Do you go, “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?” General Mills Cocoa Puffs cereal is one of the most popular chocolate-flavored cereals on the market.
The simple puffed corn cereal is made with real cocoa for an authentic chocolate flavor. For some, Cocoa Puffs are breakfast. For others, Cocoa Puffs are a sweet treat for dessert.
Are Cocoa Puffs vegan, though?
Sadly, Cocoa Puffs are NOT vegan. Although most of the ingredients are plant-based the cereal contains added vitamins and minerals. Vitamin D3, specifically, is derived from sheep’s wool.
This makes it a non-vegan cereal since captive animals are used to produce one of the ingredients.
Below, I’ll give you a full breakdown of all of the ingredients used in Cocoa Puffs cereal, so you can see why they’re not as vegan-friendly as you may have thought.
Do Cocoa Puffs Have Dairy?
One of the main reasons why so many popular cereals aren’t vegan is that they contain dairy or dairy by-products. Dairy is commonly added to snacks, candy, and cereal to improve the flavor and the texture of the food.
For instance, whey powder and milk powder are added to Cheetos to help the cheese bind to the surface of the chip and give them a smoother texture when they touch your tongue. The point is – milk powder is used in a lot more foods than you may think, including cereal.
When added to cereal, it gives the cereal pieces a smoother texture, which helps them blend into the milk they’re sitting in.
However, Cocoa Puffs do not contain dairy. It’s a 100% dairy-free breakfast cereal.
Don’t get too excited about this, though, because Cocoa Puffs still isn’t a vegan-friendly food.
Do Cocoa Puffs Have Gelatin?
Much like dairy, gelatin is an incredibly common additive that’s used in a number of processed foods. This seemingly innocent Jell-O additive is used in everything from marshmallows to gummy worms. It’s tasteless and almost impossible to detect without reading the ingredients list.
The reason why gelatin is so important to look out for is that it’s derived from animal bones! It’s a fatty substance that’s most often extracted from the larger bones of cows and pigs after they’re slaughtered for meat.
Cocoa Puffs don’t contain any gelatin, though. This makes them an acceptable food for vegetarians (just not vegans, due to the vitamin D3 content in the cereal).
Are Cocoa Puffs Vegan? Ingredients Examined
Although Cocoa Puffs may be dairy-free and gelatin-free, they contain vitamin D3 – a non-vegan vitamin that’s derived from sheep’s wool. They also contain refined white sugar, a sweetener that many ethical vegans try to avoid.
Below, I’ll go through each of the ingredients used in Cocoa Puffs, so you can tell which ones are problematic. This will also give you a good knowledge base to rely on in the future. These ingredients are commonly found in other cereals, so it’s good to know what they are!
Here’s the shortlist, obtained from the General Mills website:
Now, let’s go through the list and clear through any confusion!
1) Whole Grain Corn
Cocoa Puffs are, first and foremost, a puffed corn cereal. This makes them similar to Kix, Pops, Corn Flakes, etc. Corn is one of the most commonly used ingredients in cereal.
Its sweet taste makes it more appealing to kids. When used in its whole grain form, it’s also quite nutritious.
The whole grain corn is first ground into a thick flour-like substance. Then, it’s blended with the other ingredients before being heated and puffed into the round circular balls used in cereal.
Like most other sweet breakfast cereals, Cocoa Puffs are sweetened with sugar. Unfortunately, General Mills uses refined white sugar to sweeten all of its cereals, which makes them problematic for vegans.
Many people aren’t aware that white sugar goes through a filtration process that uses bone char – a special type of charcoal that’s made from fire-baked animal bones.
If you’ve ever compared raw brown cane sugar (or turbinado sugar) to white sugar, then you’ll realize that there’s a pretty significant difference.
To turn the raw sugar into white sugar (which is more concentrated) the raw sugar must be filtered through bone char, which removes its brown color, and malty syrup coating, and leaves behind the pure sugar.
Unfortunately, this whole process supports the meat industry, as sugar refineries must purchase the bone char from slaughterhouses. This is why most vegan-friendly cereals are made with organic cane sugar or brown rice syrup instead of white sugar.
3) Corn Meal
Cornmeal is very similar to corn flour. The main difference between the two is that cornmeal is a bit thicker than flour. It’s thicker and has a grittier consistency. This makes it taste more wholesome and gives the cereal a more natural flavor.
