Is it vegan? How to read food labels

April 23, 2019


It can be quite daunting when first deciding to go vegan and thinking that every food shop from now on is going to involve cautiously reading every product in scrupulous detail before putting it in your basket. But it is easier than you’d think to identify if a product is vegan friendly AND once you become familiar with your go to goodies, you won’t need to check it twice! Here’s a quick start guide on how to check the food labels to see if it is in fact vegan friendly.


1. Is it labelled vegan or vegetarian?


Many manufacturers are catching-up with the demand for vegan products which means most are clearly labelled as such, with the certified vegan logo or ‘suitable for vegans’. This is the first step to quickly identify if it’s suitable.


If a product is not labelled as vegan, that doesn’t mean it isn’t. If you can’t see a vegan label, look for the vegetarian symbol which will make you feel more confident that there are not any animal body parts inside! Either way, you can then move onto looking through the ingredients list.

2. Check the allergens/bold ingredients


Ingredients which are allergens are typically listed in bold on ingredient lists, which is a legal requirement. This is especially useful for us, since we can quickly identify if a product contains milk (also whey and casein) or eggs. If so, put that product back on the shelf and choose a kinder option instead! Otherwise, it probably is vegan, but you should then scan through the rest of the ingredients listed in step 3 just to be sure.


Note: if a product is made in a factory with allergens, it may state ‘May contain milk’ on the packaging, as an example. This is a legal requirement and keeps them safe from law suits just in case an allergen winds its way up into a product that is meant to be allergen free and doesn’t mean the product is not vegan!

3. Check the remaining ingredients


Below is a list from the Veganuary website, of the non-vegan ingredients to watch out for. Veganuary is a free, supported vegan challenge that makes the transition to veganism much easier with tonnes of encouragement. If you’re a new vegan or vegan curious, make sure to sign up!


• Casein – from milk (a protein)

• Lactose – from milk (a sugar)

• Whey – from milk. Whey powder is in many products, look out for it in crisps, bread and baked products etc.

• Collagen – from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as cows, chickens, pigs, and fish – used in cosmetics

• Elastin – found in the neck ligaments and aorta of bovine, similar to collagen

• Keratin – from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as cows, chickens, pigs, and fish

• Gelatine/gelatin – obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones and is usually from cows or pigs. Used in jelly, chewy sweets, cakes, and in vitamins; as coating/capsules

• Aspic – industry alternative to gelatine; made from clarified meat, fish or vegetable stocks and gelatine

• Lard/tallow – animal fat

• Shellac – obtained from the bodies of the female scale insect Tachardia lacca

• Honey – food for bees, made by bees

• Propolis – used by bees in the construction of their hives

• Royal Jelly – secretion of the throat gland of the honeybee

• Vitamin D3 – from fish-liver oil; in creams, lotions and other cosmetics

• Albumen/albumin – from egg (typically)

• Isinglass – a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish, and is used mainly for the clarification of wine and beer

• Cod liver oil – in lubricating creams and lotions, vitamins and supplements

• Pepsin – from the stomachs of pigs, a clotting agent used in vitamins



E120: Carmine, also known as cochineal, carminic acid or natural red 4. Crushed up beetles used as red food colouring

E441: Gelatine. A gelling agent made from ground up animal bone and skin, often found in confectionary

E542: Bone phosphate. Ground up animal bones used to keep foods moist

E901: Beeswax. As the name suggests, this is wax that’s made by bees, and is used as a glazing agent

E904: Shellac. Another glazing agent, made from the secretions of an insect called the lac bug

E910, E920, E921: L-cysteine and its derivatives. Made from animal hair and feathers, these additives are found in some breads as an improving agent

E913: Lanolin. A greasy substance secreted by sheep and other woolly animals. While mostly used in cosmetics, it’s also often used to make vitamin D3, rendering many multi-vitamins and fortified foods unsuitable for vegans

E966: Lactitol. A sweetener derived from lactose, which is made from milk

Save this article to your phone, copy and paste the text into your notes or screenshot the list so you can refer to it when you are stood in the supermarket feeling a little lost – we all do it!


If you’re unsure, it’s best to avoid the purchase and contact the manufacturer who should be able to help uncover if the product is animal-product-free. A quick google search with ‘is (product) vegan’ may also help you discover if it is vegan friendly!


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