Are Marshmallows Vegan? A Deliciously Sinful Snack (2022)

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? 

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

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. 

Interesting, right? 

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:

What Are Marshmallows Made Of

 

1) Sugar

Sugar

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 + High-Fructose 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. 

3) Dextrose

Dextrose

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. 

4) Cornstarch

Modified Cornstarch

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

Artificial Food 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. 

6) Gelatin

Do Pop-Tarts Have Animal Gelatin

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. 

7) Air 

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? 

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: 

Vegan Marshmallows

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. 

3) Water

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. 

5) Carrageenan

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. 

7) Flavoring

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? 

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? 

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… 

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Author Bio
Im Emma and I’m the creator of Vegan Calm. When I became a vegan seven years ago, I mainly did it for health and ethical reasons. To my surprise, it had another amazing benefit; I became a much calmer and peaceful person. This change inspired me to create Vegan Calm. Whether you’ve been a vegan for a long time or just want to learn more, this website will have something for you.

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