I know the title of this post probably struck you as strange… isn’t all candy vegetarian? Well… no. I’m not talking about the inclusion of dairy, since dairy wouldn’t necessarily be a problem for lacto-ovo vegetarians. I’m talking about… other stuff. You may want to stop reading if you don’t want to get grossed out. I know that I sound a little bit like Mad-Eye Moody presenting the three unforgivable curses to his fourth year class when I talk about food additives. “Why am I showing you? Because you’ve got to know. You’ve got to appreciate what the worst is. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’re facing it. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!”
Talking about food additives is enough to make me want to get my own hip flask.
If you keep reading, you’ve been forewarned if you end up learning something nasty about your favourite candy.
The reason we don’t eat a lot of processed foods isn’t for health reasons, since I’m perfectly fine ingesting Red 40, a dye made from petroleum (yum!). It’s because some additives are derived from animal sources. And some of those animals sources, such as dried scale insects or connective tissue, skeeve me out.
I compiled the information below for another family — which is what I understand about food substances and dyes — and thought I’d post it here in case someone else could use it. Here are a few ingredients to look for along with the various names they go by in food substances.
Carmine: (a.k.a. cochineal, crimson lake, E120, or natural red #4) a dye made out of the dried bodies of a type of scale insect. Though a lot of the time carmine appears red, it can also be mixed with other dyes to produce purples or pinks. It’s found in a lot of red foods from ice cream to candy and red drinks such as fruit punch.
Shellec: (a.k.a. confectioner’s glaze or E904) an insect secretion, similar to honey, made by female lac bugs and left behind on bark. It makes everything from fruit and vegetables to candy and pills appear smooth and shiny.
Honey: an insect liquid made by bees from flower nectar. It is essentially bee vomit — they regurgitate it. As opposed to shellac, which lac bugs create themselves and secrete.
Gelatin: a substance obtained by boiling the connective tissue and bones of animals. It’s found in tons of candy (think anything gummy such as gummy bears or marshmallows) and Jell-o, but it’s also in strange places such as breakfast cereal or yogurt. Kosher gelatin comes from fish bones as opposed to non-kosher gelatin, which comes from cow or pig bones.
Glycerin: a liquid that can be either plant or animal-based (or even synthetic). It’s a hit-or-miss substance.
Beeswax: (a.k.a. E901) a natural wax secreted by bees. You can find it in shiny and gummy candies.
The Okay Candy List
Some items on the list contain dairy (especially the chocolate), but they are carmine, shellac, and gelatin-free*
- Airheads taffy
- Almond Joy
- Blow Pops
- Cadbury chocolate
- Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews
- Hershey Bar
- Hershey Kisses
- Jolly Ranchers (lollipops and hard candy)
- Kit Kat
- Laffy Taffy
- Milky Way
- Now and Laters
- Red Vines
- Smarties (non-chocolate version in the US)
- Sour Patch Kids
- Swedish Fish
- Sweet Tarts
The hardest thing is that I constructed this list to the best of my abilities, and I still know that there have been times when I’ve been shocked to learn that something I’ve been eating has contained things I would have never consumed knowingly. So I apologize if I unknowingly included something above which has an animal-based additive in it. We don’t eat every candy on the list above since some of them aren’t kosher, but those are the ones that passed when I read the labels.
And, of course, there is the fact that we consume bugs on a daily basis in processed food. But I differentiate between what I consume unknowingly and what is clearly written on the package. There are some things that also bother me more than others. I am vigilant about gelatin and carmine since the animal gave up its life to produce those products. I am less concerned with honey and shellac. I’ll have Jelly Belly jellybeans from time to time (they contain shellac). But I’ll never have Jell-o.
* Since candy companies often change ingredients, please always read the ingredients label. It goes both ways — some candies I would have never eaten suddenly become okay, and others that I’ve enjoyed have suddenly started using confectioner’s glaze or gelatin. All these candies are for the US versions. The same candies can be made with non-vegetarian substances outside the US.
If you have a question about a specific candy, list it below and I can look it up for you. There are plenty more okay candies that I didn’t list above.