25 Foods That Seem Vegetarian But Aren’t

25 Foods That Seem Vegetarian, But Aren't. Gummy bears? Cornbread? French fries?! You'll be surprised which seemingly meatless foods actually aren't.

I started this post over two years ago (yep, two years!), and cursed myself for not yet finishing and publishing it when the lovely Domestic Fits shared Ten Weird Things That Are Not Vegetarian a few months back. Curse me and my laziness! But yesterday, when I picked up a tin of Altoids in the check-out line to read the ingredients and was shocked to see gelatin on the list, I was reminded of this post draft. And I decided it was time to finish it up and hit the “publish” button.

In my very first post on Kitchen Treaty, I shared my very first “gotcha” food after I became a vegetarian: French Onion Soup. I had no earthly clue its primary ingredient, aside from onions, was beef broth. Whoops.

Since then, I’ve been lulled into a false sense of meatlessness when a food that seems vegetarian turns out not to be. Meat and animal products are hidden everywhere! So I thought I’d share several “gotcha” foods that I’ve discovered are not vegetarian over the years.

25 Foods That Seem Vegetarian, But Aren't. Gummy bears? Cornbread? French fries?! You'll be surprised which seemingly meatless foods actually aren't.

Note that it can be easy to blur the lines between vegetarian and vegan when it comes to this conversation. For this list I define a non-vegetarian food as one containing meat or fish products (like bacon or anchovies) or one that has an ingredient directly derived from animal parts (gelatin=animal bones and lard=animal fat).

  1. Worcestershire sauce – it’s got anchovies in it. Thankfully, Annie’s Naturals makes a great vegan version.
  2. Olive tapenade – it was a sad day when I realized delicious tapenade often has anchovies in it.
  3. Caesar salad – more dastardly salty little fish! Caesar salad traditionally features anchovies in its dressing. I like this version with a veggie-friendly kalamata olive dressing.
  4. Pasta puttanesca – delicious capers, olives, tomatoes … and anchovies! Nooo! This roasted vegetarian pasta puttanesca sauce, on the other hand, is a keeper.
  5. French onion soup – yep, my very first pitfall as a vegetarian. I thought it was, you know, onion soup – I mean, sounds vegetarian, right? Of course, french onion soup is traditionally made with beef broth, and unless you make your own, you’re probably not going to find a vegetarian version easily.
  6. Vegetable soups – most seasoned vegetarians learn the hard way that the delicious-sounding cream of broccoli soup on that restaurant menu sounds vegetarian (it’s a broccoli soup!), but oftentimes it’s been made with chicken broth.
  7. Stuffing. I can’t decide if this is an obvious one or not, but I’ll throw it in. Many Thanksgiving dressing recipes have broth in them – usually chicken broth. And then, of course, there’s the more obvious and popular meaty addition – sausage. Here’s a veggie version I love.
  8. Jell-O – it’s got gelatin in it. Gelatin is made of various animal products (skin, hooves, bones, yeah). And it lurks in a lot of things. Jell-O is an obvious one, sure, but what about …
  9. Yep, Altoids. I admit – I’ve been eating Altoids all along. But they have gelatin! Whoops.
  10. Non-fat yogurt – many have gelatin to help retain a yogurty texture.
  11. Gummy candies – think bears and worms – many have gelatin.
  12. Candy corn – some contain gelatin. Check the package.
  13. Marshmallows – More gelatin. Wah. I adore Dandies Vegan Vanilla Marshmallows, though – they’re a seriously tasty alternative.
  14. Rice Crispies Treats. Store-bought or homemade, they’ve got marshmallows in them.
  15. Frosted Mini Wheats. Gelatin. Seriously.
  16. Tortillas – check the package carefully or ask at your favorite Mexican restaurant, as some contain lard.
  17. Refried beans – many versions (think fast food or non-vegetarian canned refried beans) are made with lard.
  18. Baked beans – most baked bean recipes start with bacon or a ham hock. This one, however, does not!
  19. Split pea soup – just like baked beans, most start with a ham hock. Here’s a version with a veggie option.
  20. Jiffy cornbread mix – cornbread, you say? Yup. Some have lard in them.
  21. Hostess cupcakes – more lard, that sneaky jerk.
  22. Pie crust – many are made with lard.
  23. French fries. They’re just potatoes, right?! Not so fast – check to make sure they haven’t been fried in animal fat.
  24. Parmesan cheese (and many other cheeses) – if you’re a vegetarian even partially for ethical reasons, Google “what is rennet” and you might feel ill. I know I did. (Disclaimer: I use many cheeses – including parmesan – in my recipes here on Kitchen Treaty, but I am very careful to choose cheese made with vegetable-based rennet. I am so pleased to see, for instance, that most Tillamook cheeses use vegetable rennet.) Update: I have since learned I am lactose intolerant, so I don’t eat cheese anymore! If you’re on the fence or avoiding cheese, this post might help.
  25. Pad Thai – hey, I ordered it without the chicken so it must be vegetarian, right? Not so fast. There’s something fishy in traditional Pad Thai recipes – fish sauce, to be exact.

