I have been a vegetarian for many years now and one thing that really bothers me is the amount of hidden animal by-products in food. It can be really hard to find food that is completely vegetarian. Here are a few of the extremely common animal by products, that really bother me, that most people don’t even realize are made from animals.
Rennet- this is a complex of enzymes used in cheese making that usually come from baby cow or pig stomachs. The animals have to be young enough to have not been weaned for the rennet to have the proper enzymes to make cheese. There are many great substitutes for animal rennet such as microbial rennet. Most commercial cheeses that don’t specify that they are made from microbial rennet or are made from animal rennet. If a cheese has chymosin on the label that is another word for animal rennet.
Gelatin-this is one of the ingredients that many people are likely to know comes from animals but I am shocked at how many people don’t know until I tell them. Gelatin is the main ingredient in products like Jello or Gummy Bears and can be found in many other products such as yogurt. Gelatin is usually made by boiling the skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones of cows and pigs after the meat has been harvested. It can also be made from fish or other animals. One of the best alternatives to gelatin is agar agar which is made from seaweed so it does not contain any animal products.
Magnesium Stearate-this is found primarily in supplements and medications. It can also be in hard candies and baby formula. If the product doesn’t specify that the magnesium stearate is made from a vegetarian source it is probably made from animals.
Cochineal-also called Carmine this one is an especially big pet peeve of mine. This is a red coloring made by grinding up the cochineal beetle. This particular coloring can be found in yogurts, soft drinks, Juices and any other food product that is red or pink. There was recently a rule passed by the FDA requiring manufacturers to list this insect on food labels most likely because it can cause anaphylaxis. There are many great alternatives to using insects for coloring. Grape skins and beets are excellent natural vegetarian sources for red coloring.
I am not saying that nobody should consume these products. I do believe being a vegetarian or not is a very personal choice that everyone should be allowed to make for themselves. Everyone should also have the proper information about where the ingredients in their food comes from.