Whether you’re a new vegan or have been vegan for years, the “is it vegan” question never stops.
So the next time you’re craving a sweet treat, you might find yourself asking “are starburst vegan?” What about Starburst jelly beans? Are Starburst jelly beans vegan?
The answer is actually a bit more complex than usual. Don’t fret, though. I’ll take you through all the details so you’ll know exactly what the vegan status of these soft taffy boxes is.
What are Starburst made of?
Classic Starburst candies along with the popular Starburst jelly beans come in many different flavors. From the original orange, lemon, cherry, and strawberry to tropical flavors including piña colada, they all contain mostly the same ingredients.
In general, the main ingredients of both classic Starburst and Starburst jelly beans are:
- Fruit juice from concentrate (apple, cherry, orange, etc)
- Corn syrup
- Palm oil
- Artificial flavors
- Artificial colors (usually red 40, yellow 5, yellow 6, blue 1)
The other ingredients vary depending on the flavor, and, interestingly, the country in which they’re made and sold.
Starburst made and sold in the US contain gelatin (for more on this ingredient, see our article on Jello), while Starburst made and sold in the UK don’t.
Starburst jelly beans, however, never contain gelatin, but they are made with an ingredient called confectioner’s glaze.
So… are Starburst vegan? Are Starburst jelly beans vegan?
Let’s get the easiest one out of the way. Are Starburst jelly beans vegan? No.
Remember how they have an ingredient called confectioner’s glaze? This is what’s on the outside of the jelly beans to make them look shiny. The problem is that confectioner’s glaze is made from shellac, which comes from a type of insect.
Eating confectioner’s glaze is essentially the same as eating insect secretions. So, definitely not vegan (and not very appetizing either). (1)
Classic Starburst is where things get more interesting. In the United States, Starburst are made with gelatin which is made from animal bones. So, US Starburst are not vegan.
UK Starburst, on the other hand, aren’t made with gelatin, which makes them vegan! However, you do need to be careful when buying Starburst wherever you are. Sometimes UK stores will sell imported US Starburst instead of UK Starburst.
So, as with pretty much every processed food, always check the label before you buy them to make sure you’re getting genuine UK gelatin-free Starburst.
Should you even be eating these things?
As we’ve learned with many technically vegan foods, that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily healthy for you. This is the case with Starburst: almost all of the ingredients in Starburst are unhealthy and, in some cases, unethical.
Let’s take a closer look.
While palm oil is technically vegan since it’s an oil made from a plant, many vegans ethically object to it as a truly vegan ingredient.
Palm oil production is devastating for the environment. It contributes to deforestation of natural rainforests, destruction of ecosystems, animal deaths, and displacement of indigenous people. (2)
I talk a bit more in detail about the impact of palm oil in this article on whether or not vegans should eat margarine.
Many artificial colors, like the aforementioned confectioner’s glaze, are derived from insect secretions or crushed up insect bodies (just what you want when eating food, right?). The good news is none of the artificial colors used to make Starburst fruit chews are made from animal products.
However, there is evidence to suggest that the artificial colors used in Starburst can have a negative impact on health. Some studies have found that artificial colors are potential cancer-causing agents called carcinogens. A different study linked artificial colors to ADHD in children. (3, 4)
Besides these significant health concerns, there’s also the question of ethics when it comes to artificial colors. While animal products aren’t used to make Starburst bright and colorful, animals have been used as test subjects for these artificial chemicals in the past.
Animal testing puts innocent creatures through painful and terrifying tests that can, and often does, harm their health. Unbelievably, they’re also sometimes killed off at the end of the experiments should they survive the process.
Because of these cruel practices, many vegans avoid products that have been tested on animals
The main cause for concern has to do with how sugar is processed.
Most white sugar is filtered over animal bone char during processing. Since bone char is an animal product, some vegans consider white sugar itself to be a non-vegan product, even though there’s no bone char actually in the sugar itself.
Besides this, the amount of sugar found in Starburst is definitely not the healthiest thing for you. In fact, I’ll go so far to say that it is decidedly unhealthy.
A single square of Starburst has a whopping 2.9 grams of sugar, and a full package of Starburst contains just under 35 grams of sugar (just over 8 teaspoons!). That’s around the amount of sugar that you should be eating in an entire day…in just one pack of candy! (5, 6)
Starburst aren’t always vegan, but there may be times when you simply can’t resist the pull of a fruit chew. So, what to do? Well, you could always look at some of the vegan alternatives to Starburst that are on the market!
Lovely Candy Co. Organic Fruit Chews
If you’re worried about white sugar and bone char, you don’t have to with the Lovely Candy Co.’s organic Fruit Chews. Organic sugar can’t be filtered over bone char, so you’re in the clear.
These delicious and juicy fruit chews are made with all natural and organic ingredients. They’re also gluten free, vegan, kosher, and free of most common allergens. The only downside is the inclusion of palm oil, which obviously isn’t ideal.
Wholesome Organic Fruit Chews
To give you another option, you can try Wholesome Organic Fruit Chews. These chews come in the same flavors as the classic Starburst (cherry, lemon, orange, and strawberry) but without the artificial colors or bone char filtered sugar. They’re certified organic, gluten-free, vegan, and delicious.
Torie & Howard Chewie Fruities
A relatively short ingredients list (Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Cane Syrup, Sustainably Sourced Organic Palm Shortening, Citric Acid, Natural Sour Apple Flavor with other Natural Flavors, Organic Rice Extract, Ascorbic Acid) make these sour fruit chews from Torie and Howard an attractive vegan option.
Oh, and they taste great, too!
Making your own
While these may not be exactly what you’re looking for if you are thinking of reaching for a pack of Starburst, they will satiate your longing for a fruit chew in a vegan-friendly, healthier way.
Check out this short video from Feasting on Fruit to see how easy making your own fruit gummies can be!
Are Starburst vegan? Answered!
Starburst’s vegan status varies depending on the location, which is an interesting twist to a usually straightforward “is it vegan” question. But the question as to whether these candies are healthy for you is pretty straightforward: not really.
There are, however, some vegan alternatives to Starburst should you be in need of a sweet treat, but be aware that these are far from health foods themselves. Remember, all processed foods should be eaten in moderation, if at all.
If you have any other questions about the “Are Starburst Vegan?” debate, drop me a line in the comments below.
About The Author:
Lisa Williams is a committed vegan, passionate animal welfare advocate, and keen follower of too many v-friendly food blogs to mention. She started happyhappyvegan.com back in 2016 because she felt there was a need for more straightforward information on plant-based living.
Back then, too many sites seem to either concentrate solely on recipes or be too intimidating or inaccessible for the v-curious, and she wanted to change that. The landscape is certainly a whole lot different now!
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- Doris Lin | Why Shellac Isn’t Vegan | https://www.treehugger.com/how-is-shellac-not-vegan-127609
- Green Palm Sustainability | The social and environmental impact of palm oil | https://greenpalm.org/about-palm-oil/social-and-environmental-impact-of-palm-oil
- Daniel Fromson | Colorful Carcinogens: Why We Should Ban Food Dyes | https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/07/colorful-carcinogens-why-we-should-ban-food-dyes/59944/
- Rebecca Harrington | Does Artificial Food Coloring Contribute to ADHD in Children? | https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-artificial-food-coloring-contribute-to-adhd-in-children/
- CalorieKing | Starburst Original Fruit Chews | https://www.calorieking.com/us/en/foods/f/calories-in-candy-original-fruit-chews/wHtEXBIbR1SIkuUiekUi8w
- SugarScience | The growing concern over too much added sugar in our diets | https://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption.html#.YMnN5jZKgUF