Which Drinks are Suitable for Vegans and Vegetarians?
Skip all the waffle
What is the issue?
Which drinks are suitable for vegans and vegetarians? As with candy, there is a common misconception that all or most alcholic drinks – apart from mezcal of course – are vegan and vegetarian friendly. Indeed, many vegetarians and vegans consume candy and alcoholic drinks blissfully unaware of the animal products that are used in their manufacture.
Of course, many alcholic drinks are completely vegan. For example, a few years back Guiness finally announced that their drinks would be vegan. Nonetheless, not only are many popular drinks non-vegan, many are not even vegetarian because they are made with materials such as pork gelatin and the swim bladders of fish.
What makes some drinks unsuitable for vegans and vegetarians?
The main reason for so many drinks being unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans has to do with the so-called “fining” process. This involves the addition of substances called “finings”. “Finings” or “fining agents” are substances added to the drink to expedite the precipitation and thus removal of certain impurities. This is done for various reasons, although typically it enables the product to be made clearer, with a more preferential colour, with a less bitter flavour, with less sediment, with a better aroma, and sometimes with a longer shelf-life. Finings are added at different points in the manufacturing workflow according to the product and the method of manufacture. Finings are derived from a wide range of different sources and materials, making it sometimes quite difficult to tell which drinks are suitable for vegans and vegetarians without carrying out extensive searching and research.
Below is a list of some of the more common fining agents.
This is a form of silicic acid, an inorganic acid that is an extremely efficacious and efficient fining. It is primarily used to aid sediment removal and to clear and enhance the wine’s outward appearance.
An absorbant clay used for general-purpose fining. It is primarily used to remove sediment, improve clarity, and improve aroma.
From the Dutch “huizenblaas” – i.e. “Sturgeon’s bladder”, isinglass is essentially the dessicated swim bladders of fish. It’s used throughout the food industry, although its popularity has declined slightly over the last century, in part due to pork gelatin becoming more affordable to produce, another sad sign of the rise of factory farming over the last century. It is primarily used for clearing wine, being an effective (although certainly not the most efficient) fining agent.
This can be made from various materials although it is nearly always pork gelatin. It is a relatively effective fining agent for clearing. It is used to aid the reduction of sediment, to improve clarity, and to balance and stabilize flavour.
Many other materials have been used as finings over the years, although most traditional finings have become less common in recent times. Historically, all manner of substances have been used, including: moss, eggs, milk, and blood!
One of the factors helping drinks manufacturers make the move toward vegan-friendly products is the limited efficiency of isinglass as a fining agent compared with some of the alternatives. A factor holding back progress for some producers is the temptation of using pork gelatin, which although not the most efficient agent, is reasonably effective and is (sadly) one of the cheapest. It goes without saying that an increase in demand for plant-based and vegan products in recent times has created an extra incentive for drinks manufacturers to avoid the unnecessary use of animal products.
Diatomaceous earth fallacy
Not quite as bad as “Flat Earth” but still very illogical, is the belief in “Diatomaceous Earth Theory”. Essentially, there are some uninformed vegans and non-vegans running around claiming that diatomite aka diatomaceous earth is non-vegan, because it is “made from” biological organisms. Diatomaceous earth is an extremely common substance within food production, cosmetics manufacturing, agriculture, water filtration, pharmacology, and food processing. It’s used as a dessicating agent, an abrasive agent, a mechanical pesticide, a base for explosives (in fact, this is where “dynamite” gets its name from), and a fining agent, although it has many other uses too. It is comprised of sedimentary rock that formed between 10 and 50 million years ago (depending on the deposit and stratum that the rock was sourced from) by the fossilization of vast numbers of microscopic, unicellular protists, specifically microphytes, called diatoms, which are neither animals nor plants. They are not sentient. Nor are they capable of suffering. Therefore, there is no reason for vegans or vegetarians to be especially concerned about consuming such products from an ethical perspective. Ethically speaking, consuming products made with diatomite is similar to consuming other products of fossilization.
Gravity is real
Another fallacy is that finings are actually necessary. Although it would be difficult to produce certain drinks economically without the aid of some kind of fining agent, many wines and other drinks have traditionally been made without finings for thousands of years. One of the best alternatives to fining agents is sedimentation by gravity, whereby the liquid is left to stand in a suitable container for a certain period of time so that the heavy sediment particles can be drawn to the bottom by their own weight. The remaining liquid can then be siphoned off.