Discover 19 everyday foods that are accidentally vegan as well as those specifically designed for a vegan diet.
When you first give a vegan diet a go, every supermarket shop can feel like a bit of a minefield! You’ll find milk powder here…egg glaze over there… and spend a lot of time (at first!) reading labels.
It’s useful to do your research into which foods are naturally vegan or ‘accidentally' vegan, so you always have some go-to’s to throw in your trolley.
Not forgetting all those delicious foods made specifically for vegans.
We want to help!
That’s why we have written this guide to help you have a better understanding of which foods are naturally vegan, accidentally vegan, as well as big no-no’s in the vegan food world.
What does being vegan mean?
Here is The Vegan Society’s definition of veganism:
"Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."1
What do vegans eat and what foods are vegan?
Lots of things! The vegan diet no longer has to mean grim-looking dried soya products and having to order chips and salad at the pub…
The internet is full of delicious vegan recipes and more and more people are adopting this diet, so you have more inspiration everywhere you look.
Not to mention the influx of vegan meat alternatives, dairy alternatives and other goodies that you can find in most supermarkets now.
A vegan diet nowadays has no excuse to be dull.
Like with any healthy balanced diet, fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains should make up the majority of what you eat.
Thankfully, most of these foods are naturally vegan, so if anything, you are encouraged to eat them even more.
Are all fruit and vegetables vegan?
This may seem like a silly question, of course, fruits and veggies are safe for vegans to eat, right?
Well, for the most part: yes, the vast majority of fruits and vegetables are vegan-friendly, but there are (sadly) some exceptions, like preservatives, that make them questionable.
The following fruits and veggies are not ‘technically’ vegan – but most people do still consider them vegan.
It depends how ‘strict’ you are adhering to your vegan diet if you choose to eat them or not – the jury is out (!)
Are all fruits vegan?
Most fruits are vegan, but watch out for the following few which sometimes are not:
Bananas: may contain crab sell and shrimp
It’s far too cold to grow bananas here in the UK, so our fave yellow fruit has to travel a fair distance to get to us.
And what is keeping a lot of them fresh in transit and on shop shelves?
A preservative called chitosan, which is unfortunately extracted from crustacean shells, e.g. crabs and prawns.
What can you do? Bananas are vegan.
But if the thought of crustacean shell preservatives are putting you off then opt for organic fruit that doesn’t get exposed to preservatives or contact the supplier to see if they can help you.
Figs: contains dead wasps
Are figs vegan? Yes, but it’s a weird – and pretty gross - one!
Some figs require a female wasp to die inside of them to be pollinated.
She enters the fig to lay her eggs, but then cannot escape, dies, and gets broken down in the fig by enzymes.
However, figs wouldn’t be able to pollinate without killing the female wasps, but the female wasp needs this fateful end just as much as the fig: to lay her precious eggs.
This dependence the two organisms have on each other is known as a symbiotic relationship – so this completely natural process is more than often considered vegan.
Fruit juice: may contain animal-derived nutrients
Yep, that’s right, your favourite juice may not be (vegan) safe!
Some fruit juice manufacturers like to enrich their drinks with extra vitamins and other nutrients – which sounds good until you realise that some of these are animal-derived.
Common examples of this include vitamin D, which is sometimes extracted from sheep’s wool and omega-3 oils which can come from fish.
What can you do? Don’t worry, you’ve got lots of options to avoid weird animal-product laden fruit juice, like:
- Check labels and go for 100% fruit juices
- Shop from vegan-certified companies
- Get yourself a juicer and make your own
Are all vegetables vegan?
Most vegetables are vegan in their pure form (not pre-cooked or processed), but watch out for the following instances where they may not be.
Roast and mashed vegetables: may contain dairy or animal fat
Sometimes it’s nice and convenient to buy frozen roast potatoes, ready-made mashed potatoes, frozen roasted carrots and parsnips, etc.
However, these tasty treats often have added animal products, like cream in mash or goose-fat-glazed roasties.
What can you do?
- Check labels for non-vegan ingredients
- Ask restaurant staff when eating out if it's not clear on the menu
- Make your own
Is pasta vegan?
It totally depends. Some traditional pasta recipes contain eggs, some don’t.
If you’re standing in front of the pasta shelf in the supermarket, chances are that you will find a vegan-friendly dried pasta – it may not necessarily be labelled so (perhaps just vegetarian), just make sure you check the label for eggs, dairy and meat.
The fridge section may tell a different story, however.
A lot of fresh pasta in the UK tends to be made with egg or filled with cheese and meat, so feel free to check, but not many brands will be vegan.
