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Animal Products Used In Alcohols

Aug 17, 2007
The use of animal derived products in alcohol production is considerably more widespread than most would imagine. Anti-foaming agents, colourants and clarifying processes all make use of animal products in some way or another.

It is not as if there are no real alternatives because there are. The problem lies in the poor information available to consumers and so no demand for a change is well established. One of the main reasons for this quite simply is a clause in the 1984 UK Food Labelling Regulations, which does not require any beverages with an alcoholic content higher than 1.2 percent to display its ingredients on the packaging.

Fining is the process by which certain impurities held in suspension, such as excess yeast, are removed from ale and other alcohols. To remove these impurities something must be added to the liquid to cause unwanted particles to precipitate.

Alternative non-animal additives used in the fining process are bentonite, kaolin, kieselguhr and silica gel. Modern methods such as centrifuging and filtering are also becoming more common.

A large number of breweries employ a substance called isinglass during the fining processes of virtually all cask ales. Isinglass is a kind of gelatin obtained from the swim bladders of certain fish, especially the Chinese sturgeon.

If cloudy particles show up in a pint of real ale when held up to the light, it is a sure sign that it had been recently disturbed, was brewed in a cask and more likely than not contains isinglass.

Occasionally the additive glyceryl monostearate is used instead of 900 dimethylpolysiloxane as anti-foaming an agent in the production of beers produced in kegs. Sometimes glyceryl monostearate is derived from animals

Most of the main cider brands are fined in a similar fashion but use gelatine instead of isinglass.

Wine is fined using a variety of different animal derivatives, isinglass, gelatin, egg albumen, modified casein and chitin (which comes from crab or lobster shells). Some manufacturers even use ox blood though that is generally considered an antiquated technique nowadays.

Fortified wines like ports and sherries should be treated similarly to wine. Port also uses gelatin during its fining process.

In addition to using isinglass in its production, red wine also contains E120. The red colourant, E120 is produced from the pregnant body of the cochineal insect (Dactilopius Coccus). Campari and some soft drinks also use the cochineal insect for red colouring.

Most malt whiskies, blended whiskies and Spanish brandies are conditioned in casks, which previously held sherry, which in turn may have been treated with animal derived finings.

Some imported vodkas may have been passed through a bone charcoal filter.

A number of these animal products leave only tiny amounts in the final product and a few of them do use other non-animal alternatives, but the fact remains that without a change in the UK Food Labelling Regulations, vegetarians and anybody else who cares to know the contents of what they are consuming are largely kept in the dark.
About the Author
Colin Didcott is a life long vegetarian and collector of authentic vegetarian recipes from around the world. Visit Vegetarian Recipes Realm to see his collection of low calorie vegetarian recipes and join in the friendly vegetarian community.
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