When you make the decision to become vegetarian, it can come as a shock to discover how many seemingly ordinary foods contain ingredients that are incompatible with your new meat-free lifestyle. While I always stress that you need to make your own decisions about what you are comfortable eating, you will most likely want to be aware of which foods commonly contain animal-based ingredients.
- e.g. bread, cakes, biscuits, cookies. Sometimes these can be made using animal derived fats so check the ingredients. Luckily, use of animal fats is becoming quite rare now. Most large scale producers opt for vegetable fats. Smaller bakeries are usually ok too but sometimes those who favour traditional methods may be the offenders. If you are not sure, just ask.
You may find that it's time to start baking at home, particularly if you are a vegan as eggs tend to be used in the vast majority of commercially produced cakes and cookies. Don't be put off. Vegan baking is fun and very rewarding. Excellent egg substitutes are available if you want to experiment. Try using 1½ teaspoons of Ener-G Egg Replacer mixed with two tablespoons of water in any baked recipe that uses eggs.
Most cheese is made using a substance called rennet which is traditionally derived from enzymes found in a calf's stomach. Vegetarian rennet is available and the majority of cheese is the average supermarket is now fully vegetarian. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. Many small or traditional producers still favour calf rennet and you will find that some cheese varieties are just not available in a vegetarian form. Most notably there is no such thing as a genuine Italian vegetarian Parmigiano-Reggiano. Thankfully though, there are many vegetarian parmesan style cheeses available. Read this more detailed page about vegetarian cheese for more background and help.
Many restaurants and producers make their soup with chicken stock, even those that 'sound' vegetarian.
Animal products are often used during the clarification process in the production of beer and wine. The ingredients used include swim bladders of fish, dried blood, egg albumen and gelatine (made from crushed bones and tendons). Many of these products were used historically in the production of wine and many producers still favour them. However vegetarian alternatives are available and many wines are even labelled as vegetarian now.
Look out for the use of gelatine (made from crushed bones and tendons) and the red colour cochineal (crushed insects) in some brands. For more information and some yummy recommended sweet treats, see the vegan sweets page.