Restaurants should specify on the menu if their pasta dishes are vegan-friendly, but if it doesn’t say, it doesn’t hurt to ask if the pasta contains dairy, egg, meat, etc.
Pasta with tomato sauce was a long-standing ‘emergency vegan meal’ in pubs and restaurants when we didn’t have the impressive amount of options we have today.
If you’ve got the time, and the patience (!), there are lots of fresh vegan pasta recipes online you could give a go if you’re craving fresh pasta.
Is bread vegan?
Generally, yes; we can hear your sighs of relief from here!
Traditionally, bread is made with flour, water, salt and yeast, all of which are vegan.
Yeast can be a bit of a confusing one because technically it is alive, but only in the same way as other fungi.
So, as a vegan, if you’re ok with eating mushrooms, you should be ok with eating yeast.
However, some bread may also contain the addition of animal products, like:
- Butter: some garlic bread, flatbreads, sweet bread products, etc.
- Eggs: some Jewish bread like Challah and the French brioche, or commercial loaves of bread as stabilisers and fillers
- Lecithin: can be made from soybeans, plants, or eggs, so make sure you check your load
- Casein or whey (milk proteins): sometimes added to bread to give it more protein and shelf life
- Honey: added as a flavouring to some sweetbreads
- Sugar: some refined sugar is made with bone char – although this is a very American thing and not prevalent in the UK so you should be ok
- Milk & cream: check for dairy products in your bread
- Buttermilk: found in some Irish soda bread and other speciality bread
- L-Cysteine: this once common bread addition is now very rare in the UK, but keep your eye out for it as it's made from animal products like pig hair, duck feathers, or even human skin (eek!)
Vegan bread: Can I eat bread on a vegan diet?
Here we talk vegan bread and what common bread ingredients could catch you out.
Vegan bread: Can I eat bread on a vegan diet?
Is cereal vegan?
Again, as with most processed products, it totally depends on the recipe, but a lot of classic cereal brands are accidentally vegan.
Just like fruit juice, cereals are often fortified with vitamin D and other nutrients that may be derived from animals, so you must check the labels for those, as well as milk powder, etc.
Foods that you thought are vegan but aren’t
Just before we get onto the foods that are naturally vegan, here are some foods you may have been lead to believe are vegan but are actually not vegan at all:
- Honey: Honey isn’t vegan because bees make it (it’s essentially bee spit!) and it is meant to provide food to them and their hive. Taking it from these hardworking little creatures and eating it is not classed as vegan.
- Gluten-free food: sometimes new vegans can get handed a ‘gluten free’ menu when they state they are vegan in a restaurant because, for some reason, some people think it’s the same thing. Similarly, it’s easy to get caught out in the ‘free from’ isle by choosing a product that is gluten-free, for example, but not dairy, egg or even meat-free.
- Fish: we’re sure we don’t have to tell you this, but fish is not vegan, however many times you may get asked ‘do you eat fish’? when telling someone you are vegan or vegetarian.
- Gummy sweets: a lot of gummy sweets contain gelatine – a substance made from animal cartilage – mmm! You can find vegan gummy sweets though, so keep your eye out!
- Crisps: milk powder can sneak its way into a lot of unlikely foods, like some salt and vinegar crisps and other flavours, so always check the label
- Pesto: although it may look very green and vegan-friendly, pesto often contains parmesan, which is not only a big vegan no-no, but is not even suitable for vegetarians due to it containing rennet. You can find vegan pesto, though.
- Sauces and condiments: some innocent-looking sauces and condiments may contain animal products. For example, some soy sauces contain fish sauce and some BBQ sauces contain honey.
Are there any accidentally vegan foods?
Yes, in fact, most foods you will eat following a vegan diet will be what’s know as ‘accidentally vegan.
This means that while the foods may not be labelled or sold as vegan friendly, they still have a very valid place in a vegan diet.
19 foods that are vegan
In this list, we will cover foods that are both accidentally vegan and those designed specifically for vegans.
Naturally vegan foods
Now, let's get on to some naturally vegan foods you can get your teeth stuck into!
Even the most stubborn of meat-eaters and veg haters will likely eat some naturally and accidentally everyday vegan foods without noticing; hello beans on toast…
Here’s our round-up of some of the best accidentally vegan foods– and they might actually surprise you:
No need to give it up to go vegan – just choose dark chocolate or other vegan chocolate instead.
Whether you want some chocolatey goodness for baking or a treat to nibble on, dark chocolate could be a better choice all around.
