Vegans must be careful when shopping to avoid hidden ingredients derived from or tested on animals. This alphabetical glossary list covers both food ingredients and ingredients commonly found in non-food items like medicines, personal care items, cleaning products, supplements, and vitamins.
Because food products are legally required to include an ingredient list, it’s generally easy to do your research on the spot and see if any of these terms pop up on the list. For all other products, you’ll probably want to do some research first to make sure what you’re buying is as expected.
When filling prescriptions at a pharmacy, you can ask the pharmacy technician if a dye-free or synthetic alternative is available. You can also discuss your situation with your doctor to see if the medication you need is available in a compounded form.
Compounded medications are made in the pharmacy rather than manufactured in a factory, which gives the pharmacist the ability to control which ingredients go into the medication. This can be a good strategy to stay on the medications you need to be healthy while also maintaining your commitment to vegan ethics.
It’s important to note that in many cases, ingredients that can be derived from animals often aren’t. This is mostly due to the relatively high cost of keeping livestock for the sole purpose of extracting chemical compounds, and indeed the cost and labor associated with that process, as compared with the synthetic creation of these chemicals in a laboratory setting or the use of botanical materials to extract the same substances.
For example, glucose is a sugar that is naturally abundant in the blood and tissues of all animals, including humans, but it can also be derived from corn or wheat. Due to farming subsidies and other logistics in both the United States and Europe, commercial glucose is almost always derived from cheaper plant sources rather than from animals.
There’s a lot of alarmist information out there that can really scare vegans
However, it’s important to apply common sense to avoid getting scared by false information. The modern industrial food, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries are motivated by profit, and the fact is that livestock management, even in the horrific conditions they experience in the factory farming industry, is not as cost-effective as using plant-based alternatives or synthesizing chemical compounds in a lab.
In many cases (but not all!), manufacturers will choose to use the botanical or synthetic option. This is not to say that you shouldn’t be vigilant; many animal-derived ingredients sneak into seemingly vegan products, and it’s important to educate yourself with accurate information.
When in doubt, do your research, stick with trusted brands, and be sure to look out for product labels with symbols and fine print certifying a product as vegan. You may see some of the ingredients on this list that are also on the ingredients list of a product certified as vegan. In those cases, you can research the certifying organization for reassurance that the form of the potentially animal-derived ingredient on the list is actually either synthetic or derived from plants.
This list covers some of the most common animal-derived ingredients and some more obscure or misleadingly labeled ingredients that vegans should either avoid entirely or carefully research to determine the exact origin.
Aioli: An emulsified sauce or condiment frequently made with egg yolks. In some cases, the sauce may be a mix of olive oil and garlic, which is vegan.
Albumen: Protein derived from egg whites and occasionally from blood. Most often used in foods.
Alcohols: Industrial alcohols such as aliphatic alcohol, fatty alcohols, cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, lauryl alcohol, oleyl alcohol etc. Though they can be derived from animal sources, most industrial alcohols are synthesized through the fermentation and processing of plants such as wheat, corn, and olives.
Fatty alcohols are usually sourced from vegetable oils, including coconut and canola. Most often used in beauty and personal care products as an emulsifier, foaming agent, or surfactant. See LANOLIN for exception.
Angora: A type of wool derived from rabbit fur. Can be spun into yarn to create knit fabrics.
Animal Hormones: Adrenaline, thyroid hormone T4, cortisol/hydrocortisone, and progesterone are all naturally occurring hormones found in many animals, including humans and livestock animals. These hormones are often available in synthetic form and may also be derived from plants. Used for medical applications, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs.
Ambergris: A traditional perfume scent derived from the digestive system of the sperm whale. Still used in some high-end perfumes, but the ingredient is very expensive and therefore not common. Synthetic versions have been developed as well. Products made and sold in the USA are legally barred from including this and other ingredients sourced from marine mammals, but products made in other countries may include this ingredient.
Amylase: An enzyme found in animal and human saliva. Can be used for medical and personal care products.
Aspic: A gelatin-based dish that uses stock made from fish, cow, pig, or chicken bones to create a jelly-like substance in which food is held together for presentation.
Bone Ash: A white powdered substance made from the refined ash of burned animal bones. Used as a food additive and as an anticaking agent for granulated foods such as salt and dried herbs or spices. Also known as bone phosphate of lime. Possibly also referred to as calcium phosphate or tribasic calcium phosphate, but these can also be synthetic.
