First invented in Germany one hundred years ago, gummy bears have spread all over the world and now come in hundreds of varieties. But are the popular animal-shaped candies suitable for vegans? In this article we look at gummy ingredients from a vegan perspective, identifying which brands are vegan-friendly and which aren’t. But first, let’s take a quick look at the fascinating origins of this well-known snack.
The origins of gummies
The origins of gummy bears can be linked back to a shocking practice, which would appall anybody who cares about animals. In Europe, dancing bears were a popular fairground attraction for many centuries; bears on chains were forced to dance for the entertainment of festive crowds.
In the early 1920s, confectioner Hans Riegel from Bonn, Germany decided on the shape for his new candy based on his own childhood memories of watching the dancing bears. He named them Tanzbär (dancing bear in German). Much larger than the gummy bears of today, the Tanzbär was an immediate big hit in Germany.
The company that Hans Riegel created in 1922 to manufacture and sell his new snacks was named by combining the first two letters of his first name and surname with the city where he lived (Hans Riegel Bonn). By the 1960s, Haribo had diversified into producing a smaller version of the popular snack, the Goldbär (gold bear). With this new offering, the company’s success went global, and Haribo remains the biggest manufacturer of gummy bears in the world.
Haribo’s candies were known as Gummibär (gummy bears) in German because of their shape and the fact that the main ingredient was gum Arabic, which comes from the acacia tree. But what about the other typical ingredients of gummy bears – are they suitable for vegans?
Are gummy bears vegan?
Gummy bears don’t contain eggs or dairy, so you might imagine they would be good for vegans, right? Think again. One of the main ingredients of gummy bears is gelatin, a gelling agent which gives the sweets their chewy texture.
Gelatin is made from collagen taken from the skin, cartilages, bones, and hooves of pigs (or sometimes from the body parts of other animals such as cows, chickens, or fish). The use of gelatin means that the vast majority of gummy bears are not even vegetarian, let alone vegan.
Vegan gummy bear fans should not despair, however, as there is a vegan alternative to gelatin. It’s called pectin, it’s derived from plants, and it performs the same function of making the other ingredients stick together. Pectin is a substance that helps keep fruits fresh, when they start to go mushy it is because the pectin in them is degrading. The pectin used in products like vegan candies normally comes from citrus fruits.
However, gelatin is not the only ingredient that vegans have to look out for when selecting gummies. Another issue concerns the sugar that is an essential feature of the sweet treat.
As discussed in previous posts on this site, sugar can be a concern for vegans because of the way it is processed. The issue is that some cane sugar is filtered through “bone char” (in other words the charred bones of animals, normally pigs or cows).
It’s very difficult to find out which cane sugars have been through this process, and which haven’t. So, if you are concerned about this issue, the easiest way to guarantee that what you are purchasing hasn’t been through bone char processing is to look for either beet sugar or organic cane sugar.
Another thing for vegans to be aware of is that many brands of gummies use food coloring. If they are natural food colorings they are almost certainly made from plants (and therefore fine for vegans), with the exception of carmine (also known as cochineal), which is made from beetles.
You might assume that lab-produced artificial colors would also be vegan. But many of them have been tested on animals, making them highly problematic for ethical vegans. The following list highlights some food colorings commonly used in candies that have all been tested on animals: yellow 5 (E102, also known as tartrazine), yellow 6 (E110), red 3 (E127), red 40 (E129), blue 2 (E132, also known as indigo carmine), blue 1 (E133), and green 3 (E143).
This list is not exhaustive. Further research is required if you encounter another artificial coloring in an ingredients list and want to check its status in terms of animal testing and veganism.
Other things to look out for on ingredients lists for gummies and similar candies include shellac (also known as confectioner’s glaze, which comes from the lac bug), beeswax (from beehives), and lactic acid (which can come from fermented dairy products).
Are Haribo gummy bears vegan?
Based on the information above on the standard ingredients lists for gummy bears, it will come as no surprise to find out that the original gummy bear (from Haribo) is not suitable for vegans.
Haribo’s famous gold-bears made in Germany contain gelatin from pigs. The ones that they manufacture in Turkey contain gelatin from cows (to meet the dietary requirements of Muslims). Kosher gold-bears contain gelatin from fish (to meet Jewish dietary requirements). Nothing that the company makes meets vegan (or even vegetarian) dietary requirements.
All of the products listed on Haribo’s website contain gelatin: so that means that Happy Cherries, Happy Cola, Pico-Balla, Tropifrutti, Happy Peaches, Mega-Roulette, Starmix, and Worms are all out for vegans.
