How actively do vegetarians avoid gelatin?
June 15, 2009 2:10 PM   Subscribe

How actively do vegetarians avoid eating gelatin?

I'm probably going to use gelatin in a dish that will be part of the cater service at a party for people I don't really know, a few of whom will be vegetarian. I've been disastrously unsuccessful adjusting the recipe using various non-animal-source replacements (agar-agar, gums, starches, and so forth). It would be my preference not to use gelatin (I am not required to make this dish vegetarian), but I'm all out of time for experimentation.

I'd like to be able to estimate the impact of having to use gelatin as an ingredient.

Given that there's a range of reasons for vegetarianism and individuals go about it in their own way, how often is an exception made for gelatin? What about fish-based gelatin?
posted by zennie to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're worried about your guests' dietary restrictions, keep in mind that gelatin is often not halal or kosher either.
posted by pravit at 2:13 PM on June 15, 2009

Best answer: It widely depends upon the vegetarian, but from my knowledge and experience (I was a strict vegetarian for 15 years, and pescatarian now, and involved in veggie culture heavily), gelatin is frequently avoided. Kindly put a label or something on the food so people who don't eat gelatin can avoid it.

Also, as far as fish gelatin goes, that won't help the vegetarians but is a better alternative since you'd at least be catering to those who keep Kosher and/or Halal.
posted by cmgonzalez at 2:16 PM on June 15, 2009

Best answer: Speaking as someone whose family is vegetarian for religious reasons, 'real' (including fish-based) gelatin is a no-no.

However, I've friends who are vegetarian for non-religious reasons, and they've chowed down on desserts which include gelatin, even after I warned that this was an ingredient.

So I guess - it depends on the basis for their vegetarianism. You're never going to please everyone, just label it so people who would be concerned know to stay away
posted by darsh at 2:18 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I avoided it when I was vegan, didn't concern myself so much when I was vegetarian. In my experience vegetarians kind of assume they can eat something by looking at it, and vegans are a lot more likely to be asking questions, reading labels, and erring on the side of caution by going hungry.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:20 PM on June 15, 2009

I and most of my vegetarian friends won't eat gelatin if we can avoid it. OTOH, marshmallows are the only food I've ever encountered that doesn't have an identical twin without gelatin. But maybe you have a lot of recipes for which gelatin is essential - dunno.

I'd assume they don't want to eat it if they're vegetarian (although those who are vegetarian for health reasons probably won't care).
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:21 PM on June 15, 2009

I'm vegetarian, and won't eat it. That means avoiding many brands of yogurt, and some companies' buttermilk, and assorted desserts, etc. I've found that many, many people don't know what gelatin is made from, though, and this probably includes some vegetarians.
posted by dilettante at 2:23 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm vegetarian and avoid gelatin. I wouldn't worry about trying to replace the ingredient (it's next to impossible, believe me), just make sure everyone knows that it's in it. Vegetarians are quite used to abstaining from dishes that don't jibe with their food-beliefs. Gelatin, chicken stock, "animal shortening" (lard).
posted by scarykarrey at 2:25 PM on June 15, 2009

Another vegetarian who won't eat gelatin here. Although I do miss marshmallows sometimes...
posted by fearthehat at 2:26 PM on June 15, 2009

Personally, as a pescetarian ( I don't eat cow, pig, chicken, duck, rabbit, etc. but do eat fish, dairy, and eggs), I avoid gelatin and would not consider something made with it to be OK to eat. I also avoid cheeses made with rennet.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:28 PM on June 15, 2009

Best answer: I avoid eating gelatin and other sneaky dead-animal parts by not eating things at potlucks that I can't ask the cook about. I also don't begrudge gelatin-eaters their chilled, molded food, so go ahead and make your recipe the way it turns out best.

It also helps that I don't take any prescription meds, as they often include or are encased in gelatin (I took effexor for a while and moved the evil pellets from the gelatin capsules to vegetarian ones).
posted by headnsouth at 2:29 PM on June 15, 2009

I would just ask the client. Unless this is the only dish or main course, it probably does not matter.

Also -- regarding marshmallows -- There are fish marshmallows -- typically around passover. (There are also agar based mallows for vegans but they are _vile_.)
posted by rr at 2:31 PM on June 15, 2009

I'm vegetarian, I know what gelatin is, I know what foods it is in, and I still eat it. But this obviously doesn't go for all vegetarians. I'd just let people know that it contains gelatin and they can decide on their own. I'm guessing it's some kind of dessert, not the main course, since I can't think of any other courses that would use gelatin, which makes it less of a big deal, but is there a veggie dessert (or whatever) option as well?
posted by radiomayonnaise at 2:33 PM on June 15, 2009

Vegetarian. I know what gelatin is, and don't care. I'd eat your dish. I'd actually probably be less inclined to eat fish-based gelatin, just because I find fish pretty disgusting.
posted by god hates math at 2:33 PM on June 15, 2009

Nthing please label your creation. I avoid gelatin as a vegetarian, and used to even as an omnivore just because of its rather unpleasant production story.
posted by fish tick at 2:35 PM on June 15, 2009

Best answer: I am a vegetarian who eats gelatin, and I would Nth just adding a note (tape it to the serving spoon!).
posted by aint broke at 2:35 PM on June 15, 2009

Response by poster: there a veggie dessert (or whatever) option as well?

