Is gelatin vegan? Plus 5 Plant-Based Alternatives – VegNews | Directory Mayhem

Why aren’t starbursts, marshmallows and jello vegan? These seemingly innocent products contain gelatin. The use of this ingredient means that these foods and others are not only unsuitable for vegans, but also banned for vegetarians. No, there’s no meat hidden in marshmallows, but there are less appetizing animal components lurking in gelatin, a typical ingredient in marshmallows. There’s a long process between peep and the animal it’s made from, but the unfortunate truth is that many foods still rely on gelatin to get their specific texture. Here’s everything you need to know about gelatin and five plant-based alternatives to satisfy your sweet tooth.

What is gelatin?

In its purest form, gelatin is a clear, tasteless protein made from animal collagen. Typically derived from cows and pigs, collagen is a substance that makes up cartilage, skin, and bones. Essentially, it helps hold the body together. This property also applies to food. Gelatin is most commonly used to thicken or solidify liquids or semi-liquids to achieve a specific texture. Chewing gum, mushy marshmallows, gooey fruit candy, and quick pastry creams all rely on gelatin for texture. Pure gelatin comes in both sheet and powder form. Both must be activated by dissolving them in warm liquid and then allowing them to cool to set. If you’re a fan of non-vegan baking shows, you’ve probably seen contestants dipping sheets of gelatin in hot water or frantically whipping gelatin powder over the stove. Just like dino-shaped nuggets, gelatin’s unassuming, translucent appearance makes people forget that this substance is purely animal parts — the parts most would never consider eating (mmm, sinews?).


Which foods contain gelatin?

There are vegan exceptions, or just accidental vegan-friendly one-offs, but gelatin is most commonly found in gummy bears (including gummy vitamins), marshmallows, sweetcorn, panna cottas, fruit snacks, and some confectionery creams, including Bavarian creams, puddings, custards, and mousses. Not to state the obvious, but Jell-O is essentially flavored and sweetened gelatin. Although not quite as common, gelatin can also be used in some ice cream recipes (it acts as a stabilizer). Common brands that use gelatin include Jet-Puffed, Peeps, Altoids, Starburst, Jell-O, Lifesavers, Haribo, Trolli, frosted Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispy Treats, and frosted cereals like Frosted Mini-Wheats. Unless packaging specifically states “plant-based” or “vegan,” it’s always a good idea to check the ingredient label for products with a mushy, gummy, or jiggly texture.


Vegetable gelatine alternatives

Animal gelatin isn’t the only thing that can make a candy gum or turn a confectioner’s cream into a thick and velvety pudding. Cornstarch and agar-agar (a seaweed-based product found in the seaweed section) were both used to successfully reproduce these tricky textures. Like gelatin, both cornstarch and agar-agar are activated when combined with a hot liquid. Cornstarch thickens a liquid in minutes, and agar-agar is similarly fast and can solidify at room temperature.

Cornstarch is a decent substitute for gelatin when you’re whipping up something creamy, like B. pastry cream, pudding or cheesecake. Typically, one tablespoon of cornstarch is used per cup of liquid. Again, this mixture needs to be heated to activate the thickening properties of the cornstarch. Agar-agar is a more universal alternative to gelatin, but less is more. You only need about 1/3 to 1/2 the amount of agar to replace the gelatin. Too much of that seaweed, and you’ll end up with a very ponderous dessert.

Food tech companies are also working on cruelty-free gelatin products. Geltor — a Silicon Valley startup founded in 2015 — is a leader in creating vegan proteins that mimic the qualities of animal substances like collagen and gelatin. In 2020, the company raised $91 million to fund this effort and now offers four solutions for commercial use in cosmetics, skincare and food.

Plant-based marshmallows, gummy bears and more

Making your own vegan marshmallows can be a fun weekend project, but most aren’t up to the task when the cravings call. Here are just a few standout brands that make our favorite gelatin-free products.


1 Marshmallows

Dandies realized their vegan campfire dreams when they launched their first vegan marshmallows in 2010. The original puffy treats are still a staple, but the company has since expanded its candy line to include mini marshmallows and flavored seasonal varieties like pumpkin, peppermint, and maple. Trader Joe’s branded marshmallows are also accidentally vegan. Fancy some rice Krispy treats? Check out Made Good and Blake’s Seed Based for these conveniently packaged sweet treats.

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2 gummy bear

The good news is that Swedish fish are inadvertently vegan. However, most bears, worms, and other gummies are not. Surf Sweets fills the void for vegan fruity gummy bears and rings, and YumEarth will satisfy any Starburst-like fruit chew craving. Sour Candy fans should definitely check out SmartSweets for their Sourmelon Bite and Sour Blast buddies.

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3 Gummy vitamins

No matter how old you are, you’re never too old to take your vitamins. When these concentrated bites come in gummies rather than pill form, no one can judge. Vitamin Friends makes nutrient-specific vitamins for kids and adults in flavors like Strawberry Jam, Cola, and Mystery Flavor. Popping a few doesn’t excuse you from eating iron-rich foods, but a tasty little boost of gummy iron can’t hurt.

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4 jello

Simply Delish is the most accessible proxy for the legendary Jell-O brand. The vegan company offers instant puddings and Jell-O desserts that will remind you of the simple desserts you ate growing up. Go ahead and indulge in a bowl of chocolate pudding or a giggly slice of plant-based jelly — your nostalgic side is waiting.


5 pop tarts

The vast majority of pop tart flavors are not suitable for vegans. The hardened icing that coats most of these handy toaster pastries contains gelatin. However, three old-school strains — Unfrosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon, Strawberry, and Blueberry — are cruelty-free. Bobo’s also offers a selection of vegan toaster pastries, including strawberry jam, brown cinnamon sugar, apple pie, and raspberry. Unfortunately, none of these options are frosted either. For the real pop tarts experience, make your own with this recipe.

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