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)

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  1. Candice

    Great post, have to feed your blog to learn more useful information.Really appericate it.

  2. Geetha

    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.

  3. Lekha

    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.

  4. R Varalakshmi

    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!

  5. Niru

    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.

  6. Ruchi

    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

  7. Ruchi

    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.

  8. Meena

    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.

  9. sai

    also pectin is the vegetable alternative to gelatin. so natural yogurts use pectin.

  10. sai

    Oh hmm its shocking if u come across it first time. I have known it luckily since we came to US and i keep advising my friends against danon and other yogurt (yoplait etc) with gelatin. I always use home made and if needed buy the old country home (which does not have gelatin). same with cheese. I always go for rennet free organic. I always go for organic in dairy as much as possible. donuts have lards. some kellogs bars have gelatin. all the fruit snacks have gelatin but for natural ones. just so u may know.

    Sure, thanks Sai.

  11. Rupa

    When I lived in Canada, I discovered that Cheese has rennet/pepsin
    enzymes. But Yogourt one is new to me…I buy Organic Trader Joe’s brand,
    will call/check what they put in that. As for Marshmallows,
    that’s why I don’t buy them. By the way, even the Jello has
    animal derived Gelatin in it. So buy the Gelatin free packets(powder)
    from Desi store and make it. Or you can buy Gelatin free
    mango/orange/peach flavored Jello cups in Trader Joe’s.
    As for the growth hormones, Canada doesn’t use them on cows but
    US does. That’s why when I moved from Canada to US, I switched to
    organic milk. Thanks for an informative post!

  12. Asha

    Hi Madhu, happy Father’s day to your hubby. We got up early to make something special! 🙂

    Yeah! Even I was surprised at all the hoopla about that post and read my own post twice too to see what’s wrong. I think some just have too much time in the day to over think, so I wouldn’t worry about that! 😀 I saw on Indian channel TV yesterday about some kind of artificial Butter sold in India made of animal fat and skin etc. It was really scary even to see them making it. That’s why I say, we better eat the real thing like real butter and real sugar in less quantity than using Splenda and Butter like products.

    Well..we are getting ready to fly to Hawaii in 6 days, got to pack, see you later! 🙂

  13. Ramya

    Dear Madhu,
    A very informative piece of information indeed! I was also amazed by the animal derived products in every day used items by lacto vegetarians like me. Also, just to let you know, most of the breads baked use an ingredient called mono and di glycerides. This chemical is animal derived in most of the cases unless mentioned as vegetable mono and di glycerides. I believe this is found in a lot more products than just breads, but since I have noticed it in breads I avoid buying them. I try to use freshly baked bread from whole foods or Trader Joes.
    We also used to eat eggs once upon a time, but we are getting more conscious of the animals around us and hence we opted to go lacto vegetarians.

    Thanks for the comments Ramya. I will also check for the glycerides hereafter.

  14. dee

    Madhu.. most yogurt brands have rennin/rennet .. gelatin etc. its always good to see the ingredients list before you buy.. so much so.. in the same brand.. some are rennet free and some are not .. cheeses like stilton and roquefort ..have rennet in them .. but some stores sell these cheeses with vegetarian rennet in them. dont know what that is though.. I have learnt from experience too..:)

  15. malavika


    I am vegetarian who has turned to vegan recently ..they are so may vegan website which tell the list of products ..my favorite being �SKINNY BITCH� and the listed products in the website. If u have time you might want to read the book ..it�s says everything about the meat, dairy industry.. Another book is meat. And think about this �you are no more a vegetarian if you drink milk with is not organic.. Not only the animals a injected growth hormones but they are feed animal products(evidence– remember the mad cow disease ..�A British inquiry into BSE concluded that the epidemic was caused by cattle, who are normally herbivores, being fed the remains of other cattle in the form of meat and bone meal (MBM), which caused the infectious agent to spread.� ..
    Please research about this ..I care that�s what I share this information ..

    Thanks Malavika. I too have heard lot about SB, will see if I can get it in the library.

  16. Shailly

    Hi Madhuram,

    Thanks for posting it on your site. I came to know about the gelatin content in Yogurt and renner in Cheese almost a year back. So i always prepare yogurt at home and never buy it from the market. As far as cheese is concerned, i ensure that i check the ingredients before buying.

