Are Tootsie Rolls and Pops Vegan? (Plus Best Alternatives)


Are tootsie rolls vegan? Are tootsie pops vegan?

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Tootsie Rolls are flavored taffy-like candies that have been manufactured in the US since 1907. It was actually the first penny candy in America to be individually wrapped. It’s been around a while so, like me, you probably grew up eating it. It’s similar to both caramel and taffy but isn’t really considered either.1,2

Is it vegan? Unfortunately, Tootsie rolls and its derivative candy (Tootsie Pops, Tootsie Fruit Rolls, etc.) are not considered vegan. They contain a number of animal ingredients, most being milk-based. However, there are alternatives which I’ll touch on below.

For those who are in a rush, the absolute best vegan alternative to Tootsie Rolls can be found hereOpens in a new tab.. I’ve tried them and they are basically indistinguishable from the original, and the quality of ingredients is much higher. It’s actually advertised as vegan—i.e. it’s not an “accidentally vegan” product with a ton of grey area ingredients.

Basic Ingredients

The current U.S. ingredients for the classic chocolate Tootsie Roll include:3

  • Sugar
  • Corn Syrup
  • Palm Oil
  • Condensed Skim Milk
  • Cocoa
  • Whey
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Artificial and Natural Flavors

Tootsie fruit rolls include:4

  • Sugar
  • Corn Syrup
  • Palm Oil
  • Condensed Skim Milk
  • Whey
  • Malic Acid
  • Artificial and Natural Flavors
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Artificial Colors (Including FD&C Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1).

Tootsie Pop ingredients include:5

  • Sugar
  • Corn Syrup
  • Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil
  • Citric Acid (May Contain Malic Acid)
  • Condensed Skim Milk
  • Cocoa
  • Whey
  • Artificial And Natural Flavors
  • Soya Lecithin
  • Artificial Colors (Including FD&C Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1)
  • Strawberry Powder

Non-Vegan Ingredients

Condensed Skim Milk

Condensed milk or evaporated milk is just regular cow milk with the water removed. It’s often presented as “sweetened condensed milk” which is just condensed milk with sugar added. The two terms (condense milk and sweetened condensed milk) are often used interchangeably.6

Sweetened condensed milk is defined as having total milk solids and milk fat at concentrations of 28% and 8%, respectively. It’s about 15% sugar usually in the form of corn syrup or dextrose which are added to it.7

This high-sugar content makes it ideal for preparation of desserts like candy, cheesecake, and pies. The finished product is mostly used in the manufacturing of chocolate and confectionary.

It’s really good for candies like Tootsie Rolls because the sugar (added sugars plus lactose) contribute to the Maillard reaction which imparts a dark color. The high heat causes the sugar to combine with the milk proteins resulting in a brown color.

This is why it’s so hard to find vegan caramels and taffy.

Whey

Lots of food products contain milk and its derivatives. Whey and casein are often added to candies because they improve texture and mouthfeel. They’re also commonly added to food products in order to boost their nutritive value.

Anyway, these annoying ingredients rear their ugly heads in foods that would be otherwise vegan. Not that Tootsie rolls are otherwise vegan. But, whey is just one more ingredient that disqualifies this particular candy. Every Tootsie Roll (brand) candy seems to have this ingredient.

Potentially Problematic Ingredient: Palm Oil

I.e. not necessarily non-vegan. If you’ve been reading up on non-vegan ingredients you’ve probably run across this one. At large, the vegan community doesn’t seem to count foods with this ingredient as non-vegan. But, palm oil is something that some vegans choose to restrict.

Its cultivation has a number of negative effects on the environment, many of which threaten endangered species like the Sumatran Tiger and Orangutan.8-13

Another Vegan Tootsie Roll Alternative

I mentioned one above, but here’s another another option.

These do have palm oil but contain no strictly non-vegan ingredients. It turns out Laffy Taffy has a chocolate candy. I could only manage to find it in a bag that also contains strawberry. But, it is solid chocolate and solid strawberry (i.e. not one flavor of chocolate-strawberry).

Chocolate ingredients:14

  • Corn Syrup
  • Sugar
  • Cocoa Processed With Alkali
  • Palm Oil
  • Mono- And Diglycerides,
  • Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil
  • Salt
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Natural Flavors
  • Colorants – Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6.

