My best friend has been a vegetarian since she was a kid, so we often have to find meals and restaurants both of us can enjoy. It's pretty straightforward: does it have meat? No? Then it's vegetarian.
Or so I thought.
It turns out there are a decent number of foods I always assumed were vegetarian but really aren't.
1. Vanilla Ice Cream
I KNOW. I know. This was a shock to me too, but apparently the "natural" flavoring in vanilla ice cream actually comes from a beaver's butt, and I wish I was joking. Castoreum is a fragrant, brown slime that comes out of a beaver's behind to mark its territory. Food scientists use it to give things a vanilla scent, including ice cream.
Since the product is all-natural, and there's no harm in eating it, the FDA ruled that manufacturers don't have to list it on their ingredients.
2. Refried Beans
Traditional refried beans that are served at Mexican restaurants are made with lard, otherwise known as pork fat. That's definitely not vegetarian. The good news is, you can easily find out if the one's your about to eat have lard in them: read the label or ask your server!
3. Parmesan Cheese
This one shocked me when I first found out. In order to coagulate the milk into curds and whey, cheese makers use an enzyme called rennet, which comes from the stomachs of young lambs and calves.
It used to be that all hard cheeses used rennet, but Sue Sturman, director of the Academie Opus Caseus cheese academy, said that 95% of American-made cheese is now made with Fermentation Produced Chymosin (FPC), a vegetarian, kosher, and halal ingredient.
However, because the recipe for Parmigiano-Reggiano is protected by European law, it still uses rennet.
4. Caesar Salad
More specifically, the Caesar dressing. Most of the saltiness and tang from the creamy sauce comes from anchovies. Though anchovies are a traditional ingredient, there are recipes now that don't include them, meaning vegetarians don't have to give it up!
Another total shock to me, but processed bagels (I.E. not ones made in a bakery) contain enzyme L. Cysteine, a “dough conditioner” sourced from duck and chicken feathers. Dunkin' Donuts has admitted to using this enzyme in their bagels, which you'd think would be enough to turn me away, but it's not.
Pizza Hut also uses the enzyme in their garlic bread, while McDonald's uses it in their cinnamon rolls and apple pies.
6. Red Candies
That vibrant red color comes from carmine, a pigment extracted from the female Dactylopius coccus Costa insect (aka a beetle). Natural Red #4 is what you should be looking out for if you want to avoid this.
Low-fat and non-fat yogurt need something to keep it sturdy and not a liquid mess. That's where gelatin comes in. In case you didn't know gelatin is made from the collagen in cow or pig bones, hooves, and connective tissues.
8. Guinness Beer
A lot of British-imported beer, and specifically Guinness, use something called "isinglass" as a clarifier. Isinglass is a gelatin found in the bladder of certain freshwater fish, so definitely not vegetarian.
9. BBQ Chips
Say it ain't so! BBQ chips often contain chicken or pork fat enzymes in order to add that authentic flavor. Animal fat is also used to boost the flavor of chips. Even if you're not eating BBQ flavor, it's possible you could be eating meat products.
"Most chips are fried in vegetable oil, but there are some fried in beef or chicken fat," says Carol Zamojcin, secretary at the Long Island Institute of Food Technologists.
Yes, everyone's favorite snack growing up isn't safe from meat products either. The iconic snack food contains beef fat, and it was even confirmed by Hostess that the food is not vegetarian. Beef fat has a longer shelf life than vegetable alternatives, so it makes sense why the company would use it.
In defense of Hostess though, it is listed on the ingredients.