Are Nerds Vegan? Heartbreak For Candy Lovers (2023)

Nerds were one of the first really popular candies offered by The Willy Wonka Candy Factory in 1983.

For nearly forty years, these addictive, fruit-flavored mini-balls have been one of the best-selling candies in America. Just because a candy tastes like fruit, doesn’t always mean that it’s always vegan, though. 

So, are nerds vegan? 

Vegan candy lovers will be disappointed to learn that Nerds are NOT vegan-friendly. Although most of the ingredients aren’t direct animal by-products, many colors of nerds use carmine dye, which is made from the crushed remains of red-colored cochineal insects. 

If you’ve ever been curious about Nerds or wondered if any of the flavors of Nerds are vegan, then you’re in the right place! In today’s post, I’ll give you a full breakdown of all of the ingredients in Nerds and explain why most Nerds aren’t vegan. 

To learn more, keep on reading… 

Are Nerds Ropes Vegan? 

Are Nerds Ropes Vegan

Willy Wonka released the first version of their original Nerds Rope in 2001, just over twenty years ago!

The turn of the century deserved a new type of candy, and sweet-tooth candy lovers everywhere loved the combination of the hard Nerds-covered exterior with the soft, gooey, sugary “rope” underneath. 

Unfortunately, Nerds Ropes are not vegan. Not only are they covered with non-vegan Nerds (which use animal-derived dye) but they also contain pork-derived gelatin.

The gooey ropes that candy lovers enjoy so much are made almost entirely of gelatin and sugar, making them just as non-vegan as the small nerds that coat them

If you’re looking for a soft, rope-like treat, then I recommend Twizzlers instead. If you’re not a strict vegan and don’t mind consuming white sugar, then these can give you the chewy fix you’re looking for. 

Are Nerds Gummy Clusters Vegan? 

Are Nerds Gummy Clusters Vegan

Nerds Gummy Clusters are the latest invention from the Nerds factory. They’re basically small gummy circles that are coated with small Nerds. 

Just like Nerds Ropes, however, Nerds Gummy Clusters are not vegan-friendly. For one, the Nerds covering them are non-vegan due to carmine dye. Secondly, the gummy balls underneath the Nerds are primarily made of animal-derived gelatin, making them even less vegan-friendly. 

Thankfully, there are a few manufacturers who make vegan-friendly gummies. These vegan gummies are made using soluble corn fiber and cornstarch instead of gelatin. If you’re interested, check out the following options: 

  • Pink Panda Sour Vegan Gummies (link)
  • Better Bears Low-Sugar Vegan Gummy Bears (link)
  • Yupik Organic Vegan Gummy Bears (link)

Are There Any Vegan Nerds? 

Are There Any Vegan Nerds

Technically speaking, some colors of Nerds could be considered vegan-friendly. The main issue with Nerds is that the pink and red-colored Nerds are made with carmine dye, which is derived from crushed-up cochineal beetles

The red-colored cochineal beetles are mass-farmed and then methodically crushed, which causes them to exude a deep red-colored dye.

This cruel practice was used long before chemical dyes and food coloring was created, which is one of the only reasons it’s still used today. 

That being said, the red and pink Nerds are the main ones you need to stay away from. If you happen to find a container of pure purple, blue, or white-colored Nerds, they should be more vegan-friendly, since they don’t contain carmine. 

Then again, the whole idea of going vegan is to not support companies that use animal by-products.

So, by purchasing a package of multi-colored Nerds and then just eating the ones that aren’t red or pink, you’re still doing the same damage by supporting a mostly non-vegan product. 

This is where lines can sometimes get blurred as a vegan, though, so I’ll let you make your own decisions as far as this is concerned. 

What Are Nerds Made Of? What Vegans Need To Know

Whenever I write these types of posts, I always like to give an in-depth breakdown of the main ingredients used to make the food in question. So, with that in mind, here are the main ingredients used to make Nerds candies. 

1) Dextrose


Dextrose is a simple sugar that’s usually derived from corn or wheat. Compared to other sugars, dextrose is incredibly simple, which allows our bodies to quickly absorb it.

Chemically speaking, it’s actually identical to the blood sugar in our own bodies! 

Because it’s absorbed so readily by the body, dextrose is also considered one of the least healthy sugars. When consumed in large amounts, it can dangerously increase your blood sugar levels and cause diabetic-related symptoms such as swelling or loss of vision. 

This is just another reason why I don’t think that anybody (vegan or non-vegan) should be eating Nerds on a regular basis. 

2) Sugar


Sugar is the second main ingredient used in Nerds. Now, you may be wondering, “Why do they use dextrose AND sugar?” To that, I really have no answer.

Candy companies are notorious for using multiple types of sugar in their products to make them more addictive and appealing to the taste buds. 

Here’s another thing to consider before eating Nerds: most of the sugar used in candy is non-vegan

Although pure cane sugar is generally regarded as vegan-friendly, the processed, refined white sugar used by most mainstream candy brands is not vegan due to how it’s processed.

Refined sugar is typically filtered through animal bone char, which removes the natural brown color from the granules and turns it into pretty-looking white crystals. 

Unfortunately, this process turns otherwise vegan sugar into non-vegan sugar. 

3) Malic Acid

Malic acid is a common ingredient in foods like Jolly Ranchers, Sweet Tarts, and others. Malic acid is a natural compound that’s derived from fruit, which makes it vegan-friendly.

Malic acid is typically used to give a sour taste to candy or fruity beverages and is responsible for the slightly sour taste that you’ll find in Nerds. 

4) Corn Syrup

Corn Syrup

Corn syrup is the third sugar used in Nerds. At this point, I think the company is just trying to see how many different types of sugar they can put into one tiny little ball of candy… 

Corn syrup is a plant-based sweetener that’s derived from corn and is completely vegan. It may not be the healthiest sweetener, but at least it’s not filtered through bone char or stolen from animals (like honey). 

5) Artificial Flavoring

Artificial Flavoring

Although Nerds may taste like fruit, none of the flavorings is natural. All of it is the result of various artificial flavorings used by Willy Wonka. It’s safe to assume the artificial colorings are vegan-friendly, though, since they all taste fruity. 

6) Carnauba Wax

Carnauba Wax

Carnauba wax is a naturally-derived wax that comes from a species of palm trees. It’s generally considered vegan and is safe to eat. It’s added to give the Nerds a dry surface and prevents the small candies from sticking together in the packaging. 

7) Carmine Color 

Carmine Color 

Carmine color is used in the red and pink-colored Nerds. Since it’s derived from insects, it’s, unfortunately, non-vegan and is the main reason why Nerds are on my no-go list. 

8) Artificial Food Coloring 

Artificial Food Coloring 

The other colors of Nerds are artificially colored using dyes like red 40, blue 1 and 2, yellow 5, and yellow 6. 

The Verdict – Vegans Should Avoid Nerds

Vegans Should Avoid Nerds

I’ll admit, Nerds used to be one of my favorite candies as a small child. However, I grew up and realized that most of my favorite candies were non-vegan and that I’d been eating bugs and pork fat my whole life without even realizing it.

Simply put, vegans should avoid Nerds altogether

If you’re looking for a delicious vegan-friendly treat, then I recommend checking out your local Tropical Smoothie Cafe! They offer lots of delicious vegan smoothies that are far healthier and sweetened with natural fruit juice. 

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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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