Strawberry ingredients:14

  • Corn Syrup
  • Sugar
  • Palm Oil
  • Malic Acid
  • Mono- And Diglycerides
  • Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil
  • Salt
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Natural Flavor
  • Red 40

A Note on Mono- and Diglycerides

Aside from palm oil, these also contain mono- and diglycerides.

Like triglycerides in our fat cells, these molecules are fatty acids with a glycerol backbone. They just have fewer FA’s (one and two, respectively).15

They’re synthesized by reacting triglycerides with glycerol and are sometimes 100% vegan-friendly.16

It’s just a matter of where the triglyceride precursors come from.

These are only problematic for especially prudent vegans and aren’t typically considered to render a product non-vegan. Some products actually list where they come from, but it’s rare—especially for products not marketed to a health food population.

Unlike palm oil, these ingredients are listed on PETA’s website in their list of animal-derived ingredients.17

But, most in the vegan community don’t scrutinize them too much, mostly because there’s no way of knowing where they’re derived aside from reaching out to the manufacturer directly.

It’s just a personal decision and something you should be aware of if you’re an especially prudent vegan.

A Note on Food Coloring Agents

The above alternatives contain food coloring which can be problematic. But in this case, the coloring agents are all vegan-friendly.

It can be confusing because Red 40 is often mistaken for Red 4 which is non-vegan as it’s derived from beetles.18

Red 4 or carmine is a bright-red pigment that’s derived from carminic acid, a compound found in certain bugs.19

Red 40 or Allura red, on the other hand, tends to be derived from petroleum and even strawberries.20

It’s dark-red azo dye commonly found in soft drinks, and children’s medications, and cotton candy.

Anyway, that’s it for Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie Pops. You may want to check out the article on Jolly RanchersOpens in a new tab.. Thanks for reading.

References

  1. Kawash, Samira (February 1, 2010). “Chocolate? Tootsie Rolls”. Candy Professor. https://candyprofessor.com/2010/02/01/chocolate-tootsie-rolls/
  2. Manny Fernandez, “Let Us Now Praise the Great Men of Junk Food”, New York Times, August 7, 2010. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/weekinreview/08manny.html
  3. “Tootsie Roll Inc” https://tootsie.com/candy/tootsie-rolls/tootsie-rolls
  4. Tootsie Roll Inc. https://www.tootsie.com/candy/fruit-chews/fruit-chews
  5. Tootsie Pops Cherry and Grape Flavors. All City Candy – https://allcitycandy.com/products/tootsie-pops-cherry-grape-9-6-oz-bag-071720047736-4
  6. “Manufacture of sweetened condensed milk” (PDF). silverson.com. http://www.silverson.com/us/resource-library/application-reports/manufacture-of-sweetened-condensed-milk/
  7. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 220). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
  8. Clay, Jason (2004). World Agriculture and the Environment. Page 219. ISBN 978-1-55963-370-3.
  9. “Palm oil: Cooking the Climate”. Greenpeace. 8 November 2007.
  10. “The bird communities of oil palm and rubber plantations in Thailand” (PDF). The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
  11. “Palm oil threatening endangered species” (PDF). Center for Science in the Public Interest. May 2005.
  12. Shears, Richard (30th March 2012). “Hundreds of orangutans killed in north Indonesian forest fires deliberately started by palm oil firms”. Daily Mail. London.
  13. “Camera catches bulldozer destroying Sumatra tiger forest”. World Wildlife Fund. 12 October 2010.
  14. Laffy Taffy Candy, Strawberry, Chocolate (10 Oz) from Hy-vee. https://www.instacart.com/hy-vee/products/3367057-laffy-taffy-strawberry-chocolate-candy-10-oz
  15. IUPAC, Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. (the “Gold Book”) (1997). Online corrected version: (2006–) “glycerides”
  16. Sonntag, Norman O. V. (1982). “Glycerolysis of fats and methyl esters — Status, review, and critique”. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society. 59 (10): 795A–802A. doi:10.1007/BF02634442. ISSN 0003-021X
  17. Animal-derived Ingredients Resource | Living https://www.peta.org/living/food/animal-ingredients-list/
  18. Bug-Based Food Dye Should Be Exterminated, Says CSPI. https://cspinet.org/news/bug-based-food-dye-should-be-exterminated-says-cspi-20060501
  19. Carminic Acid https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carminic_acid
  20. Potera, C., 2010. Diet and nutrition: the artificial food dye blues. Environ Health Perspect. 118 (10), A428–A431.

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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