Does food labelling seem confusing and frustrating? When you start living a vegan lifestyle it can be tough trying to figure out which foods are safe to eat and which have hidden animal products in them, especially when it comes to E numbers. We’ve produced a short(ish!) guide to non-vegan e numbers to help you out.
Where should I start?
With supermarkets like Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s all upping their vegan product ranges, it’s easier than ever to buy clearly labelled food. But not every manufacturer is up to speed with labelling their products as vegetarian or vegan and animal products can lurk everywhere in E numbers and additives – even in shampoo and deodorant. To add to the confusion some products are vegan but not labelled as such. Would you think Sainsbury’s Chicken Noodles are vegan? Surprisingly they are! Veganuary has a great list of accidentally vegan products >>HERE
Check for allergens
A simple way to check for animal products in the food you buy is to check for allergens. Dairy and eggs are both known allergens so products containing them must be clearly labelled by law. All animal derivatives should be marked in bold so they’re easy to spot. If the product is also vegetarian, then it’s safe for you to eat.
Businesses must also add the disclaimer ‘may contain…’ to their labels to protect themselves from litigation should their products cause an allergic reaction. If the label doesn’t list animal derivatives then these products are safe for you to eat and you won’t be supporting a business that uses animal products. Obviously this doesn’t apply to allergy sufferers and you should always obtain advice from your medical professional.
Animal derivatives and non-vegan E numbers
Next you need to look for animal derivatives which may be labelled under a name you don’t recognise or added in the form of E numbers. These are the most common:
• Milk derivatives – casein, lactose, whey
• Animal connective tissue – collagen, elastin, keratin, gelatine, aspic
• Insect derivatives – shellac, honey, propolis, royal jelly
• Fish derivatives – Vitamin D3 supplements, isinglass, cod liver oil
• Sheep derivatives – Vitamin D3 supplements, lanolin. (Vitamin D2 is typically vegan).
• Livestock derivatives – pepsin, rennet
To make like just that little bit more complicated some of these products are also concealed by E numbers – for example E904 is shellac, a natural polymer used in manicures and floor varnish.
But don’t let this put you off adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle. You will get used to scanning labels quite quickly.
These are the E numbers to look out for if you want to live and eat cruelty free:
E120 Cochineal red food colouring is made from crushed beetles
E322 Lecithine from soy beans and for some purposes from chicken eggs.
E542 Bone phosphate made from ground animal bones is used to keep products moist
E441 Gelatine a common setting agent
E910 Beeswax is used for glazing
E913 is lanolin, used in cosmetics and Vitamin D3. Lanolin is a wax from sheep. It is excreted by the skin of the sheep and extracted from the wool.
E910, E920, E921 are all derivatives of L-cysteine made from animal and human hair and feathers and often used as a bread improver
E966 Lacitol is a sweetener made from milk sugars
E1105 Lysozyme is derived from chicken eggs
E901 Bees wax used as a coating in chewing gum and part of honey flavour
E904 Shellac, Natural polymer derived from certain species of lice. Used as a coating for confectionery and fruits. Vegans generally avoid the product as there are still lice in the raw product. These are eliminated during purification.
* FATTY ACIDS
Fats, whether from plant or animal origin, consist of glycerol and generally 3 fatty acids. Fats can enzymatically be split in fatty acids and glycerol. The fatty acids can be purified and reconnected to glycerol as mono- di- of triglycerides (glycerol with 1, 2 or 3 fatty acids respectively). Many additives consist of these semi-natural fats, which act as emulsifiers.
These semi-natural fats are degraded and metabolised in the body, just like normal fat.
Chemically the fatty acids from animal or plant origin are identical. Therefore the origin is of no importance for the function in the food. Producers thus normally choose the cheapest oils to make these fats. This is generally some vegetable oil. However, animal fats can not be excluded.
Unfortunately it is not possible to distinguish animal and vegetable fatty acids in the final product. Only the producer can provide information on the origin. As there is a risk for animal fats vegans should avoid these products, unless the origin is mentioned by the producer.
So if these E numbers are on the ingredients list and there’s no ‘suitable for vegans’ label its best to avoid the product:
When vegan isn’t vegan
‘Free from’, ‘dairy free’ and ‘lactose free’ aren’t always vegan so check the label and be careful. Ingredients like glycerine/glycerol, stearic acid and lactic acid can be animal derivatives or entirely vegan so check the label for details. And if in doubt, always contact the manufacturer so you can eat, bathe and get a manicure with confidence!
There is a comprehensive list of animal-derived ingredients HERE
If you have any other tips let us know in the comments section below. A super easy / lazy way of shopping and avoiding non-vegan e numbers is to shop online and add the vegan filter.
Check out Ocado.
We also have a list of 100% vegan supermarkets in our directory >>HERE
100% Vegan Supermarkets:
There is currently a petition to make labeling commercial food as vegetarian and/or vegan a legal requirement. At 100,000 signatures, this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament
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