With an ever-increasing number of people turning to veganism, and plant-based food sales rocketing, we’re seeing a lot more products marked ‘vegan’.

Shopping for food is certainly a lot easier than it was back in the days when we had to read through every ingredient listed on the pack! There is also a lot of ‘accidentally vegan’ food available, on which the label doesn’t indicate that it’s free from animal ingredients, so sometimes we still need to check what those products contain.

There are obvious things to avoid: meat, milk, cheese, eggs, honey (see our recipes section for alternatives to these) ... but what about the not-so-obvious? Often there are ingredients tucked in there that we may not realise are animal-derived and have caused them suffering.

Sometimes it’s difficult to avoid all animal ingredients, but below is a list of what we should look out for (list is not exhaustive):

Carmine or cochineal (E120, carminic acid or CI 75470)

A red pigment extracted from the dried bodies of insects. Found in drinks, fruit fillings, yoghurts, and confectionery.
Plant alternatives: annatto, beetroot, paprika, purple sweet potatoes, tomato extract.


A milk protein sometimes used as a food additive.
Choose a dairy-free alternative product.

E numbers

  • E120 – see carmine.
  • E322 – see lecithin.
  • E542 From animal bones of cattle or pigs. Sometimes used in nutritional supplements and in dry foods as an anti-caking agent. Can also be found in toothpaste and nutritional supplements.
  • E570 – see stearic acid.
  • E901 Beeswax. Used as a glazing agent on food.
  • E904 – see shellac.
  • E966 Lactitol. A sugar alcohol produced from lactose, used as a low-calorie sweetener. Found in calorie-reduced confectionery and chewing gum.
  • E1105 Lysozyme. Enzyme found in egg white. Often added to pesto.

Generally it’s best to avoid products with a lot of E numbers.


A jelly-like substance made from boiled animal bones, skin, and ligaments, (usually cows and pigs), used as a thickening agent. Found in soups, sauces, confectionery, marshmallows, icing/frosting, chewing gum, capsules. 
Plant alternatives: agar-agar, pectin, xantham gum, carrageenan.

Glycerine or glycerol

Most glycerine used as a food additive is vegetable derived, but it isn’t guaranteed. Some manufacturers will list ‘vegetable glycerine’ in the ingredients, but if you are in doubt, you can always contact the company.


A form of gelatine prepared from the internal membranes of fish bladders. Sometimes used in clarifying beer and wines.
Check the product is marked ‘vegan’.


Produced from dairy milk. Used as a sweetener and as a carrier for flavouring agents (especially in crisps) and baked goods.
Plant alternatives: plant milk sugars. Choose dairy-free.


A substance found in nerve tissue, egg yolk and blood. Used to emulsify fats and oils.
Plant alternatives: Soya and sunflower lecithin.

Natural flavours

Companies are not required to list the source of natural flavourings, whether from animal or plant. Often companies will include ‘natural flavourings’ in the ingredients list because they simply want to protect their recipe from being duplicated by the competition. One thing you can do is avoid purchasing a lot of pre-packaged, processed foods, but for those you really enjoy, if it isn’t marked ‘vegan’, contact the manufacturer.

Shellac (E904)

A resin secreted by the female lac bug. Used in confectionery products as a glazing agent, and to reduce moisture loss in fruit. 
Alternatives include plant waxes.

Stearic acid (E570)

Natural fat from cows, sheep, and pigs. Used in chewing gum.
Plant alternatives: oils derived from palm, shea, and cocoa butter.


A solid fat that can be sourced from cows or sheep. 
Vegetable suet is an alternative.

Vitamin D3

Can often come from lanolin, which is extracted from sheep’s wool. Found in fortified breakfast cereals.
Vegan Vitamin D3 from algae is available.


A substance derived from milk. Found in confectionery, cakes, puddings, and cereals.
Choose dairy-free alternatives.

Worcestershire sauce

This can be used as flavouring in processed food and can contain anchovies. 
Vegan versions of the sauce are available.

It may surprise you to know …

Ingredients list on a bag of crisps.

Milk is often found in what appear to be plant-based crisps, so check the ingredients.

Beer and wine may not be vegan due to animal-derived fining agents such as egg whites, gelatine, and isinglass. Look for a vegan symbol or check out Barnivore.

If a package states ‘meat free’ or ‘dairy free’, it doesn’t necessarily mean the food is vegan, it could still include other animal ingredients.