Gummy bears have been around since 1920, making the popular gummy candy over a hundred years old. To this day, they’re still one of the most popular treats sold in candy stores and convenience shops around the world.
The real question you’re probably wondering about today, though, is, “Are gummy bears vegan?”
Unfortunately, most gummy bears are NOT vegan. The two main ingredients are almost always refined white sugar and gelatin, both of which are non-vegan.
Additionally, many gummy bears also contain beeswax and palm oil, two ingredients that ethical vegans always try to avoid.
While the majority of gummy bears aren’t vegan-friendly, there are several great-tasting vegan gummy bear options on the market that you can choose from.
In today’s post, I’m about to break down all of the ingredients in gummy bears, explain which ones vegans need to look out for, and why they aren’t vegan.
Then, I’ll show you some of the best vegan gummy bear alternatives on the market! Let’s take a look and find out more about this sweet treat together.
Can You Eat Gummy Bears As A Vegan?
Like most candy, gummy bears are a tricky subject. For starters, they contain refined white sugar that’s been filtered through animal bone char.
Additionally, one of the main ingredients is gelatin, a powdery substance that’s made from the boiled-down ligaments and cartilage of cows and pigs from the slaughterhouse.
Sadly, this is the case with most candy. Even some of the most vegan-friendly candies (like Gushers, for instance) contain at least one questionable ingredient. Even Pop-Tarts, which seem innocent enough, contain gelatin, which makes them non-vegan.
Of all the candy, though, it appears as if gummy bears are the least vegan-friendly. It’s a bit unexpected since gummy bears are often touted as a so-called “healthy” treat. Although they might have lower sugar than other candies, they contain more animal products than most other candies.
So, in short, vegans can’t eat gummy bears.
That being said, there are several different options to choose from if you’re looking for vegan-friendly gummy bears. However, you’ll have to buy these online or look for them at a specialty health foods store like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market.
Are Haribo Gummy Bears Vegan?
Haribo Gummy Bears are, by far, one of the most popular brands of gummy bears on the market. You can find them in almost every grocery store, Wal-Mart, or gas station in the US.
Haribo Gummy Bears aren’t vegan, though. They contain multiple non-vegan ingredients, including beeswax, palm oil, refined white sugar, and gelatin, which are all no-no ingredients. So, if you’re a vegan, then you’ll need to stay away from Haribo Bears.
What Are Gummy Bears Made Of? Ingredients Listed
I’ve always been a proponent of better understanding the ingredients in the food you eat. So, to help you understand why gummy bears aren’t vegan, I figured it would be helpful to give you a full explanation describing each ingredient.
Ever wondered what gummy bears are made of? Here’s a full breakdown of all of the ingredients in gummy bears.
For the purpose of this list, I used the ingredients in Haribo Gummy Bears, since they’re the most popular brand. Most of the mainstream gummy bear brands on the market use the same ingredients or similar ingredients.
Here’s the shortlist:
Of these ingredients, here are the ones you need to watch out for:
- Palm oil (and palm kernel oil)
Additionally, the label also says that the product contains “traces of milk,” which is another reason to avoid this particular brand of gummies if you’re a vegan.
1) Glucose Syrup
The first ingredient in gummy bears is glucose syrup. This thick, clear, sugary syrup is made from starch that’s extracted from fruits and vegetables. It’s pretty much pure sugar and is incredibly sweet.
It’s not exactly healthy for you and it can dramatically increase your blood sugar levels when you consume too much of it. It’s mostly used because it’s a clear liquid that blends well with the other ingredients used in gummy bears.
All of that being said, glucose syrup is 100% vegan. It’s a plant-based sweetener that’s extracted from plant starch without the use of any animal by-products or bone char. So, this isn’t one of the problem ingredients.
Sugar is mixed in with the glucose syrup to make an even sweeter base for Haribo’s gummy bears. Unfortunately, sugar is the first non-vegan ingredient that’s present in gummy bears.
Ethical vegans, like myself, try to avoid refined white sugar as it’s processed using animal bone char. Natural cane sugar has a light brown color and a rich, syrupy taste. Unfortunately, though, Westerners have become accustomed to pretty white sugar crystals.
To turn natural brown-colored cane sugar into white sugar, it must first be filtered through high-carbon charcoal that’s made from the fire-baked bones leftover from the slaughterhouse. The carbon in the char strips the sugar of its natural color, leaving behind pure bleached sugar.
Unfortunately, this process turns what would be an otherwise vegan-friendly product into a non-vegan product.
Gelatin is the third main ingredient in gummy bears and is also the most non-vegan ingredient. This powdery white substance is one of the most common food additives in the world and it’s used as an emulsifier to hold ingredients together.
It’s also used to give the candy a gummy-like texture, which is why it’s almost always used in gummy bears.
Although gelatin seems innocent enough, it’s actually made from pure animal fat. Slaughterhouses collect all of the cartilage, ligaments, and fatty animal tissues that they can’t sell at the supermarket and then boil them in a thick broth.
This broth is then reduced until it’s pure fat, which is then dried and processed into a tasteless white powder that’s put in our food.
