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Vegetarian Candy

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.

Usual Suspects

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
  • Dots
  • Dum-Dums
  • Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews
  • Heath
  • Hershey Bar
  • Hershey Kisses
  • Jolly Ranchers (lollipops and hard candy)
  • Kit Kat
  • Laffy Taffy
  • M&Ms
  • Milky Way
  • Mounds
  • Now and Laters
  • Red Vines
  • Reeses
  • Rolos
  • Smarties (non-chocolate version in the US)
  • Snickers
  • Sour Patch Kids
  • Swedish Fish
  • Sweet Tarts
  • Twix
  • Twizzlers

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.


1 Tiara { 03.19.13 at 8:08 am }

Very good information…glad my favourite is on the list, M&Ms…which I am eating right now…yes, at 8am, don’t judge!! Also glad Sour Patch Kids are ok!!

2 Cait { 03.19.13 at 8:21 am }

So, what’s “carnauba wax”? (I’m afraid of the answer…)

3 Chickenpig { 03.19.13 at 8:23 am }

They just had a very interesting article on NPR about how Western cultures don’t eat enough insects and how we are ignoring a very healthy, inexpensive, and easily renewable food source. As a carnivore, I don’t understand why people will devour a lobster, which is just a large sea insect, but will turn their noses up at fried grasshoppers or meal worms. Or chocolate covered ants, since we’re talking candy 😉

4 Bionic { 03.19.13 at 8:29 am }

Out of curiosity (read: ignorance) what is non-kosher about candies that have no animal parts? Or it is that they aren’t certified? (Or is it really obvious and I just have flu-brain?)

5 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 03.19.13 at 8:34 am }

Heh. My years of living in a vegan co-op caused me to shout, NO!, to your original query. In fact, given that much sugar in the US is turned into white sugar by processing it with animal bone charcoal, I’m going to go ahead and say that 99% of candy on the market is NOT vegetarian. Perhaps somewhere there are candies made with vegan sugar, but I’d wager they aren’t in most stores. Yeesh.

6 sharah { 03.19.13 at 8:46 am }

If you didn’t know, carmine is also used in makeup (lipsticks especially).

7 a { 03.19.13 at 9:28 am }

I can’t worry about these things because then I’d have to stop eating entirely. But it’s good to know that my favorite mass market chocolates (Snickers! M&Ms!) made your list.

8 Elizabeth { 03.19.13 at 10:00 am }

I have no problem eating insects (in fact, I have! Roasted ants!), but petroleum products skeeve me out.

9 Lollipop Goldstein { 03.19.13 at 10:06 am }

Answering Bionic’s question about kashrut (kosher): so, the way you know if a product is kosher is that it has a heksher (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hekhsher) on it. It’s a small marking — such as a U inside an O or a triangle with a K inside (there are many different hekshers) — that tells the buyer that the product was observed and it conforms to Jewish law. If it doesn’t have a heksher, it means that either the business didn’t have a mashgiach (supervisor) come and observe and sign off on it OR it has something non-kosher in the product, therefore, it would never pass inspection.

I buy all hekshered food, but I can’t eat a bunch of hekshered items because they’re not vegetarian (sort like how all khakis are chinos but not all chinos are khakis, or however that goes). So fish gelatin in marshmallows, for instance, can be kosher. But I wouldn’t eat fish gelatin so even though the product has a heksher, I wouldn’t eat it.

That’s sort of a simple explanation of those symbols.

10 Another Dreamer { 03.19.13 at 1:18 pm }

Confession: when I was a vegetarian I still had Gelatin, knowing what it was. Not very often, but still. I was a pretty slack vegetarian at times. I did stick to my guns when it came to certain pastries though- Hostess cupcakes had beef fat in them, and so did a lot of their products. That still grosses me out. I can understand shortening, but why not vegetable? Why beef?

11 Cristy { 03.19.13 at 6:08 pm }

Years ago, I spent a few months working in a processed food plant with the Quality Control division. Since then, I’ve had a terrible time eating processed food, mainly because of my exposure to vats of high fructose corn syrup. To this day, the mire mention of the stuff has be gagging (think glycerol with more of a snotty texture), hence everything on your list is either limited or a no-no.

