Over the years I have spent a good amount of time in grocery store aisles reading the back labels of products and asking myself “vegan or not vegan?”.  As I familiarized myself with products, ingredients, and brands I was able to significantly reduce my time spent in grocery stores. I do, however, remember how frustrating and sometimes lost I felt among those hard to pronounce ingredients and for anyone new to the diet I hope this list helps answer the ‘vegan or not vegan’ question.

Margarine. While margarine is not dairy-based, many brands contain whey or milk solids. When you really want to use margarine or vegan “butter” make sure to check the label. Your best option is Earth Balance which is derived from healthy oils, is non-hydrogenated, and always vegan.

Food Coloring– Although it is now rare, artificial food coloring can contain carmine (crushed  insects). I avoid artificial coloring all together. Many of it is tested on animals and all of it contain toxins we shouldn’t be eating. India Tree is a great natural decorating brand which I can personally recommend.

Jellies and Sugar Candies – Have a sweet tooth craving for candy? I know, it happens. Check out VegNews’ “Official Guide to Vegan Halloween Candy” for a full list of sugary, vegan sweets. On the other hand many candies you might assume are vegan may not be. Gelatin, Carmine, and Beeswax are just a few non-vegan ingredients that sneak their way into popular candy.

Dark Chocolate – Just because it’s not milk chocolate doesn’t mean there is no milk in your dark chocolate. Typically cheaper chocolate uses milk solids to finish the flavor where as fine chocolate relies on the quality of the cacao. Ghiradelli’s is a great brand of chocolate chips: quality chocolate and easier to find than vegan-marketed chocolate chips.

Mock Meat – When I was pregnant I started eating mock meats for the first time. Although the cravings for these have waned, I now understand why this product exists and learned a few things over nine months. Sadly and unwisely both MorningStar and Quorn have chosen to limit their markets to vegetarians with their uses of eggs. But there are many options, with more being created all the time. Check out the brands Gardein, Field Roast, Tofurky, and Boca (not all of Boca is vegan but their vegan variety is clearly labeled) to get your mock meat fix.

Sorbet vs Sherbert – True sorbet contains three ingredients: pureed fruit, sugar, and water. Sherbert consists of those ingredients plus dairy (and sometimes gelatin).  Therefore if you are looking for a sweet treat on a hot day, stay clear of the sherberts and head towards the sorbet. I need to point out here that sugar is often made un-vegan through the process of refining. If you choose to avoid refined sugar for that reason you may want to stay away from sorbet as well and go right to the Coconut Bliss “Ice Cream”.

Bread – Water, flour, yeast, and salt, right? Unfortunately, no. Grocery store bread shocks me.  The back of the plastic wrapped bread is filled with ingredients that have no place in your loaf of bread. If you are going to buy your bread at a grocery store, find a brand you trust and stick with it. Here in the Northwest we have Dave’s Killer Bread, an all natural, no preservatives, always vegan wholesale bakery with the best tasting sandwich bread.

Beer and Wine– This was a big shocker to me years back but a good one to learn early on. But don’t worry! While many breweries and wineries use non-vegan practices in their brewing process there are still plenty of drinks to choose from. Barnivore is a comprehensive vegan booze website where you will find it all.

Non-Dairy Creamer– Some people might find it odd that most non-dairy creamers do, in fact, contain milk derivatives (most often casein). Weird right? Silk has been making a vegan soy and coconut creamer for awhile, which I do not personally like, and have for years just drank regular soy milk in my coffee. Until last week when I discovered Wildwood’s Soymilk Creamer. Wow! Look for vegan creamers in the refrigerated area (usually in the dairy or health food sections) of your grocery store.

This is only the beginning of your trip down the grocery store aisles. What am I forgetting? What common foods do you mistake for vegan? What foods are you surprised to find out ARE vegan?