Even the most dedicated and knowledgeable vegan will sometimes be unsure as to whether a certain product or food is, in fact, vegan. The strange, and sometimes opaque, manufacturing processes of modern food production make things far from easy, and some foodstuffs that may appear to be vegan-friendly are actually not.
Here at our Is it Vegan? hub we cover both the most obscure, complex “Is X vegan?” questions, as well as the simpler queries asked by those new to veganism, or those considering a move to a plant-based diet. We’ll be adding to this all the time to, so if you are not sure about a certain item, whether food, cosmetics, clothing or anything else, get in touch and we’ll add it to our list!
Is It Vegan: Quick Reference
With many foods, the distinction is quite clear but for others it is far less obvious. Even some items which may seem obviously vegan can throw up complications for very strict vegans. The table below gives you a quick reference guide to what is and isn’t vegan, with brief notes explaining any potential issues.
|Food or Product||Is It Vegan?||Notes|
|After Eights||No||Contains dairy|
|Almonds||Yes||There are, however, environmental & ethical concerns over production|
|Avocados||Yes||Concerns about bee exploitation|
|Bagels||Varies||Often vegan but double check ingredients as eggs, honey and additives can be added sometimes|
|Baileys||No||Contains cream (though Baileys Almande is vegan)|
|Baked Beans||Yes||The original Heinz variety is vegan, but other varieties/brands may not be|
|Baklava||Varies||May contain butter, eggs or honey|
|Bananas||Yes||Though some may be coated with animal-based sprays|
|Beer||Varies||Many beers are vegan but some use non-vegan fining agents, such as Isinglass|
|Beeswax||No||Exploits and harms bees|
|Bisto||No||Only due to possible cross-contamination (no animal ingredients)|
|Botox||Yes||Though as a medical product, it has been tested on animals|
|Bread||Varies||Often vegan but double check ingredients as butter, eggs, honey, etc. is sometimes used|
|Breakfast Cereal||Varies||Some use honey and those fortified with vitamin D usually are not|
|Breast Implants||Varies||Silicone has been tested on animals|
|Bubble Tea||Varies||Milk-based: generally not vegan; Fruit-based: usually vegan|
|Calcium Carbonate||Varies||Vegan unless produced from oyster shells, eggs or similar|
|Candles||Varies||Depends on wax used: some are vegan, some (e.g. tallow) are not|
|Carnauba Wax||Yes||Comes from a Brazilian palm plant, however, is often combined with non-vegan beeswax|
|Carrageenan||Yes||Made from seaweed|
|CBD Oil||Yes||CBD is vegan, as are most related products, with some exceptions|
|Champagne, Prosecco & Cava||Varies||Might have been filtered through isinglass (fish swim bladders!)|
|Chewing Gum||Varies||Many brands/varieties are but check ingredients (e.g. for gelatine)|
|Chocolate||Varies||Often contains milk, animal fats or egg products|
|Cider||Varies||Cochineal is sometimes used, as is honey, but there are plenty of vegan options|
|Cigarettes||No||Animal testing and possible non-vegan ingredients|
|Coca Cola||Yes||No animal ingredients|
|Cocoa Butter & Cocoa Powder||Yes||Comes from Cocoa plant|
|Coconuts||Yes||Unless monkey labour has been used to pick the coconuts|
|Coffee||Yes||Coffee itself is, but milk and other additions may not be|
|Collagen||Varies||Can be produced from animal or non-animal sources|
|Contact Lenses||Varies||Almost all have been tested on animals (some exceptions)|
|Cotton||Yes||Comes from a plant|
|Couscous||Yes||Made from wheat (a plant)|
|Crisps||Varies||See our Vegan Crisps article for the full lowdown|
|Croissants||No||Contains butter – but vegan versions exist|
|Crumpets||Varies||Some recipes contain dairy|
|Deer Antlers (Dog Chews)||Varies||Possibly if naturally shed and foraged|
|Dextrose||Varies||Some may use bone char|
|Doritos||Varies||BBQ & Chilli, Lightly Salted and Chilli Heatwave are vegan, but other flavours are not|
|Doughnuts||Varies||Plenty of vegan doughnuts out there but watch out for milk, butter & eggs in the ingredients|
|E-Cigarettes||Yes||Ingredients in e-liquid are plant based (with occasional exceptions)|
|Eggs||No||They are laid by animals!|
|Energy Drinks||Varies||Contains Taurine, which can very rarely be non-vegan|
|Falafel||Yes||Made from chickpeas (or sometimes broad beans)|
