Hidden animal ingredients in your cheese and pie and beans

This week, we've been looking at the animal ingredients hiding in your foods.

Monday we looked at gelatin. Yesterday, we looked at stock and broth. Tomorrow we will look at a triple threat which will impact everything from your salad to your beer.

But today, thanks to Lesley who has held our hand throughout this entire education, we will look at the one ingredient every baker puts in their pie crust. The ingredient no vegetarian wants to eat. Ever.

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Now to the lovely Lesley who continues to educate us ...

You would think that lard would be more of a problem for those of us living below the Mason-Dixon line, but many of our cooking practices, originally meant to take advantage of every edible material available, have seeped north and west.
  • Baking mixes including Jiffy cornbread mix as well as some cookies and other processed baked goods including cakes and breads inexplicably contain lard. And though it seems counterintuitive, lard is what makes biscuits light and fluffy and pie crusts especially flaky, so be sure to check the ingredients on anything you buy in the bakery section or frozen food section of the grocery or that come your way via an aunt or grandma from the south.
  • Refried beans often contain lard (including those served at restaurants). Check the cans when you can.
Rennet and whey
This is where things really start to get tricky for a vegetarian. Rennet is the enzyme added to milk to make it coagulate into curds (cheese) and whey (the liquid). A lot of cheese these days is made with vegetable or microbial rennets, which are vegetarian and also fairly cheap.

Unfortunately, it's really hard to know what cheese does and does not have animal-based rennet included. I don't consider animal rennet to be vegetarian because parts of slaughtered animals are actually in the finished product. A lot of low-cost cheeses, including those used at most restaurants in mass quantities are vegetarian because the non-animal-based rennets are less expensive. Unfortunately, most all cheese will simply have the rennet listed as "enzymes" so it's difficult to know. All but a very few of the Sargento cheeses are vegetarian as well as my favorite cheddar, Tillamook. But authentic Parmigiano Reggiano does contain animal rennet.

Obviously, animal-based rennet is one of the most difficult of the dead critter bits to avoid. Here's a non-exhaustive cheese list to get you started. Look by type or brand. As for whey, it's even trickier because it is considered a by-product of the cheese-making process, so it's an ingredient itself. Technically speaking, it does not contain rennet and is therefore vegetarian. More information on cheese and rennet can be found on the Vegetarian Society's Website.

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So, what do you think of this? For us, this will be a real challenge. Not the lard, mind you, but the rennet, what with all the cheese we eat. Ah well, together we'll sort it out.

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