It happens to the best of us.
You buy something at a supermarket or order some food at a restaurant and proceed to gleefully devour it – only to later discover that it was not, in fact, vegan.
As a beginner vegan who has just begun to navigate the slippery slope of ingredient-conscious supermarket shopping you will inevitably come across a time when you will unwittingly buy or eat something that is not vegan.
Heck, even the most experienced plant-based pioneers get caught out sometimes.
When it happens you may feel guilty or disgusted.
You might launch a tirade against the company that swindled you.
You might just feel sad…and that’s okay.
But fear not!
We’re here to help you avoid the products that we have mistakenly bought and offer you advice as to how you can minimise your risk of buying something that doesn’t align with your ethical, environmental, and/or health values.
These are the 10 things we accidentally bought that weren’t vegan.
1. Dark Chocolate
Most of us know that regular chocolate is not vegan-friendly as it usually contains milk products.
However, there is some confusion around the acceptability of dark chocolate.
Generally speaking, most dark chocolate products DO contain some milk-based ingredients unless they contain 80% or higher amounts of cocoa or are a specialised vegan brand.
Our mistake: We once purchased a Lindt 70% dark chocolate packet without reading the ingredients carefully enough. We soon realised that it contained milk products.
Our advice: Check the ingredients carefully before you buy anything. Aim for chocolate brands with a higher percentage of cocoa as these are less likely to contain any questionable ingredients.
Ingredients to watch out for: milk powder, milk fat, skim milk, anhydrous milk fat, skim milk powder, whey powder
2. Veggie Burgers
You would think that a vegetable burger would be made from plant-based ingredients right?
Well, think again.
Tons of veggie burgers contain ingredients that are not vegan friendly, such as eggs and milk.
For this reason it’s on our list of 10 things that we bought that weren’t vegan.
Our mistake: We’ve had many dark days when we’ve been feeling lazy and have ordered a veggie burger from a restaurant or fast food place only to realise the product was not vegan. One major fast food company (we won’t mention any names!) had some very misleading advertising in relation to one of the burgers on their menu that led us to believe it would be fine to consume. Alas, it was not.
Our advice: Be careful of deceptive marketing practices. Just because a burger is advertised as ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based’ does not mean it is. Do your research on the ingredients list online or ask for an allergen information chart (most places are legally required to have one of these on hand). If you’re buying your veggie burgers from a supermarket, always check the label for non-vegan ingredients.
Ingredients to watch out for: egg yolks, milk solids, cream, non-vegan sauces (i.e. mayonnaise, ranch dressing).
3. Vitamin D Supplements
Vitamin D supplements are important for most people to take (unless you work in the sun everyday).
However, it’s not common knowledge that they aren’t vegan-friendly. Vitamin D tablets are often sourced from sheep’s wool, which for the ethical vegan can be a bit of a moral dilemma.
For this reason, they’ve made it onto our list of 10 things we accidentally bought that weren’t vegan.
Our mistake: We had no idea that the Vitamin D supplements that we had purchased were not vegan until learning of this fact from some simple research into the topic. We sent an email to the company to check the original source of their Vitamin D and sure enough it had come from the wool of a sheep.
Our advice: Make sure you only buy Vitamin D2 supplements (as these are always vegan) or a specialised brand that clearly states it is vegan. We personally pay a little extra money towards a company promoting a vegan-friendly Vitamin D3 tablet than risk purchasing a product that doesn’t align with our values.
What to watch for: Unfortunately you almost always can’t tell from the product itself where it is sourced. If you’re not sure, do some research before you buy it or email the company directly and ask where they source the vitamin from.
While you’re likely to find a lot of bread brands that don’t use any animal-based ingredients, sometimes you’ll get a nasty surprise.
Some white breads often contain egg or milk ingredients and even some of the healthier kinds of breads can be risky.
Our mistake: We once bought a loaf of dark rye bread from an unfamiliar brand as the supermarket had run out of its supply on the brand we usually purchased from. We’d had the bread before and assumed that this one would be vegan. It just made sense! Well, it wasn’t. We found that out the hard way after upset stomachs.
Our advice: Don’t make our mistake. Always check the ingredients list no matter how many times you’ve purchased a similar product. You never know how they might sneak some egg or milk in there somehow.
What to watch for: honey, honey wheat, egg, whey, milk, caseinate, casein, butter, cream
Breads to avoid: brioche, naan, some garlic breads
5. Gummy Candies
This one might surprise you too. A common ingredient in most gummy-based candies is gelatin.
Gelatin is definitely not vegan – it is a protein obtained by boiling the skin, tendons, ligaments and/or bones of pigs or cows in water.
Our mistake: Lauren was once gifted a tub of gummy bears from a student that she tutored. She thought they looked quite vegan friendly so she spent the rest of the day snacking on them only to find out later that they were far from vegan.
Our advice: Avoid any candies that contain gelatin (i.e. any squishy kind of candy). Check the ingredients list for anything that might be questionable.
What to watch for: gelatin, shellac and/or carmine (i.e. ingredients derived from insects).
