Every holiday season, candy canes are everywhere. These sweet, peppermint-flavored canes have been around since the late-1800s, making them one of the oldest candies in America.
Today, they’re a regular part of Christmas traditions and most people eat at least one candy cane every year.
Are candy canes vegan, though?
For the most part, candy canes are vegan-friendly. Almost all brands are made of simple ingredients like sugar, corn syrup, peppermint oil, and red food coloring.
The only problem that some vegans may find with candy canes is that they contain refined white sugar, which some ethical vegans try their best to avoid.
Today, I’m going to answer all of the vegan-related questions that you’ve ever had about candy canes! Then I’ll give you a rundown of the ingredients in candy canes and explain why some vegans aren’t okay with the refined white sugar used to make them.
Are Peppermint Candy Canes Dairy-Free?
If you’ve ever eaten a peppermint candy cane before, then you may remember a smooth, creamy texture alongside the sharp bite of the peppermint.
I remember the first time that I tasted one, I thought that it must contain some type of condensed milk, cream, or another dairy product.
After looking at the ingredients list further, though, I discovered that this wasn’t the case! Peppermint candy canes are always dairy-free.
The creamy consistency comes from the combination of sugar and corn syrup. When combined, the two create a syrupy taste and texture that can often be mistaken for dairy.
Are All Candy Canes Dairy-Free?
The original candy canes that have been around since the 1800s have all been dairy-free peppermint candy canes. A lot has changed in the past 1,200 years, though, and many foods aren’t what they used to be.
Since the original peppermint candies were released, a variety of different flavors of candy canes can now be found at candy shops and grocery stores, including:
- Spearmint candy canes
- Chocolate candy canes
- Blue, Purple, Green, and other colored candy canes
That being said, all candy canes that I know of are dairy-free, and always have been.
Simply put, dairy isn’t used in any commercially available candy canes.
You might find an occasional homemade recipe that calls for dairy or condensed milk, but even these are rare finds.
Do Candy Canes Have Gelatin?
Gelatin is one of the most common ingredients found in processed food. It’s the main ingredient in Jell-O, a food that is almost entirely gelatin (aside from the added flavoring). It’s also one of the main ingredients in foods like:
- Gummy Bears
It’s mostly used as an emulsifier that holds food products together and helps them form shapes. It also gives whatever food it’s added a slightly chewy, gum-like texture. It’s the reason why Jell-O, once cooled, can maintain its shape, even though it’s mostly water!
Unfortunately, gelatin is anything but vegan.
Gelatin is a special fatty compound that’s extracted from the boiled-down bones and ligaments of slaughtered cows and pigs.
The broth is then reduced and the gelatin compound is extracted from it in a powdered form. By itself, it’s tasteless, so most people would never assume that it comes from animals!
Thankfully, candy canes are not made with gelatin.
In fact, most hard candy doesn’t contain any gelatin, as it’s not soft or chewy (attributes that gelatin contributes to). One of the best warning signs to look out for as a vegan is chewy candies. If it’s chewy, there’s a 75% chance that it contains gelatin as one of the active ingredients.
Are Brach’s Candy Canes Vegan? Ingredients Listed
Brach’s Candy Canes were first released in 1904, making them America’s oldest brand of candy canes. If you go into almost any grocery store during the holiday season, you’ll find box after box of Brach’s lining the candy aisles.
Compared to other brands of candy canes, Brach’s uses the most natural ingredients. They don’t contain all of the artificial flavors and preservatives that some of the cheaper brands of candy canes do.
They’re, also the best-selling brand of candy canes, so I figured that I’d use their recipe as a base for my ingredients list:
As you can see, these candy canes only contain five simple ingredients.
Dietarily speaking, Brach’s Candy Canes are 100% vegan. The sugar is the only questionable ingredient, as I’ll go into detail about below.
Now, let me take a minute to give you a rundown of all of the ingredients!
Sugar is the main ingredient in most candy and candy canes are no exception. Most people automatically assume that sugar is 100% vegan as it comes from the sugarcane plant. However, that’s not the whole story.
Although all refined white sugar starts off as vegan, the filtration process it goes through renders it a somewhat questionable product. Unlike most other sweeteners and unrefined brown sugar, white sugar is bleached using animal bone char.
This filtration/bleaching process removes the natural brown color and malt flavor of the sugar. The result is a more “pure” sugar that doesn’t have any of the residual flavors of the plant it was extracted from.
Unfortunately, this process directly supports the meat industry, as sugar refineries must purchase the bone char from slaughterhouses. That being said, none of the bone char actually makes its way into the sugar. This is why many vegans are okay with eating white sugar.
Either way, I’ll leave it up to you to decide for yourself.
2) Corn Syrup
In addition to white sugar, candy canes also contain corn syrup. Corn syrup is often added to candy as a secondary sweetener due to its light flavor, high level of sweetness, and syrup texture.
Once the candy is baked, it also makes for harder, more crunchy candy, which candy canes clearly are.
That being said, corn syrup is 100% vegan and isn’t filtered through any type of bone char. Like sugar, it’s not exactly healthy for you, but at least its manufacturing process doesn’t involve any questionable practices.
3) Peppermint Flavor
Brach uses real peppermint oil to make their candy canes. This is what gives them such a sharp, refreshing flavor that cools your entire mouth down. Just try drinking a glass of cold water after you eat a candy cane; you’ll see what I’m talking about!
That being said, some of the cheaper brands of candy canes may use artificial peppermint flavoring instead. I far prefer Brach’s because I believe the real peppermint oil makes a huge difference. It’s also a LOT healthier than artificial flavoring and is 100% plant-based.
4) Red Food Coloring
All peppermint candy canes contain a little bit of red food coloring. Brach’s uses two artificial food colorings: red 40 and red 40 likes. Both of these red-colored food colorings are generally safe to consume (in small amounts) and are 100% synthetic and vegan.
5) Natural Preservatives
Brach doesn’t use any natural (or unnatural) preservatives in their candy canes. That being said, many of the other cheaper brands of candy canes that I’ve seen may use coy lecithin or citric acid, both of which are naturally-derived preservatives that extend the shelf life of the product.
Are Dum Dums Candy Canes Vegan?
Earlier this week I wrote about how Dum Dum lollipops are vegan, so I’m pleased to announce that Dum Dum candy canes are vegan too!
The Verdict – Candy Canes Are (Mostly) Vegan!
If you’re a simple dietary vegan who’s not opposed to consuming white sugar, then yes – candy canes are vegan. However, if you’re trying to avoid white sugar, then you may want to find another candy that’s made with a more sustainable sweetener.
Check out my list of the best vegan cookies next if you’re looking for a sweet snack that’s 100% vegan and made with sustainable sweeteners!