Boneblack/Bone Charcoal: A black pigment extracted from burned animal bones. Often used for black tattoo inks. Vegan tattoo ink is available.
Bone Char/Natural Carbon: Charcoal made from animal bones used in the processing and filtration of a variety of foods and beverages, including refined white sugar and some liquors.
Bone Meal: A traditional organic fertilizer made from crushed animal bones. Because it is a source of calcium, it may be used in calcium supplements and multivitamins.
Calcium Silicate: A chemical compound used in a wide range of industrial practices, including the manufacturing of food and plant fertilizers. May be made from ingredients derived from animal bones.
Carmine: Also known as carmine cochineal, carminic acid, or Natural Red #4, carmine is a red dye made from insect shells. Found in some red, orange, purple or pink candy, juices, red-dyed pasta, wine and candles among other products.
Cashmere: A type of wool prized for its softness. Derived from the cashmere goat. Used for high-end clothing, accessories, and housewares.
Castoreum: A natural secretion from beaver and muskrat scent glands located near the base of the animal’s tail. Though once used as a flavoring and scent agent, it is rarely found in mass-produced commercial products though it may be used in specialty perfumes. NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH castor oil, a completely plant-based oil made from castor beans. Castor oil is vegan and is a widely used substitute for castoreum.
Chitosan: A chemical compound derived from the shells of shellfish such as crabs and shrimp and is used in a variety of different industrial contexts. It can be used as a pesticide for fruits and vegetables such as bananas and as a preservative in winemaking.
Civet Absolute: A perfuming and flavoring agent made from the musk of the civet cat. Civet cats are also used to create civet coffee; the animal first ingests the coffee beans, then excretes them. The musk transfer from excretion is considered a flavoring agent for the coffee.
Cod Liver Oil: A fatty oil extracted from the livers of codfish. Often used in dietary supplements or sold on its own as a supplement for essential fatty acids (EFA).
Collagen: A protein found in skin, cartilage, bone, and other animal bodily tissues. Found in many different food products that contain gelatin (see below) and in a variety of different beauty products. Also used as a dietary supplement for bone health.
Cysteine: Also known as L-cysteine, this amino acid is used in various manufacturing processes, including the production of commercial bread and dough products, and is sourced primarily from bird feathers and human hair. Can also be found in cigarettes. Synthetic versions are also available, but there is a large market for L-cysteine derived from human hair.
Disodium Isonate: A food additive that can be derived from animal sources or plants.
Down: A fine, delicate feather produced as an insulating base feather layer in birds. Used as a filling for pillows, blankets, comforters, jackets, vests and other warm garments and bedding items.
Elastin: An animal-derived ingredient that comes from connective tissues. Often combined with collagen in beauty products. Synthetic alternatives may be available.
Faux Pearl: An iridescent ingredient created by crushing pearly seashells. Used in makeup to create a shimmery effect.
Fish Scales: A common ingredient in makeup with shimmery or iridescent qualities. Scales are removed from fish and ground into powder to be mixed in with makeup such as lipstick or eyeshadow. Vegan makeup uses alternative ingredients such as minerals.
Gelatin: A coagulant and food thickener derived from animal bones, skin and other parts containing collagen. Gelatin is used to thicken and solidify a wide range of foods, including gummy bears, fruit-flavored jello, and marshmallows.
Ghee: Clarified butter. Created by heating butter and straining the solids. This dairy product is often used in Indian and other Southeast Asian cooking traditions.
Glycerides: A class of chemical compounds formed through the use of fatty acids. Monoglycerides and diglycerides used in commercially prepared food and personal care products may be made from fatty acids derived from animal sources. Plant-derived glycerides are also in use, but the distinction may not be made clear on product labels.
Glycerol: Also known as glycerine or glycerin, this colorless, odorless liquid is used as a sweetener in food products and can also be found in personal care products such as soap. There are some pharmaceutical applications as well.
Glycerol is derived from both animal and plant sources, and while it is possible to create synthetic glycerol, it’s most commonly used in its natural form. Products containing glycerol that don’t specify whether they’re vegan are best avoided.
Guanine: Also known as pearl essence when used in personal care and beauty products. Derived from various animal sources, including bird excrement.
Horseradish: A spicy paste made from the horseradish, a type of radish. Does not contain any horse, but when mixed with other ingredients such as mayonnaise, it may contain animal products.
