Lemonheads first hit candy store shelves in 1962, making them one of the oldest lemon-flavored candies in the US.
Each little yellow candy is shaped like a lemon, flavored with real lemon, and bursting with sweet-and-sour flavors. They used to be one of my favorite movie theater treats back in the day.
However, are Lemonheads vegan?
Unfortunately, Lemonheads are NOT vegan-friendly. Although they’re made with a few real fruit ingredients, the majority of the ingredients aren’t plant-based. Lemonheads contain both white sugar and shellac-based confectioner’s glaze (which comes from bugs).
In today’s post, I’m going to give you a full breakdown of the ingredients used in Lemonheads, so you can see for yourself why they’re not a great choice for vegans. Let’s take a deeper look!
Can Vegans Eat Lemonheads?
I get why you might think that Lemonheads are vegan. If you go based on the packaging alone, it looks like a delicious fruity snack. While they certainly taste fruity, they’re not quite as plant-based as they may seem.
This is why you should always read the ingredients label and never go based on how “natural” the packaging and advertising are.
Vegans shouldn’t eat Lemonheads, as they’re made with confectioner’s glaze, which contains shellac (from beetles). The candy also contains white sugar, which is filtered through animal bone char.
While neither of these ingredients is as bad as eating real meat, they’re both products that indirectly contribute to animal cruelty.
For example, shellac involves the exploitation of the female lac bug, which excretes shellac. Sugar refineries purchase animal bone char from slaughterhouses, thereby supporting the continued suffering and murder of animals.
Feeling bad about that Lemonhead you ate the other day?
Don’t beat yourself up about it. Going vegan is a continuous journey that involves a lot of learning. You’d be surprised at just how many micro-ingredients there are in your food that isn’t vegan.
During my first couple of years as a vegan, I accidentally ate loads of different foods that I thought were vegan, just because I didn’t fully understand everything on the ingredients list.
But that’s why you’re here, right?
Are Lemonheads Made With Real Fruit?
One of the few redeeming factors of Lemonheads is that they’re one of the few candies on the market that are made with real fruit juice.
That’s right, Lemonheads are made with real lemon juice. Lemon is one of those flavors that’s almost impossible to replicate artificially, so this is why Lemonheads are bursting with citrus flavors.
Sadly, Lemonheads are still not vegan. It’s just an interesting fact that I thought I’d share.
What Are Lemonheads Made Of? Ingredients Revealed
So what exactly are Lemonheads made of? Why is this candy so iconic? Why is it so non-vegan?
The answer to all of your questions lies below, where I’ve broken down all of the ingredients used in this popular candy.
If you’ve ever been curious about what candy is made from or wanted to learn more about the micro-ingredients used in processed foods, then you’ve come to the right place.
Below, I’ll give you a quick explanation of each of these confusing-sounding additives, so you can see for yourself!
But first, here’s the short list of the ingredients:
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these…
Sugar is the main ingredient in Lemonheads candy. While most people think of sugar as a relatively innocent ingredient, this is not quite the full story. That’s because sugar is refined through a process that uses animal bone char.
To turn the natural cane sugar into the more concentrated white sugar, the larger cane sugar crystals must first be filtered through the bone char to remove their outer coating of malt. This leaves behind a more concentrated white sugar crystal that’s more “pure.”
While this process results in a sweeter sugar, it’s also caused many vegans to reevaluate whether or not they want to continue consuming white sugar.
2) Corn Syrup
Corn syrup is another plant-based sweetener used in Lemonheads. This sweetener is made from sweet corn and doesn’t go through any refining processes that involve animal products.
So, vegans can consume corn syrup without any guilt or remorse! Just be sure to check how much you consume, as it’s still empty sugar and carbs.
3) Citric Acid
Citric acid is a natural plant-based acid that’s found within citrus fruits! It’s also found in other types of fruit as well, just in lower concentrations. Although most of the citric acid used in today’s food is man-made, it’s still vegan since it doesn’t contain or use any animal products.
It’s used as a natural preservative and a flavor additive to give Lemonheads a more citrus-like flavor.
4) Lemon Juice
The secret to the explosive flavor of Lemonheads is the real lemon juice that’s used in the candy. They’re made with lemon juice concentrate, which is a far more concentrated version of lemon juice and lends itself to a very strong lemon flavor.
5) Confectioner’s Glaze
Confectioner’s glaze is a sugary glaze that’s used to make certain candy (and donuts) look bright, shiny, and delicious. However, it’s not a vegan-friendly additive.
That’s because the confectioner’s glaze contains shellac, which is a non-vegan ingredient made from the excretions of the female lac bug.
6) Natural & Artificial Flavors
Lemon juice isn’t the only flavoring that Lemonheads are made with. The candy also contains a number of natural and artificial flavors designed to create a more complex fruity flavor.
7) Acacia Gum Arabic
Acacia or “gum arabic” is a type of natural gum that comes from the acacia Senegal tree.
This gum is often used in candy to create a chewy texture. If you’ve ever eaten a Lemonhead before, then you’ll remember that they’re perfectly chewy while not being too hard. This is thanks to the acacia gum!
Since it’s a natural additive derived from a tree, it’s a vegan-friendly food additive.
8) Modified Corn Starch
Next, we have modified corn starch. I believe this is one of the main ingredients used in the outside shell of the Lemonheads. It’s a simple plant-based starch that’s often used in baking. It helps keep the candy moisture-free and lends itself to a more enjoyable texture.
9) Carnauba Wax
Carnauba wax sometimes gets a bad rep because it’s often used as car wax. However, I assure you that it’s a completely natural ingredient that’s extracted from the wax of palm trees.
Carnauba wax also has an incredibly high melting point, so it’s not even digested or absorbed by our bodies. This wax is just used to coat the outside of each Lemonhead, preventing them from melting or becoming too gooey while they’re in the package.
Check out this video if you want to learn more:
10) Food Coloring
All Lemonheads are colored with artificial yellow 6 food coloring. This food coloring is FDA-approved and is 100% vegan since it’s made in a lab.
11) White Mineral Oil
White mineral oil is often used to coat the outside of candy and snacks, as it prevents the Lemonheads from sticking to each other and getting messy. It’s a natural additive that’s made from refined petroleum.
Conclusion – Are Lemonheads Vegan-Friendly?
Sadly, most candy isn’t vegan for one reason or another. Like other candies I’ve reviewed, Lemonheads aren’t vegan-friendly due to the fact that they contain both sugar and shellac.
However, if you’re looking for a delicious, vegan-friendly sweet treat, I recommend checking out my list of the best vegan ice cream brands instead! They’re made with plant-based milk, so they’re all 100% dairy-free.