What To Know About The Gelatin Content In Jelly Beans

When you consider all of the different jelly bean flavors, there's one thing they all have in common that makes them such an irresistible treat. It's that smooth shell-like exterior and their chewy, slightly gummy interior. While there are plenty of ingredients in jelly beans that are plant-derived, like starch and tapioca or corn syrup, the ingredients that actually create the candy's texture make it a no-go for vegans. The problem is mainly gelatin for those following diets completely free of animal products, and jelly beans also employ animal-derived products like shellac and beeswax for that gummy chew and shiny shell. 

Gelatin is what makes other sweets like Starbursts and marshmallows off-limits for vegans. It's made from animal collagen, usually from cows and pigs – bones, tendons, and ligaments are all boiled together to produce the gel-like texture that defines everyday snacks like gummy bears and Jell-O. If that's not exactly the most appetizing image to picture before biting into a fruity jelly bean, you should probably just get right to this next ingredient reveal: The shellac that many brands also utilize for this candy is actually a resin secreted by insects. Female bugs create this after drinking tree sap, which explains the shellac's texture — and yes, this is the same shellac you'll find in a nail salon. Beeswax, too, comes right from bees. So, whatever combination of gelatin, shellac, and beeswax a brand might call on for jelly beans, many offerings are decidedly not vegan-friendly.

Gelatin alternatives and vegan-friendly jelly beans

Many major jelly bean producers that you'll find in stores are not making vegan-friendly jelly beans. For instance, take the best-known brand: Jelly Belly. Jelly Belly uses both shellac and beeswax in its candy, whether it's Very Cherry or Buttered Popcorn flavored beans. 

The good news for vegans with a sweet tooth is that more amazing vegan products to try hit the market every year. This progress applies to jelly beans too. There are alternatives for gelatin that are not animal-derived. Cornstarch and agar-agar, made from algae, can be swapped into jelly bean recipes just like they can be used to make vegan marshmallows. There are food technology companies currently working on more collagen and gelatin alternatives as well. As far as achieving that shiny exterior, there are vegan-friendly options like carnauba wax, which is made from a substance taken off carnauba palm leaves. Cornstarch, agar-agar, and even the pectin you'd find in jams can give jelly beans their chew, while carnauba wax provides a polished shell to crack into.

Plenty of brands are already on shelves and offering jelly beans that vegans can enjoy. Jolly Rancher makes jelly beans without gelatin, shellac, or beeswax. Warheads Sour Jelly Beans and Wonka Nerds Bumpy Jelly Beans are free of animal-derived products too. There are also some specialty brands like YumEarth, which makes organic candy, and Surf Sweets, which specializes in allergy-friendly candy, from which you can get vegan-friendly jelly beans.