I found the graphic online and can’t figure out who created it. Google “8 foods you didn’t know contained meat” and you’ll find 4,290 websites with this image, or a variation thereof. Ick, right? I think that title is deliberately provocative and more than a bit misleading. Supposedly all these products contain meat? How accurate is this really?

meat in food

 Yes, I’ve been nosing around. Here’s what I found out:

Barbeque flavor baked Lay’s
True. The company states that on the label that chicken is one of the “natural ingredients.”

Worcestershire sauce
The label of Lea & Perrins clearly states it contains anchovies. Worchestershire sauce is based on fermented fish sauces that date back to the ancient Roman times, so it’s actually an essential ingredient, although there are vegan versions available.

Have you ever made soup out of a whole raw chicken? Stuck in in a pot, simmered it maybe a bit too long along the way, cooled it and popped it in the fridge – and the next day was surprised to find your lovely chicken soup looks like a wriggling bowl of Jello?

This is because of gelatin.

Gelatin is a gelling agent made of collagen. Collagen is a protein that is the main component of animals’ connective tissue – all those bones and cartilage and stuff holding us and them together. Any food, snack, or treat that lists gelatin as an ingredient contains the animal product. So stop picking on Altoids, anonymous chart creators, most gummy treats, marshmallows, many jellies and puddings, some yogurts and ice creams – and don’t forget about medications that have gel caps – contain gelatin. Plus, gelatin is not a hidden ingredient; just read the label to find out if it’s in the product in question.

Gelatin is definitely not vegetarian but also definitely not meat. If you even see “vegetarian gelatin,” it is probably agar.

Minute Maid Orange Juice fortified with vitamin D3
This is trickier. The Canadian version of the Minute Maid website lists cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3) as an ingredient. The US version says simply Vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 added to foods as cholecalciferol does come from the lanolin that is combed out from from sheep’s wool and is often used in body care products. It’s vegetarian but not vegan and definitely not meat.

Parmesan cheese and Velveeta
Rennet is the issue here, and it’s absolutely not fair to pick on parmesan and Velveeta. Rennet is an enzyme that has been used since the beginning of cheese-making time; it’s a coagulant that separates the curds from the whey. Rennet traditionally comes from the stomach lining of calves – you knew this already, right? no? – and gives tasty and consistent results. But vegetable rennet substitutes are readily available and is a common substitute for animal rennet, as is microbial rennet, a product of fermented molds. There is actually such a monster as genetically engineered rennet, which is plant enzyme injected with cow genes.

The FDA does not require rennet source be labeled, so unless the manufacturer offers the information, you won’t know. If you are following a vegetarian diet, you can find and safely eat both kosher and rennetless cheeses – they are easy to find. Also, Trader Joe’s thoughtfully offers this breakdown of rennet sources for their different cheeses.

Traditional rennet is neither vegetarian nor vegan, but it’s certainly not meat.

Purple Smarties
The red dye that comes from beetles is called carmine, and it’s made from the beetle-like insect the cochineal. At some point in the recent past this information was hidden by calling carmine Red 4, but as of January 5, 2011, the FDA began requiring all dyes made from carmine to be labeled as such. Title 21, Chapter 1,  Subchapter A, Part 73, Subpart A, section 73.100 of the Code of Federal Regulations states that:

The label of food products intended for human use, including butter, cheese, and ice cream, that contain cochineal extract or carmine shall specifically declare the presence of the color additive by listing its respective common or usual name, “cochineal extract” or “carmine,” in the statement of ingredients in accordance with 101.4 of this chapter.

So what about Smarties? The dyes listed as ingredients on the package are “Red 40 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Blue 2 Lake.” No carmine or cochineal in the bunch. Busted. So you don’t have to worry about eating a couple of bugs – you’ve got a nice, pure petrochemical dye instead. Yes –  lakes are VERY common food color additives that “are synthesized mainly from raw materials obtained from petroleum.

Plus, they have a page on their blog talking about the fact that Smarties are vegan candy. You are safe from insects, but Smarties also contain “natural flavors,” which can still hide surprises. It’s been known to happen.

Isinglass is one I’d never heard of before. It’s a gelatin-like substance that comes from swim bladders of certain fish; it’s approved by the UK for the use in stout production. It’s a clarifying agant, acting as a magnet to remove excess yeast from the brew. Isinglass is not an ingredient, although there may be traces left after bottling; a company service agent writes , “Its sole purpose is as a fining agent to help remove yeast from our beer, while we accept that some minor traces of isinglass may subsequently remain in the finished product.”

Isinglass in not used by Moosehead brewery in Canada in the production of Guiness Extra Stout – North America.