12 Surprising Foods Vegetarians Cannot Eat

Jennifer Bui/Kristin Hunt/Thrillist

Before a vegetarian can eat anything, it's critical that they look at the ingredients to make sure it doesn't contain any meat or fish. Equally critical is letting everyone around them know that they're vegetarian and that, unlike most people, they read the ingredients on everything they put into their body, okay? But even the most seasoned non-meat eater can still be surprised by common foods that have ingredients made from animals. Here are 12 foods that vegetarians can't eat.

Flickr/Christina B Castro


The ingredient that ruins everything: Gelatin
The fourth ingredient in Starburst, after sugar and more sugar (and... apple juice?), is gelatin. Gelatin is a less-gross way of saying a gelatinous substance made from an animal's skin and bones. But we're not afraid of being a little gross. Something else we're not afraid of: no ghost.

Taco Bell reduced-fat sour cream

The ingredient that ruins everything: Gelatin
Despite being a place where ground beef flows freely, Taco Bell is a surprisingly formidable source of fast food for vegetarians. Our favorites are the Crunchwrap, Cheesy Gordita Crunch, and Quesarito (with beans or potatoes subbed for the meat). But don't you dare top it with reduced-fat sour cream, because that's like adding a helping of animal bones to your perfectly animal bone-free Cheesy Gordita Crunch.

White sugar

The ingredient that ruins everything: Bone char
I remember going to Whole Foods once and seeing vegan sugar. I might have laughed out loud. "What's the point of this?" I thought. Then I looked into the whole "vegan sugar" thing a little more, and ended up buying it, because the idea of eating bone char -- which is usually made from cow bones -- with my morning cup of coffee struck me as a little nauseating. Apparently they use bone char to make the sugar whiter. I've had a huge bag of vegan sugar for a while now, and I can assure you it is of adequate lightness.

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The ingredient that ruins everything: Isinglass
For any vegetarian reading this at the bar holding a British beer: you might want to put down that pint. Guinness, among other British brewers, uses trace amounts of fish bladder in the brewing process. And since Guinness is a perfect beverage that will likely never be changed, vegetarians will have to do without it. PETA comes to the rescue with a fairly comprehensive list of vegan-friendly beers

Apple pie

The ingredient that ruins everything: Lard
There is nothing more American than apple pie and baseball, or eating an apple pie while watching baseball, or throwing an apple pie at a man in a baseball stadium and then running away, leaving him to wonder why someone aggressively threw an apple pie at him. Sadly for vegetarian Americans, apple pie (or any pie, possibly) that's made with a traditional recipe can have lard, which is used to make the delicious crust.

Activia Light

The ingredients that ruin everything: Carmine and gelatin
The yogurt formerly endorsed by Arnold Schwarzenegger's love interest in True Lies has two ingredients not suitable for vegetarians: gelatin and a pigment called carmine made from a crushed up insect called a cochineal. Carmine is a natural way to add coloring to food, if your idea of natural is squashing a bunch of bugs. One interesting side note: the gelatin in Activia is labeled as kosher. This means it's safe for rabbis, but not necessarily vegetarians.

Flickr/Jeff Eaton


The ingredient that ruins everything: Gelatin
Altoids are said to be "curiously strong," but you don't have to be curious if vegetarians can eat it, because we're telling you they can't. Gelatin is very much in the Altoid nutritional breakdown. Now what will vegetarians going on dates chew before they meet their sweetheart at the drive-in for a little hanky panky? What? Altoids have been around since the 1700s, it's possible.


The ingredient that ruins everything: Gelatin
J-e-l-l-o is mostly famous for having commercials in the '80s and being the food that Jim encased Dwight's stapler in. Or the food that Tim encased Gareth's stapler in, if you're cool and have BBC America. So yeah, no Jell-O for you, vegetarian person. Luckily, PETA's got a recipe for a gelatin-free version if you miss eating a wobbly fruity dessert.

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

The ingredient that ruins everything: Rennet
Back in college, I dabbled in vegetarianism, and I ate cheese with most meals. Little did I know that some cheese has rennet in it, which the Vegetarian Society very unsubtly says is made from the "stomach of slaughtered newly-born calves." That's a bummer. HuffPost Taste has 10 cheeses in addition to Parmigiano Reggiano that aren't always vegetarian, like Gruyere and manchego. To make everything better, here are plenty of calf stomach-free cheeses for vegetarians to keep in their fridges.

Flickr/Christian Cable


The ingredient that ruins everything: Beef fat
The Twinkies folks could've listed a synonym for beef fat in the ingredients -- "tallow" is the same thing. But they are not shying away from its inclusion in the Twinkie. It's right there on the label in huge block letters: "BEEF FAT." But if being a vegetarian is more important than eating Twinkies, we'll provide you with a vegan version just because.

Gummy bears

The ingredient that ruins everything: Gelatin
It's at least a little funny that a tiny, colorful, candy version of a bear still has bones inside of it, just like the real thing! You can't feel those bones when you eat it, thankfully, but plenty of gummy bear brands add gelatin as an ingredient. Since this is 2015, however, companies have stepped up to the plate and introduced gelatin-free bears.

Grandma Utz's Handcooked Potato Chips

The ingredient that ruins everything: Lard
Kudos to Utz for not trying to hide that this variety of chip has lard in it. In fact, the ad copy says, "kettle-cooked in lard in small batches at the best temperature for perfect crispness." They want you to know, probably because the lard is part of why they taste so damn good! And it's no surprise a PA-based chip brand has lard in it -- that's how they do things in central Pennsylvania.

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Lee Bresloueris a senior writer for Thrillist and misses Utz, as he can't get them where he lives. Follow him to snack food withdrawal at @LeeBreslouer.