In addition to the gelatin, Haribo also finds space to put other animal products into their tiny candies: using white and yellow beeswax as a coating agent.
Sadly, the company’s reliance on animal suffering in their production processes makes it hard to take their famous slogan “the happy world of Haribo” seriously.
Are Black Forest Gummy Bears vegan?
Black Forest have a range of gummy bears and gummy worms that are organic, gluten-free, and use natural flavors, but they are still not suitable for vegans. As with Haribo, the main issue is that they contain gelatin (from pigs).
The same applies to all of Black Forest’s gummy products: none are vegan. That means that all of the following products are ruled out for people following plant-based diets:
Classic Gummy Bears, Classic Worms, Swirly Bears, Organic Gummy Bears, Organic Gummy Worms, Organic Forest Gritters, Organic Exotic Bears, Juicy Bears, and Juicy Bunnies.
In a statement issued in 2019, Ferrara Candy, the company that owns Black Forest, said, “We currently do not have any vegan certified products. All of our gummy products contain pork gelatin. Each ingredient is tested regularly to determine which raw materials work best to maintain the quality of Ferrara confections. We established that the pork gelatin currently used in our confections holds the product better than other gelatin types.”
Are Trolli Gummy Worms vegan?
Owned by the same company that makes Black Forest, Ferrara Candy, it will come as no surprise that Trolli Gummy Worms are also not vegan. The issue, again, is the gelatin that they use to bind the product together.
The same applies to all the other Trolli products. Meaning that all of the following gummy candies are not vegan:
Classic Bears, Big Bold Bears, Sour Brite Bears, Extreme Sour Brites, Sour Brite Bites Assorted, Sour Brite Bites Blue Raspberry, Sour Brite Twisted Crawlers, Tropic O’s, Peachie O’s, Apple O’s, Sour Gummi Creations Martian Mix, Sour Brite Octopus, Sour Brite All Star Mix, Sour Brite Sloths, Sour Brite Llamas, Sour Brite Sneaks, Sour Watermelon Sharks, Sour Brite Blasts, Sour Brite Eggs, Strawberry Puffs, Evil Twins, Soda Poppers, Cherry Bombers, Sour Brite Crawlers, Sour Brite Crawlers Very Berry, and Sour Bright Mystery Night Crawlers.
In addition to the gelatin, Trolli products also contain sodium lactate and lactic acid, which can be vegan or not depending on their source. Further research with the company would be necessary to find out if these things are vegan or not. But the extra research seems unnecessary currently given the fact that they are still using gelatin in all their products.
Are Life Saver gummies vegan?
I’m afraid not. They may be called Life Savers, but sadly they are contributing to the taking of animals’ lives in the production of their gummy candies. None of Life Saver’s natural or artificially flavored gummies are suitable for vegans because they all contain gelatin.
That means that the following products are out for vegans: Life Saver’s Gummies Pouch Bulk Club and Life Saver’s Gummies Five Flavors.
Are Jolly Rancher gummies vegan?
Jolly Rancher claim that their gummies are “a must-have for pantries, car trips, beach visits and office desk drawers.” But are they a “must-not-have” for vegans?
Surprisingly, some Jolly Rancher products do not contain gelatin. On the website of Hershey’s (the manufacturers of Jolly Rancher), the ingredients of the Original Flavors Gummies are listed as follows:
Sugar, Corn Syrup, Modified Cornstarch, Malic Acid, Natural Flavor, Artificial Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Mineral Oil, Carnauba Wax, Limonene, Artificial Color (Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 5, Yellow 6)
No gelatin in sight… but before any vegan gummy bear fans rush out to clear the shelves at their local store, there are a few other ingredients to look out for in that list.
Jolly Ranchers gummies do, of course, contain sugar. And as it is not listed as beet sugar or organic, there is a good chance that it has been put through bone char processing (see above), meaning that many people would not consider it vegan.
The product also uses various artificial food colorings that have been tested on animals, specifically Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 (see above for more information regarding the ethical issues about these colorings).
Also, what about those natural and artificial flavors listed among the ingredients? As noted above, there is a possibility that these contain non-vegan ingredients.
I was poised to do further research on this question to see if I could ascertain exactly if the non-gelatin-containing Jolly Ranchers’ gummies are, in fact, vegan, when I stumbled upon the FAQs on Hershey’s website. There I found a very blunt answer to the question: “Are JOLLY RANCHER candies vegan?” The answer was:
“JOLLY RANCHER candies are not vegan.”
So, there you go. Jolly Ranchers are closer to being vegan than other gummies because some of their varieties don’t use gelatin. But, in the final analysis, none of their candies (including their gummies) are vegan.