In fact, a lot of baking chocolate is accidentally vegan as a higher cocoa content is better for brownies, cookies and other chocolate bakes.
Unlike milk chocolate, dark chocolate is more likely to be dairy-free, made using cocoa butter and cocoa solids.
Read the label before you buy – whey, a dairy ingredient, may be included in the list of some bars.
These savoury biscuits are almost always naturally vegan, containing no dairy, honey or other animal products.
Spread your no-dairy cheese, chocolate spread or nut butter on them guilt-free.
Some brands of crisps are completely vegan, but not all, so it might help to know that quinoa crisps tick both vegetarian and vegan boxes.
Grab a bag for a lunchbox or party snack, and don’t be turned off by a ‘dairy’ flavour: sour cream flavouring is often made using vegan ingredients, like rice flour and yeast extract powder.
If you’re looking to add more high protein vegan foods to your diet. then sprinkle sea vegetables into salads or stir into soups for a rich umami flavour.
Of course, because it’s a vegetable, it’s completely vegan food, too.4
Don’t get put off by the word butter!
Nut butters are a very tasty and often very vegan exception to the butter rule.
Salt and oil are the only ingredients that might be added to turn nuts into high-quality nut butter – which means that your favourite peanut butter or almond butter is more than likely also vegan.
Some cheaper brands of nut butter add sugar, sweeteners and sometimes even milk powder, so always check the label and make sure you’re buying the high-quality stuff!
Nut butters, especially peanut butter, can be seen in lots of vegan cooking and baking, here’s some inspo:
- Vegan peanut tofu poke bowl
- Pumpkin spiced almond butter cups
- Vegan peanut butter & banana oat muffins
- Vegan coconut & almond butter slices
- Cacao, oats & peanut butter bites
Or just simply serve on wholemeal toast or bagels
Looking for a healthy, vegan breakfast?
You could already be eating it! Most muesli is accidentally vegan, containing just grains – like oats, malted barley and wheat flakes – plus dried fruit, nuts and seeds.
Make sure you read the label – skimmed milk powder is included in some Swiss-style mueslis, while honey is found in others.
This yeast is a vegan store cupboard staple, giving a cheesy, nutty flavour to bakes, and a depth to soups, stews and casseroles.
Tomato-based pasta sauce
No meat, fish or dairy in your bolognese sauce? That makes it vegan! Tomato-based pasta sauces are rich in vitamin C and also vitamin K.7
Layer into a batch-cook bake, or simply stir into pasta. No time to make it? Grab a store-bought jar instead.
Wheat and rice noodles
Want to enjoy some tasty Chinese, Japanese, Thai or other Asian-inspired noodle dishes but used to using traditional egg noodles?
Try using equally traditional rice noodles or yummy wheat noodles in your wok instead!
Rice noodles are incredibly light and make a mean vermicelli chow mein, stir fry, noodle salad and more.
Other rice noodle benefits include:
- Naturally gluten free
- Easy to prepare
- Taste good hot and cold
There are lots of other vegan noodles too you can give a go, read about them here and how you can make your own.
Vegan bread, e.g. ciabatta bread
Lots of bread is naturally vegan, but if you ever don’t have access to product information, you should always be able to rely on a ciabatta!
This light, fluffy and delightfully crispy Italian bread is traditionally made with just flour, yeast and salt, so it really has no excuse to not be vegan – unless someone has made it wrong.
The only exception should be ciabatta al latte – which does contain milk.
Use this delish Italian favourite to make tomato and herb bruschetta, avocado on toast, homemade garlic bread, and more.
You can find both specifically made vegan cakes as well as accidentally vegan cakes in most supermarkets.
The main non-vegan culprits in cakes are butter and eggs, but they can be replaced to make equally tasty vegan cakes.
Vegetable oil, coconut oil or other plant-based fats like avocado are usually used to replace butter. There are lots of vegan egg substitutes too, like:
- Chia seeds
- Aquafaba (the water from chickpea cans)
Look out for ‘pie’ type desserts and strudels, as they can sometimes be accidentally vegan.
Cheese is something a lot of non-vegans struggle to give up, and we get it, cheese is pretty addictive.
However, now there are lots of different vegan cheeses on the market, so there’s bound to be one out there to tickle your fancy!
Try adding vegan mozzarella to pizzas or sprinkling a vegan parmesan alternative over your pasta.
You can also easily make your own vegan cheese with soaked cashews if you have a good food processer.
Life is much sweeter when you can munch on some vegan sweets!
The sweet aisle was once a bit of a no-go for vegans, but now there are lots of choices for you.
