7 E-numbers That Are Not Vegan

30 Jul 2020

@abillion profile image

woman in a grocery store looking at the camera

Ever stood in the grocery store confused by the string of ingredients on a product? You're not alone. Making sense of which ingredients are vegan and which aren't can be confusing, and we're here to offer some help when it comes to those hard-to-recognize "e" numbers.

So, what are e numbers?

E-numbers are codes used for food additives. They replace the chemical or common names of these additives in processed food and are used to enhance their taste, texture, or shelf life.

E-numbers can come from both plant-based and animal-derived sources. The list below doesn't mention e-numbers that are vegetarian (if they contain dairy/eggs) and the ones that can be derived from both plant and animal sources (so, depending upon the company producing it, it may or may not be vegan). This article only focusses on the numbers that are definitely not vegan. So, if you're shopping vegan, these numbers aren't your friends.

strawberry ice cream

See also: A guide to eco-labels so you don't get greenwashed

1. e120 (Carmine/Cochineal)

e120, also known as carmine or cochineal, is used to give a "pink" or "red" hue to food. You may find it in foods like cakes, ice cream, and yogurt. In 2011, the United States passed a law stating that manufacturers will have to mention e120 on their packaging if that is the ingredient they are using, instead of just writing "added color". This led to many companies changing their recipes and opting to use beetroot instead!

Cochineal is an insect that lives on cacti. They produce a rare carminic acid which helps them ward off predators (since they're quite small in size), the acid stops bigger insects from eating them). This acid is the source of the red color found in carmine. The bugs are ground, boiled, and the resultant solution is filtered to get e120. It takes over seventy thousand bugs to produce 1 pound of cochineal dye, and Peru, the world's biggest exporter, produces 200 tons of dye each year.

e120 is also a key ingredient in many beauty products, especially red lipsticks and nail paints.

2. e542

e542 is edible bone phosphate which comes from ground animal bones. Generally, it's added to powdered products to prevent it from forming lumps or to encourage suspension of one liquid into another. It's also added to various dietary supplements as a source of phosphorous and is used in various beauty products, especially toothpaste.


3. e901(Beeswax)

Beeswax is a polymer produced by bees. It's usually yellow in color [e901 (i)] or is dried or processed with hydrogen peroxide so that it becomes white [3901 (ii)]. It's usually found in food that has a distinct "honey" flavor or is used in chewing gums or as a coating or glazing agent.

See also: 7 brands creating tasty tipples from food waste

4. e904 (Shellac)

Shellac is derived from female lac bugs. These bugs are attracted to the bark of the Lac tree and they feed on it's sap. When the sap enters a female bug's body, it's chemically altered and is then exuded onto a branch of the tree, this is called "Sticklac". After the breeding season, sticklac is collected by the workers, and the crusty coating from the branches is collected and sent for processing. This coating is raw shellac and it contains the bugs and pieces of the bark, which is further processed to get e904.

Shellac is generally used as a glazing agent when coating pills and sweets. It's also used as a brush-on colorant in nail polish and furniture polish.


5. e913 (Lanolin)

Lanolin comes from the oil found on sheep's wool. Lanolin is found as a by-product of the wool industry. So, while the sheep aren't killed to procure lanolin, many sheep are kept in captivity for their wool. In order to ensure proper wool production, the sheep are genetically modified to produce thicker and longer wool, which means the sheep lose their natural capacity to shed. So, now the sheep have to be shorn manually.

Lanolin is usually found in chewing gum and is used as a food "softener". Sometimes, instead of being specifically mentioned in the ingredient list, lanolin can be mentioned vaguely as "gum base".

See also: 10 online thrift stores for sustainable fashion

6. e966 (Lactitol)

e966 or Lactitol has 40% of the sweetness of sugar. It is derived from an ingredient called Whey, which comes from cow's milk. In its natural form, this milk contains two types of protein: casein and whey. When the milk is heated in the cheese-making process, it gets split into curds and whey liquid. This liquid is further processed to obtain e966.

Lactitol is a sugar alcohol that's used as a sugar replacement in various commercially produced low-calorie food.

person holding medicines

7. e1105 (Lysozyme)

Lysozyme is derived from egg whites and helps prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms.

It's usually found in ready-made meals, infant formulas, pharmaceutical products, and is used to increase the shelf life of products like tofu and beancurd.

These are some of the ingredients used in processed food that aren't vegan. This isn't an exhaustive list. There are other ingredients that can be both plant-and animal-derived.

As more companies are embracing veganism, traditionally non-vegan ingredients are now being made with plant-based ingredients.

. . .