|Figs||Yes||Accepted as vegan despite issues with wasps|
|Flour||Yes||All flour is ok, with reports of bleaching using animal bones unfounded|
|Fox’s Party Rings||Yes||Gelatine removed in 2015|
|Ghee||No||Produced from butter made from (usually cow's) milk|
|Glucosamine||Varies||Often made from shellfish but can be made from fungi|
|Glue||Varies||Animal glue, casein glue and albumen glue are all ones to avoid|
|Gluten||Yes||It's a natural protein found in things like wheat & barley, so there are no animal derivatives|
|Glycerol||Varies||Can be produced from plant or animal sources|
|Golden Syrup||Yes||No animal ingredients|
|Guinness||Yes||In 2018, Guinness changed brewing methods to become fully vegan|
|Halloumi||No||It is cheese, made from milk, which is not vegan|
|Hand Sanitiser||Yes||Beware of extra ingredients, such as glycerol.|
|Hash Browns||Yes||Usually vegan but beware of ones that use milk, cream or animal fats|
|Honey||No||Exploits and harms bees|
|Hummus||Yes||Usually fine for vegans but beware products with palm oil, non-vegan sugar, additives and cross contamination|
|Ketchup||Yes||Ketchup is usually always vegan, including Heinz tomato ketchup|
|Lactic Acid||Yes||Usually vegan but can be made from animal products|
|Makeup & Cosmetics||Varies||Look for the Cruelty Free International bunny logo, as many cosmetics are not vegan|
|Maltodextrin||Yes||Made from plant starch|
|Maple Syrup||Yes||If 100% pure; Non-pure syrup may have non-vegan ingredients|
|Margarine||Varies||Even vegetable-based spreads can contain animal products|
|Marmite||Yes||No animal ingredients|
|Marshmallows||Varies||Many contain gelatine and/or egg whites|
|Milk||No||It comes from animals!|
|Money||Varies||UK polymer notes contain tallow|
|Mushrooms||Yes||Some species can consume small worms, but these remain vegan|
|Mussels & Clams||No||Mussels and clams are animals|
|Naan Bread||No||Most contain animal products, but possible to buy/make vegan naan|
|Noodles||Varies||May contain eggs|
|Olive, Sunflower & Vegetable Oil||Yes||Derived from plants|
|Oreos||No||Only due to possible cross-contamination, no animal ingredients|
|Oysters||No||Oysters are animals!|
|Palm Oil||Yes||Production is considered unethical and bad for animals though|
|Pasta||Varies||Some pastas contain eggs but others are vegan|
|Pastry||Varies||May contain eggs, butter, suet, milk but Filo is ok and substitutes exist|
|Peanut Butter||Yes||100% peanut butter is vegan, check ingredients of others|
|Pearls||No||Exploits and/or kills oysters|
|Pectin||Yes||Made from vegetables and fruits, often citrus peels and apple pomace|
|Pesto||Varies||Typically contains Parmesan cheese but this can be excluded or substituted|
|Pimm’s||Yes||No animal-derived ingredients|
|Pita Bread||Varies||Most pita we've examined are vegan but always double check ingredients|
|Popcorn||Varies||Note commercial and flavoured popcorn may not be due to butter, but there are plenty of vegan options|
|Poppadoms||Yes||Made from legume flour & seasonings, but watch out for rogue non-vegan ingredients|
|Prawn Crackers||No||They contain prawns|
|Pringles||Varies||Original, Sweet Chilli, Paprika, Smokey Bacon & Texas BBQ are vegan but other varieties are not|
|Quorn||Varies||There are currently 16 vegan-friendly items in the Quorn vegan range|
|Rice Krispies||No||Kellogg’s Rice Krispies are not vegan (but many alternatives are)|
|Salad Cream||No||Standard products (including Heinz) contain egg, though vegan options exist|
|Shellac||No||Made from insect secretions|
|Silicone & Silicon Dioxide||Varies||Silicon dioxide is always vegan; Silicone generally considered vegan|
|Skittles||Yes||Some special edition flavours may not be vegan though|
|Soap||Varies||Soaps using animal fats or companies that test on animals are all ones to avoid|
|Sour Patch Kids||No||They contain gelatine|
|Soy & Soya Milk||Yes||Production linked to deforestation though|
|Soy Sauce||Varies||Some contain flavourings made from animals|
|Soya Lecithin||Yes||Made from soy, which is a plant|
|Spirits||Varies||Almost all, apart from ones with honey, cream or other non-vegan ingredients added|
|Spring Rolls||Varies||Avoid spring rolls with fish sauce or ones that are cooked in non-vegan fryers|
|Sriracha||Varies||Can very rarely contain some non-vegan E numbers, but generally is okay|
|Starburst||Yes||Contains palm fat, which some people view as non-vegan|