Vegan gummy brands typically used a plant-based emulsifier, such as soy lecithin instead of gelatin. However, gelatin is far more cost-effective, which is why most mainstream brands use it.
Next on the list, we have dextrose. Dextrose is basically pure starch that’s extracted from corn and potatoes. This sugar, powdery additive serves multiple purposes.
First and foremost, it helps to keep moisture out of the gummy bears. It’s what prevents your gummy bears from sticking together too much.
Secondly, dextrose is used as a mild sweetener. It complements the white sugar and glucose syrup, helping the sugars stay bound together. Although dextrose isn’t a healthy starch, by any means, it is vegan since it comes straight from vegetables.
5) Citric Acid
Next up, we have citric acid! As you may be able to tell from the name, this acid is derived from the natural citrus extract. It can also be synthesized in a laboratory.
It’s unclear whether Harbio uses synthetic citric acid or plant-extracted citric acid. Either way, though, citric acid is 100% vegan and is considered a plant-based additive.
In gummy bears, citric acid plays two important roles. First and foremost, it’s a natural preservative. The citric acid makes the gummy bears more acidic, which makes the candy uninhabitable to bad bacteria that could cause it to spoil.
Secondly, citric acid gives the gummy bears a sharp, citrusy twang that you’ll be able to taste in the citrus-flavored gummies.
6) Natural & Artificial Flavors
All gummy bears, regardless of the brand, use a mixture of natural and artificial flavors to give each different color gummy bear a unique flavor.
That way, each bear tastes slightly different from the next. Some are citrus-flavored, others are berry-flavored, and depending on the brand, some may even be melon-flavored.
Thankfully, all of the natural and artificial flavors in these gummy bears (and most other brands of gummy bears) are vegan-friendly, as they’re not derived from animals or consist of meat flavor.
7) Artificial Colors
Along with artificial flavoring, we also have artificial coloring. Haribo Gummy Bears specifically use yellow 5, red 40, and blue 1. These food colorings are generally regarded as “safe,” according to the FDA.
These gummy bears also don’t use any bug or animal-derived food coloring, so at least these ingredients are vegan-friendly.
8) Palm Oil
Unfortunately, palm oil is yet another non-vegan ingredient in Haribo Gummy Bears. It’s also used in several other mainstream gummy bear brands, so always be on the lookout for this sneaky ingredient.
Although palm oil is technically a plant-based cooking oil, most ethical vegans try to avoid it unless it’s organic or Fair Trade Certified.
This is because the commercial palm oil industry is incredibly destructive to the environment, endangered species, and indigenous tribes that reside within South American and Indonesian rainforests.
Sadly, most of the world’s palm oil is sourced from regions that have very few (if any) environmental protection laws.
As a result, greedy farmers burn down thousands of acres of rainforest every single year to make room for more palm trees to feed the world’s demand for low-cost palm oil.
The rainforests are vital to our planet’s ecosystem and help filter out the greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. The destruction of rainforests for short-term profits could very well have disastrous effects on future generations and the quality of the air they have to live with.
Vegan gummies typically use canola oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, or another more sustainable type of cooking oil in place of palm oil.
9) Carnauba Wax
If you’ve ever eaten gummy bears, then you may have noticed that the outside of the gummy bears has a slightly waxy coating. This thin layer of wax keeps the gummy bears from melting into each other and becoming sticky, which they otherwise would since they’re made up of pure sugar.
It also prevents air and moisture from penetrating the gummy bears and altering the texture and consistency of the candy.
Carnauba wax is sourced from palm trees and is generally considered a plant-based ingredient, so don’t worry about this one.
Lastly, Haribo adds a bit of white beeswax to the carnauba wax. This provides an additional layer of protection against moisture and outside air and gives the gummies an extra-firm, extra-chewy texture that many people enjoy.
Unfortunately, beeswax is not considered a vegan product. Like honey, it’s taken from exploited beehives that need the wax to form their colony and hive structures.
If you want to learn more about why honey and bee products like beeswax and propolis aren’t vegan, be sure to check out my post on the topic!
How Can You Tell If A Gummy Is Vegan?
If you’re ever in doubt… check the label! The best way to tell if a certain brand of gummies is vegan or not is to read through the ingredients list. If you see any of the non-vegan ingredients that I mentioned above, then it’s not a vegan-friendly gummy bear brand.
Additionally, another way to tell if gummies are vegan is to look for the vegan symbol branded on the bag or a statement that says vegan-friendly.
What Gummies Are Vegan? The Best Vegan Gummy Bears
While most of the gummy bears on the market are off-limits for vegans, there are several organic, plant-based candy companies that make some truly great-tasting gummy bears. Here are some of the go-to favorites that I’ve found on Amazon and at whole foods stores:
The Verdict – Are Gummy Bears Vegan-Friendly?
For the most part, gummy bears are not vegan-friendly, as 95% of the gummies on the market contain gelatin along with several other questionable ingredients.
So, if you’ve got a strong craving for gummy bears, be sure to check out some of the delicious vegan gummy bear brands that I just mentioned.
Another great-tasting fruit-flavored treat that’s vegan-friendly is Skittles! To learn more and see why these are the perfect vegan treat, check out my last post where I break down all of the ingredients in the popular candy!