Still, this got me thinking: what is classified as vegan candy? What about organic candy? For vegetarian candy, is it the use of animal byproducts or simply products made from animal parts that give it its classification?

12 ladyblogalot { 03.19.13 at 7:05 pm }

I’m a vegetarian, so I’m not a big fan of gelatine because it makes me sick when I eat it, but I can see benefits to it. I mean, we’re already killing the animal for steaks and sausages but instead of just throwing the rest of the animal away, we use every single part of it. Which kind of makes sense. it’s sustainability. So it sounds gross… but it’s being fair to the animal that’s given it’s life; it’s not picking out the best bits and killing it for a good rib eye fillet, it’s ensuring that the beast has died for many, many outcomes. Shouldn’t that be our approach to all food? Maximise what we have?

13 Brookes4boys { 03.19.13 at 8:37 pm }

We don’t allow our boys to have any artificial colors at all. There are very few candies that are allowed 🙁

14 Pauline S. Lee { 03.19.13 at 8:59 pm }

This is one interesting article. I never knew that gelatine came from animal bones. I thought it came form sea weeds. I guess i’ve learned something new. Thanks!

15 Suzie { 03.19.13 at 9:01 pm }

I really appreciated your article..so much so that I have saved it to show my daughter who teaches high schoolers. Its downright wrong in so many ways that we just don’t get to know what really IS in our food..the cochineal got me..red lolly”frogs” are one of our favourite treats in our house!

16 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.19.13 at 9:55 pm }

So interesting that you post this today, as BabySmiling and I were talking about kosher marshmallows just yesterday.

Good thing I’m find candy easily pass-up-able.

17 Wolfers { 03.19.13 at 10:09 pm }

Absolutely loves Cadbury creme eggs…and no I don’t want to know what are in the ingredients…. 🙂

18 Queenie { 03.19.13 at 10:49 pm }

To answer Chickenpig’s question: because dripping with butter, lobsters are lovely, but grasshoppers gnash unpleasantly against the teeth.

19 Siochana { 03.19.13 at 11:41 pm }

That list of products made from animals is kind of humbling. It makes me feel like just another animal eating bugs to survive. 🙂
I don’t care much for candy, but that’s because I don’t like how a lot of it tastes. Now I’ll be thinking of crunching insect parts when I have one.

20 Brid { 03.19.13 at 11:49 pm }

I agree with Ladyblogalot… It’s important to use more than the obvious if we’re killing animals for food, clothes, etc… I am always interested in vegetarians who will still wear a leather belt, shoes, jacket or whatever… and I know a few. I suppose a lot has to do with the motivation he/she is vegetarian. I guess if it’s health, it doesn’t really matter. I am pretty judges with furs, but then, if someone hunted an animal and used it all, we’d have to assume the fur counts too. But, more often than not, I’ll look at a fur and scoff. I really like trying things I’ve never tried… sometimes just once though!

21 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 04.07.13 at 5:34 pm }

Burrito recently informed me that he’d eaten a marshmallow at school (even though they supposedly know that the twins are vegetarians) and enjoyed it. I explained that (a) marshmallows are candy, which he knows he’s not allowed to have and (b) marshmallows are made of animals, which he knows we don’t eat. I then clarified that there are handmade marshmallows which are made without animals, but those are rare. He keeps insisting that the marshmallow he ate must have been one of those special non-animal marshmallows, because he can’t get his head around the fact that he ate something made from an animal.

22 LT { 07.25.13 at 5:06 pm }

Not sure why M & Ms are classified as ok or vegetarian since I do believe they contain shellac & the red ones carmine.

23 lisa { 02.19.15 at 6:35 am }

I’m a pescetarian and on wikipedia it sais this:

”A pescetarian diet typically shares many of its components with a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet and may include vegetables, fruit, nuts, grains, beans, eggs, dairy, and insect byproducts (such as honey, carmine, or shellac)”

is this true? it sais carmine is a scale insect… does this mean it is like seafood? pescetarians do consume fish and other seafoods…

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