India Ink: A common black ink used in painting and calligraphy that often uses non-vegan ingredients like ivory black and shellac.
Isinglass: A gelatin derived from fish. It’s commonly used to clarify beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages. Beers from the United Kingdom tend to be filtered with isinglass.
Ivory Black: A black pigment made from charred animal bones. Used to create black inks.
Keratin: A fibrous protein derived from animal hair, bones, hooves, nails, claws, shells, and beaks. Used in haircare and other beauty products.
Krab: Also known as crab sticks, imitation crab meat or krab sticks. This is a crabmeat substitute that uses both vegetable starch and pulverized fish meat to create what some believe is a vegetarian alternative to crab.
Lactic Acid: A naturally occurring acid that is found in animal muscles and dairy products. Can be used as a preservative or flavoring agent for foods such as pickles and sour candy.
Lactose: A sugar naturally derived from milk. Can be used as a flavoring agent in processed foods.
Lanolin: A waxy secretion that is produced by wooly mammals like sheep. Commonly used in beauty products and also used as a source of dietary vitamin D for some vitamin-D-fortified beverages and foods.
Lard: Pig fat. Often used as an ingredient or flavoring agent in foods such as baked goods or potato chips. May be included in refried beans and other seemingly vegan foods.
Leather: The tanned hides (skins) of various animals, including ostrich, alligator, snake, stingray, eel, cow, sheep and others. Used for clothing, accessories and some types of tools and industrial equipment. May be dyed bright colors. Vegan alternatives are available.
Lecithin: An emulsifier and hydrophobic repellant used to homogenize food mixtures and create nonstick coatings. Derived from several animal-based sources but also frequently extracted from plant sources as well. Soy lecithin is a particularly common ingredient and is more widely used than animal-derived lecithin.
Marabou: A type of feather taken from the marabou stork.
Mink Oil: An oily substance created through the rendering of mink fat that results from the fur industry. Used for a variety of personal care and cosmetic applications, including as a shoe polish and as an ingredient in some medications.
Musk: A glandular secretion sourced from a variety of animals, including deer and oxen. Used in colognes, perfumes and some food products. Synthetic alternatives are available.
Natural Flavor/Color: A catchall term for organically derived flavoring ingredients included in proportions that are not legally required to be disclosed in specific. This may include animal-derived substances such as broth or cheese. If in doubt, look into what specific ingredients are included in the product, look for vegan certification, or choose a different product.
Nondairy: Though the word implies an absence of dairy products, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows this label on foods that include a very small proportion of dairy ingredients. Do not assume that a product labeled as “nondairy” is vegan; read the ingredients list and other disclosures.
Oil Pastels: An artistic medium that’s often made through a combination of pigments and animal fat. Vegan options may be available.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid: An essential fatty acid that’s an important building block of health and wellness. Often derived from oily fish such as anchovies, salmon, and cod. Botanical sources such as avocadoes and nuts are abundant. Only fatty, oily foods contain omega-3 fatty acids; foods such as orange juice that is advertised as containing omega-3 are fortified with what may be animal-derived substances.
Oxgall/Ox Bile: A digestive fluid sourced from cows. Used as a wetting agent for artistic media and, rarely, beauty products. Watercolor paints in particular tend to use oxgall as an ingredient, though vegan options are available.
Panthenol: An alcohol form of vitamin B sourced from both plants and animals. Commonly used in beauty products and topical medical ointments for moisturizing and skin-penetrating properties. Products containing panthenol that don’t specify whether they’re vegan are best avoided.
Parchment: A type of paper made using animal skin. Mostly out of use now, animal-derived parchment is often seen in antique books and documents. Modern parchment paper is now primarily made from botanical sources such as wood cellulose.
Pearl: A natural gemstone produced by living animals such as mollusks (particularly oysters). Natural pearls are not vegan and are typically more expensive than their synthetic counterparts, which may be vegan.
Pepsin: A digestive enzyme sourced from animal stomachs. Can be used to make cheese and other homogenized foods.
Placenta: Also known as afterbirth, the placenta is connected to a mammal fetus through the umbilical cord. Human, cow, pig and other mammal fetuses are nourished in utero with this organ, which is expelled during birth. Can be found as an ingredient in haircare items and other beauty products.
Polypeptide: A polymer chain found in protein molecules that can be derived either from animal collagen (see collagen above) or vegetable oil sources, particularly coconut. Most often used in personal care products, particularly in shampoos and conditioners.