Even some of the big brands like Rowntree’s have tweaked the recipes and marked some of their best sellers as vegan friendly.
If in doubt, scan the ingredients label for the following non-vegan ingredients:
- E120 (carmine) a red food colouring made from bugs
Looking for something to butter your toast and make your sandwiches?
Luckily, there are quite a few brands of margarine that are 100% vegan – check the labels.
There are even blocks of vegan butter you can buy if you really miss the real deal or need it for baking.
Potatoes, oil, seasoning…what could be not vegan about that?
Well, it’s usually the seasonings and flavourings added to our beloved crisps that make them non-vegan.
The ‘safe’ flavour tends to be ready salted, but it really depends on the brand.
You can even find meat flavoured crisps that are accidentally vegan, as well as ‘sheese and onion’ flavours.
Make sure to check for milk and non-vegetarian flavours when you’re in the crisp aisle.
We all love sandwiches, and going vegan shouldn’t be a reason to go without.
With the right fillings, you can make truly beautiful sandwiches full of flavour.
You can go fully plant-based with ‘chickpea tuna’ or classic avocado, or go for vegan alternatives to sandwich meat like ham, chicken and pastrami – you should find these in large supermarkets and health food stores.
Soups are a great way to get lots of veggies in, and as long as you avoid dairy ingredients like cream and milk powder, a lot of soups are naturally vegan.
Soya, almond, coconut… you really have a lot of choice when it comes to vegan yoghurts now a days. You can either go for a big pot or get those little snack-sized ones for kids.
Vegan cereal bars
Cereal bars are great for grabbing on the go, and a lot of them are a great alternative to that bar of chocolate or packet of crisps you usually reach for when peckish.
As usual, the most common ingredient you should look out for is dairy (milk powder, etc) and another common addition to vegan cereal bars is honey.
We hope this helps you understand:
- Foods that are vegan naturally
- Foods you may think are vegan, but are not
- Foods are ‘accidently’ vegan
- The foods you can expect to eat on a vegan diet
- The variety and range of vegan food that’s available today and where to find it
Remember, transitioning from a vegan diet is always going to be a little (or a lot) confusing at first.
However, once you learn what you can and can’t eat and veganism becomes a habit for you, you will quickly reap the benefits of this varied diet.
You also asked...
We have listed quite a lot of vegan snacks above, but here’s a list of some of vegan snacks you can enjoy:
- Rice cakes
- Nut butters
- Cereal bars
- Breakfast cereal
Plenty! As we have discussed above, there are vegan alternatives to pretty much whatever you want, especially when it comes to treats.
The next time you’re at the supermarket, look out for vegan cakes, ice cream and other treats in the sundry, fresh and frozen sections.
However, if you really want to push the boat out and treat yourself go to specialised vegan bakeries or find vegan businesses online that can make personalised cakes and other goodies for you.
Yes, it definitely does, but you’re probably going to have the give the restaurant a bit of a grilling depending on what cuisine you go for.
While there are fully vegan takeaways or those with special vegan menus (woohoo!), these can seem few and far between.
However, most Asian takeaways already make a lot of accidentally vegan dishes, like beancurd (tofu) in Chinese restaurants or vegetable curries in Indian restaurants.
Don’t be scared to give them a call and see if they can sort something out for you without dairy or any animal products like meat stock, fish sauce, etc.
If you’re planning a party where all or some of the guests are vegan, you don’t need to worry as there are lots of vegan party foods you can choose from, including:
- Vegetable spring rolls / samosas (check for dairy and eggs)
- Cocktail ‘sausages’
- Other meat alternatives like sausage rolls and scotch ‘eggs’
- Vegetable crudites
- Vegan sushi
- Pitta bread and hummus
- Nachos, guacamole and salsa
- Vegetable chilli
- Vegetable curry
A balanced vegan diet can be just as healthy as a ‘regular’ omnivorous diet as long as you’re getting all the right nutrients that people get from animal products, e.g., vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
If you go vegan and increase the amount of fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, you may notice some extra bloating, farting and other digestive issues. But this should calm down once your body gets used to it.
Yes, anyone can follow a vegan diet if they pay attention to getting all the nutrients they may need to ‘watch’ when going vegan, like vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
However, if you have pre-existing medical issues, it may be worth consulting your doctor before going full vegan as you may be taking medications that affect this or need some supplemental help.
Yes, it is generally advised that vegans take a multivitamin or at the very least a vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega-3 supplement.
You can be healthy without these supplements, but your diet will need to be very ‘on point’ and some of us don’t have the time or energy for that.
Last updated: 29 September 2021