Growing demand for vegetarian foods dictates that foodservice directors increase their vegetarian knowledge to keep pace. Let’s delve into the intricacies of vegetarian ingredients, so you will be prepared for any vegetarian eventuality.
People are free to make choices when it comes to defining how “vegetarian” they are. In general:
A vegan refrains from eating meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, honey or refined sugar or any product that may be processed with animal products. There are many variations of vegan living: some vegans will eat honey and sugar, others won’t. The reason refined sugar, some wines and some vinegars are not vegan is not that they contain animal products, but can be processed with animal-containing products.
Vegetarians (formerly called lacto-ovo vegetarians) eat certain animal products, such as cheese, yogurt and eggs or egg dishes, but don’t eat any animal flesh. They also refrain from eating foods for which animals parts may be used, as in some gelatins (bone) or some cheeses (enzymes from animals).
Fruitarians and Raw Foodists are vegans who go a little further. Jains, or orthodox Hindus, are fruitarians. Their philosophical beliefs state that they should do as little harm on the earth as possible. This extends to their eating habits. They will not kill a plant to eat it. That eliminates onions, carrots and garlic, among others.
Fruitarians have evolved interesting cuisines that are very flavorful. Raw foodists believe that heating foods above 118°F destroys the natural health-giving properties contained in food. A raw foods pizza could consist of a sun-dried crust of sprouted wheat topped with sun-dried tomatoes, chopped garlic, shredded fresh basil and pine nuts.
Some items are always vegan, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, dried beans, frozen unsauced vegetables, and fresh or unsweetened canned juices. On behalf of your meat-avoiding customers, you’ll need to become a label reader, as dairy and meat ingredients sometimes can be hidden.
Some companies may make a vegetarian and a vegan version of the same product, like veggie burgers packaged with and without cheese. And you may assume some products don’t contain dairy products that, in fact, do. For example: do you know that sherbet generally contains milk or dairy products, but sorbet never does?
No sugar? Some vegetarians avoid refined sugar because its processing may involve a bone char filter. An activated carbon filter, sometimes made of bone-char, whitens sugar through an absorption process. While the bone char filter is used by some major sugar companies, it is not used to produce all refined sugar.
The two major ingredients in refined sugar produced in the United States are beet sugar and cane sugar. Cane sugar is mainly grown in Florida, California, Louisiana, Hawaii and Texas. Beet sugar is grown in states located in the middle part of the U.S. Much cane sugar is actually imported.
According to beet sugar producers, beet and cane sugars are nutritionally equivalent and one cannot usually taste any difference between them. They are both composed of sucrose.
Beet sugar refineries never use a bone-char filter in processing because it does not require an extensive whitening procedure. Beet sugar can be refined with a pressure lead filter and an ion exchange system.
Bones from cows are the only type used to make bone char. Bone is heated to an extremely high temperature, which results in a physical change in the bone’s composition. The bone becomes pure carbon before it is used in a refinery. Refined sugar does not contain any bone particles. The bone char removes impurities from the sugar, but does not become a part of the sugar.
Bone-charring: Individual pieces of bone char, like granular carbon, can be used for several years, but they must be continuously washed to remove the sugar deposits. Companies that use bone char claim that the char is more economically feasible and efficient than other types of filters.
Some labels on sugar packages suggest that the product is raw sugar, but all commercial sugar has undergone some refining. Genuine raw sugar cannot be bought and sold to the general consumer in the United States, according to FDA regulations, as it is considered unfit for human consumption.
Turbinado sugar is a product that is made by separating raw cane sugar crystals in a centrifuge and washing them with steam. Turbinado sugar does not pass through a bone char filter because its brown color is desirable. You may also find date palm sugar and other “fruit” sugars that have not been filtered. They have a slightly different taste, texture and absorbing ability. You’ll want to try out a small-batch recipe before using these sugars in large batches. Molasses is another alternative to refined sugar in some recipes.
Even the maple syrup? The process of making maple syrup requires an agent to reduce the foam on the syrup by adding a small amount of fat—traditionally lard—to the liquid. Previously, local producers would hang pork fat over a tub of maple syrup and let drops of fat drip into the syrup. Others used milk, cream or butter. If animal products are used in the form of lard or milk, the amount is minute. For example, eight to ten gallons of syrup will involve a quarter of a teaspoon of cream or a pea-sized drop of butter.
