From vegan chocolate to chewy taffy, there are plenty of options to sweeten up your day the plant-based way. But how can you tell which candies are vegan? Whether you're preparing for Halloween, Easter, Christmas, a movie night, or any other occasion, we're here to show you which candies are vegan. You can have your vegan candy and eat it too!
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Everyone is born with an innate attraction to all things sweet, so it should come as no surprise that the love of candy transcends all ages and cultural boundaries. As far back as 2000 BCE, ancient Egyptians were making treats from honey, nuts, and dried fruits like dates and figs. Not long after, dried sugarcane was used in India to create the world’s first granulated sweetener, and there’s been no end to confectionery innovation since then.
Now, candies come in all colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors imaginable, which is both good and bad news for discerning eaters. All too often, undesirable ingredients make it into the mix, including animal products. How can you avoid them while still satisfying your sweet tooth as a vegan? It’s easy when you know what to look for!
What Makes Candy Not Vegan?
Animal products have been historically used as cheaper shortcuts to make mass production possible. You may not recognize the names at first, and to make matters worse, it’s almost impossible to read all that fine print on such a tiny label. When in doubt, consult the brand’s website for a closer look. Keep an eye out for the following:
Milk, whey, butter, butterfat, or casein: Though this may seem obvious, dairy can show up in some surprising places. Beware that “lactose-free” doesn’t necessarily mean dairy-free, too.
Eggs, egg whites, or egg albumin: Often used to bind sugary substances together, egg derivatives can be found in sweets such as meringue.
Gelatin: Made from ground hooves and bones, this is what gives many old-fashioned gummies their chew and marshmallows their springy texture.
Beeswax: There are many other perfectly good food grade waxes that will prevent candies from sticking to one another, but this option is harvested from bees that really need it more than we do.
Honey: As a ploy to give sugary treats a health halo, honey is sometimes used as a supposedly more natural alternative to white sugar. It’s too bad it’s inherently cruel on a commercial scale, and definitely not vegan.
Confectioner’s glaze or shellac: This sounds so innocent, and it’s included for purely aesthetic reasons. This substance gives many candies a shiny outer shell, but unfortunately, it’s the product of bug secretions. (Ewww!)
Carmine or cochneal: Waiter, there’s a bug in my candy! That’s right, this red coloring comes from the natural pigments found in various insects.
Bone char: This is quite possibly the worst offender on this list because unlike the others, manufacturers don’t need to list this as an ingredient, so it’s very hard to know when it has or hasn’t been used. It’s part of the process used to bleach sugar bright white, using cattle bones.
Mainstream Candies That are “Accidentally” Vegan
When you want an accessible, affordable treat to share with everyone for holidays like Halloween or Easter, or just need to satisfy a craving while on the road, there are lots of great candies on the market that are perfectly suitable for vegans.
As always, formulas can change without notice, so make sure you check labels before you purchase.
Brach’s Cinnamon Hard Candy, Hi-C Fruit Slices, Hi-C Orange Slices, Beer Barrels, and Star Brites
Smarties (made in the US only)
Atkins Peanut Butter Bar
Chew-et’s Peanut Chews
Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews
Lance Peanut Bar
Big League Chew
Hubba Bubba Bubblegum
Specialty Vegan Candies & Vegan Candy Brands
Gourmet, high-end ingredients, fancy flavors, and dedicated vegan brands are elevating the art of confectionary as we know it. These are truly special treats, some of which may need to be ordered online, but are worth the extra effort.
And so much more! The great news is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller, local producers that are just getting started. Always seek out these sweet, inventive individuals and support small business!
Homemade Vegan Candy Recipes
If you prefer a DIY approach, you have even more options when it comes to vegan candy, both simple and complex. Here are some sweet ideas to get you started:
National Candy Day is celebrated every year on November 4th.
Americans consume an average of 22 – 25 pounds of candy per person each year, and yet that’s still less than Germans, who eat roughly twice that amount!
Sees Candy created the world’s largest lollipop on July 18, 2012, in Burlingame, California, which weighed 7,003 pounds.
Despite being a controversial selection for some, candy corn is the bestselling non-chocolate candy in the US, to the tune of 20 million pounds per year. Clearly, someone must be eating it! But is candy corn vegan? No, sadly candy corn is not vegan.
May this vegan candy guide bring some sweetness to your life! If we missed any of your favorite vegetarian candies, feel free to mention them in the comments below. Thanks for stopping by, and we hope to see you again!
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