Surprising food that's not suitable for vegetarians
As Marks & Spencer introduces a new range of vegetarian sweets, here are five other foodstuffs that ought to be vegetarian... but sometimes aren't
If you're a sweet-toothed vegetarian, rejoice. Marks & Spencer is launching an extensive confectionary range that's suitable for those who dodge animal products.
But unless you are actually vegetarian, or in the habit of reading food labels for fun, chances are you won't have realised that, for instance, the bags of sweets that snake along the aisles by M&S's self-service checkouts were anything other than suitable for vegetarians. What - apart from the name - is meaty about a Percy Pig or Colin the Caterpillar?
Traditionally, chewy sweets such as wine gums, jelly babies, cola bottles, even soft mints, have got their delicious bite from gelatine, a protein derived from collagen, which is derived from the tendons, ligaments and tissues of mammals. Yum.
But following the successful launch in 2011 of a vegetarian variety of Percy Pigs - pea protein instead of pork-based gelatine is used to make Veggie Percy Pigs - the high-stree grocery chain is now expanding its meat-free treats with a veggie-friendly Colin the Caterpillar range as well as Veggie Fruit Pastilles, Fruit Gums and Super Sours.
Which begs the question: what other seemingly innocuous foodstuffs in fact contain animal by-products?
Pesto: may contain sheep stomach
The classic Italian pasta sauce - made from basil, pine nuts and Gran Padano – is a no-no for vegetarians: parmesan cheese contains rennet, a coagulant that helps separate the curds and whey in milk and which is extracted from the innards of dead baby animals, most often lambs. However, Saclo Organic Basil Pesto is also parmesan-free and thus suitable for vegetarians.
Guinness: may contain fish scales
Technically, a pint of Irish stout and most real ales will contain only trace amounts of anything animal, but proper vegetarians would rather avoid swigging isinglass, a form of collagen scraped from the dried swim bladders of fish, which is used to clarify the beer. Many wines also use this process, too.
Yoghurt: may contain cow bones and/or pig skin
A regular ingredient in desserts and sweets, gelatine is manufactured from skin and bones, primarily pig and bovine. Muller Light yoghurts, for instance, are thickened with gelatine; Muller Rice, however, is not.
Tic Tacs: may contain crushed beetles
When offered a sweetie, vegetarians should beware the orange and red ones. Check the label for E120: from Smarties to M&S, this food colouring agent - which also goes under the guise of carmine, cochineal or carminic acid – is obtained from the crushed shells of the cochineal beetle. It may also lurk in fizzy drinks and even coloured pasta. There is some good news, though: the signature lipstick red of Campari, the bitter herb-infused aperitif traditionally manufactured with this beetle juice, is now created artifically (to the chagrin of purists).
Mince pies: may contain animal kidneys
Christmas puddings, mincemeat and other seasonal sweet treats used to be off the menu for vegetarians: traditional recipes require suet, an animal fat usually trimmed from around the kidneys. However, vegetarian suet – made from vegetabl oil and rice flour – is now widely available.