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Is It Vegan? 10 Common Items That Vegans Might Need To Substitute

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Is It Vegan? 10 Common Items That Vegans Might Need To Substitute

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Is bread vegan? Are there any animal products in my pint of beer? Whether you are trying to incorporate a few vegan alternatives into your life this Veganuary, or you already identify as a vegan, there are questions that come up time and time again - so here are your answers.

Many think that these 10 things are vegan, but sometimes it's not that simple. Read on to get the inside (vegan ice cream) scoop, find out what to watch out for and we'll help you find the best vegan swaps to make life easy.

Phoebe Young

Thu 19 Dec 2019

Veganism is about much more than what’s on your plate. There are often animal products in what we drink, what we wear and in other day to day items we use. 

Thanks to innovative and more advanced manufacturing, new vegan friendly products are coming to market all the time. In the last year hundreds of vegan products or versions of existing products hit the shops. This means that some things we assume are cruelty free and plant based actually have animal products in their production somewhere along the line. 

These non-vegan elements might be used in the manufacturing process. Others are hidden in the ingredients, under elusive names you’ve never heard of. Then there are certain items that just straight-up contain eggs and milk. 

Read on to find out which items to take a second look at and find some great vegan substitutes for them.

Cactus

Veganism is about much more than what’s on your plate

1. Is Bread Vegan?

Isn’t bread just flour, water and yeast...? Not necessarily. Don’t panic vegans, this staple food is not going to be taken off the table. There is plenty of vegan bread out there but some loaves do contain animal products like milk, eggs or honey. 

If you want to make sure you’re crunching on totally cruelty free toast then always check the ingredients on the back of the packet. The same goes for other items that come broadly under the bread umbrella. These include foods like wraps, pizza bases and bagels. 

If you are baking your own bread, then you can easily do i without using any animal products. Most recipes just require flour, yeast, salt and water. If you are 'veganising' a recipe that does call for some non-vegan ingredients then try making the following swaps:

  • Honey can be replaced with maple syrup.
  • Eggs can be swapped for flax or chia seeds.
  • There are countless plant milk alternatives to cow’s milk.
  • Olive oil or vegan butter are great vegan substitutes for butter.  

If you ever find yourself in need of a carb fix, are not completely strict about your vegan diet and can’t see the ingredients, then sourdough is your safest bet. It is almost always vegan and is always delicious.

three loaves of bread

Isn’t bread just flour, water and yeast...? Not necessarily

2. Is Silk Vegan?

Got your eye on a pair of soft silk pyjamas? Make sure you think about the ethics before you invest

Whether silk technically classifies as an animal product, like milk, or a by-product, like wool, is a little confusing. Mainstream silk is, however, not an ethical product. So, if the reason you are moving closer to veganism is because you want to avoid animal cruelty, be cautious. 

Silk is the fibre that silkworms weave their cocoons from. Thousands of Silkworms are killed to produce a single pound of silk. There are various forms of so-called ‘peace silk’ out there, but their production is still controversial. Silkworms might not be killed in order to produce peace silk, but these living creatures are still used in some capacity.

If you are after a silk-like product, the easiest thing to do is to go for one of the excellent and fully vegan alternatives. Silky substitutes can be made sustainably from banana trees, cacti and pineapple leaves.

Silk is the fibre that silkworms weave their cocoons from

3. Is Alcohol Vegan?

The short answer is, some alcohol is vegan and some is not. What renders many wines and beers not vegan friendly is the filtration process they undergo. 

A substance called ‘isinglass’ is often used to filter alcohol. It is obtained from fish bladders, so any bottle that mentions it is not suitable for vegans. Gelatine, egg white and various other animal products may also be used to filter impurities out of alcoholic drinks. Weird, we know.

If you are unable to check the ingredients, opting for a spirit and mixer is the safest bet. Vodka and white rum tend to be vegan friendly. 

Happily lots of alcohol also comes with a vegan trademark symbol on it, to help you tell instantly whether it is suitable for plant-based boozing. Try Freedom Brewery if you want an officially plant based pint.  

The Barnivore app is another great resource. You can search its extensive database for a given type of alcohol and it will tell you whether its has any animal products in it. 

Row of Freedom Brewery Beers

Happily lots of alcohol also comes with a vegan trademark symbol

4. Is Toothpaste Vegan?

It’s best not to assume that any toothpaste that markets itself as being ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’ is automatically vegan. 

Toothpastes made by mainstream brands are very often tested on animals. If avoiding animal cruelty is part of your motivation for being vegan, this means you need to be careful which tube you go for. 

Check to see whether your toothpaste packaging explicitly states that the product has not been tested on animals. Sadly, if it doesn’t mention that it hasn’t, it probably has.  

Toothpaste also contains one of those alien ingredients that does not scream ‘animal product’. 

‘Glycerin’ is a common component. Plant-based sources of this substance do exist. But if there is nothing on the packaging that explicitly states that it is vegan-friendly, then it is most likely made from animal fat.

Still, there are some incredible vegan friendly toothpastes out there. This Georganics one, for example, comes in the BuyMeOnce zero waste starter kit and is made with minimal natural ingredients. It is also has the added eco bonus of being totally plastic free. 

Happier Beauty is another great vegan tooth care brand. They are totally transparent about what goes into their recyclable aluminium tubes and they use ingredients that have minimal planetary impact.

small tub in front of glass with toothbrush

There are some incredible vegan friendly toothpastes out there

Image Photography | Nuraan Ackers

5. Are Tattoos Vegan?

It is not uncommon for people to express their passion for animal rights with a tattoo. But you can easily be forgiven for not thinking about whether getting inked is vegan or not. But there's a reason that ‘vegan’ tattoos exist.

