Hershey’s Kisses is probably the most iconic brand of chocolate put out by The Hershey Company. Like a lot of food products, chocolate is one of those foods that can be vegan, but often contains animal products—specifically, dairy, in this case.
So, I get asked quite a bit if Hershey’s Kisses are suitable for vegans. And if the classic Kisses are non-vegan, does the brand put out any variations of the original (e.g. dark) that are suitable for 100% plant-based eaters.
Are they vegan? Hershey Kisses are non-vegan. Original Kisses are made from milk chocolate, and thus contain milk products—namely, milk, milkfat, and milk solids. Unfortunately, the dark chocolate variety also contains dairy. So, neither the milk chocolate nor the dark varieties are suitable for vegans.
What we’ll do here is go over the various reasons Hershey’s Kisses are non-vegan and then cover alternatives on the market (if any) that are suitable for 100% plant-based eaters.
Why Hershey’s Kisses Are Non-Vegan
Original Hershey’s Kisses
The first tip-off is that they’re made of milk chocolate.
- Cane Sugar
- Cocoa Butter
- Natural Flavors
You can pretty much consider it a red flag any time you run into a piece of chocolate candy that has a lighter appearance. That’s not to say that all darker-colored chocolate candies are vegan, but lighter chocolate is almost certainly milk-based—with the exception of specialty products like the Milkless bar.
What happens is that the food manufacturers add in milk which displaces a lot of the naturally dark cocoa solids, giving the candy an overall lighter appearance.
Solid chocolate is mixed with milk added in the form of liquid milk, powdered milk or condensed milk.2
All of which are lighter in color compared to the cocoa solids that they displace.
There are different regulations in place that prevent non-dairy chocolate from ever being marketed as milk chocolate.
Here in the States, the US government requires a 10% concentration of chocolate liquor, at least 12% by weight of total milk solids, and no less than 3.39% by weight of milkfat.3
European Union regulations are similar. They specify that a minimum of 20-25% cocoa solids needs to be used to qualify as “milk chocolate”.4
Any less and the product would start to resemble white chocolate.
Which brings us to Hershey’s Hugs.
White Chocolate (Hershey’s Hugs)
The white chocolate version are called Hugs. Hugs is a variety put out by the Kisses brand and not a brand itself. A Hug is variation of the original Kiss, so I’m including the candy here.
Hugs are not entirely white chocolate, as they contain white chocolate and milk chocolate in a stripe pattern as if the strips of white and milk chocolate are hugging.
They also contain a milk chocolate core.
They’re non-vegan, because the milk chocolate is dairy-based (as covered above) plus the white chocolate contains milkfat and milk solids as well.
Ingredients for Hugs include:5
- Sugar, Corn Syrup Solids
- Milk, Skim Milk, Lactose (Milk Sugar)
- Fat Source (Cocoa Butter, Milk Fat)
- Lecithin and PGPR (Emulsifiers/Surfactants)
- Natural Flavors, Artificial Flavor (Vanillin)
- Plant Oils (Vegetable, Palm/Palm Kernel, Sunflower, Safflower, and Shea)
- Tocopherols (for Freshness)
Again, true white chocolate contains dairy and is never considered vegan. There are some vegan white chocolate alternatives on the market, but they can’t be marketed as true white chocolate, because they don’t contain the right ingredients in the correct ratios to qualify for the label.
To qualify as white chocolate, the FDA requires confections to be at least 3.5%, 14%, and 20% (by weight) for milk fat, total milk solids, and cocoa butter, respectively. And the products can be no more than 55% sugar (or other sweeteners) by weight.6
The basic ingredients for white chocolate include milk, sugar, cocoa butter, natural flavor, vanillin, and lecithin.7
Dark Chocolate Kisses
This is the only variety that ever stood a chance of being vegan. Because dark chocolate isn’t required by law to contain any milk products.
Alas, they do contain two milk components.
- Cocoa Butter
- Milk Fat
- Cocoa Processed With Alkali
- Natural Flavors
So, why do they use milk if they don’t have to? Well, milk provides a lot of useful properties in candy making. It contributes to taste and gives chocolate a nice smooth mouthfeel. Cocoa butter is the natural saturated fat content of unprocessed chocolate.
Cocoa butter is a very brittle substance, and a lot of consumers prefer a smooth texture.
In fact, Hershey’s is known for being smooth and creamy, so they’re probably a lot less likely to deviate from that signature texture just to cater to vegans and those with milk allergies.
The only question now is whether or not there there any vegan alternatives to Hershey’s Kisses.
Unfortunately, no vegan chocolate could accurately replace the signature taste and texture of Hershey’s Kisses.
Vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips (e.g. those made by Enjoy Life) might be your best bet, but they’re basically indistinguishable from regular dark chocolate.
Don’t get me wrong, vegan chocolate is amazing and dark chocolate is very popular even among non-vegans.
But, The Hershey Company has a proprietary process (read: trade secret) by which they produce Hershey Kisses. Just any old chocolate won’t do.
Experts speculate that the milk is partially lipolyzed to produce butyric acid, at which point the milk is pasteurized, to stabilize it for use.
It’s thought that this process gives the product its characteristic taste, that we’ve developed an affinity for.
For this reason, some rival manufacturers now add butyric acid to the mix when making chocolates.9
I’ve searched high and low and haven’t been able to find any vegan chocolates that resemble Kisses in shape, let alone in taste and texture.
I’ll be keeping a lookout for any products that surface in the future and will add them here.
That’s it for the vegan status of Hershey’s Kisses. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Smart Label, Hershey’s Kisses. https://smartlabel.hersheys.com/00034000005888-0005#ingredients
- Types of Chocolate. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_chocolate
- CFR – Code Of Federal Regulations Title 21. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?CFRPart=163
- Lex Access To European Union Law. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX%3A32000L0036
- Smart Label, Hershey’s Hugs. https://smartlabel.hersheys.com/00034000110001-0011#ingredients
- “Title 21 Chapter I Subchapter B Part 163 of the Code of Federal Regulations”. United States Government Publishing Office. 24 February 2017. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=64ec925fd70dcc3f30f6c45d41315509&mc=true&node=pt21.2.163&rgn=div5#se21.2.163_1124
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 530). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Smart Label, Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate Kisses. https://smartlabel.hersheys.com/00034000121809-0010#ingredients
- Dark May Be King, but Milk Chocolate Makes a Move. Julia Moskin – https://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/13/dining/13chocolate.html