The concept of marshmallows has been around since the ancient Egyptians and was once a plant-based cough remedy designed to relieve sore throats. However, today’s marshmallows are nothing like the plant-based remedies of the past and have completely different ingredients.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering, “Are marshmallows vegan?”
Sadly, today’s marshmallows are NOT vegan. They’re made with refined white sugar (non-vegan), corn syrup, and gelatin (non-vegan). Refined white sugar is non-vegan because it’s filtered through bone char and gelatin is a substance made from boiled-down animal fat.
That being said, there are several companies that make their own vegan-friendly marshmallows! In today’s post, I’ll break down the ingredients used in marshmallows and explain exactly why they’re not vegan.
Then, I’ll give you some fun facts and history about marshmallows and show you what vegan marshmallows are made of.
The next time you have a bonfire, you’ll know exactly what you can and can’t roast over the fire…
Do Marshmallows Have Meat In Them?
No, marshmallows don’t have “meat” in them.
However, they do contain gelatin, which is a meat-derived product. Gelatin is one of the most common food additives in the world and is added to foods such as Jell-O, PopTarts, and many of your favorite candies.
It’s basically a tasteless powder that gives foods a bouncy, gel-like consistency.
Gelatin is the only reason why marshmallows have that bouncy, squishy texture. Without it, they’d just be sad lumps of melted sugar.
The problem is that gelatin is a direct meat by-product.
After slaughterhouses butcher animals and distribute the cuts of meat, they’re left with ligaments, tendons, bones, and other fatty tissues that they can’t sell. They boil all of these leftovers down to make a thick broth and then evaporate the water.
The remaining “goo” is pure, fatty gelatin, which is then turned into gelatin powder for use in baking.
Unfortunately, gelatin is used in 99% of all store-bought marshmallows. This means that generally speaking, marshmallows are not vegan-friendly.
Although some manufacturers do make vegan-friendly marshmallows, these are often hard to find and have to be specially purchased from online retailers or specialty vegan grocery stores.
Marshmallow History & Fun Facts
Today’s sugar-and-gelatin marshmallows are completely different from the ancient marshmallow remedies consumed by our ancestors.
Marshmallow is actually a type of semi-sweet root that’s known for its medicinal anti-inflammatory properties. It was traditionally used in teas and tonics to help people with inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Most notably, a sweet treat made from marshmallow roots, egg whites, and sugar was often given to children who were suffering from cough and sore throat.
The warm sugar would sweeten the bitterness of the root and the root would reduce swelling and painful sore throat symptoms. The egg white was added to hold the mixture together and serve as an emulsifier.
To this day, you can still buy real marshmallow root tea. It’s a great natural remedy for cough and sore throat!
Here’s something even crazier, though: Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and royalty used to make a sweet marshmallow treat that they would roast over the fire. This is where the tradition of “roasting marshmallows” comes from!
Ancient Egyptian marshmallows were made by mixing raw harvested honey and marshmallow root sap over an open fire. The result was a thick, sweet-tasting paste that was regarded as “the food of the gods.”
What Are Marshmallows Made Of?
Today’s marshmallows are nothing like the ancient remedies, as they contain absolutely zero marshmallow root. To be honest, I’m not even sure why they’re called marshmallows, since they don’t even contain the ingredient that they’re named after!
Here’s what the ingredients list of most marshmallows looks like:
Refined sugar is the primary ingredient in today’s marshmallows. This is the only “original” ingredient that’s always been used in marshmallow treats throughout history. Unfortunately, the sugar used in today’s marshmallows is not ethically vegan.
Although it’s a plant-based sweetener, it’s filtered through animal bone char, which makes it decidedly non-vegan.
2) Corn Syrup
Corn syrup is used in almost equal amounts to white sugar. It provides a thick syrupy base that the rest of the ingredients can cook down in. It also gives the marshmallows a hyper-sweet flavor profile, as corn syrup is far more concentrated and sweet than cane sugar.
Dextrose is a type of starch that’s typically derived from corn or wheat. This is a simple sugar that makes the marshmallows more addictive, due to the fact that it’s identical to the blood sugar glucose found in our bodies.
Our bodies instantly recognize the sugar molecule and absorb it faster, resulting in an immediate energy boost and a sweeter food.
Cornstarch is usually added to the outside of marshmallows. This is why they have a slightly powdery coating on their exterior.
If it wasn’t for cornstarch, all of the marshmallows would melt together in the bag and you’d be left with a big bag of white, sugary goo!
5) Natural + Artificial Flavors & Coloring
Most marshmallows have a light vanilla flavoring that’s designed to make them taste somewhat similar to real marshmallow root. However, some marshmallows may also have fruit flavors (i.e., the pink and blue marshmallows or the chocolate marshmallows).
Artificial food coloring may also be added to marshmallows to achieve the perfect white color or the pink, blue, and brown color of flavored marshmallows.
Gelatin is the main active ingredient in marshmallows. Essentially, today’s marshmallows are just balls of foamed corn syrup, dextrose, and sugar. The gelatin stabilizes the foam and ensures that the marshmallows keep their foam-like texture.
Last but not least, the marshmallows are injected with air. This air is trapped inside the gelatin and sugar mixture. If you ever take a bite of a marshmallow, you’ll see lots of small air pockets from where the air was pumped into the marshmallows.
Are Marshmallows Gluten-Free?
Although marshmallows aren’t vegan, they are gluten-free. They don’t contain any gluten, which is an inflammatory protein found in wheat, barley, rye, triticale, and certain oats.
Vegan Marshmallows: Ingredients Listed
Now that you know what today’s non-vegan marshmallows are made of, here’s a look at what vegan marshmallows are made with instead. For this breakdown, I looked at Dandies’ Vegan Vanilla-Flavored Marshmallows, which are my favorite vegan marshmallows!
Here’s the ingredients list:
1) Tapioca Syrup
Tapioca syrup is a healthier alternative to corn syrup and contains fewer GMOs.
2) Unrefined Cane Sugar
Vegan marshmallows use unrefined, unfiltered cane sugar instead of the white bone char-filtered sugar used by non-vegan marshmallows.
Water is simply used as part of the cooking process. Very little water remains in the final product.
4) Tapioca Starch
Tapioca starch is a healthier, more natural alternative to cornstarch and is responsible for the powdery coating on the surface of the vegan marshmallows.
Carrageenan is an emulsifier that takes the place of gelatin in these vegan marshmallows. Unlike animal-derived gelatin, carrageenan is derived from red seaweed!
6) Soy Protein
A bit of soy protein is added to give the vegan marshmallows a slightly more bouncy texture.
Last but not least, a bit of vanilla flavoring is added to give the vegan marshmallows that classic vanilla taste that you’re used to!
Are Trader Joe’s Marshmallows Vegan?
Trader Joe’s is a great spot to find vegan-friendly foods and snacks. Recently, they changed their marshmallow recipe, and now, ALL Trader Joe’s brand marshmallows are 100% vegan and made with plant-based ingredients.
The Verdict – Can Vegans Eat Marshmallows?
Vegans should avoid 99% of store-bought marshmallows as they contain refined white sugar and gelatin, two non-vegan ingredients. Instead, I encourage you to check out Trader Joe’s vegan-friendly marshmallows or Dandies vegan marshmallows (available on Amazon)!
If you liked this post, then you’ll love my post answering whether or not caramel is vegan. This traditional candy has been around for almost as long as marshmallows and has an equally confusing answer…