Is Dr Pepper Vegan Friendly? What About Diet Dr. Pepper?


Dr Pepper boasts of being a blend of 23 different flavors, so, unsurprisingly, folks often wonder if there could be any animal products lurking in the formulation somewhere.

If you’ve been vegan for any length of time, you know by now that highly processed foods containing countless ingredients can often spell trouble for those trying to avoid animal-derived additives.

Is regular Dr Pepper vegan? Dr is vegan-friendly. It’s mostly carbonated water and high-fructose corn syrup. The drink includes other ingredients such as caffeine, flavorings, and coloring agents, but none are of animal origin.  

Is Diet Dr Pepper vegan? Diet Dr Pepper is vegan. It merely contains carbonated water, food coloring (caramel color specifically), the artificial sweetener aspartame, preservatives, additives, flavors, and caffeine. I.e. no ingredients are sourced from animals.

What we’ll do next is discuss why both the original and diet version of the soda are considered vegan. Then we’ll look at the vegan status of other flavors put out by the brand.

Struggling to find good vegan food to eat? Then check out our best vegan cookbooks for beginners.

Why Dr Pepper Is Vegan

Per the official Dr Pepper website, ingredients for the soft drink include carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), phosphoric acid, caramel color, flavors (natural and artificial), sodium benzoate (preservative), and caffeine.1

Most sodas are vegan, because they use basically the same ingredients, varying mostly in the natural and artificial flavors used.

Speaking of other sodas, you’ll definitely want to check out the article on whether root beer is vegan.

A Note on Natural and Artificial Flavors in Dr Pepper

You might be wondering what’s going on with the natural and artificial flavors. The ingredients used in food products these days can be pretty ambiguous.  

While some are either always or never derived from animals (e.g. gelatin and starch, respectively), others can be vegan if derived from one source but not vegan if obtained from another.

Then there are the ingredients that are especially confusing because they’re not named on the label specifically. For whatever reason, most natural and artificial flavors need only be mentioned as a category on food labels while the specific compounds can be left unnamed.

You don’t see that with food colorings. For example, you’re not as likely to encounter “natural and artificial colors”. Rather, you’ll see Red 40, Red Lake 40, Yellow 6, etc.

My guess is that labeling guidelines often allow manufacturers to simply state “flavors” instead of exact ingredients to protect their patented formulations. But, that’s just a guess.

Understandably, this does pose a problem for many vegans, especially those who are particularly prudent about avoiding ingredients that could potentially trace back to animals.

Just know that most vegans don’t go out of their way to avoid ambiguous ingredients. For example, mono- and diglycerides are used in almost every food product touted as “accidentally vegan”.

While they’re typically plant-based, they are derived from triglycerides which are found in animal tissue. So, it’s possible that they’re non-vegan.

Yet, vegans (myself included) continue to consume these products, because they’re probably okay and there’s really no way of knowing.

If you are especially prudent and want to eliminate all possibility of consuming a natural or artificial flavor, you may want to avoid highly processed food products altogether and stick to whole plant foods.

What About the Preservatives?

Like any highly processed food product, the Dr Pepper line of sodas come with their fair share of additives. Any time an ingredient seems unusual or is hard to pronounce, it can trigger a red flag when searching ingredients for any non-vegan additives.

For example, Dr Pepper products tend to contain sodium benzoate, phosphoric acid, and sodium phosphate.

Phosphoric acid is used in soda to acidify the beverage giving it a tangy taste. Its production is cruelty-free and involves phosphate rock—no animals.

Sodium benzoate has a number of uses in food production, one of which is to act as a preservative in acidic foods, as is the case with soda. It’s a synthetic ingredient (not directly animal-derived) that that the VRG considers typically vegan.12 So, no issues here.

Sodium phosphate is manufactured by reacting finely ground phosphate rock with sulfuric acid to get phosphoric acid (discussed above) which is then reacted with sodium hydroxide. Because it’s made from phosphate rock and non-animal-derived precursors, it is considered vegan.

As for the rest of the additives, we’ll be covering them one by one in the coming paragraphs. If you’re in a rush, just know that all of the odd-sounding ingredients found on Dr Pepper labels are vegan-friendly.

Why Diet Dr Pepper Is Vegan

Diet Dr Pepper has basically the same formulation as the original, but the HFCS is swapped out for aspartame, the most common artificial sweetener in diet soda.

Specifically, the ingredients include carbonated water, caramel color, phosphoric acid, aspartame, natural and artificial flavors, caffeine, and sodium benzoate.2

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener having 200 times the sweetness of sucrose (regular table sugar). It’s commonly used to substitute for sugar in foods and beverages and is sold in packets as Equal, NutraSweet, and Canderel, etc.

A lot of folks ask about the ingredient, and to be sure, the sweetener is most certainly vegan-friendly. It’s made with a complicated chemical process that I won’t bore you with. Just know that its production doesn’t use any precursors known to be from animals. So, it’s okay for vegans.

Vegan Analysis of Other Dr Pepper Drinks

Is Caffeine-Free Dr Pepper Vegan?

Caffeine-free Dr Pepper is vegan. Unsurprisingly, it’s like the original formulation minus the caffeine. Specifically, the ingredients contain carbonated water, HFCS, caramel color, flavorants, phosphoric acid, and sodium benzoate.3

Caramel color often catches the eye of those scanning labels for vegan friendliness. It’s understandable because actual caramel—the candy—is often derived from milk and milk sugar (lactose).  

The sugar, either from milk or other sources, is heated causing it to undergo a browning reaction, giving it the distinct light to dark brown color.

