In this glossary we take you through some additives and E number and show you what does and doesn’t contain animal products.*
When used in foods, vegetable glycerine adds sweetness and moisture and helps to bind ingredients. While it has some side effects for some people (which can include headaches and diarrhoea) it is generally considered safe to consume. The vegetable version is derived from plant-based oils, but there is also an animal-derived form, so always check labelling.
One of the most commonly used additives in processed foods, soya lecithin is generally extracted from soybeans, and sunflower – though it can come from non-plant sources too, including eggs and animal fats. It is usually used as a liquid but also can be purchased as granules. It is used as an emulsifier and is generally considered to be safe to consume, though there can be side effects for some people including rashes and bloating.
This collagen is most often used in the clarification or ‘fining’ of some beer and wine – a process which makes the liquid clearer. It is derived from the swim bladders of fish. A number of breweries have dropped isinglass from their manufacturing process, so it is becoming easier to find beers that are suitable for vegans, but checking the company’s website for information is always advisable.
Titanium dioxide – E171
This natural white mineral is used as a sweetener and to coat food surfaces. It is also sometimes used as a whitening agent in toothpaste. It is not derived from animals and can be consumed by vegans. While it is considered safe by some health bodies, many people like to avoid it as it the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified it as a class 2 carcinogen.
L-cysteine – E190 (920, 921)
Whatever the source, this additive is very rarely free of animal products. It is estimated that less than 10 per cent of the L-cysteine used in food products comes from non-animal sources – meaning it’s safer to assume any products containing the additive are not suitable for vegans. It is an improving agent used in commercial bread making and is produced from both human and animal hair and feathers. It is generally not used in wholemeal bread products.
Lanolin – E913
Lanolin is a type of wax extracted from sheep’s wool. Sheep secrete this substance in order to make their woolly coats waterproof. It is often used in cosmetic products like lip balm as a moisturising agent. It can be found in some confectionary, mainly chewing gum (so always check brands). It can also make its way into some forms of vitamin D. If a product is labelled as containing vitamin D3, this is animal-derived (vitamin D2 is generally plant-derived).
Riboflavin – E101
Also known as vitamin B2, riboflavin is found in food and also as a dietary supplement. It is generally well tolerated by the majority of people. It is found in some vegan sources including legumes, mushrooms and almonds, but it may contain milk.
Gelatine – E441
Often found in chewy sweets, as well as jelly-based desserts, gelatine is a gelling agent. It is derived from animals, mainly from hoofs and skin. It often comes from cows and pigs, although it is sometimes made from fish too. It is generally considered to be the most commonly used gelling agent in the food industry.
Cochineal – E120
Commonly known as carmine, carminic acid, crimson lake or carmines natural red 4 (among other names), this red food dye is derived from insects. The resultant dye is then used in foods like ice-cream, sweets, yoghurt and even juices. It is also used in a number of cosmetics including lipstick and eye shadow. While allergy seems to be fairly rare, in affected individuals, the reaction can be severe.
This enzyme is never vegan. It is a protein that breaks down bacterial cell walls, and is therefore used as a preservative in some foods (mainly cheeses). It is naturally found in egg white, saliva and human tears (as well as other bodily fluids) but is generally derived from egg white.
Beeswax – E901
This additive (also known as cera alba) can be found in cosmetic products like lip balm, lipstick and mascara. It is a natural polymer produced by bees – and is therefore unsuitable for vegans. It has a number of uses in food, including chewing gum and as a glazing agent on sweets.
Polyoxyethylene – E436
Also called sorbitan tristearate, E436 is a fatty acid that is used as an emulsifier and anti-foaming agent in a huge range of products. The fatty acids are regularly derived from vegetable oils, but on rare occasions it is thought to come from animal fat. The only way to fully ascertain is to check with the producer.
Stearylcitrate – E484
This fatty acid is sometimes found in bakery products. While it is often derived from vegetable oils, it can also come from animal fat, meaning it is not always suitable for vegans to consume. It is will not necessarily be labelled as animal or vegetable fat – so always check with the producer.
Glutamates – E620
This amino acid is prepared from molasses via bacterial fermentation. It can also be created from soya protein or gluten. It is a flavour enhancer with an umami taste, which is typically used to enhance other flavours – and ergo reduce salt quantities. E620 is usually suitable for vegans.
*Please note – this is not an exhaustive list.