If you’re vegan or are shopping for vegans, the aim is to spot and avoid all animal ingredients or additives.
At first, this can mean spending quite a lot of time reading labels, but you’ll very quickly start to recognize the names and E numbers of suspect ingredients, and you’ll soon get to know which products and brands are vegan-friendly.
So if you want to know whether a manufactured food product is vegan-friendly, what are you looking for on the label?
1. See if it’s pack-marked “suitable for vegans”. This may be in words, or look out for the Vegan’s society Vegan trademark (pictured right). Although labelling foods that are suitable for vegetarians has increasingly become standard practice in the UK, manufacturers and supermarkets are only just starting to recognize the value of labeling products suitable for vegans – but you may strike lucky.
Of course, just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s good for you – don’t forget to check for other ingredients you might want to avoid.
2. Check the allergy advice. Dairy, egg, fish, molluscs and crustaceans are allergens and thanks to European regulations they have to be identified as such on the label, so if the allergy advice says it “contains milk” or “contains eggs” you know it’s not for you. If it says “May contain milk” or “May contain traces of milk or eggs”, it’s less clear-cut. Usually this means that the product is made in a factory that uses those ingredients in other products, so the manufacturer is highlighting the very slight risk of contamination for the benefit of those who have severe allergies. Many vegans (this one included) are okay with products bearing the “may contain” warning – in this instance, the word “may” is legal parlance for “almost certainly doesn’t but we can’t guarantee there can’t be any cross-contamination from products that do and we don’t want to get sued if someone has a severe allergic reaction.” However, if you’re shopping for a vegan other than yourself, don’t assume that they’ll feel the same way – not least if there’s any chance that they may be allergic.
3. Check the ingredients list. In addition to the more obvious, species-specific names for animal flesh (including but not limited to beef, chicken, cod, coley, crab, duck, gammon, goose, haddock, ham, lamb, mackerel, mutton, plaice, pork, prawns, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, veal, venison), animal-derived ingredients and additives to avoid include:
*items marked with an asterix may or may not be vegan – if the product packaging doesn’t make it clear, the only way to be certain is to find out from the manufacturer.
UK Supermarket vegan product lists:
Many of the major UK supermarkets produce lists of products they sell that are suitable for vegans – although do make sure you’re using an up-to-date list and double-check the label as manufacturers are prone to changing their product formulations without warning. See Asda, Co-op, Lidl, M&S and Sainsburys.
Reading the label whether you’re vegan or not:
Whether you’re vegan or not, checking the full list of ingredients and nutritional information on the back of the packet is the only way to know what’s in what you’re eating – you simply can’t rely on the front-of-pack marketing claims to give you the full picture.
Time consuming? Yes, to start with, but you’ll get quicker with practice.
Vegan or not, there are some ingredients or additives that you might want to avoid for other reasons – such as Annatto E160b (a yellow-orange colour); Aspartame E951 and other artificial sweeteners; MSG (monosodium glutamate) E621 and its derivatives. The salt or sodium content is another thing to consider in manufactured products.