Vegetable oil is a common defoaming agent. It can be applied to the end of a wooden stick and dipped into the foaming part of the maple syrup. Most manufacturers of maple syrup now use vegetable oil or synthetic defoamers instead of lard. Some commercial defoamers contain monoglycerides and diglycerides (very popular preservatives). Glycerides can be obtained from meat or vegetable sources.
If your budget allows using pure maple syrup, you may want to ask the manufacturer if it contains any meat or dairy products. In the case of maple syrup, “manufactured” syrup, containing corn syrup, may be more acceptable to vegetarian clients than real maple syrup.
Red food coloring, frozen french fries and ready-to-use pie crust may contain animal products, as may many other items perceived as vegetarian. Read the label, talk to your customers and select the products which best meet everyone’s needs.
For an extensive list of foodservice products that are considered vegetarian, check out www.vrg.org. Distributors may have food lines that contain exclusively vegetarian and vegan products for foodservice, while some manufacturers offer vegan entrée and side dish items suitable for high-volume feeding.
The Ins and Outs of Vegetarian Label Reading
The following can help as you attempt to decipher if particular processed foods are vegetarian or vegan—or not:
Agar, guar gum Both are very traditional, vegan thickening agents. Agar (also known as agar-agar) is a vegetable gum obtained from seaweeds used to thicken foods. Guar gum is also a vegetable gum.
Calcium lactate Calcium lactate is typically vegan. It is generally fermented from corn starch or beets.
Casein Casein is a milk derivative sometimes used to improve texture in soy and rice cheeses, yogurt and sour cream. This means that some soy and rice products may be vegetarian, but not vegan.
Cochineal Some red food-coloring is made from the shell of the cochineal beetle. This can be labeled as cochineal, carmine, or carminic acid. Cochineal is not considered vegetarian.
Enyzmes Enzymes are proteins added to foods to enhance flavor or improve texture. They can be animal, vegetable, bacterial, or plant-based.Those used in cheese-making are often animal-derived, so a vegetarian who eats cheese may still not eat brands of cheese made with animal-based enzymes.
Examples of enzymes are: lactase, lipase (animal, or plant), papain (vegetable), pectinase (fruit), protease (animal, vegetable, bacterial, or plant), rennet (animal), and trypsin (animal).
French fries Most commercial french fries are blanched prior to freezing. Blanching may be done in animal fat.
Gluten Gluten is a mixture of proteins from wheat flour, and is a vegan product. It may also be called wheat gluten or seitan.
Kosher gelatin Kosher gelatin can be made with fish or beef bones. This means that it is not vegetarian.
Lecithin Lecithin is naturally found in egg yolks, dairy products and meat, and some vegetables such as soybeans, peanuts and corn. Lecithin is commonly used in foods that require emulsification or blending.
Nowadays, most manufacturers use soy or corn as a basis forlecithin product, so it can be considered vegetarian.
Mono-/diglycerides Monoglycerides and diglycerides are common food additives used as emulsifiers and/or preservatives. The commercial source may be either animal (cow- or pork-derived) or vegetable, or they may be synthesized in a food laboratory. They are often found in bakery products, beverages, ice cream, chewing gum, shortening, whipped toppings, margarine and confections.
Natural flavors “Natural” does not equal “vegetarian.” Natural only means that ingredients are derived from unprocessed products, such as herbs, spices, eggs, dairy, meat or fish.
Red food-coloring FD & C Red #40, the most popular red food dye, is made from coal tar derivatives and is considered vegetarian.
Sodium stearoyl An animal-mineral (cow or hog- or milk-based), or vegetable-mineral compound.
Lactylate This is a common food additive, used to condition dough or as an emulsifier in salad dressings, that may be derived from an animal-mineral or vegetable-mineral compound.
Stearic acid Stearic is used as a binder or flavor agent in foods. Its source may be either animal or vegetable. It is found in vegetable and animal oils, animal fats, cascarilla bark extract, and in synthetic form. It is used in butter flavoring, vanilla flavoring, chewing gum and candy, fruit waxes, and may not be vegetarian.
Whey Whey is the liquid that remains after most of the protein and fat has been removed from milk during the cheese-making process. It is also the liquid that rises to the top of yogurt. Whey is vegetarian but not vegan.