Yes, the vegetarians are covered for all courses. Just would be nice to offer more variety without additional dishes.
posted by zennie at 2:38 PM on June 15, 2009

I'm vegetarian, for ethical and environmental reasons. I never eat gelatin. This is part of my general attitude towards vegetarianism. Eating a little piece of meat now and then, especially at a party where the food is already prepared, probably wouldn't have any direct environmental or ethical cost, but by avoiding meat and meat by-products at all times, I'm making a (small, but significant to me) personal statement. It may not have any direct impact, but indirectly, it may cause people to purchase fewer animal/meat products in the future, or get them to think about environmental issues or animal welfare.

Plus there's the "ick factor"...
posted by Cygnet at 2:53 PM on June 15, 2009

It's completely random. This is roughly equivalent to asking how aggressively do churchgoers avoid sin. Depends on the church, the goer, and the sin. Just put up signs so people know what's what.
posted by chairface at 3:04 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am a vegetarian that very much avoids gelatin, including that which is fish-based. I don't really care for marshmallow but those who do and need something to top off their hot chocolate may want to consider Marshmallow Fluff (contains corn syrup, sugar syrup, dried egg whites and vanillin).

Please do label your dish. What's important is not cooking specifically for vegetarian needs (We don't expect that in a mixed crowd.) but just giving full disclosure when you are aware that there may be an issue.
posted by Morrigan at 3:11 PM on June 15, 2009

If someone says they're a vegetarian or vegan, ask them if they use breath mints like Altoids. My experience is that most people have no idea these things routinely use pork-based gelatin.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:14 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Gelatin is not Vegetarian. It's made from animal bones and skin.
If you eat it you aren't technically a Vegetarian (not that anyone is keeping a list)

Label it or don't use it.

Thanks for being thoughtful.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:25 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I know quite a few vegetarians (including myself), and the likelihood of someone being bothered enough about gelatine and similar animally products not to eat dishes like yours seems to be about 50:50; the term 'vegetarian' is a very vague one, really.

I think if you simply declare it then no-one will be massively offended.
posted by thoughtless at 3:36 PM on June 15, 2009

Best answer: Vegetarian here, and all I ask is a label (and that peole who make salads & desserts don't ask me to just take a taste because "just a taste won't matter"). I do appreciate your giving it some thought.
posted by clarkstonian at 3:45 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I was vegetarian, I didn't eat anything with gelatin as an ingredient. Usually this meant packaged candies that had ingredient lists. I probably would assume that anything otherwise vegetarian-seeming that someone made themselves would not have gelatin as an ingredient unless it was gelatinous. I would have appreciated being told by whoever made it that it had gelatin so I would avoid eating it. Don't feel obligated to change the recipe, just make sure everyone knows it's there. If it's dessert, you could always try fruit pectin.
posted by ishotjr at 4:00 PM on June 15, 2009

I'm a vegetarian who avoids gelatin. You can put it in, but please label it or announce that the seemingly veggie option does contain gelatin. For me, fish-based wouldn't help.

If it's your only vegetarian dish, I'd suggest just making something else in addition like a pasta or bean salad or something easy so the veggies don't have to choose between eating gelatin and going hungry/eating nothing but lettuce.
posted by rmless at 4:31 PM on June 15, 2009

My vegetarian friends (veg for love of animals or for health) will absolutely not eat anything with gelatin, at all. If they were to eat it unknowingly and then find out later, they'd be disgusted and/or really pissed.
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 4:51 PM on June 15, 2009

My vegetarian husband wouldn't eat it if he knew it contained gelatin. Fish gelatin wouldn't be an improvement, as it would still be an animal product. I'd go ahead and use the gelatin in the dish if I were you, but LABEL the dish as being non-vegetarian so no one has to guess (or assume, and find out later that they ate animal bits and be sad).
posted by meggan at 5:21 PM on June 15, 2009

I concur with most everything that's been said here: many vegetarians do care, and others who follow kosher or have dietary issues may as well, so just label it.

For what it's worth, I have had luck using apple pectin and reducing the amount of liquids, but if you have no more time to experiment, just go with what you're comfortable with and give full disclosure.
posted by lily_bart at 5:43 PM on June 15, 2009

I was raised vegetarian and had never heard of not eating gelatin. FWIW I was a ovo-lacto vegetarian, and not a fundamentalist.
posted by mullingitover at 6:45 PM on June 15, 2009

If I know something has gelatin in it, I won't eat it. That definitely includes Altoids and some kinds of icky yogurts. Personally, I would appreciate a label, especially if it's not obvious that something has gelatin in it. I'm used to reading labels to look for ingredients, but home-made food sometimes requires a bit more of a guess.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:34 PM on June 15, 2009

nthing the suggestion to label things. Gelatin past a certain amount in foods makes me ill, so moral quandries aside it may save someone a nasty tummyache.
posted by Jilder at 9:10 PM on June 15, 2009

As a vegetarian, I never even thought about gelatin. As a vegan, I avoid it, so I think a little sign on the dish would be well appreciated.
posted by orme at 6:36 AM on June 16, 2009

i'm a vegetarian and I religiously avoid it. There isn't a week that goes by that I don't pine at least a little bit for marshmallows. And moon pies.
posted by hecho de la basura at 7:23 AM on June 16, 2009

Best answer: About 50% of the vegetarians I know avoid gelatin, and all of the vegans I know avoid it.

guys, vegan marshmallows DO exist. You might be able to buy these at Whole Foods, and you can buy them online, or you can make your own. I'm sure they're a little different than the standard ones with gelatin, but if you're really missing marshmallows. . .
posted by insectosaurus at 10:31 AM on June 16, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. There seem to be more self-identified vegetarians who will eat gelatin than I thought there would be.

I'm not a professional caterer, but sometimes I think I may as well be! I feel it's good practice to be conscious of food issues. This was helpful.
posted by zennie at 4:41 PM on June 16, 2009

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