Plant Based Food

A Guide to Knowing Your Labels | Veganuary

When I first went vegan, labels on food was a real problem, I struggled to understand half the E numbers and all the alternative names for an ingredient such as carmine, cochineal, and E120 – these 3 all mean red food colouring from crushed beetles. Therefore reading labels can get really confusing. Here is a list of all the things you could need to understand when knowing your labels.

What makes a food or product suitable for vegans?

It must not contain animal products or by-products, and it must not be tested on animals.
Any unprocessed plant food is vegan, this includes fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes.

Ingredients to avoid

  • Albumen/ Albumin (egg)
  • Beeswax (made from the honey of bees typically found in lipsticks, candles, crayons and mascaras)
  • Casein (protein from milk)
  • Carmine / Cochineal / E120 (crushed female cochineal beetles; typically used at red food colouring)
  • Cod Liver Oil 
  • Collagen (skin, bones and tissue of animals typically found in cosmetics)
  • Elastin (similar to collagen)
  • Gelatine (boiled skin, tendons, ligaments and bones of animals typically found in jelly, sweets and coating vitamin supplements)
  • Honey
  • Isinglass (dried swim bladders of fish used in the process of making wine and beer; this is not usually mentioned on the label, check out Barnivore to find clarification as to which brands do not use this method.)
  • Keratin (from the skin, bones and tissue of animals found in hair care products)
  • Lactose (a sugar from cow milk)
  • Lanolin / E913 (extracted from sheep wool found in skin care products)
  • Lard / tallow (animal fat; butter)
  • Pepsin (obtained from the stomach of pigs and used as a clotting agent in many vitamin supplements
  • Royal jelly (similar to honey – from the throat gland of honeybees)
  • Shellac (a resin secreted by the female lac bug used in brush-on colorant, food glaze and wood finish)
  • Vitamin D3 (derived from either fish oil or sheep’s lanolin)
  • Whey (the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is a by-product of the manufacture of cheese and is used in protein powders, crisps, bread, chocolate, etc.)

Vegan ingredients you may be unfamiliar with

  • Agar-Agar (A vegetable gum obtained from seaweeds and used to thicken foods)
  • Aquafaba (liquid in your canned chickpeas used to create meringue, vegan mayonnaise, mousses or egg replacer in baking)
  • Beans and legumes (they are plant based, low in saturated fat and sodium and very good sources of protein.   used in brownies, lentil daal, pesto or hummus)
  • Bioflavonoids (Natural substances which help maintain cardiovascular health and are commonly found in citrus fruits)
  • Cacao nibs (raw cocoa, used in baked goods as a chocolate chip replacement)
  • Candelilla wax (A wax derived from certain plants and used as a produce coating used in chewing gum)
  • Flaxseed (packed full of with fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids use as a breakfast topping, blend in with smoothies or as an egg replacement in baking)
  • Maple Syrup (alternative to honey,  delicious natural sweetener used in baking, salad dressings and glazes)
  • Molasses (A thick brown syrup which is a by-product of the sugar cane and sugar beet industries used in ice creams, medicines and sweets)
  • Nutritional Yeast (Inactivated yeast used as a source of protein and vitamins, used for flavouring and in vegan cheeses)
  • Tempeh (fermented soy beans, alternative to animal meat products used to make a vary of meals from ‘meat’ balls to vegan-fried fish and sandwich fillers)
  • Tofu (similar to tempeh, use extra firm tofu in stir frys, tofu-scrambles and many other creative meals, or simply add as an additional source of protein to your meal. Silken Tofu is softer and can be blended to make creamy dressings or desserts)

List of E numbers

You should be aware that if a product states ‘suitable for vegetarians’ – it should be suitable for your plant based diet however, we cannot always trust that as there are ingredients listed in the form of E-numbers, these for example ‘E120’ will be added in the ingredient section of the packaging and these E-numbers are always difficult to understand, and tough to figure out which of them are of animal origin.

