Friday, October 27, 2006

Vegetarian -- or is it?

A co-worker of mine recently commented that a friend of his doesn't drink beer because it's not vegetarian. This came as a complete shock to me -- what animal product could there possibly be in beer? So I immediately went to Google to look into the matter, and sure enough, I discovered that quite a few beers are made with a clarifying agent called isinglass, which is a gelatin derived from fish.

I hardly ever drink beer, and I do eat fish, so this doesn't really affect my drinking choices. But it got me thinking about other instances of "hidden" nonvegetarian ingredients in seemingly vegetarian foods. I've gotten used to automatically looking at the ingredients list of a product before I put it in my shopping cart. I've had a few too many unpleasant surprises when I got something "vegetarian" home and realized that, hey, there's chicken stock in this!

People often assume that marshmallows are vegetarian, but they're not. They contain gelatin, as do many other things -- most yogurts, some cereals and candies (like my once-beloved Altoids), even such seemingly odd food products as flavored rices.

Most cheeses are made using a rennet taken from the stomach of calves.

Stearic acid is a tricky ingredient -- it can be derived from either animal or vegetable sources. I've noticed that some products explicitly state "vegetable stearic acid," which is certainly handy.

Most Worcestershire sauces contain anchovies, and many Asian sauces contain fish sauce or oyster paste.

And, of course, there's the vague "natural flavorings," which can cover a multitude of nonvegetarian sins.

One way to be sure that something is vegetarian is to look for the Vegetarian Society's seedling symbol, which indicates that they've fully checked it out.

For the record, you can find a list of vegan beers here.


At 10/29/2006 5:35 AM, Blogger Jul said...

Wow, I never knew that beer could be non-vegetarian... I thought alcohol wsa always a safe bet. Thanks for the info!

At 10/30/2006 12:28 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

It came as quite a surprise to me as well!


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