What gummies are vegan?
There we go, our search came close to finding a vegan gummy among the big brands surveyed. But, ultimately, none of the brands reviewed so far was able to deliver on truly vegan gummies. They almost all stick to the traditional gummy recipe, first devised in Germany, which makes use of gelatin. Meaning they aren’t even suitable for vegetarians.
However, as mentioned above, vegan gummy bear fans should not despair. The availability of pectin from fruits as a gelatin substitute means that there are some companies out there making vegan gummy bears to satisfy your cravings for the sweet, chewy snack. Let’s take a look at twelve of the brands on the market offering vegan gummies in various shapes and sizes.
Surf Sweets – This American brand produces gummies that are not only vegan but also earn extra guilt-free snacking bonus points by making a line (Organic Fruity Bears) that is 96% organic and by donating a percentage of profits to environmental charities.
However, there is a catch. Although the Organic Fruity Bears and the Sour Berry Bears are both vegan, Surf Sweets also make a product just labeled “Gummy Bears,” which contains gelatin. Make sure you are careful about which ones you are buying and double-check the packaging to make sure.
Surf Sweets are worth checking out for other candies, as they make a total of twelve different vegan snack products. Just to reiterate though, not everything they make is vegan. For example, their jellybeans use confectioner’s glaze, which comes from lac bugs.
The Organic Candy Factory – another American brand producing a range of products that include vegan options. Their Mixed Berry Gummy Cubs and Peach Gummy Cubs are vegan, kosher-certified, and USDA-organic certified.
They also produce a line of chocolate bars with gummies in them. But, sadly, it’s milk chocolate. Maybe a vegan version could come in future if there’s enough interest?
Trader Joe’s – the popular supermarket chain offers Scandinavian Swimmers, a pack of gummies shaped like marine animals and suitable for vegans.
Tommy’s Bears – good work by Tommy to produce some gummy treats that cover lots of different dietary requirements, halal, kosher, nut-free, and, crucially, vegan! They are also made with real fruit juice and contain vitamins A, C, D, and E.
Wholesome – this company lives up to their “mindfully delicious” slogan with these vegan and USDA-certified organic, non-GMO project verified (and gluten-free) Cinnamon Organic Bears.
Annie’s – their Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks fit the bill for anyone looking for vegan gummy treats. They use only natural flavoring and also contain an added hit of vitamin C (enough to cover 100% of your daily dietary requirements). Plus, of course, they have certified-organic status.
Tasty – five stars to this American brand for offering five different fruit gummy options, all of which are vegan and USDA-organic certified. The flavors to look out for include Citrus Splash, Superfruit, and Smoothie.
The only problem with this particular brand is trying to find them online – searching for “tasty vegan gummies” doesn’t help too much, because, of course, everyone thinks their own vegan gummies are tasty…
Kanibi Organi – something a bit different here from Kanibi with their “Organi” CBD Gummies that are formulated both to be a tasty treat and a pain reliever (with 10 mg of CBD in each gummy). Plus, they contain no gelatin so are perfect for vegans. The idea of a gummy health supplement may seem strange to some, but that’s exactly what this is.
Other companies with similar (all-vegan) options include CBD 100%’s Pure Gummies and the Apple Cider Vinegar Gummies by Yours (which offer the benefits of drinking apple cider vinegar without the taste).
Ökovital – All the above vegan options are from American companies, but it seems appropriate to end our review of the plant-based gummy brands back in the country where the product was first born: Germany. Ökovital’s Bär ohne Gelatine is a great option for people in Europe looking for vegan gummies, and it comes in lots of flavors: apple, orange, lemon, blackcurrant, raspberry, and pineapple.
If you were paying attention at the start of the blog, you’ll remember that Bär is the German word for bear. While ohne Gelatine means “without gelatin.” So, you know exactly what you’re getting with this product – a gelatin-free gummy bear that is perfect for vegans. Another German gummy option, which gets rave reviews online, is the Vegan Soft Gummi Candy by L. Luehders.
So, what does it all mean? The original recipe for gummies contained gelatin from animals, and this has remained a key ingredient of almost all the big-brand gummies on the market. The only major exception to that rule is Jolly Ranchers, but they are also not vegan because of the other ingredients they include and the processing that their products go through.
That’s the bad news. The good news is there are a whole bunch of vegan gummy options available, which typically use pectin from fruits rather than gelatin. They may not be as easy to find as the big brands, but they are available both online and in stores. The vegan options are also much more likely to be organic, making them a better snack choice all around.
What do you think? Did we miss out your favorite brand of vegan gummies? Feel free to let us know by leaving a comment below.