Propolis: Also known as bee glue. A naturally produced salivary resin that honeybees use to seal cracks in the hive. Used in supplements, vitamins and some naturopathic medications. Can also be used as a waxing agent for musical instruments and cars, or as an all-natural chewing gum ingredient.
Rennet: The lining of ruminant mammal’s stomach. Cow rennet is a common ingredient in cheese. Vegetable rennet is available.
Retinol: Also known as vitamin A1, the only natural sources of this essential vitamin are animal products such as eggs, dairy, and cod liver oil. Synthetic, vegan-friendly retinol is available and may be an important supplement for vegans as dietary retinol intake is not possible on a vegan diet. Retinol is also used in some beauty products.
Royal Jelly: A protein-rich nutrient substance secreted by worker honeybees to provide nutrition for the hive’s larvae and queen bee. Used as a medication in naturopathic settings, but its efficacy has been thoroughly disproven and it can even cause deadly allergic reactions.
Sable: The fur of the sable, a mammal in the marten species. Often used for brushes in both makeup and art.
Schmaltz: Chicken fat. This Yiddish word is often used instead of the words “chicken fat” in ingredients lists.
Sepia: A pigment that may use squid and other marine animal inks to get its dark brown color. Found most often in expensive sepia inks.
Shellac: Also known as confectioner’s glaze, shellac is an insect-derived resin that provides a shiny coating for candies. Any candy with a uniformly shiny, hard outer shell that looks glossy and polished probably uses shellac. This ingredient is also found in medications.
Silk: The fibrous material used by specific species of insect larvae to make cocoons. Used to create textiles and fibers for use in clothing, accessories, housewares and other products. Faux silk is available.
Sponge: A multicellular water-dwelling animal that can be harvested and used for household and bathing sponges. Look out for labels like “sea sponge” and “all-natural sponge.” Synthetic cellulose sponges and loofahs are a vegan alternative.
Squid Ink: The black defensive ink contained in ink sacs in marine cephalopod animals such as squid, cuttlefish, and octopi. Can be used as an ingredient in food, particularly in Italian and some Asian cuisines.
Stearic Acid: A fatty acid derived most commonly from animal fat. Shea butter and other botanical sources can also produce useable stearic acid. Most commonly used for personal care products such as soap, textile manufacturing and, in some cases, plaster casting. Stearic acid can also be found in some fireworks.
Suede: A type of leather made from animal hides. Faux suede and leather is available.
Suet: A hard animal fat found in the abdomens of sheep and cows. Can be used as a fat for deep frying. Used primary in traditional recipes from the United Kingdom, including haggis and spotted dick.
Tallow: Rendered suet. Can be used as a cooking ingredient or for a variety of other applications, including soapmaking and the production of biodiesel fuel.
Vellum: A translucent paper made from animal skin. Most commonly used for high-end book and artmaking, though it has mostly been replaced with more affordable paper, also called vellum, made from botanically-derived ingredients such as cellulose. Vegan alternatives are widely available, but you may want to check when purchasing vellum to make sure it’s vegan.
Vitamin B12: A vitamin with no known botanical sources. Used primarily for dietary supplements and multivitamins. Synthetic supplements are available and may be an important dietary supplement for vegans due to the fact that this vitamin is wholly absent from a plant-based diet.
Vitamin D: A class of fat-soluble vitamins vital for health in a number of areas ranging from bone density to mental health. Most D vitamins are available in a synthetic form, and foods supplemented with vitamin D tend to use the synthetic form. Vegans should avoid vitamin D3, which, in its all-natural form, is derived from animals such as fish or mammals.
Wax: A wide-ranging class of substances that can be animal-derived, botanical, or synthetic. Beeswax, which is made by bees and is not vegan. It is a common ingredient in all-natural foods, personal care products and other products, including some art supplies. Soy and other wax alternatives are available.
Whey: A high-protein byproduct of cheesemaking. Anything with “whey” in the name, including whey protein isolate, is a dairy product and therefore not vegan.
Wool: Textiles and other fabrics that use fur from sheep, alpacas and other animals. The fur is shaved from the animal while it is living and processed for use in the creation of clothing, housewares and other products.
Worcestershire Sauce: A savory sauce commonly used as a standalone condiment or added to salad dressings, sauces, and marinades. Most recipes for this ingredient include anchovies, a fish.