Today we’re looking at the vegan-friendliness of Fruit by the Foot to determine whether those on a 100% plant-based diet can enjoy the snack. And if not, whether there are any alternatives on the market suitable for vegan consumption.
Fruit by the Foot is a popular brand of fruit-flavored candy put out by General Mills under the Betty Crocker brand. It’s been around since the early 90’s so a lot of vegans grew up enjoying the treat and want to know if they can continue to do so after making the switch to a diet free of animal products.
Is it vegan? Fruit by the Foot is vegan by mainstream standards. The candy comes in a variety of flavors and all are some combination of sweeteners, fruit extracts, plant-based gums, preservatives, and vegan-friendly food dyes. However, the candy contains some additives that the strictest of vegans like to avoid.
What we’ll do here is look at why Fruit by the Foot is considered vegan by most standards, and then cover some ingredients that particularly strict vegans may find problematic.
Keep in mind there are several flavors on offer. The ingredients mentioned below are taken from the nutrition data available for the variety pack, which should include the whole spectrum of ingredients found in Fruit by the Foot.
Why Fruit by the Foot Is Considered Vegan
Fruit by the Foot Is Free of Non-Vegan Texturizers
In the past, chewy candy often contained gelatin and or albumen, both of which are animal-derived. Both ingredients have traditionally been used as aerators to achieve a gummy texture.1,2
Thankfully for vegans, manufacturers have been moving towards plant- and microbe-derived gums as an alternative to the animal-based ingredients.
Pectin is also somewhat common and is one of the main ingredients in Fruit Roll-Ups, another vegan-friendly fruit-flavored candy. So you know, pectin is just a complex carb that’s found between and within the cell walls of fruits and veggies.3
Vegetable gums include carob bean gum, algin, carrageenan, guar gum, gum arabic, locust bean, gum, karaya gum, and tragacanth.4
Fruit by the foot gets its texture largely from carrageenan, locust bean, and xanthan gums.5
Additionally, it contains a fair amount of corn syrup (a sweetener) which also helps contribute to the chewy texture.
Corn syrup doesn’t require non-vegan enzymes to be produced, so it is vegan-friendly.
Locust bean and carrageenan gums are always derived from plants, so they’re perfectly vegan-friendly.
Xanthan gum is unique in that it’s produced from microbes. It used to be considered a red flag because some strains of the bacteria have been known to be cultured using the lactose (milk sugar) present in whey protein concentrate instead of sugar sources like glucose and sucrose (glucose plus fructose).6,7
Additionally, xanthan gum was thought to involve egg whites in its production.
Nowadays, the ingredient is generally regarded as vegan (not processed with lactose or egg whites), and plant-based authorities like the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) consider it to be suitable for vegans and vegetarians.8
Fruit by the Foot Is Carmine Free
The vast majority of food coloring agents are considered vegan. In fact, there’s only one widely used color that vegans have tried to avoid—namely, Red 4 or carmine.
Carmine is actually a natural food coloring agent—artificial food colorings are those absent in nature meaning they can’t be derived from a natural source.9
Carmine is present in nature because it’s derived from a certain type of beetle.10
This is an important distinction because Fruit by the Foot contains Red 40, or Allura Red, which understandably is often confused for Red 4.5
Unlike Red 4, Red 40 is produced as a byproduct of the petroleum industry.
Red 40 is the main food color found in Fruit by the Foot, but the product does offer a variety of flavors, and other dyes may be present.
You may encounter other petroleum-derived dyes like Sunset Yellow (Yellow 6) and tartrazine (Yellow 5).11
If so, fear not, because these dyes are also vegan-friendly.
Fruit by the Foot Doesn’t Contain Non-Vegan Edible Films
Edible films are substances that are used to coat food products, even fruit, but especially candy. For example, beeswax is used in some Swedish Fish formulations.
Confectioner’s glaze is another common substance used to coat fruit-flavored candy.
With the latter, a secretion known as sticklac is scraped from tree branches after being secreted by female lack bugs.
The raw sticklac along with the remnants of crushed bugs (wings, legs, etc.) is removed from the tree branches and then filtered to produce shellac, which is then used to make confectioner’s glaze.
I bring this up because, like other fruit-flavored candy, Fruit by the Foot has a nice glossy finish which causes some to wonder if an insect-derived substance is used.
Thankfully for vegans, no such wax is used.