Avoid –

E120 | E441 | E542 | E631 | E635 | E901 | E904 | E910 | E913 | E920 | E921 | E966

Suitable –

Food Colourings –

E100, E101, E101a, E102, E103, E104, E105, E106, E107, E110, E111, E121, E122, E123, E124, E125, E126, E127, E128, E129, E130, E131, E132, E133, E140, E141, E142, E143, E150a, E150b, E150c, E150d, E151, E152, E154, E155, E160a, E160b, E160c, E160d, E160e, E160f, E161a, E161b, E161c, E161d, E161e, E161f, E162, E163, E170, E171, E172, E173, E174, E175, E180, E181

Preservatives –

E200, E201, E202, E203, E210, E211, E212, E213, E214, E215, E216, E217, E218, E219, E220, E221, E222, E223, E224, E225, E226, E227, E228, E230, E231, E232, E233, E234, E235, E236, E237, E238, E239, E240, E242, E249, E250, E251, E260, E261, E262, E263, E264, E280, E281, E282, E283, E284, E285, E290, E296, E297

Antioxidants –

E300, E301, E302, E303, E304, E306, E307, E308, E309, E310, E311, E312, E315, E316, E317, E318, E319, E320, E321, E329, E330, E331, E332, E333, E334, E335, E336, E337, E338, E339, E340, E341, E343, E350, E351, E352, E353, E354, E355, E356, E357, E363, E365, E366, E367, E370, E375, E380, E381, E385, E400, E401, E402, E403, E404, E405, E406, E407, E407a, E410, E412, E413, E414, E415, E416, E417, E418, E420, E421, E425, E440, E444, E445, E450, E451, E452, E459, E460, E461, E462, E463, E464, E465, E466, E468, E469

Anti-caking agents –

E500, E501, E503, E504, E507, E508, E509, E510, E511, E512, E513, E517, E518, E519, E520, E521, E522, E523, E524, E525, E526, E527, E528, E529, E530, E535, E536, E538, E540, E541, E543, E544, E545, E550, E551, E552, E553b, E554, E555, E556, E558, E559, E574, E575, E576, E577, E578, E579

Flavour enhancers –

E620, E621, E622, E623, E624, E625, E626, E628, E629, E630, E632, E633, E634, E636, E637

E900, E902, E903, E905, E905a, E905b, E905c, E906, E907, E908, E912, E914, E915, E922, E923, E924, E925, E926, E927, E297b, E928, E930, E938, E939, E940, E941, E942, E943a, E943b, E944, E948, E949, E950, E951, E952, E953, E954, E955, E957, E959, E965, E967, E999

Labels are tricky, but don’t let them get the better of you. Always look for the allergens listed in bold ‘may contain milk, honey, eggs’, watch out for E numbers, use sites such as barnivore to check which brands are vegan and don’t punish yourself if you slip up: it’s a journey and you will more than likely have a few hiccups but never give in because of it. Write a list of ingredients you need to remember to avoid or simply refer back to this article for help.

Read more: Vegan takeaway guide | vegan hair dye


  1. Dani Jones

    January 2, 2018 at 8:33 AM

    I’m not doing veganuary this year but I’m a vegetarian looking to make some more vegan decisions throughout the year and this is super helpful! Thank you for sharing

  2. Rosie

    January 2, 2018 at 12:28 PM

    This post is crazy helpful! I am going to try to ease myself gently into January and on a vegan journey!


    March 20, 2018 at 2:20 PM

    Excellent write-up. I absolutely appreciate this
    site. Thanks!

  4. Jed

    June 4, 2018 at 9:50 AM

    It works very well for me

  5. Darin

    June 9, 2018 at 11:03 AM

    It works really well for me

  6. Charolette

    August 18, 2018 at 1:56 AM

    Thanks for the great guide

  7. Helena

    August 29, 2018 at 2:43 PM

    This is actually helpful, thanks.

  8. Fiona

    August 30, 2018 at 11:20 PM

    It works quite well for me

  9. Hudson

    September 2, 2018 at 6:50 PM

    Thank you for the wonderful article

  10. Nicholas

    September 8, 2018 at 11:44 PM

    Thanks for the wonderful guide

  11. Nola

    September 17, 2018 at 8:33 AM

    Thank you for the excellent post

    1. sophie

      September 21, 2018 at 4:39 PM

      I’m happy you like it 🙂

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