 lemon


  1. Pour the sugar into a saucepan, over a low heat, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved.

  2. Raise the heat slightly and simmer for a further 5 minutes, or until the liquid is like a syrup. Set the saucepan aside to allow the syrup to cool.

  3. Juice the lemon, and then place the liquid into a food processor or blender. Add the raspberries afterwards, and blend until smooth.

  4. With a fine sieve, strain the mixture into a bowl and discard the lemon seeds. Add and mix the sugar syrup into the bowl, then pour the combination into a freezer-proof container. Freeze the sorbet for 1.5 hours.

  5. Remove the sorbet from the freezer and whisk the mixture to break up any ice crystals that may have formed. Place the container back into the freezer.

  6. Once an hour, for 4 hours, continue to mix the sorbet to break up ice crystals. Only stop mixing when the sorbet is firm, but still scoopable.

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