Are Jolly Ranchers Vegan?

Jolly Rancher is a brand of sweet and sour hard candies, though they do make gummies, jelly beans, fruit chews, lollipops, gum, etc. They even had a line of sodas at one point.1 This article refers to the classic Jolly Ranchers which are the hard, rigid/brittle, semi-transparent candies.

Are they vegan? Yes, the classic Jolly Rancher is considered vegan. They’re mostly just corn syrup and sugar. They do contain a few dyes, but none are animal-derived. What I’ll do here is list the ingredients and why they’re considered vegan.

Why Jolly Ranchers Are Considered Vegan

According to the ingredients panel, jolly ranchers are made of:2

  • Corn Syrup
  • Sugar
  • Malic Acid
  • Natural & Artificial Flavors
  • Artificial Colors: Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Blue 1
  • Mineral Oil
  • Lecithin

Jolly Ranchers Are Almost Entirely Made of Sugar

They’re formed from a highly-concentrated sugar solution with very high viscosity (i.e. the solution is very thick). The characteristic glass-like appearance is just the result of the way they’re processed.

A solution of corn, sucrose, fructose, and glucose syrups are boiled to a temperature of 320 °F/160 °C and cooled rapidly.3

The other ingredients are added as the mixture is being cooled—the artificial flavoring and coloring agents. Malic acid is also added which just improves shelf-life and add more flavor.4

The sugar and syrup mixture is cooled down very rapidly such that there’s no time for crystals to form.5 The food dyes are what give most vegans pause when it comes to consuming popular candies.

Jolly Ranchers Use Vegan-Friendly Food Colorants

If a colorant is artificial it just means that the molecular structure of the compound hasn’t been identified in nature and isn’t derived from a natural source.6

One of the main classes of artificial dyes are the “coal tar” dyes which include the azo dyes like Allura Red (Red 40), Sunset Yellow (Yellow 6), etc.7

Jolly Ranchers Contain Red 40 Instead of Red 4

This is a point of confusion for many. Another popular food colorant is Red 4, which is derived from beetles.8

Red 4 aka carmine is a bright-red pigment obtained from carminic acid—though, it’s also a general term for a deep-red color. It’s actually the carminic acid that’s derived from beetles.9

Not only is it insect-derived, but the method of production often involves fish glue, egg white, or gelatin.10

So, yeah not vegan-friendly.

In contrast, Red 40 aka Allura red tends to be petroleum derived, but can also be produced from strawberries. The strawberries are obtained from hybrid species from the genus Fragaria.11

Red 40 is a dark-red azo dye that’s often added to soft drinks, cotton candy, and children’s medications (yes, the disgusting cherry kind). It’s actually the most commonly used dye in the US for sodas, popsicles, and candies. It’s also added to animal products like cheeses, meats, and salmon.

While it’s widely used, the amount used in foods is a bit less than in the past due to health concerns including reduced concentration, hyperactivity, sleep problems, headaches, and migraines, and even skin irritations.12-14 This was in large doses, mind you.

Healthy or not, it is vegan.

Blue 1 Is Vegan

Blue 1 aka Brilliant Blue FCF is a synthetic organic compound used as a blue colorant in processed foods, dietary supplements, medications, and cosmetics.15

It has that really bright, vibrant character so it’s often used for blue raspberry, etc.

This color is synthesized chemically and isn’t animal-derived.16

Yellow 5 And 6 Are Vegan

Tartrazine (E102) aka Yellow 5 is a lemon-yellow food colorant and is a type of azo dye like Red 40.

Like most of the azo dyes, it was first manufactured using coal tar. Nowadays, it’s a by-product of the petroleum industry. It’s not animal-derived, so it’s suitable for vegans.

It’s mainly used in food products like popsicles, ice cream, confectionery, and hard candy. It’s also used in a lot of non-food products like cosmetics, soap, hand sanitizers, and moisturizers.

It’s also kind of controversial in terms of its health effects. For example, it’s been found to activate estrogen receptors. It binds with human, and bovine serum albumin forming a complex which can interfere with physiological functions.21

It’s even restricted in Norway and Austria due to allergy concerns, skin rashes, asthma, migraines, and hyperactivity.17,18

But, in the US it is recognized as safe in limited amounts.

As is Yellow 6. Sunset Yellow aka Yellow 6 is also petroleum-derived but can be obtained from strawberries.19,20

Because they’re produced from petroleum, both Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are considered vegan.

Jolly Ranchers Don’t Contain Gelatin

Above it was mentioned that Jolly Rancher (the brand) actually puts out a number of products. Well, some contain—or at least used to contain—gelatin (gummies, gelatin desserts, etc.).1

But, the classic Jolly Rancher doesn’t contain any such additives.

Jolly Ranchers Use Soy Lecithin

At least, according to the USDA Branded Food Products Database.22

Lecithin is a compound that is used in processed foods for its emulsifying and stabilizing properties. It helps ingredients stay nice and mixed because it attracts both water and fat molecules.23

It’s a somewhat controversial ingredient and is one PETAs list of animal-derived and potentially animal-derived ingredients.24

Keep in mind the USDA database states “soy lecithin”, while Smart Label simply read “lecithin.”

But, while it’s controversial, it’s not a strictly non-vegan ingredient, because lecithin can be derived from a number of plant sources including soy and sunflower.

For this reason, products simply labeled with “lecithin” (without specifying the origin) are not typically considered unsuitable for vegan consumption—at least, not by most standards.

Jolly Ranchers Don’t Contain Confectioner’s Glaze

This was kind of surprising. Anytime a fruit candy has a nice bright sheen to it, you have to wonder whether the shiny surface was achieve with a wax of some sort, and confectioner’s glaze is a popular wax in candy making.

Confectioner’s glaze is comprised mostly of shellac, which is a substance derived from tree branches after being secreted by lac bugs.25 There are varying degrees of consensus around certain ingredients in the vegan community, and most if not all vegans consider confectioner’s glaze to be off-limits.

That’s not to say that no vegans consume the stuff. But, it’s getting to the point where it’s about as controversial as honey, which seems to be a definite no-go for vegans these days.

In this case, we don’t have to worry about the arguments on both sides in terms of whether or not it should be permissible for vegans to consume confectioner’s glaze, because Jolly Rancher’s don’t contain the substance.


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