7 Foods That Seem Vegetarian But Aren’t Always

Foods That Seem Vegetarian – Surprising Animal-Based Products in Everyday Foods

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From conventional cuisine to niche diets, the path of vegetarianism can be difficult to navigate. As a writer and vegetarian myself, I’ve been present more than once to watch an unsuspecting vegetarian discover a favorite dish that might seem vegetarian, but actually contains an animal-derived product they weren’t aware of. 

This article aims to explore several everyday foods that at first instinct might seem vegetarian, but which actually contain ingredients of animal origin. Not everyone agrees on what should and shouldn’t be considered vegetarian, so remember that you’re in control of what you eat and can label your diet however you’d like. 

Foods That Seem Vegetarian- Bagels

Foods That Seem Vegetarian But Aren’t Always


Let’s kick things off with an absolute classic – the seemingly benign bagel. What could be more vegan-friendly than bread, right? While bagels in their basic form (water, flour, yeast, and salt) are indeed vegetarian, several commercially made bagels contain L-cysteine as a dough conditioner. L-cysteine is sometimes sourced from feathers or animal hair, making it far from vegetarian.

Interestingly, hair and feathers are actually considered vegetarian by some (in the same way eggs are vegetarian to some), so if you want to avoid this product, reading the ingredient list to ensure the L-cysteine is not animal-based is your best option. 


The same goes for some of your favorite cheeses. While cheese is technically vegetarian, many varieties employ an enzyme called rennet during production. This enzyme, crucial in turning milk into cheese, is traditionally derived from the stomachs of newly weaned calves. Parmesan, Gorgonzola, and Pecorino Romano are just a few examples of cheeses that use animal rennet. Be sure to check the labels or ask your cheese purveyor to ensure you’re buying a vegetarian-friendly version.

Gummy Bears

It’s not just savory dishes that harbor hidden animal-derived products. Sweet treats like gummy bears are an example of this. While their bright colors and sweet taste might seem innocuous, they are made using gelatin, derived from collagen in animal bones and skins. The same goes for marshmallows, some frosted cereals, and certain candies.

Some vegetarian gelatin products are starting to be sold more publicly.

French Fries

Next, let’s address a mainstay in many people’s diets – the humble French fry. While the basic ingredients are potatoes and oil, several fast-food restaurants season their fries with natural beef flavoring. This means that, in some cases, the crispy golden fries you adore are not vegetarian.


You may be surprised to learn that some beers and wines are technically not vegetarian. These drinks often undergo a process known as “fining” to remove sediments and clarify the product. The agents used for this process may include gelatin, egg whites, fish bladder protein (isinglass), and casein. This is also true for some fruit juices, which use these ingredients to remove cloudiness.

Bentonite is one vegan fining alternative. 

Refried Beans

A less surprising inclusion on this list is refried beans – which at this point, many vegetarians are aware contain an animal-based product. Many pre-made or restaurant versions are traditionally cooked with lard, a rendered form of pig fat. It’s always worth asking about the ingredients when dining out, or checking the label when buying from the store.

Similarly, some brands of vegetable soup are not as vegetarian as they appear. While vegetables are the star ingredient, the base may be chicken or beef stock. 

Worcestershire Sauce

Finally, let’s talk about Worcestershire sauce, a staple in many kitchens. The tangy, umami-packed condiment is actually made with anchovies. This also applies to Caesar salad dressing, which typically contains Worcestershire sauce or anchovies in its original recipe.

Foods That Seem Vegetarian- Refried Beans

Final Word: Foods That Seem Vegetarian

These surprising inclusions highlight the importance of understanding where your food comes from and what it contains. With growing numbers of people opting for vegetarian or plant-based diets for ethical, health, or environmental reasons, it is ever more crucial for food producers, restaurants, and consumers to be aware and transparent about ingredients.

Remember that while this article points out some non-vegetarian foods, there are often vegetarian or vegan alternatives. Also, you may not mind eating some of these foods, depending on how you think about your vegetarianism and your principles. 

We try to avoid gatekeeping “real” and “fake” vegetarians. We don’t consider you less of a vegetarian because you eat gummy bears, for example. If you want to avoid animal products altogether for personal or ethical reasons, though, learning to look for and avoid these ingredients may be important to you.  

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