  17. Carla

    Wow. Thanks for the warning. I usually won’t buy something unless I recognize the ingredients, but cheese was the last place I thought to look. Maybe I’ll work up the stomach to read some of the links you posted…

  18. 2Bs mommy


    Reached here blog hopping. We are same as you – vegetarian but don’t mind eating bakery food with eggs. I came to know about gelatin in yogurt about 10yrs back – I was SHOCKED, very upset that for the initial 2 years here I used yogurt with gelatin as ingredient. I immediately called a friend of mine who is a Muslim and I knew that she used the same yogurt and told her about the gelatin in yogurt – you can imagine how shocked she was too since it wasn’t halal. Coming from India, who would have thought that here in western world people add gelatin to something as simple as yogurt. Since then started checking each and every product including butter. Did you know that some of the margarine have animal fat too ! and some brands of frozen fries ( beef fat) ! Gosh !! Yeah, not surprisingly, I too have started cooking lot of stuff at home now and avoiding processed/packaged food as much as I can. I don’t buy chips of any other flavour than ‘ready salted’. For about two years I let my son have marshmallows too until I found out they have gelatin too. Unbelievable! Well I can go on and on, but just wanted to say that its great that you put up this post for your readers, wish I had come across some writing about these things before I came to NZ all those years back. Good on you!

    Welcome here 2Bsmommy. I have checked/check almost all products but I didn’t even give a second of thought that something which is as vegetarian as yogurt/cheese, which we know comes from milk, will have added animal derivatives. We too stick to the regular, less sodium potato chips, if at all we buy or the baked ones.

  19. Manvantara

    Well, a lot of commercially available ice cream usually has either eggs and/or gelatin. Different types of pasta have eggs in them. Some frozen potatoes have beef tallow. Some brands of wheat frosties (breakfast cereal) have gelatin, I think.

    PETA has information on which fast food joints have items to avoid. For instance, the bean burrito at Taco Bell has sour cream that has gelatin in it.

    Yes I have seen in eggs listed in some ice creams. The Edys Slow churned Vanilla doesn’t have eggs, the list of ingredients is also small, if I remember right. I’ll check the PETA website. Thanks Manvantara. I also came to know recently that the veggie patties in Subway has egg whites.

  20. Bharti

    Yup! I kinda am aware of all the stuff you’ve mentioned. I try not to be anal but I don’t believe that ignorance is bliss. As far as the yogurts are concerned, I find that a lot of store brand ones are the one with gelatin in it. I found one supposedly organic one with cornflour. It was gross even if the cornflour was organic. Yogurt is supposed to be just plain old milk fermented. I try to make mine at home as much as possible but otherwise buy European style or Australian style yogurt which is usually free of thickeners.

    That’s what I too don’t understand, why something else in yogurt? I better start making it at home.strong>

  21. Gayatri

    Hi Madhu,
    Am a regular follower of ur blog and this post has a significance. We r abroad now on my hubby’s project, and I do check labels regularly (even yogurts), as my daughter is allergic to certain food types, and also to make sure they’re all vegetarian ingredients. As Deepali rightly pointed out, people in the West can hardly make anything without eggs/meat. So much so that we wouldn’t buy anything if the ingredients are vegetarian with a note underneath that says “Manufactured in a plant that processes egg, fish and crustacea”. I even resorted to baking cookies for my 2 year old, since our options were very limited with vegetarian. Nowadays, I occasionally buy biscuits that has veg ingredients and is manufactured in equipment that processes eggs only…Thankfully, the yogurt and cheese that I’ve bought do not have any animal ingredients in their labels as I check for them too (I hope the labels speak the truth). A few days ago, I chanced to see a European pastry pack with rennet as an ingredient in it. Another said vegetarian rennet, so I decided to check out what it was (I didn’t buy both pastries), but kept postponing, and finally did it this morning. I got the same shock as u did, to learn abt rennet in cheese (from the same veggie website). I have come across cheese labels that use egg whites or something like that, but animal fat in what we consider safe and vegetarian?? gave me the shivers. that’s when i saw ur post. In India, the green label is there, but still I feel there should be more transparency in listing the ingredients (I guess products like cheese do not carry detailed ingredients).

    Gayatri, thank you very much for taking your time to record your comments here.

  22. Deepali Kallidai

    I knew that rennet can be either veggie or not. Here in west people can hardly make things without eggs or animal product. Trick is to look for ‘Suitable for Vegetarians’ sign and check if it has eggs in ‘Allergy Advice’. I never buy if it doesn’t have this sign. I would also like to advice everyone that never buy any product without reading labels even though u have been buying that for years, as they do change ingredients. This is what happened with me- Last year i bought same brand drinking fruit yogurt for my son as usual. Next day while giving him, I casually looked at the pack and I was horrified to see fish oil(omega 3) in the list. Now, I never buy anything without looking. Here in UK even Icing sugar has traces of eggs. Am not sure about Canada.

    Deepali, I really feel so dumb for not knowing about rennet all these days, when so many of you have known this for a long time. But I have learnt my lesson now, check before you buy.

  23. sheila

    your post is informative.
    I have been a vegetarian all my life and which meant that I do not wear silk or use leather products.some of the indian sweets use Varakh (Silver Foil)and In india they have green red sticker but surprisingly the sweets which use silver foil do not have the red/green indicator. I have been using palm sugar and in the US i have bought the organic sugar.
    Thank you for your post!!!

    Thanks Sheila. I did hear about the process of making Varakh while in India and have steered clear from sweets which use it.