Originally produced by The Jolly Rancher Company, Jolly Ranchers can refer to an assortment of candies bearing the popular name. Currently owned by The Hershey Company, one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world, Jolly Ranchers are typically characterized as candies that come in a wide variety of different colors and flavors. Jolly Ranchers can come in various forms such as hard candies, lollipops, gummies, and so on.
From the types of Jolly Ranchers candies investigated, it seems like Jolly Ranchers hard candies and gummies can be considered vegan since they do not contain any obvious animal product or derivative. However, there are some ingredients found in Jolly Ranchers that would cause some vegans to avoid them. Such ingredients would include sugar, natural flavors, and artificial coloring agents – substances typically called gray area ingredients because of the uncertainty of if whether they are vegan or not.
Jolly Ranchers can be considered perfectly vegan since the ingredients lists do not contain any ingredient that is blatantly animal-derived. This means Jolly Ranchers should be appropriate for many vegans.
However, Jolly Ranchers still contain some ingredients that are considered gray area ingredients – ingredients that are relatively difficult to unanimously agree on whether they are vegan or not. In Jolly Ranchers, these ingredients include sugar, natural flavors, and artificial coloring agents.
Sugar and natural flavors fall under the same issue where it is difficult to determine if they are truly vegan or not. While sugar is obtained from a plant, it is possible to contaminate sugar with an animal product during refinement. On the other hand, natural flavors are considered a gray area ingredient because the ingredient can contain both plant- and animal-derived products.
In contrast, artificial coloring agents are completely devoid of animal products. However, the fact that these substances are tested on animals makes them unethical for vegans to consume.
The list of ingredients of the Jolly Ranchers hard candies includes (1): corn syrup, sugar. Contains 2% or less of: malic acid, natural flavor, artificial flavor, artificial color (red 40, yellow 5, blue 1, yellow 6), mineral oil, lecithin.
Aside from hard candies, Jolly Ranchers also come in different types of candies such as lollipops, stick candies, gummies, and more (2).
The list of ingredients of the Jolly Ranchers gummies includes (3): sugar, corn syrup, modified cornstarch. Contains 2% or less of: malic acid, natural flavor, artificial flavor, sodium citrate, mineral oil, carnauba wax, limonene, artificial color (red 40, blue 1, yellow 5, yellow 6).
Sugar is a common additive, especially in sweet products such as Jolly Ranchers. Many would assume that sugar should be vegan since it is extracted from plant sources such as sugarcanes or sugar beets. However, sugar can still become non-vegan depending on how sugar companies process it.
Raw sugar immediately extracted from a certain plant source is already sweet and edible. However, many sugar companies would subject the sugar to further refinement processes to make the sugar more appealing to the consumers. These processes make the sugar whiter and finer. The processes involved are typically physical or chemical in nature and do not really add to the composition of the sugar. However, the materials used in these processes can possibly contaminate the sugar with animal products.
One certain process used in sugar refinement is filtration. This method helps increase the purity of the sugar by passing sugar juice through a filter to remove non-sugar particles. Different companies can use different filtration methods such as the use of granulated carbon. However, some companies would use bone char – the charred skeletal remains of different animals(4). Although bone char is a cheap and effective filter, sugar produced using bone char cannot be considered vegan since bone char is an animal product.
Determining if whether sugar is produced with bone char is a difficult task because the processes involved in refinement and production are not really listed in the package label or on the company website – it is not highly accessible information. Furthermore, large food and beverage companies can have multiple sources of sugar from sugar companies that might have different methods involved. This makes tracing the necessary information even more difficult.
Fortunately, vegans from other parts of the world are more confident that the sugar from their countries is truly vegan since the use of bone char in the sugar industry is more prevalent in the US.
Natural flavors are a common food additive that can be found in many food products and beverages. While other ingredients serve functional roles for the overall quality of a product, natural flavors primarily serve as a flavoring agent. This ingredient also serves as a way for a company to protect its intellectual property by not having to disclose substances that might be key to the flavor profile of the product. However, the problem vegans have with natural flavors is the uncertainty. Specifically, the FDA defines natural flavors as:
The essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.FDA.gov
The definition comprehensively covers the constituents of natural flavors, requiring that the substances that can fall under the umbrella term should be obtainable from a natural source. However, the vague definition does not effectively inform the consumer if a product is vegan or not since natural flavors can contain both plant- and animal-derived products. Hence, natural flavors are considered to be a gray area ingredient since some vegans are fine with natural flavors while some vegans would avoid it.
Jolly Ranchers can exist in a wide array of colors due to food coloring agents. Color is an incredibly important part of the consumer experience, especially when the items are marketed towards children. Thus, companies such as The Hershey Company have to actively manipulate the colors of their products using food coloring agents. There are different types of food coloring agents and many of them are vegan-friendly. However, there is much debate regarding artificial coloring agents.
Artificial coloring agents are completely made in laboratories using highly rudimentary substrates. According to dietary vegans, artificial coloring agents should be perfectly vegan since artificial coloring agents do not contain any animal product or derivative. However, there are still vegans that would choose to avoid consuming products that use artificial coloring agents due to ethical reasons.
Various food safety authorities have to approve the use of artificial coloring agents for human consumption since these are completely synthetic substances – they require studies to ensure that they do not pose any adverse health risks to the consumers. While safety is indeed a priority, the ethical issue arises due to the fact that safety testing these artificial coloring agents entail the use of animal models.
The use of animals for safety testing is considered to be highly unethical by today’s standards, especially when modern alternatives can be used such as the use of cell models or in silico studies (i.e., the use of computer models and algorithms). Animal testing is highly looked down upon by the vegan community and other animal rights groups due to the inhumane treatment of the animals involved in the testing.
Specifically, Jolly Ranchers are listed to contain red 40, blue 1, yellow 5, and yellow 6. These are substances that have been documented to be used on various animals such as mice, rats, rabbits, dogs, pigs, guinea pigs, hamsters, and cats (6, 7, 8, 9).