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Food Additives 06/17/11

A brief guide to food products and ingredients.


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This brief guide to food products and ingredients is only intended to be a starting point. There are MANY other ingredients and additives to be aware of. Individuals can delve as deeply as they wish into the subject.

Some non-vegetarian ingredients which should always be avoided:

  • Albumin – generally from egg
  • Aspic – derived from meat and fish
  • Carmine or Cochineal – made from dead beetles, used in cosmetics and foods (E120)
  • Chondroitin sulfate – used in supplements for arthritis, always animal sources
  • Fish oils – normally used in Omega-3 supplements
  • Gelatine – Gelatine is used in a variety of processed foods and unless otherwise stated can be assumed to be from animal sources. (Carrageenan and Agar Agar are vegetarian gelatines made from seaweed.) Gelatine capsules, used for medicine, are made from animal-derived gelatine unless stated otherwise. “Kosher gelatine” cannot be assume to be vegetarian, as sometimes they use animal-source gelatine from dead kosher animals.
  • Lard (suet/tallow) – another name for animal shortening or fat
  • L-cysteine – usually from animal source, mostly derived from duck feathers
  • Lipase – enzyme often used in cheese-making, normally from animal.
  • Magnesium stearate / – from animal sources, mostly used in the coating around many medicine
  • Stearic acid tablets and pills
  • Pepsin – mostly from animal sources
  • Rennet (rennin) – used in cheese-making to curdle the milk, mostly from animal sources. Note that vegetable rennet is available and microbial rennet or enzymes are also considered vegetarian though may be produced using genetic modification.
  • Shellac (lac, glaze) – derived from the lac insect, used as coating on foods, chocolates. (E904)
  • Silver foil – mostly used on Indian sweets, often hand pounded between two pieces of soft leather to make the paper-thin sheets of foil.
  • Shortening – Unless it says “vegetable shortening”, you can assume it is from animal.

Some ingredients which can be from either vegetarian or non-vegetarian sources

  • Artificial colours – can often be from non-vegetarian sources. (see E Numbers below)
  • Calcium (calcium carbonate) – can be derived from either animal or vegetable sources.
  • Enzymes – often listed as ingredient in cheeses in place of rennet, may be from either animal or vegetable sources.
  • Glucosamine sulfate – can be derived from either animal or vegetable sources. Glucosamine is often combined with chondroitin, which is always non-vegetarian.
  • Glycerine, glycerol – can be either plant or animal derived.
  • Lecithin – can be derived from eggs or other animal products or can be derived from soy. Products labeled “soy lecithin” are vegetarian.
  • Mono and diglycerides – can be either plant, animal, or synthetically derived.
  • Natural flavours – can often be from non-vegetarian sources. (see E Numbers below)
  • Oleic acid – can be derived from either animal or vegetable fats.
  • Vitamin A – can be derived from either animal or vegetable sources.
  • Vitamin D – can be derived from either animal or vegetable sources.
  • Whey – often vegetarian but can be a by-product of cheese made with animal rennet.

Cheeses
All hard or firm cheeses use some sort of coagulant which gives the cheese its texture and flavour. Traditionally rennet (or rennin) is used, which is an enzyme taken from the stomachs or intestines of certain animals. Now there are vegetarian substitutes for the animal rennet. These are usually referred to in the ingredients as vegetable enzymes or vegetable rennet. In some countries cheeses are labeled “suitable for vegetarians” indicating the use of a vegetarian enzyme. However, unless specifically labeled, most hard cheeses, like Parmesan and Romano, almost always use animal derived rennet.
E Numbers and food additives
Some countries, especially in Europe, have started using a system of E numbers in food labelling. It allows consumers to identify specific food additives, such as artificial colours and flavours, and know if they are animal or vegetable derived. You can check the following links for more information on E numbers.
http://www.veggieglobal.com/nutrition/non-vegetarian-food-additives.htm
http://www.veganpeace.com/ingredients/ingredients.ht or http://www.food-info.net/uk/glossary/a.htm

List compiled by the Office of Overseas Satsang Centres.

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Laura Cooke is the editor and creator of the Veggie Bunch website and community.


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