Ignorance is Bliss!

Ignorance is bliss!

A question to all vegetarians. What will be your reaction when you find out that some of the common stuff you have been eating all along have unfamiliar animal (derived) ingredients? I was shocked to the core. That’s the least I can explain how I felt.

I won’t call myself (our family too) a staunch vegetarian because we have eaten eggs in one form or the other. We don’t bring it home, but enjoy store bought baked goods (some of which may contain lard also, who knows?), ice cream etc. But that too has reduced a lot since I started baking. I really can’t remember the last time I bought a cake or a muffin. Sometimes I get cookies/bars for my son, but keep checking the ingredients list for eggs and/or any other animal fat like lard, tallow or gelatin. I also check the nutrition table for the fat content, sugar, fiber, protein etc for cereals and other processed goods.

I’m sure many of us do all these things. But how many of you have seen the ingredients list in yogurt, cheese, chips? At least I have not even thought about it until Monday (day before yesterday) night. How in God’s name do I know that they are adding animal derived ingredients in yogurt and cheese? May be some of you might already know it but I have been ignorant about it until recently. So those of you who don’t know it already, here’s the bitter truth; some of the brands of yogurt (especially low fat) contain gelatin and cheese contain rennet/rennin. I found it in the Veggie Boards forum.

I know that gelatin is derived from animal bones and it’s an ingredient in marshmallows, Jello, so I don’t buy those stuff. I also check for it in other processed goods. I also know that agar is the vegetarian substitute for gelatin. But not in my wildest dreams I would have guessed that gelatin was included in low fat yogurt as well. We regularly buy non fat/low fat yogurt and I don’t know what I have been eating all these years. It doesn’t stop with yogurt. Pork derived gelatin is added in some brands of BBQ flavored potato chips, in Altoids, Tic Tac and other mints too. Didn’t I tell you that ignorance is bliss?

Another innocent product masquerading as vegetarian is cheese. We are not big cheese lovers. Actually I try to make pizzas and pastas without cheese. But we do enjoy a slice of cheese pizza occasionally and I have been getting cheese sticks and slices for my son for his snack. It has never occurred to me to check the ingredients list. Why would I, because I know that it’s made with cow’s milk and all vegetarian cookbooks mention the use of cheese. Guess what? some of the brands have rennet (it’s an enzyme). To make it simple, rennet is derived from the stomach of dead calves. The actual process is really gross. If you have the guts to read it check it out here. If reading about rennet freaked you out, don’t even think about finding out what carmine is.

I immediately ran to the kitchen to raid my fridge. Luckily, the yogurt I bought had agar and it was clearly mentioned in bold letters under the name of the yogurt “No Gelatin”. It’s been a month since we moved to Canada and I have been buying this brand of yogurt since then, but never once I have noticed the brightly colored bold letters. For those living in Canada, it’s the Astro brand. I have to check the other brands the next time I go grocery shopping. I also checked the flavored yogurt (Irresistables) I had bought and was relieved to see it had locust bean gum. It’s a vegetable gum extracted from the seeds of carob tree. I read in the same forum that Activia brand yogurt has gelatin but have to check it out for myself. I had also bought shredded part skim 3 cheese (for pizza) after a very long time, so that was the next thing I checked. I guess I was lucky this time because this brand had used microbial enzymes (which is neither animal derived nor vegetable derived but from microbes, which is considered vegetarian though). I also read in the same forum that (Update: some of) the cheese available in Trader’s Joe and Whole Foods is vegetarian.

Apparently there is vegetable derived rennet as well which small producers use to make their specialty cheese. But I’m sure that if a company uses vegetable derived rennet they will be using it as a good marketing strategy to promote their product. So unless and otherwise it is specified clearly we wouldn’t know the origin of the enzyme if simply rennet is printed in the ingredients list. For example the brand of cheese I bought this time was Kraft (3 cheese Pizza). They have microbial enzymes listed and I checked with other ingredients too and don’t find anything animal derived, so I’m assuming it’s vegetarian. (Update: The Kraft brand cheese I have mentioned also lists lipase in the ingredients. When searching for information about it I see that, like rennet, lipase can also be derived from animals or microbes. So unless we hear from Kraft about the origin of the lipase we cannot assume that it’s vegetarian). Or the best bet is to contact Kraft/or any other company before using their products.

I went through Kraft Canada’s website and found that the cheese powder they use in their Mac and Cheese dinner uses animal derived rennet. The source of rennet in the regular cheese was not mentioned clearly, so I have sent them an email. It’s mentioned that they use pure Rennet, a natural substance for turning milk to curds and whey. Is pure vegetarian? we don’t know that yet. The pack also mentions shredded natural cheese. Does natural mean vegetarian? We don’t know that too. Wish these companies can have some symbol to denote their products are vegetarian, like they have a green circle in India.