Read more

10 Weird Things That Are Not Vegetarian – Domestic Fits

9 Surprising Things That May Not Be Vegetarian – Buzzfeed

Foods That Sound Vegan, But Really Aren’t & 8 Sneaky Foods Vegetarians Should Avoid – Food Network

Are you a vegetarian who has been taken by surprise by a “gotcha” food? What was it?

This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive a portion of the proceeds. More about this here.

Karen Raye

Kare is a vegetarian home cook living among carnivores. She loves creating irresistible and flexible recipes that help multi-vore families like hers keep the peace - deliciously.

18 Responses to “25 Foods That Seem Vegetarian But Aren’t”

  1. I have been tricked by a few of these too, but luckily most have vegetarian alternatives available. Some of my favorites are Trader Joes peppermints (usually near the checkout lanes) and French onion soup from Jason’s Deli. 
    I recently discovered Dandies marshmallows also and they were perfect for vegetarian s’mores! 

  2. This is an awesome list!!  I am now aware of the majority of these, but I sure as heck wasn’t when I first became a vegetariain!  It is unfortunate the things they “sneak” into food!!

  3. Great article! Don’t forget about KIMCHI! That has fish sauce and shrimp paste in it! 

  4. VERY interesting post! While I’m not vegetarian, some of these things still offend me!

  5. None of these surprised me as I’ve been vegetarian for over 20 years and “discovered” most hidden non-vegetarian ingredients. One thing you might add to the list is rice dishes–paella and risotto are often cooked with chicken broth. In almost any restaurant, unless something is specifically marked vegetarian, I ask whether whatever I plan to order is.

  6. Great list. I’ve been a vegetarian for about 4 years, so I definitely made some of the same mistakes when I was starting out . Another food that is definitely worth mentioning is barbecue sauce, since some brands contain anchovies or beef stock. 

  7. There is a brand in my local grocery store of Vegetarian Fish Sauce. When my folks went vegan I picked some up. The colour is lighter but the taste is very close to the fish version.

  8. I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian and had known about some of these foods, but learned a few new ones. I also like the way manufacturers use the blanket term “natural flavor” which could be anything. The one food years ago that made my light bulb go on was egg drop soup. I think I was concentrating on the “egg” part-  not the fact that the base is plain old chicken broth. No more egg drop soup for me! I use Bragg Liquid Aminos instead of Worcestershire sauce. Not only do the anchovies gross me out, but I read how they make it years ago & still shudder- something about combining all the ingredients in a big vat, then skimming stuff as it rose to the top. Maybe that has changed, but ugh…..Loved how you called lard a “sneaky bastard”- especially true when it’s clogging arteries!

  9. Pad Thai also has shrimp paste and egg in it! Many Thai dishes have shrimp paste/powder….sorry!

  10. I must say, I know about many of these things and I often turn a blind eye to them, especially if I am eating out. I know that so many things have anchovies in them to add that extra punch of salt and I guess because my vegetarianism primarily stems from a sustainability perspective (I am not really against eating animals) I don’t feel all that guilty eating those fishy little buggers, especially considering it is in such minuscule quantities. At the end of the day, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do and it’s just about being aware. Which is great that this post helps do just that!

  11. I didn’t know about mini-wheats! Also add to the list:
    Miso soup-the dashi, or broth usually has bonito flake which is made of fish. Also, sadly, junior mints. 

  12. Yep, gotta be careful. Sometimes though, I will sneak a jelly lolly, or refuse to translate the ingredients on some of Mum’s Danish lollies because I just need my licorice fix! 

  13. No one mentioned butter … many places cook the vegetables in butter 

  14. The most surprising non vegetarian foods I’ve found are Twinkies (lard) and frosted pop tarts (gelatin.  in the frosting).  Never would have thought pie crusts or cornbread mix wouldn’t be safe to eat 🙁 

  15. Jiffy actually has a vegetarian version of their cornbread now that is made without lard! As a girl who grew up on Jiffy I was pleased to find that. 

  16. I am slowly turning into a vegetarian and i have to say that it is very hard! I dont want to give uup but after seeing this list I am overwhelmed with how much animal product there is! especially how I am Mexican and the only thing Mexicans seem to eat is meat. I will admit thay I am struggling to not eat meat!

  17. I am suprised that you didn’t know that many of these common foods contained animal products. I think your article really highlights that before we make the commitment or encourage and support others to do the same we should do our research. You forgot a very important food dye made from the cochineal beetle that is found in many common items including coca cola.

  18. Thanks for the list, but don’t forget cheese! Most cheese(unless you buy brands like Amul(An Indian brand)) have rennet, which is basically taken from the tummies of baby cows or sheep. Some brands use plant-rennet and others use animal, and since it’s not required to tell the source, it’s usually listed as enzymes. That’s why you use daiya cheese or other vegan cheese, or brands that specifically use plant rennet or no Rennet.

Leave a Comment