7 Sneaky Foods That Can Have Dead Horses in Them

If you don’t want to accidentally consume horse, check out this list.

Closeup of a horse's face, centered on its eye.
Credit: Heather Rose/Flickr

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If you live in America, you probably haven’t eaten any horse lately — at least, not intentionally. Although horse meat has been effectively banned in the United States for a decade and a half, that doesn’t mean Americans’ diets are entirely horse-free. Even if other meats didn’t sometimes include horse meat by mistake — and they do — there are a number of foods that can contain dead horses in them, including many that are commonly thought of as vegan.

How Horses Are Consumed Around the World

The most well-known derivative of horses is gelatin, which is used in many foods. But there are plenty of other ways that humans end up consuming equine bodies.

Horse Meat and Milk Consumed Intentionally

While it’s illegal to sell horse meat in the United States, that wasn’t always the case. When resources were scarce during World War II, many Americans turned to horse meat as an alternative source of protein, because unlike other meats, it wasn’t subject to wartime rationing. During the runaway inflation of the 1970s, horse meat again became popular in America as a cheaper alternative to beef, pork and poultry.

It wasn’t until 2007 that Congress passed legislation that, in a convoluted and indirect manner, effectively banned the sale of horse meat in the United States. The year before that, the last remaining horse slaughterhouses in America slaughtered 100,000 horses.

Even now, horse meat is still a common dish around the world. It’s especially popular in China and Kazakhstan (the two biggest producers of horse meat in the world, as of 2020) as well as Mongolia, Mexico and Russia. Horse meat is considered a delicacy in Japan, where horse sashimi is served at some sushi restaurants, and in France, where it can be found prepared in ways similar to beef.

It’s worth noting that although horse meat can no longer be sold in the U.S., American producers still export live horses to other countries so they can be slaughtered for human consumption.

Though it’s not as widespread as horse meat, horse milk is consumed by humans in some places as well. Kumis is a traditional Kazakh beverage made from fermented mare’s milk, and it’s popular in many of the same Central Asian countries in which horse meat is consumed.

Horse Meat Consumed Unintentionally

In 2013, a major scandal broke out in Europe when it was revealed that some of the largest meat producers in the continent had inadvertently included horse meat in their products. After testing a sampling of frozen meat products, food inspectors in Ireland found that one-third of them contained horse DNA, with up to 29 percent of some “beef” burgers actually being made of horse meat.

Unfortunately, thanks to the dizzyingly complex supply chain that meat travels through before arriving in stores and restaurants, the problem wasn’t localized to Ireland. Further investigations revealed horse meat in other meat products throughout the EU; in one particularly shocking example, a lasagna product from a French manufacturer was found to be made with horse meat.

More investigations followed, as did many recalls and several arrests. But the damage had been done; in an article at the time, Forbes declared that “we have all eaten horses, like it or not.”

Pregnant Mare’s Blood

One of the lesser-known ways that dead horses end up in our food is through the use of mare’s blood. The blood of pregnant horses contains a hormone that stimulates growth and pregnancy in other creatures as well, so many livestock producers will extract pregnant mare’s blood and feed it to pigs, cows or sheep on factory farms to induce early puberty (and by extension, early pregnancy) and ensure large litter sizes.

Gelatin (Collagen)

Contrary to popular belief, JELL-O isn’t made from horse’s hooves. But it is made from gelatin, which is the cooked form of collagen, and collagen is derived from horses — at least, it can be.

Collagen is a protein found in the skin, bones, tendons and cartilage of various animals. In addition to pigs, cows and fish, the bodies of dead horses are sometimes the source of collagen.

Gelatin is the processed form of collagen, and as we’ll see, it’s extremely common in many everyday foods.

7 Sneaky Foods That Can Contain Dead Horses (AKA Gelatin)

As mentioned earlier, gelatin is used in many popular foods. Some of them are widely known to include gelatin, but others may come as a bit more of a surprise.


Gelatin is a flexible ingredient with many applications. Because it thickens as it cools, it’s often used as a thickening agent in soups.

Gelatin should always be listed as an ingredient, so just be sure to check the label.

Gummy Candy

If you’ve ever eaten gummy bears, peach rings or fruit snacks, you know that they have a distinct “feel” to them that sets them apart from other candies. That’s often the result of gelatin, which is used as a binding agent in gummies, and gives them that specific level of elasticity and chewiness.

Luckily, there are plenty of vegan gummy candies that do not contain gelatin.

Processed Peanuts

To be clear, peanuts themselves don’t naturally contain any gelatin, because gelatin only comes from animals. But many peanut brands use gelatin as an adhesive, to ensure that salt and other spices stick to the peanut.

To avoid eating peanuts with gelatin, just be sure to check the label.


Another somewhat well-known use of gelatin is in marshmallows. Traditional marshmallows are  made of just three ingredients — sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin — and as with gummy candies, it’s the gelatin that gives marshmallows their distinctive texture and density.

Once again, there are vegan marshmallow alternatives that don’t contain gelatin.

Alcoholic Beverages

Another unexpected place you might find gelatin is in red wine, as it’s often used as a filter to remove hazy residue and tannins. While less common, gelatin is occasionally used as a clearing agent in beer as well.

If you’re concerned about this possibility, you can shop for vegan wine and beer.

Breath Mints

You probably don’t think of breath mints as containing animal products, but gelatin is a common ingredient in many of them — including Altoids, one of the most well-known mints on the market. (Mars, Altoids’ parent company, also tests its products on animals.)

Luckily, there are also plenty of vegan mint options out there as well.

Vitamins and Medication

If you’ve ever had a medication or vitamin in the form of a gelcap, also known as a softgel, you were probably eating gelatin, as that’s what’s used to make the outer shells of gelcaps and softgels.

To avoid vitamins with gelatin, read the label, and shop for vegetarian or vegan capsules.

Is There Such a Thing As Vegan Gelatin?

Strictly speaking, no. Gelatin comes from collagen, and collagen comes from animals, so vegan gelatin doesn’t exist. Luckily, there are a number of plant-based ingredients that can serve as a replacement gelatin in many of the above products.

For instance, fruit pectin is often used as a substitute for gelatin in vegan gummy products and vegan marshmallows. Agar, which comes from red algae, and carrageenan, a form of dried seaweed, are two other vegan ingredients that can replace gelatin in various foods. There are many brands of breath mint, including most Tic-Tacs, that don’t include any gelatin, and vegan capsules are now widely available as a replacement for traditional gelcaps.

The Bottom Line

If you want to make sure that your diet is absolutely horse-free, avoiding products with gelatin as an ingredient is a good place to start. But as the European meat scandal demonstrated, even processed meat that’s ostensibly from other animals can potentially contain dead horses.

Processed foods are ubiquitous in modern society, especially in high-income countries, and their sheer convenience often makes them difficult to turn down. But the fact that so many of these foods can potentially contain horses — including some that seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with meat — is a stark reminder that when we eat highly processed foods, we often don’t have a firm understanding of what exactly we’re putting into our bodies.

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