The Reason Marshmallows Usually Aren't Vegetarian-Friendly

In today's world, being a vegetarian doesn't mean you have to live off boring salads. A plethora of options is available for those who want to indulge without consuming animals. Some snacks nowadays are specifically made for vegetarians and vegans, like Trader Joe's vegan nacho dip, while others' lack of animal products, like some Oreos flavors, is a happy accident. Airheads, Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos, and Fritos are among the delicious junk foods you can chow down while eating a plant-based diet (via Thrillist).

Although the limit for vegetarian goodies truly does not exist, it's important to do your homework; some foods may not contain obvious ingredients like ground chicken or smoked brisket, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're animal-free. You may be surprised to learn that some vegetable soups are made with beef or chicken stock, and many red candies are made with crushed beetle shells (via Taste of Home). Marshmallows are another sneaky snack that isn't usually vegetarian-friendly, as they're often made with a key ingredient derived from animals.

Animal tissues are used to make marshmallows

The hidden ingredient that takes marshmallows out of the vegetarian category can also be found in ice cream, cottage cheese, and even wine, according to Livestrong. We're talking about gelatin, a thickening agent made from animal bones, cartilage, and skin (via Medical News Today). Gelatin is a key ingredient in marshmallows. In fact, it's one of only three ingredients, according to Chemical and Engineering News; the other two being sugar and corn syrup. 

Food engineer Richard Hartel told the Chemical and Engineering News, "A marshmallow is basically a foam that's stabilized by gelatin." 

While gelatin is good for giving marshmallows their structure, it's not helpful for those looking to stick to a plant-based diet. So, what should you do if you're unwilling to give up s'mores but also don't want to eat animal products? Luckily, the vegetarian community is on top of it, and there are a variety of excellent marshmallow alternatives. In fact, many brands make their own vegan (ie gluten-free) marshmallows; here's our ranking of the best vegan marshmallows. If you're looking to get more creative and make your own, Bake It With Love suggests using agar-agar. This seaweed derivative has similar characteristics to gelatin and is often used in vegan Jell-O. So don't worry — marshmallows may not always be vegetarian-friendly, but that certainly shouldn't stop you from consuming as many Rice Krispie treats as your heart desires.