Cornmeal is the main base that’s used to make foods like cornbread and corn muffins. It’s 100% vegan, as it’s just made from dried, ground corn kernels! It’s also a gluten-free source of carbs, since corn is not a grain, and therefore doesn’t contain gluten.
4) Corn Syrup
In addition to white sugar, Cocoa Puffs are sweetened with corn syrup. Corn syrup is a light, fruity-tasting syrup that’s extracted from sweet corn. It’s an all-natural, vegan-friendly syrup that doesn’t require the use of any animal bones or other non-vegan filtration methods.
Cocoa Puffs wouldn’t be Cocoa Puffs if it wasn’t for the real cocoa used in the cereal. It’s one of the main ingredients, which is why the cereal is so chocolatey and delicious. Cocoa is 100% organic and plant-based.
To make cocoa powder, cocoa beans are cleaned, baked, and ground into a fine baking powder. This is what’s used to make hot cocoa, brownies, chocolate cake, and more!
In addition to being plant-based, cocoa actually has some interesting health benefits. It provides you with a mild energy boost, can lower your blood pressure, and can even induce mild feelings of euphoria.
6) Canola Oil
Like most cereal, Cocoa Puffs contain a small amount of canola oil. This cooking oil is used to help the cocoa bind to the surface of the puffed corn cereal pieces. It also strengthens the dough of the cereal, making it firmer and not so crumbly.
Canola oil is a sustainable, vegan-friendly cooking oil that’s naturally extracted from the pressed seeds of canola flowers. It’s often used for baking and frying as it has a high-temperature tolerance.
Fructose is a fruit-derived sweetener that comes in the form of pure fruit syrup. It’s often added to cereal to create a more complex layer of sweetness.
Instead of the pure sugary flavor of corn syrup and white sugar, fructose adds a lighter, more tangy note. This blends well with the cocoa powder, as cocoa has a slightly fruity aftertaste.
Fructose syrup is always vegan, as it’s derived from fruits.
Almost all varieties and brands of cereal use salt in their cereal dough recipe. Salt serves two purposes when used in baking.
For one, it strengthens the dough and creates firmer, stronger pieces of cereal. This, in turn, creates a more crunchy texture, which is desirable when it comes to cereal.
Secondly, salt improves the flavor of the dough and helps to balance out some of the sweetness.
9) Caramel Color
While the real cocoa provides most of the natural coloring for the Cocoa Puffs, It’s still not quite dark enough to have that deep dark brown shade. To achieve this deeper level of chocolate coloring, General Mills adds artificial caramel coloring to their cereal.
This ingredient is generally considered vegan since it’s artificial and created in a lab.
10) Refiner’s Syrup
Refiner’s syrup is a simple brown sugar syrup that’s extracted from raw cane sugar. It’s often used as a binding agent and a mild sweetener. Refiner’s syrup is vegan-friendly, though, so you shouldn’t worry about it.
11) Baking Soda
Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a leavening agent. It’s often used in baking to strengthen the dough and prevent it from rising too much. When combined with salt, baking soda makes for a firmer, crunchier, and stronger piece of cereal.
Baking soda is vegan-friendly, as it’s made from organic compounds found in the earth.
12) Natural Flavors
While the cocoa powder provides some flavoring, many of the sweeter-tasting notes are the result of added natural flavors. These flavors are most likely vanilla, chocolate, and other undisclosed additives that add to the sweet chocolate flavor of the cereal.
Usually, natural flavors are vegan-friendly. However, some natural flavors aren’t vegan, as they come from dairy or meat sources. It’s unclear whether or not Cocoa Puffs use any animal-derived flavorings.
13) Added Vitamins & Minerals
To make Cocoa Puffs more appealing to parents, most cereal manufacturers add additional vitamins and minerals to their cereal. This makes them healthier so parents don’t feel guilty about feeding their kids a bowl full of sugar cereal!
While the added vitamins and minerals are certainly healthy (and essential), the vitamin D3 contained in the blend is not vegan.
Unfortunately, it’s extracted from leftover sheep wool, which is non-vegan due to the fact that sheep are exploited. Vegans typically supplement with vitamin D2, which is absorbed similarly by the body.
The Verdict – Are Cocoa Puffs Vegan-Friendly?
Unfortunately, Cocoa Puffs are NOT vegan-friendly. They contain vitamin D3, an animal-derived vitamin, and white sugar, which is refined using animal products. That being said, there are plenty of other great-tasting vegan cereals on the market.
To see some of my favorites, continue reading my list of the best vegan cereal brands next!