Keep in mind that this is not to say that all those who identify as vegans actively try to avoid food products containing insect-derived ingredients, but most in the vegan community (and many vegetarians) consider such substances off-limits.12
Other Ingredients Analyzed (Palm Oil, Monoglycerides, Etc.)
So far we’ve looked at plant- and microbe-based gums, edible films, corn syrup, and food colorants. Like most processed food products, Fruit by the Foot contains a number of additives.
Other ingredients present in the candy include sweeteners (sugar and maltodextrin), pear puree concentrate, palm oil, citric acid, sodium citrate, malic acid, potassium citrate, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), glycerol (monoglycerides, acetylated monoglycerides), and natural flavor.5
In their long list of non-vegan and potentially non-vegan ingredients, PETA mentions glycerol or glycerin (and by extension glycerides which are composed of glycerol plus one to three fatty acids) as potentially animal-derived ingredients.12
Mono-, di-, and triglycerides constitute a type of lipid that contains glycerol as a backbone. Mono- and diglycerides (the former of which being found in Fruit by the Foot) are vegan if the triglycerides from which they were produced are obtained from non-animal sources.
Triglycerides (TG’s) are found abundantly in animal adipose tissue—lipids are stored as body fat in the form of TG’s.
Fortunately, triglycerides are commonly sourced from plants, namely, olive, canola, and cottonseed oils.13,14
While foods containing glycerides are mostly regarded as vegan, theoretically the monoglycerides could be traced back to animal tissue. So, if you’re a particularly prudent vegan, you may want to avoid processed foods using these additives.
They’re pretty ubiquitous in processed foods because glycerides are useful as surfactants, emulsifiers, etc.
Palm oil was another ingredient mentioned above. It is plant-derived so it’s technically considered vegan. But, some in the community like to avoid the fat source due to the environmentally damaging effects of its cultivation—effects which have been criticized for displacing the habitat of certain endangered species.
While environmentally-minded consumers often want to limit their consumption of palm oil, food products containing the ingredient are not considered to be non-vegan by most standards.
That’s it for the vegan status of Fruit by the Foot. The candy is considered by most in the vegan community to be suitable for 100% plant-based diets.
As you know by now, vegan dieters can vary a lot in the degree to which they actively avoid ingredients that are thought to be ambiguous or “grey area”—additives that are vegan if sourced from x but non-vegan if sourced from y.
If you find yourself a little uneasy consuming ingredients that may or may not trace back to some form of animal exploitation, you may want to opt for vegan certified snacks or products that plainly state the source of the ingredient (e.g. “plant diglycerides).
Anyway, thanks for reading.
- Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique For the Artisan Confectioner (Page 273). Peter Greweling-Ben Fink – John Wiley & Sons – 2013
- Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique For the Artisan Confectioner (Page 356). Peter Greweling-Ben Fink – John Wiley & Sons – 2013
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 43). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 271). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Betty Crocker™ Fruit by the Foot™ Fruit Snacks Variety Pack Reduced Sugar Assorted Flavors (96 ct) 0.75 oz. https://www.generalmillscf.com/products/category/snacks/fruit-snacks/betty-crocker-fruit-by-the-foot-variety-pack-reduced-sugar
- EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources (14 July 2017). “Re‐evaluation of xanthan gum (E 415) as a food additive”. EFSA Journal. European Food Safety Authority. 15 (2): e04909.
- Tortora, G.J., Funke, B.R., & Case, C.L. (2010). Microbiology: An Introduction, 10th edition. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings. Pg. 801.
- Xanthan Gum Is Vegan – No Egg Whites. https://www.vrg.org/blog/2018/06/28/xanthan-gum-is-vegan-no-egg-whites/
- NATCOL, 2013. Position on the Term “Natural Colour” and the Categorisation of Food Colours.
- Bug-Based Food Dye Should Be Exterminated, Says CSPI. https://cspinet.org/news/bug-based-food-dye-should-be-exterminated-says-cspi-20060501
- Kobylewski, S., Jacobson, M.F., 2010. Food Dyes. A Rainbow of Risks. Center of Science in the Public Interest (Online) http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/food-dyes-rainbow-of-risks.pdf
- Animal-derived Ingredients Resource | Living https://www.peta.org/living/food/animal-ingredients-list/
- Monoglycerides. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monoglyceride
- Cox, M. M., Nelson, D. L. (2000). Lehninger, Principles of Biochemistry (3rd edition). New York: Worth Publishing. ISBN 1-57259-153-6.