Are AirHeads Vegan?


Are AirHeads Vegan? Are Air Heads Vegan?

Air Heads, stylized as AirHeads, are a type of tangy, chewy, taffy-like, candy. They’re manufactured in Kentucky, and available in the US in over 16 different flavors.1

A lot of vegans grew up eating the tasty taffy and want to know if they can continue to do so after switching to a 100% plant-based diet.

Are they vegan? Yes, AirHeads are 100% vegan. They’re mostly sugar, corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils. The main ingredient is sugar.2 They may be far from healthy but are, vegan-friendly.

What we’ll do here is get into the various reasons AirHeads are considered by most to be vegan.

Why AirHeads Are Considered Vegan

The Presence of Sugar Doesn’t Make a Food Product Non-Vegan

At least, by most standards. Some vegans tend to view anything containing sugar as potentially problematic because sugar—at least, in the US—is often processed with bone char.

Keep in mind that not all sugar undergoes processing with bone char, but most non-organic processed sugar does.

While some vegans like to avoid purchasing non-organic sugar (even brown sugar as it’s made with white sugar and molasses), most vegans don’t avoid consuming products made with sugar (i.e. sugar that’s likely produced with bone char).

Consider the Oreo—the classic “accidentally vegan” junk food. You’ll rarely encounter someone who will tell you that Oreos are off-limits for vegans, despite the fact that they’re made with processed/non-organic sugar.

In their article, Is Sugar Vegan?, PETA states “Don’t stress too hard about sugar if you’re unsure about how it was produced.”3

They go on to explain their reasoning, and you can check out the article (in the references below) for more information.

AirHeads Contain Vegan-Friendly Food Colorants

AirHeads contain Red 40. This is a point of confusion for many because while most food colorants are petroleum-derived (thus, suitable for vegans), some can be produced from non-vegan sources.

Red 4, not Red 40, is a non-vegan food coloring agent derived from beetles.4

Red 4 aka carmine is similar to Red 40, in that it’s a red pigment (albeit a bit brighter). Because of the similar name and color, the two are often confused for one another.

Carmine (Red 4) is obtained from carminic acid and it’s the carminic acid that’s actually derived from beetles.5

Not only is it produced from insects, but it’s often derived using methods that involve other animal products like fish glue, gelatin, and egg white.6

Red 40 aka Allura red, on the other hand, is petroleum-derived, and can even be produced from strawberries of a hybrid species from the genus Fragaria.7

It’s a dark-red azo dye that’s commonly added to candy, soft drinks, and children’s medications. Anyway, AirHeads make use of Red 40 which is completely vegan-friendly.8

Blue 1, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 are used as well, but these colorants also fall under the category of azo dyes and are thus petroleum-derived.

AirHeads Don’t Contain Confectioner’s Glaze

Confectioner’s glaze is a very controversial ingredient in the vegan community, and it’s largely thought to be non-vegan.9

 That’s not to say that no self-proclaimed vegans consume the stuff.

Anyway, it’s a very common ingredient in candy making and tends to be present in glossy looking fruit-flavored candy-like Mike and Ike and Lemonheads, which renders these candy products unsuitable for many vegans.

Confectioner’s glaze derives from a substance left behind by lac bugs as they navigate tree branches.10

It’s mostly composed of tree sap—the bugs suck up the sap and secrete a substance called sticklac which contains shellac. The shellac is filtered out to be used in confectioner’s glaze.

The bugs secrete the substance in order to create mini-structures that resemble cocoons.11

So, thankfully, we don’t have to worry about this ingredient with AirHeads. This candy product gets its glossy appearance from the oil, corn syrup and sugar content.

A Note on Palm Oil

Some, but not all, AirHeads contain palm oil. It just depends on the flavor and how it’s manufactured. 

Some sources list hydrogenated soybean oil in the ingredients.

For example, the Blue Raspberry variety contains:12

  • Sugar and corn syrup
  • Maltodextrin, dextrose, and modified corn starch
  • Partially hydrogenated soybean oil
  • Water
  • Citric acid
  • Artificial flavors
  • Blue 1, Red 40, Yellows 5 and 6

Ingredients on the mixed flavor bag include:8

  • Sugar and corn syrup
  • Maltodextrin, dextrose, and modified corn starch
  • Partially hydrogenated soybean oil and palm oil.
  • Citric acid
  • Water
  • Artificial flavors
  • Red 40, Blue 1, Yellows 5 and 6

Not all vegans are concerned with avoiding palm oil, but I’m mentioning it here because some in the community like to avoid the stuff. Palm oil is a controversial ingredient due to the effects of its cultivation on the environment.13,14

Specifically, the deforestation that’s required which contributes to rising greenhouse gas emissions and threatens endangered species.15-18

That’s it for the vegan status of AirHeads. Thanks for reading.

You may also want to check out the following related articles:

References

  1. AirHeads. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AirHeads
  2. Frequently Asked Questions https://web.archive.org/web/20130717022302/http://www.airheads.com/faq.aspx
  3. Is Sugar Vegan? https://www.peta.org/living/food/is-sugar-vegan/
  4. Bug-Based Food Dye Should Be Exterminated, Says CSPI. https://cspinet.org/news/bug-based-food-dye-should-be-exterminated-says-cspi-20060501
  5. Carminic Acid https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carminic_acid
  6. Carmine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmine#Production
  7. Potera, C., 2010. Diet and nutrition: the artificial food dye blues. Environ Health Perspect. 118 (10), A428–A431.
  8. Airheads Candy Variety Gravity Feed Box, 90 Individually Wrapped Assorted Fruit Bars Jill- Specialk – https://www.walmart.com/ip/Airheads-Candy-Variety-Gravity-Feed-Box-90-Individually-Wrapped-Assorted-Fruit-Bars/127543575
  9. Animal-derived Ingredients Resource: Living https://www.peta.org/living/food/animal-ingredients-list/
  10. Flinn, Angel. “Shellac and Food Glaze” http://gentleworld.org/shellac-food-glaze/
  11. Shellac, WoodworkDetails.com: Shellac as a Woodworking Finish. http://www.woodworkdetails.com/knowledge/finishing/shellac
  12. Airheads® Candy – Blue Raspberry https://www.minimus.biz/airheads-candy-blue-raspberry-f51-4377002-9100.aspx
  13. Clay, Jason (2004). World Agriculture and the Environment. p. 219. ISBN 978-1-55963-370-3.
  14. “Palm oil: Cooking the Climate”. Greenpeace. 8 November 2007. Archived from the original on 10 April 2010.
  15. Foster, Joanna M. (1 May 2012). “A Grim Portrait of Palm Oil Emissions”. The New York Times. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013.
  16. Yui, Sahoko; Yeh, Sonia (1 December 2013). “Land use change emissions from oil palm expansion in Pará, Brazil depend on proper policy enforcement on deforested lands”. Environmental Research Letters. 8 (4): 044031. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/4/044031. ISSN 1748-9326.
  17. “Researchers warn against high emissions from oil palm expansion in Brazil”. phys.org. 13 November 2013.
  18. “Palm oil threatening endangered species” (PDF). Center for Science in the Public Interest. May 2005. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 September 2012.

Drew Davis

Hi! I'm Drew and this is the place where I nerd out about vegan and plant-based diets. I have a BS in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Alabama and have taken dozens of classes in areas like organic and biochemistry, food science, medical nutrition therapy, nutritional genomics, and vegetarian diets. I'm still learning every day, and on this blog, I'll be sharing everything I discover about vegan diets as I go.

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