Hidden Animal Products in Food & Link to My Favorite Worcestershire Sauce Recipe!

Something that always shocks new vegans is the amount of animal products hidden in foods, things they had no idea would ever have animal products in them. You really learn to be a detective, scouring food labels, to ensure you are making the right choice. But it’s not always so easy, ingredients may be listed under chemical names, the origin of which may not be so apparent.

Do note, items in trace amounts might not be listed on ingredients labels. According to the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA), “If an ingredient is present at an incidental level and has no functional or technical effect in the finished product, then it need not be declared on the label.” This does not apply to allergens, however, those must be listed, even if in trace amounts. The FDA only requires listing of eight major food allergen groups, those they believe cause 90% of all allergen reactions, including ingredients derived from animal-based products milk, egg, fish, and Crustacean shellfish. Manufacturers may list ingredient items as “artificial” or “natural” flavors, unless the item itself is a spice, spice blend, flavoring, or coloring, then the individual flavorings and/or spices must be individually listed. Raw fruits and vegetables are not required to have food labels, even if they have had sprays or coating, such as in the case of non-organic bananas coated with a Crustacean shellfish-derived spray used to slow ripening (see VegNews).

Here’s a list (Click here for a list of hidden animal products you can take with you to the store) of many common ingredients that may be sourced from animals. Some are also plant-sourced, as noted, which can really make things confusing. When in doubt, look for a notation on the packaging that the product is vegan, or look the product up online to do more research.


What: Protein component of egg whites

Where Found: Processed foods, many foamy cocktails


What: Fish

Where Found: Worcestershire sauce, Caesar salad dressing, some Asian sauces

Animal Shortening (Suet, Manteca)

What: Butter, lard

Where Found: Baked goods, refried beans, flour tortillas, ready-made piecrusts (some are vegan, made with vegetable shortening), suet bird feeder blocks

Bone Char

What: Charcoal made from burning animal bones, used to “whiten” sugar

Where Found: Some white sugars. Ingredient usually not listed. Look for vegan sugars

Carmine (carmine cochineal or carminic acid)

What: Red coloring made from grinding up a specific insect

Where Found: Bottled juices, colored pasta, some candies, some popsicles, some yogurts

Casein (caseinate)

What: Milk protein

Where Found: Dairy products and some soy cheeses, some mock meats and veggie burgers

Castoreum (often listed as “natural flavor”)

What: Flavor derived from the anal glands of beavers

Where Found: Berry-flavored foods

Clarifying agent

What: Derived from any number of animal sources

Where Found: Used to filter wine, vinegar, beer, fruit juice, soft drinks.


What: Made from boiling down animal bones, cartilage, tendons, and skin

Where Found: Marshmallows, yogurt, frosted cereals, some desserts, some beer, fingernail strengthening substances, including nail polish remover. May be listed as “clarifying agent”

Glycerides (mono-, di-, and triglycerides)

What: Glycerol from animal fats or plants

Where Found: Processed foods


What: Gelatin from the air bladder of sturgeon and other fish

Where Found: Alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, spirits), some jellied desserts. May be listed as “clarifying agent”


What: Amino acid derived from human hair or poultry feathers

Where Found: Some bagels and breads

Lactose (saccharum lactin, D-lactose)

What: Milk sugar

Where Found: As a culture medium for souring milk and in processed foods

Lactylic stearate

What: Salt of stearic acid (see stearic acid)

Where Found: A conditioner in bread dough


What: Waxy fat from sheep’s wool

Where Found: Chewing gum, ointments, cosmetics, waterproof coatings


What: Fat from the abdomens of pigs

Where Found: Baked goods, refried beans, flour tortillas

Lecithin (not soy lecithin, which is vegan)

What: Phospholipids from animal tissues, plants, and egg yolks

Where Found: Breakfast cereal, candy, chocolate, baked goods, margarine, vegetable oil sprays

Lutein (unless noted from a vegan source)

What: Deep yellow coloring from egg yolks (not vegan) or marigolds (vegan)

Where Found: Commercial food coloring

Myristic acid (tetradecanoic acid)

What: Animal fats

Where Found: Chocolate, ice cream, candy, jelled desserts, baked goods

Natural flavorings (unless noted from a vegetable or vegan source)

What: Unspecified, could be from meat, other animal products, or plant source

Where Found: Processed and packaged foods

Oleic acid (oleinic acid)

What: Animal tallow

Where Found: Synthetic butter, cheese, vegetable fats and oils, candy, ice cream, beverages, condiments

Omega-3 fats (unless noted from a vegan source)

What: Derived from fish oil

Where Found: Orange juices with “added Omega-3”

Palmatic acid

What: Animal or vegetable fats

Where Found: Baked goods, butter and cheese flavoring


What: Enzyme from pigs’ stomachs

Where Found: Dairy cheese

Sodium stearoyl lactylate (unless noted to be from a vegan source)

What: May be derived from cows, pigs, animal milk, or vegetable-mineral sources

Where Found: Used in cake, pudding, or pancake mixes, baked goods, margarine

Stearic acid (octadecanoic acid)

What: Tallow, other animal fats and oils

Where Found: Vanilla flavoring, baked goods, beverages, candy


What: Hard white fat around kidneys and loins of animals

Where Found: Margarine, mincemeat, pastries, bird feeding blocks


What: Solid fat of sheep and cattle separated from the membranous tissues

Where Found: Margarine

Vitamin A (A1, retinol) (unless specifically noted to be from a vegan source)

What: Vitamin obtained from vegetables, egg yolks, or fish liver oil

Where Found: Vitamins, fortified foods

Vitamin B12 (unless specifically noted to be from a vegan source)

What: Vitamin produced by microorganisms and found in all animal products; synthetic form (cyanocobalamin or cobalamin on labels) is vegan

Where Found: Supplements, fortified foods

Vitamin D3 (Vitamin D2 is made from plants or yeast)

What: Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) comes from fish liver oils or lanolin

Where Found: Supplements, fortified foods


What: Watery liquid that separates from the solids when making cheese

Where Found: Processed foods, baked goods, protein powders

Worcestershire Sauce

What: Savory sauce traditionally made from fish, unless specifically identified as vegan

Where Found: Processed foods, Bloody Mary cocktails

Note, you can make your own vegan Worcestershire Sauce! My favorite is by Ronit H. Peskin of the Penniless Parenting blog and this version as well.

These are the most common hidden animal products, but there are certainly more, as things are frequently added. You really have to be a detective and check those labels. And products change without notice, so it pays to check the ingredients lists every once and a while on products you already buy. So frustrating!

Click here for a list of hidden animal products you can take with you to the store.

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