Fortunately, while caramel can be made from milk sugar, caramel color never is. Instead, sugar from other sources is caramelized at which point the brown color is extracted.

Instead of lactose, sweeteners used to produce caramel color include glucose, fructose, sucrose (glucose plus sucrose), invert sugar, malt syrup, molasses, and starch hydrolysates, all of which are vegan-friendly.4

Is Dr Pepper Cream Soda Vegan?

The cream soda version of Dr Pepper is vegan. This goes for both the regular and diet. The regular contains carbonated water, HFCS, caramel color, flavors, preservatives, phosphoric acid, sodium phosphate, and caffeine, all of which are vegan. The diet version is the same but with aspartame.

In more detail, regular Dr Pepper Cream Soda contains:5

  • Carbonated water
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Caramel color
  • Natural and artificial flavors
  • Preservative (sodium benzoate)
  • Phosphoric acid
  • Sodium phosphate
  • Caffeine

Again, Diet Dr Pepper Cream Soda just swapped out the sugar for aspartame.6

Sometimes readers will inquire about high fructose corn syrup, a popular sweetener in the food and beverage industry.

HFCS gets a bad rap for a few reasons. While it’s definitely not a particularly healthy food (though it’s no worse than sugar), it is not problematic for vegans.

After all, it’s derived from corn which is a plant. Granted, the production of HFCS, like any other food product, could be less than cruelty-free even if no animal ingredients were present in the final product.

Thankfully, that’s not the case with HFCS. The enzymes used to convert the glucose in regular corn syrup to fructose are not of animal origin.

I say thankfully because the stuff is pretty ubiquitous in processed food these days.

Is Dr Pepper Cherry Vegan?

Cherry Dr Pepper, both regular and diet, is vegan. It contains the same ingredients as the original and original diet formulations, but with a few additives for color and taste—specifically, red food coloring and organic acids.

Specifically, regular Dr Pepper Cherry contains:7

  • Carbonated water
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Natural and artificial flavors
  • Caramel color
  • Sodium benzoate (preservative)
  • Citric and malic acids
  • Phosphoric acid
  • Sodium phosphate
  • Caffeine
  • Red 40

Per usual, the diet version contains the same but with aspartame.8

We touched on caramel color above, and as you can see regular and diet Cherry Dr Pepper contain Red 40, another common food coloring. Red 40 sometimes gets confused with its cousin, Red 4, a similar red color that’s much less common these days.

Obviously, the nearly identical color and name lead to the confusion. There’s one important difference though: Red 4 is derived from beetles.9

Hence, it’s non-vegan.

Red 40, on the other hand, is an azo dye—a class of dyes derived from the petroleum industry. Again, thankfully Red 40 is much more common.

Is Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper Vegan?

Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper, both regular and diet, is vegan. It contains the original formulation plus additional flavors (cherry and vanilla), a vegan-friendly red food dye, and organic acids (malic and citric). The diet version, of course, contains artificial sweeteners instead of sugar.

None of the ingredients are from animals, so this variety is vegan.

Specifically, the regular version contains:10

  • Carbonated water
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Caramel color
  • Natural and artificial flavors
  • Sodium benzoate as a preservative
  • Citric acid and malic acids
  • Phosphoric acid
  • Caffeine
  • Red 40

Yet again, the diet version is exactly the same but with aspartame.11

Citric and malic acids are both organic acids. They occur in nature but are synthesized industrially for use in food products. Citric acid is made via yeast fermentation (Aspergillus niger or Candida sp.) and malic via chemical synthesis (w/out animal-derived precursors).

Is Dr Pepper Vegan? Conclusion

I’m sure you’re glad to know that all products put out by Dr Pepper are vegan. This goes for diet, non-diet, caffeine-free, caffeine-filled, cherry, vanilla, cherry vanilla, etc. You name it, it’s always vegan when it comes to this soda.

Yes, there’s the elusive “natural and artificial flavors” to contend with. But, artificial flavors are rarely non-vegan. They’re artificial, hence they’re made in a lab.

Natural flavors can be non-vegan, but it’s unlikely that the most common natural flavors would be present in soda. I.e. something like natural beef flavor would most likely be found in a product that’s supposed to taste like meat. You get the idea.

Thanks for reading.

References

  1. Dr Pepper Ingredients. https://www.drpepper.com/en/products/drpepper
  2. Diet Dr Pepper Ingredients. https://www.drpepper.com/en/products/drpepper-diet
  3. Caffeine-Free Dr Pepper Ingredients. https://www.drpepper.com/en/products/drpepper-caffeine-free
  4. Caramel Color Production. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caramel_color#Production
  5. Dr Pepper & Cream Soda Ingredients. https://www.drpepper.com/en/products/drpepper-cream
  6. Diet Dr Pepper & Cream Soda Ingredients. https://www.drpepper.com/en/products/drpepper-diet-cream
  7. Dr Pepper Cherry Ingredients. https://www.drpepper.com/en/products/drpepper-cherry
  8. Diet Dr Pepper Cherry Ingredients. https://www.drpepper.com/en/products/drpepper-diet-cherry
  9. Carmine Production. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmine#Production
  10. Dr Pepper Cherry Vanilla Ingredients. https://www.drpepper.com/en/products/drpepper-cherry-vanilla
  11. Dr Pepper Cherry Vanilla Ingredients. https://www.drpepper.com/en/products/drpepper-diet-cherry-vanilla
  12. Vegetarian Journal’s Guide To Food Ingredients. https://www.vrg.org/ingredients/

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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