In this day and age of processed foods which has a long list of unfamiliar chemical names it’s very difficult (but possible) to identify if a particular ingredient is animal derived or not. Also we cannot go animal-free totally because some of the medication we take contains animal derived ingredients as well. For example, capsules are made with the very same animal derived gelatin. There are some vegetarian gelatin based capsules which clearly mention VegCaps in their pack. The multivitamins/vaccinations we take contains all type of animal/fish products.

So what’s the purpose of this post then? To create little awareness so that some of us (vegetarians) who already don’t check the ingredients while buying processed food will check it out hereafter!

Some links which might be helpful (I have not checked any of the products, so be sure to check it for yourself before buying)

  • List of vegetarian cheese
  • List of vegan medicines (brand name)
  • List of vegan multivitamins
  • Vegetarian/Vegan options in Fast Food Restaurants.

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  1. Hi
    Yes,animal products are sneaked in everywhere ..I used to think Kosher Gelatin is vegetarian until I heard from a jewish friend that it is also derived from cow bones..I only get Stonyfield organic yogurt(flavored) and I make my own plain yogurt.I knew about rennet too but like you said many of the convenience foods have animal rennet in them,even many breads have added ingredients which are animal derived,ofcourse they have unpronouncable names too..after reading your blog I have been inspired to bake .I am yet to muster up the courage to bake yeast breads-once I do,I guess I won’t buy bread from the store.Last yr I wanted to make Apple pie and bought pillsbury pie crust only to find that it has lard!I feel in the U.S food labelling is very poor and I spend so much time just reading labels!

    Thanks Geetha. I see some jelly crystals in Indian grocery stores, have to check out if it’s vegetarian.

  2. Hi Madhuram,

    This information was very beneficial.I would like to add that Indian cottage cheese doesn’t contain rennet. Besides it low in fats & cholesterol.Other good option is Tofu which is derived from Soy.So truly Vegan Cheese.

    I would also like to bring in notice the use of Green tea(without milk) as the best substitute for multivitamins. You don’t need to pop in multi-vitamins ….. having a cup of Green Tean is better.Have it with lemon and honey …… its quite refreshing.

    Green tea acts as an antiviral agent. It contains fluoride, a mineral that helps prevents cavities and strengthens tooth enamel. A cup a day can help reduce plaque formation and bacterial infections in the mouth. It acts as an anti-inflammatory, maintains a healthy, active metabolism and circulatory system just to name a few. This proves that this drink is indeed a miracle in a cup!

    Catechins are considered the most effective of all antioxidants and the amounts as well as the effects are far higher compared to black tea. The fact that green tea undergoes less internal changes from fresh leaf means that it contains the largest quantity of intact catechins.

    So Stay Vegetarian…stay healthy… 😉

    Thanks Lekha. I too love green tea. I used to drink it like water, have to start drinking it again.

  3. Hi Madhu, This is an eye opener and it is really sad to note that how manufactures are taking us on ride! I normally use home made ones and rarely use those containing preservatives ! Good job Madhu!

  4. i love this site….whenever i want to try cakes, i always feel w/o egg, cakes/cookies/muffins cant be made…so i tried searching eggless cakes in Google, i found yours…your site is wonderful, which helps me a lot to make cakes, etc.. I came to know about gelatin 2.5 yrs back, when i 1st came to US..so before buying anything, i always check for ingredients..if i find any new name, i go home and Google it..[:)] pectin, agar-agar are alternatives for gelatin..i wont buy jello..anything that contains gelatin..but i dint know abt rennet, carmine..thanks a lot for useful info..i’ll be more careful..

    Niru, I’m very glad that you like my site. Thank you very much.

  5. Oops – my bad.

    Btw, I must thank you tons Madhuram coz you’ve been a godsend when it comes to eggless baking. I’ve tried numerous of your recipes and almost all have turned out to be lip-smacking delicious. Thank you for everything – I am sure it must be a lot of work.

    Ruchi, thank you so much for your generous compliments

  6. I just read this article. A good resource to find out which restaurants/foods are fit for vegetarians this site – http://cheese.joyousliving.com/ It names all kinds of brands, ingredients and their suitability and tons of other links for research. Hope it helps folks who are interested.

    Thanks Ruchi. That’s the list I have provided too.

  7. Hi Madhu!

    This is a very informative post! Although we aren’t vegetarians ourselves and don’t mind animal byproducts in some of the processed foods we pick, I was shocked to find out about something as natural as yogurt. I immediately checked the list on my regular brand and was pleased to know that they use agar. It’s the BioBest brand, which I’ve found to be one of the healthy ones in the market.

    It’s funny how almost everything we find on our grocery shelves these days contain a higher percentage of animal byproducts than natural ones, and you’ve defintely made me question and inspect the things I pick up on my grocery rounds. Thanks a ton!

    PS: Welcome to Canada! 🙂

    Welcome to my blog Meena. Yes, this was a wake up call for me too, to scan the labels more diligently.


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