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@shradprads profile image
shradprads2 YEARS AGO
Wow this is an informative article. Thank you.
@varun profile image
varun2 YEARS AGO
Holy cow
@vegananu profile image
vegananu2 YEARS AGO
Very informative!
@amazinganne profile image
amazinganne2 YEARS AGO
Omg didnt know that. Now i have to check the labels for these. Thanks for sharing!
@eae profile image
Yuck. I’ve never even noticed “e-numbers”
@duniavegana profile image
duniavegana1 YEAR AGO
I'm astonished at so many uninformed vegans.
@ajdorse profile image
ajdorse2 YEARS AGO
I have to stop calling myself vegan because obviously I'm soooooooooo uninformed on so much! I went vegan for health reasons and people started basically attacking me but who knew that being vegan was so much more...
@hownowbrownkow profile image
hownowbrownkow2 YEARS AGO
@ajdorse Its definitely a journey and there are so many unknowns! I've been vegan for five years and I still mess up because companies make it so hard for us with their fine print
@veganviews profile image
veganviews2 YEARS AGO
I am so sorry to hear that people were behaving that way towards you and I want you to know that I am sending some healing energy your way. I think that every vegan choice we make is impactful and we are all learning.
@gracedocarmo profile image
gracedocarmo2 YEARS AGO
I’m surprised by the 1105. I have lists of all the numbers that I double check when I’m shopping and 1105, derived from mineral or vegetable sources it said, was on my vegan friendly list 😳😞
@abillion profile image
abillion2 YEARS AGO
Hey @gracedocarmo, thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, in the case of Lysozyme (E1105), it’s almost always derived from chicken egg whites, unless the company has explicitly said it’s of vegan origins, in which case it can be synthesized in a lab. So, if we see a product that contains e1105, it’s best to err on the side of caution and ask the company before buying
@vikas profile image
vikas2 YEARS AGO
I had no idea!
@ravi-gopalan profile image
ravi-gopalan2 YEARS AGO
Very useful info.. thanks
@marij profile image
marij2 YEARS AGO
Incredible information THANK YOU
@mollierosepowell profile image
mollierosepowell2 YEARS AGO
this is a very handy resource to have, thank you!
@sineadf profile image
sineadf2 YEARS AGO
I had no idea , thank you for the information !
@karoliinaahh profile image
karoliinaahh2 YEARS AGO
thank you !
@veganfarts69420 profile image
veganfarts694202 YEARS AGO
Damn- def gonna watch out for these next time i go shopping
@bigfatnyancat profile image
bigfatnyancat2 YEARS AGO
eww bugs
@emmaleigh profile image
emmaleigh2 YEARS AGO
This is so helpful!! Thank you
@yumi profile image
Thank you!
@kenyagarcia profile image
kenyagarcia2 YEARS AGO
So helpful!! Thanks for sharing!
@starwarswhovian profile image
starwarswhovian2 YEARS AGO
Thank you for sharing this 😊
@twentysomething profile image
twentysomething2 YEARS AGO
Two minutes into this app and already so much learned. Never understood these e-numbers. So useful.
@walkabout-veg profile image
walkabout-veg2 YEARS AGO
Great job at listing these additives! Thanks
@valentinacorona profile image
valentinacorona2 YEARS AGO
I had no idea about it.
@valentinacorona profile image
valentinacorona2 YEARS AGO
I had no idea about it, awesome info!
@crdelong12 profile image
crdelong122 YEARS AGO
Great information. Thank you.
@theconscioushustle profile image
Thanks for the information 🔥
@edenlim profile image
edenlim2 YEARS AGO
Wow, I didn't realise this! Thanks for sharing!
@giselledanny profile image
giselledanny2 YEARS AGO
I have never seen or heard of E-numbers, can anyone elaborate if this is a number that appears on the barcode or ingredients list?
@abillion profile image
abillion2 YEARS AGO
Hi @giselledanny! Thanks for your comment. You'd usually find the e-numbers listed in the ingredient list
@glenwithav profile image
glenwithav2 YEARS AGO
Really appreciate this post. I only knew of two on here and I thought that was a lot but wow
@goodvibesonly profile image
goodvibesonly2 YEARS AGO
First time hearing about E numbers but now that I am aware I am gonna read the labels even more carefully.
@anniemae23 profile image
anniemae232 YEARS AGO
Thanks for the info...truly eye opening
@atunacarnazel profile image
atunacarnazel2 YEARS AGO
@nryneveld profile image
nryneveld2 YEARS AGO
Wow had no idea about this, thank you!
@bende7 profile image
bende72 YEARS AGO
We truly are scums of the universe!
@biapol profile image
biapol2 YEARS AGO
Wow this really informative! Bookmarked it for future reference as there is no way I’m gonna remember this all.
@heruvimdi profile image
heruvimdi2 YEARS AGO
Never realised this😱
@vuyom1998 profile image
vuyom19982 YEARS AGO
This is brilliant! It feels like the world will do anything to force you to consume other beings. It's so unnecessary.
@beccacopes profile image
beccacopes2 YEARS AGO
Umm, sheep don't shed their wool naturally? Shepherds have always had to cut their wool off?
@kathie profile image
kathie2 YEARS AGO
Omg! I never check this! Great info
@masihuddinshaikh profile image
masihuddinshaikh2 YEARS AGO
Incridible information this is so helpful !!
@mamabike profile image
mamabike2 YEARS AGO
Very useful! Thank you so much 🙏
@alex profile image
Wow, so glad I read this. I forgot about some of these!!
@creapy profile image
creapy2 YEARS AGO
Nice article 👍
@taskasap profile image
taskasap2 YEARS AGO
This is a wealth of information. Good work .Thank you.
@isabella0808 profile image
isabella08082 YEARS AGO
OMG😳😳😳😳 never knew
@joyveg profile image
joyveg2 YEARS AGO
Wow I didn’t know ! Thank you for posting this !! 👍🙏
@missykab profile image
missykab2 YEARS AGO
This is very insightful I’ll s/h this for speed in supermarkets. It’s easy to forget when in a hurry and just put items back as too many incomprehensible ingredients and no WiFi 😊🙏🏻
@missykab profile image
missykab2 YEARS AGO
Thank you! 👌🏻
@veganspanama profile image
veganspanama2 YEARS AGO
Thank you for the informative article. Super helpful 😉
@flouredfingers profile image
flouredfingers1 YEAR AGO
So useful, thank!!!
@sebastienplus profile image
sebastienplus1 YEAR AGO
Useful, and saved for future reference 👍 @abillion: I hope somebody will keep updated if necessary.
@hongkheng profile image
hongkheng1 YEAR AGO
Need more articles that shares about such ingredients