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  • Adriano dos Santos

E numbers almost always come from animal sources.

Food additives are found in many foods. They can come from some really weird and wonderful sources, and many are of animal origin.

In Europe these have to be declared in lists of ingredients, and are referred to as ‘E numbers’. E120, for example, is a food colouring made from crushed insects. Yum.

E numbers are also increasingly used on food labelling to in other parts of the world, including the United States.

Below is a list of those additives / E numbers that are almost always from animal sources. Sadly this isn’t an exhaustive list! Many other additives can be made from animal sources or from plant-based sources, and so the only real way to ensure something’s vegan is to look for a recognised vegan trademark, use a diet app such as Spoon Guru, or contact the manufacturer.

Many vegans take the pragmatic view that life is too short to check every single E number on the packaging of a product that’s otherwise vegan. Others are determined to ensure that they buy absolutely no animal-derived products. The stance that you take is totally up to you.

The following E numbers almost always come from animal sources.

  • E120: Carmine, also known as cochineal, carminic acid or natural red 4. Crushed up beetles used as red food colouring

  • E441: Gelatine. A gelling agent made from ground up animal bone and skin, often found in confectionary

  • E542: Bone phosphate. Ground up animal bones used to keep foods moist

  • E901: Beeswax. As the name suggests, this is wax that’s made by bees, and is used as a glazing agent

  • E904: Shellac. Another glazing agent, made from the secretions of an insect called the lac bug

  • E910, E920, E921: L-cysteine and its derivatives. Made from animal hair and feathers, these additives are found in some breads as an improving agent

  • E913: Lanolin. A greasy substance secreted by sheep and other woolly animals. While mostly used in cosmetics, it’s also often used to make vitamin D3, rendering many multi-vitamins and fortified foods unsuitable for vegans

  • E966: Lactitol. A sweetener derived from lactose, which is made from milk

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