Candies to avoid: marshmallows, gummies, jelly, chewing gum
You would think that sugar is just obtained purely from sugar cane and then ground up and processed until it becomes that super sweet concoction that you add a pinch of to your favourite baked goods.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
White sugar is created with the use of bone char (i.e. ground up bones from cattle) and that’s how it gets its bright white colour.
What about brown sugar?
This one is a little murkier to identify. Some companies will use bone char to refine their brown sugar and others won’t.
These products often don’t state whether bone char was used on the product itself so that can bring an even greater challenge to the task of choosing a vegan-friendly sugar brand.
Therefore, it was an easy addition to our list of 10 things we accidentally bought that weren’t vegan.
Our mistake: We had a recipe that we were dying to try that contained date sugar. After hunting the supermarkets high and low for the elusive ingredient, we simply couldn’t find it. So we settled for some brown sugar instead believing that it was vegan friendly.
Our advice: Choose only sugar brands that are labelled as vegan friendly, organic, or unrefined. Reach out to the company you are buying your sugar from and check what their process of refinement is if you’re unsure. Or better yet, make your own date sugar like we eventually did!
What to watch for: Cheaper brands and non-organic brands will normally use bone char in their refining process.
7. Woolen Products
Depending on your reasons for becoming a vegan, this one might not apply to you as much.
However, ethical vegans who are conscious about animal rights and welfare may avoid purchasing wool products to boycott the cruelty that occurs regularly in the wool industry.
You don’t realise just how extensive wool has become in our clothing products.
It’s in everything from hats to shoes to sweaters to socks so the ethical vegan has to be extra careful when on the hunt for some new clothes.
Our mistake: When we first became vegans we weren’t as ethically-minded as we are now so we bought some clothing items that contained wool. Then we realised how cruel the industry was to these animals and have since avoided buying any woolen items.
Our advice: Always check the label on the garment of your desire to see if wool is a component.
What to watch for: Some clothing brands will mix wool with other fibres so it can be difficult to tell initially if a garment is made from wool. Checking the label should solve this problem in most cases.
8. Vegetable Soups & Curries
Sometimes you just want a nice, hot, creamy soup or curry on a cold winter’s night.
You might purchase a tinned vegetable soup or order a nice Indian curry from a local business thinking these are surely vegan. Well, don’t be so sure.
There’s a good reason this one is on our list of 10 things we accidentally bought that weren’t vegan.
Our mistake: Adriano once played as a session musician on a cruise ship and for dinner at the nightly buffet he innocently assumed that the delicious-looking Indian vegetable curry on offer was vegan-friendly. He was wrong and learnt the hard way that some curries and soups don’t always use coconut milk to thicken them up – they use full-fat cream.
Our advice: It always pays to ask. You might feel slightly uncomfortable asking but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you’re buying your vegetable soup or curry from a supermarket, check the ingredients to make sure there’s no sneaky milk or cream added.
What to watch for: beef or chicken stock, cream, milk
9. Orange Juice
This one shocked us a bit and we were surprised to add it to our list of 10 things we accidentally bought that weren’t vegan.
Yet another product that should contain one simple ingredient: oranges; but it doesn’t.
Orange juice often has Vitamin D and Omega-3s added to it to make it more nutritious.
As we know, Vitamin D is regularly obtained from sheep’s wool and there is no difference between this Vitamin D and the one that is added to orange juice.
The omega 3s are obtained from fish, which is definitely not vegan friendly.
Our mistake: We aren’t normally juice fans but during large family get-togethers, orange juice was often on the menu and we assumed like most people that it was fine to drink it.
Our advice: Make your own orange juice if you have the time to do so. If not, choose brands that are specifically vegan-friendly.
What to watch for: Vitamin D and Omega-3 additives
10. Bar Soap
We’ve all washed our hands or bodies with bar soap at some point.
But did you know most aren’t vegan?
Bar soaps can be made with animal fats and by-products, are regularly tested on animals, and can contain palm oil (an ingredient that is widely known to come from abhorrent deforestation practices).
Our mistake: We regularly washed our hands with bar soap when visiting our relatives thinking it was fine. Sometimes you just can’t avoid this one, especially if you want to stay hygienic! But we have also mistakenly purchased bar soap without knowing that it wasn’t vegan and so we had to add it to our list of 10 things that we accidentally bought that weren’t vegan.
Our advice: When choosing to buy your own soap products, make sure you do your research first. Find companies that don’t test on animals and clearly label their product ingredients.
What to watch for: lard, palm oil, glycerin, honey
You will inevitably find yourself purchasing an item you believed to be vegan-friendly only to eventually find out it’s not.
We are still getting some nasty surprises and we’ve been vegan for over 3 years.
Understand that it’s not your fault, treat it as a learning experience, and become smarter as a result.
We hope this list of 10 things we accidentally bought that weren’t vegan helps in your future purchases.
Tell us your non-vegan product horror stories in the comments below, we’d love to hear them.
If you’re curious about more content like this check out our article 5 Ingredients Every Vegan Needs In Their Cupboard.