Not all tattoo inks are vegan. 

There are all manner of animal products that have found their way into certain tattoo inks. These include items like animal fat, bone char, glycerin (the same animal fat found in toothpaste) and shellac which comes from beetles (so avoid shellec nails also if you want to go full vegan).

Luckily, the abundance of vegan tattoo inks available today mean that it’s easy to get yourself some ethical body art. Ask the tattoo studio you have picked if they use vegan inks. Many will be willing to order some in for you if they have none in stock. A brand like StarBrite is a great vegan-friendly option. 

And remember, even making the request is a good way to create demand for, and increase the popularity of, vegan inks.

Man tattooing someone

Not all tattoo ink is vegan. Mind blown.

6. Are Common Medications Vegan?

Medication is a controversial vegan topic for several reasons. For one, it is a legal requirement in the UK for medications to be tested on animals before they can be vetted for human consumption. In this way, no medicine is truly vegan. 

Many common medications contain animal products too. Lactose and gelatin are the most frequently used in medical pills. 

If you are prescribed medication that contains products like these, then it is always worth asking whether there is an equally effective vegan ‘friendlier’ alternative. 

Want to check that your everyday over the counter medications, like painkillers, are vegan? There are vegan painkillers out there. If animal products are present in pills, they have often been used to form their capsules or their sugary coating. Many own brand painkillers come without this sweet layer, rendering them vegan-friendly and less expensive. Our old adage holds true in this case too - you just have to read the packaging.

We don't need to tell you however, that you should always follow your doctor's advice.

Many own brand painkillers come without a sweet layer, rendering them vegan-friendly and less expensive

7. Are Sweets Vegan?

There are both red flags and great vegan substitutes when it comes to sweets.

As many people know, lots of packaged sweets contain gelatin. This is traditionally what gives them their glossy texture and appearance. If you want to keep things totally cruelty free, there is another ingredient to look out for as well. 

Carmine is the product that is usually used to give red sweets their bright inviting colour. Unfortunately, it is made from crushed insects, so is certainly not vegan. 

These days, many sweets brands have clocked on to the fact that vegans have as much of a sweet tooth as anyone. That’s why lots of them, like Haribo, have come up with vegan versions of their sweets and incorporated this into their branding. So, look out for the vegan symbol when you next need to satisfy that sweet craving. 

More of a chocolate lover? Check out our favourite ethical chocolate brands, many of them are vegan.

plates of sweets

There are hidden animal products in many mainstream sweets

8. Is Money Vegan?

Love it or hate it, we need money and some of it isn't vegan. The latest British £5 and £10 notes contain tallow, which is derived from animal fat. 

This renders notes neither vegan or vegetarian and the system is not set to change any time soon. When the new £50 note is released into circulation in 2021, it is set to consist of the same formula. The Bank of England claims that palm oil is the only viable alternative. 

So what are the vegan options? Unless you abandon mainstream society and go totally off grid, money is hard to live without in the UK. Many other countries have either switched to the same ‘polymer’ notes or are in the process of doing so. Euro notes, American Dollars and Japanese Yen are still made from paper. Alternatively try and go cashless as much as possible, it's never been easy to not carry physical money.

Campaigning for change is another great option. This campaign gained over 100,000 signatures.

rolled up £5 notes

Unless you flee mainstream society and go totally off grid, money is hard to live without in the UK

9. Is Nail Varnish Vegan?

Most nail varnishes still rely on animal products to give them their colour, shine and hardiness. They are also widely tested on animals. 

Look out for the following ingredients, when you are purchasing a new polish:

  • Guanine is a substance made from fish scales. It does the same thing for our nails as it does for beautiful fish - makes them glisten and shimmer. It can come under some different names, like ‘natural pearl essence’ or the catchier ‘CI 75170’. 
  • Keratin is an animal protein that is included in nail varnish to strengthen it. It comes from various mammals including pigs, rabbits and horses. 
  • Carmine is used as a colourant in nail varnish too. It sometimes comes under the guise of ‘Natural Red 4’ or occasionally ‘CI 75470’.
  • Shellac nails are also very popular these days. Shellac is a resinous substance produced by Lac beetles, and used to protect their larvae. Many of the beetles are harmed or killed when the shellac is harvested, making it neither vegan, nor beetle, friendly. 

All these substances can and have been replaced by plant-based compounds to make some high quality vegan nail varnish alternatives. 

Using Look Fantastic by Orly Breathable and Bath And Unwind by Smith & Cult are great ways to go vegan and glamorous. These vegan polishes often contain fewer polluting and toxic chemicals too.

hand pointing

Vegan polishes often contain fewer polluting and toxic chemicals too.

10. Are Candles Vegan?

If you like to sit down to a plant-based feast by candle light, be careful when selecting the sticks. Most candles still contain Stearic Acid, which is derived from animal fat and used to harden the paraffin that makes up the bulk of a typical candle. Certain boutique candles are made from beeswax as well. 

It can be a little tricky to tell which candles are vegan, as their ingredients are often not listed. 

Fear not fellow vegans, romance isn't dead for us. There are plenty of plant-based candles on the market, many of which are also non-toxic, chemical free and have all manner of therapeutic benefits to boot. Brilliant and totally vegan brands include Cultural Candles and Brownlow Bouquet.

White and green vegan friendly candle

It can be a little tricky to tell which candles are vegan, as their ingredients are often not listed.

Please bear in mind that this is just a guide. If you want to be truly diligent about remaining completely vegan, always undertake a bit of your own research about a specific product. Check the ingredients, or contact the manufacturer if you can. That way you won’t absentmindedly veer off the vegan rails.

woman drinking

Always undertake a bit of your own research about a specific product.

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