Buyer Beware: Animal Fat Lurks in These 7 Common ‘Vegetarian’ Foods

ice cream

When you became a vegetarian, you quickly learned it wasn’t just about skipping pepperoni on that pizza. You had to start scanning labels for ingredients like capric acid, tallow, rennet, glycerin, whey, suet, stereate and emulsifiers – because eating animal fat by any other name would be just as carnivorous. What you may not know is that plenty of common foods widely considered to be veg-friendly (or perhaps we should say veg-adjacent) actually contain animal fat, not just dairy fat. That means flesh. Read on to learn more.

Ice Cream

Ice cream is the one comfort food that temporarily heals all wounds. Unfortunately, you may be noshing on Bessie under all that chocolate sauce. Many brands of ice cream contain capric acid, a fatty acid that’s obtained from animal fats. Check the label!



I hate to break it to you – I really do – but that chocolate sauce your pour over your sundaes may not be any better than the ice cream underneath it. Emulsifiers are present in chocolate, which may or may not be derived from animal fat. The problem is that most labels don’t specify the difference, so you’re better off sticking to ones that do.



Animal rennet is used in the production of many different kinds of cheese. What is animal rennet, you ask? It’s a coagulating enzyme that’s extracted from a freshly-slaughtered calf’s stomach. But, that doesn’t mean you have to struggle through a life without cheese. Just buy vegetarian cheese instead, which substitutes microbial or fungal enzymes for animal rennet.



Have you ever seen a pork tart behind the glass at your local café? You might want to take a closer look. Many pastries are prepared using lard, which is rendered fat from a pig’s abdomen or kidneys. Similar baked goods may also contain capric acid.

Chewing Gum

chewing gum

There’s no better way to appease an oral fixation than with a big lump of chewing gum, but gnawing on toothpicks might be a better option for vegetarians. If you see lanolin, stearic acid or glycerin on the label, you may as well snack on a stick of beef jerky. All of these ingredients are made from animal fat.

Potato Chips

potato chips

Ever wonder why you can’t just eat a handful of potato chips? I used to think it was the salt, until I discovered that many brands are soaked in tallow (fat from membranous tissue in cattle) before hitting the shelves at the grocery store. And, here you thought you were just chomping on some greasy, deep-fried potatoes. I find this to be incredibly unfair.

Hard Candy

hard candy

Believe it or not, hard candies like these aren’t entirely free of animal products, and many of them contain calcium stereate. This ingredient is actually derived from tallow, better known as animal fat.

For more ingredients you should look out for, click here, here and here.

Image Credits: Flickr: Quintana Roo, anikarenina, ulterior epicure, singleguychef, rhythmjhan, avenueslimited, tamelyn and ginnerobot.