|Sugar||Yes||Usually vegan, unless bone char was used in refinement process|
|Tahini||Yes||Made from sesame seeds (and sometimes vegetable oil & salt)|
|Tattoos||Varies||Sugar, glycerine, gelatine and shellac are problematic in tattoo ink but vegan options are available|
|Taurine||No||Comes from animals but many energy drinks use synthetic, vegan-friendly taurine|
|Tofu||Yes||Made from soy, which is a plant|
|Tortilla Wraps||Yes||Usually vegan, but watch out for lard|
|Wheat||Yes||It is a plant|
|Wine||Varies||Many wines use animal products to filter them but a growing number are vegan|
|Wool||No||Exploits and potentially harms sheep (or other animals)|
|Xanthan Gum||Yes||Usually vegan but can be made from animal products|
|Yeast||Yes||Yeast is classed as a fungus|
What is Veganism?
When assessing whether a particular food or product is vegan, we must, of course, look to the definitions of what veganism is. One of the founding fathers of the vegan movement, Leslie J Cross, was the first to attempt to define what it meant to be a vegan. He said that it was “to seek an end to the use of animals by man for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection, and by all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by man”. Over time, this evolved and veganism is now defined by The Vegan Society (the oldest vegan society in the world, founded in 1944) as:
A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.
Of course, even this ostensibly clear definition leaves plenty of scope for personal interpretation. The phrase “as far as is possible and practicable” can have very different meanings from one vegan to another. What one does and doesn’t eat and use is down to personal choice; each individual must decide where his or her own line lies.
What Stops Things Being Vegan?
The obvious answer to the question of what makes a particular food or product not vegan is: because it derives from animals. But things aren’t always as clear-cut as that. Here we will go through some of the main reasons things are not vegan.
Produced Directly from Animals or Animal Products
Clearly a steak, an egg or a salmon fillet are all derived from animals, and thus are not vegan. But there are a whole host of products that are less obviously non-vegan. Food products might contain animal products within their ingredients, but sometimes such ingredients are included using somewhat obscure names.
Carmine – “Natural Red 4”
An example of an obscure-sounding ingredient that actually comes from animals is carmine (also called cochineal extract or the slightly cosier-sounding “natural red 4”). Carmine is used as a red dye in a wide variety of foods and products, including many types of sweets, ice cream, yoghurt, lipstick and other cosmetics. Carmine is usually produced by boiling dried cochineal insects, with approximately 150,000 of the bugs required to produce just a kilogram of the dye.
L-cysteine, Casein, Lanolin
Here are just a couple of ingredients that are not obviously derived from animals:
- L-cysteine – amino acid used as a processing aid in some bread making, L-cysteine is usually obtained from poultry feathers or hog hair
- Casein – a protein found in the milk of various mammals, used as an additive in various foods (some crackers and cookies for instance) and products (paint, glue, plastics and condoms!)
- Lanolin – most vegans know they need to be aware of consuming enough vitamin D, but maybe not so many will realise that vitamin D3 is often made using lanolin derived from sheep’s wool and is frequently added to fortify products such as orange juice and breakfast cereals.
Animal Products Used in Production
While many people assume the only things that go into making their pint of ale on a Friday night are barley, hops, water and yeast, the production of that pint might well have made it less than vegan-friendly. A lot of people are not aware that the isinglass often used in beer production derives from the dried swim bladders of fish.
A wide variety of foods, drinks, cosmetics, supplements and other products utilise animal products in their production processes, and thus cannot be classified as vegan. An example would be the so-called “slip agents” often used in the production of plastic bags, which are generally derived from stearic acid, which in turn, is usually produced from animal fat.
Here are a couple more examples of things that have used animal products at some point in their production:
Sugar has to be vegan, it comes from a plant, right? Well, it does indeed, but the refining processes undertaken to make both brown sugar and white sugar can sometimes utilise bone char that is made, as the name suggests, by charring animal bones.
Many types of glue are derived from animals products of some sort or other, and the blood glue used in a lot of plywood production, you will not be surprised to hear, is made using the blood of animals.
Products Tested on Animals
Aside from things that actually contain animal products or those which have utilised them in their production processes, vegans are also opposed to products that have been tested on animals. There is something of an ethical dilemma for vegans here, however.
In the UK, all new medicines are required to be tested on animals to ensure they are safe prior to them being tested on humans. Testing on animals for medical research is regulated under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, and though this provides for the principles of “replacement, reduction and refinement” in relation to animal testing, the fact remains that almost all medicine anyone is prescribed in the UK will have been tested on animals at some point.
This is clearly something of a concern to many vegans and the Vegan Society is quite explicit, saying that the Society “DOES NOT recommend you avoid medication prescribed to you by your doctor.” While in an ideal world, medicines would be able to be developed using non-animal testing methods including computer modelling, there is no prospect of animal testing being eradicated in the pharmaceuticals industry in the near future.
As such, almost all vegans make use of the “as far as is possible and practicable” section of the generally accepted definition of veganism as put forward by The Vegan Society. As they say, “a dead vegan is no use to anyone!”
Of course, while many believe it is justifiable to test potentially life-saving medicines on animals (in as ethical a way as possible), there are many products that are still tested on animals that are much less justifiable. A good number of products and brands have moved away from animal testing in the last couple of decades, but there are still examples of many industries in which animal testing remains commonplace, a couple of categories of which are listed here.
Beauty is big business and the cosmetics industry has long been associated with testing all manner of products on animals. While there are a growing number of ethically minded cosmetics companies who do not test on animals (for example Lush and the Body Shop), there are still far too many big cosmetics companies who still test on animals.
A rule of thumb is that if it is not obvious from a product’s packaging or the company’s website that they DO NOT test on animals, there is a fair chance they do! If unsure, you should be able to get a straight answer if you contact the company’s customer services department.
Various household products from furniture polish to tissues, disinfectant to washing up liquid, mouthwash to condoms, and more or less anything else that you come into contact with, have often been tested on animals.
For concerned vegans, it is probably a case of opting for brands that explicitly reject animal testing, such as Ecover, and those that are part of the Leaping Bunny Certification Programme introduced by Cruelty Free International.
Exploitation of Animals for Entertainment or Sport
Exploitation of animals comes in a range of forms and lots of vegans are opposed to the many guises this can take, for example zoos and aquariums. Though these can differ greatly in terms of their ethical stances, the living conditions they provide to the animals and the educational value offered to visitors, it is hard to justify that an animal who is used to living in an expansive territory in the wild is going to thrive in the confinement it is subjected to in captivity.
While it could be argued there is a place for some captive animals, for instance for breeding programmes to help save a species from extinction or sanctuaries for abandoned or orphaned animals, on the whole, institutions that exploit animals seemingly for the entertainment of humans fly in the face of the ethos of veganism. Other examples that many vegans see as the exploitation of animals include:
Horse & Dog Racing
Though many in the horse racing and greyhound racing industries point towards the improvements in safety and animal care standards in recent years, vegans still find this kind of “sport” difficult to stomach.
Many vegans are opposed to the keeping of animals as pets for the reason that it essentially puts the animals in an unnatural (for them) environment in order to offer companionship or other benefits to the owner.
Like with most belief systems, however, there is a wide spectrum of opinions among vegans about whether or not it is ethical to keep pets. For instance, some argue that caring for a pet, particularly one that has been abandoned, fits well into the ethical framework of veganism.
Animals in Films & TV
Some vegans suggest that training animals specifically for use on television or in films is clear exploitation and that filming animals in their natural environment is not only more ethical, but much more educational.
Your Due Diligence as a Vegan
These are just a few of the products that are not vegan-friendly, but it should give those seeking to follow a vegan lifestyle food for thought. Sometimes it is not enough to simply check the list of ingredients to discern whether or not something is vegan.
Being vegan requires a little research and a lot of commitment but as long as you are aware that it may be necessary to delve a little deeper, you should be able to ascertain whether or not any product or food is suitable for your own lifestyle.