Ring Pops are fruit-flavored candies that come in these wearable plastic rings. Invented back in the 1970s, Ring Pops were first created by a man named Frank Richards – an engineer who worked at the Topps Company, an American company known today for its baseball card collectibles. Anecdotally, the idea behind Ring Pops was to get children to stop sucking their thumbs. However, Ring Pops arrived at a time in history where other types of wearable candies existed such as candy necklaces and candy bracelets.
By some definition, Ring Pops are technically vegan. According to the ingredients listed for the product, there seems to be no ingredient added that can be classified to be blatantly animal-derived. However, the definition of veganism can differ from one vegan to another. Thus, there are those that would rather avoid Ring Pops due to certain ingredients typically considered gray areas. Sugar, natural flavors, and artificial coloring agents are common ingredients that some vegans are okay with while others are not.
Ring Pops can be considered vegan, especially for dietary vegans, since the ingredients listed for the product are not derived from animals. However, there are ingredients in Ring Pops that some vegans might rather avoid.
Ring Pops contains some ingredients that are not necessarily non-vegan, but they are still avoided by some vegans. These are gray area ingredients. These are ingredients that some vegans are okay with, but some vegans are not. The ingredients classified this way in Ring Pops are sugar, natural flavors, and artificial coloring agents.
The three ingredients are gray areas for different reasons. For example, sugar is avoided by some vegans because the product is possibly produced with an animal product – bone char. Secondly, natural flavor is a vague term that can literally contain animal products. Lastly, artificial coloring agents are considered by some vegans to be non-vegan due to ethical reasons since these substances were tested on animals.
The list of ingredients of Ring Pops includes (1): sugar, corn syrup, buffered lactic acid, artificial flavors, pear juice concentrate, blue 1, natural and artificial flavors, red 3, red 40 lake, blue 1 lake, titanium dioxide, yellow 5 lake.
Sugar is a common ingredient in food and beverages, especially candies like Ring Pops. Although sugar is typically used as a sweetener, sugar can also be used as a preservative like in jams. Despite sugar being obtained from plant sources such as sugarcane or sugar beets, the product can still potentially become non-vegan depending on how it was produced.
Once sugar is obtained from the plants, it can be processed as raw sugar. Many people prefer this form of sugar because it is considered to be healthier when it is less processed. However, sugar companies would still choose to refine the sugar to appeal to the mass market. Additional refinement processes make the sugar more appealing by making it whiter and finer.
One process done for sugar refinement is filtration. The sugar juice is passed through filters to remove debris and non-sugar components, thus increasing the concentration of the resulting sugar. Different companies use different filtration techniques. The problem is that some sugar companies use bone char – the charred bones of various animals (2). Although bone char is a cheap and effective filter material, sugar produced using bone char cannot be considered vegan since bone char is an animal product.
Bone char is a serious issue for the vegan community because it is quite a challenge to determine if a company uses bone char or not – it typically entails having to ask the company itself since the necessary information is not usually listed in the product label or on the company website. The problem is further exacerbated when sugar is used in food products because large food manufacturers can possibly source their sugar from multiple sugar companies to effectively meet its demands.
Fortunately, vegans around the world do not have to be worried about bone char because the practice of using bone char in sugar refinement is typically prevalent in the US alone.
Food and beverage products stand out from one another by having distinct flavor profiles that make them unique. One important ingredient that helps with this is natural flavors – a common ingredient that can be found in many products. While other ingredients can serve other functional roles such as stabilizers, emulsifiers, and such, natural flavors primarily function as a flavoring agent.
Although natural flavors have to be obtained from natural sources, the ingredient is typically considered a gray area ingredient in the vegan community. The problem is primarily due to its definition. Specifically, the FDA defines natural flavors as (3):
“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 problem vegans have with natural flavors is that its definition is too vague. According to the umbrella definition, natural flavors can technically consist of both plant- and animal-derived substances. This definition does not effectively inform consumers if the product contains animal products or not. Thus, some vegans would classify this ingredient as a gray area ingredient and would rather avoid it for precaution.
Although smell and taste are typically associated with food and beverages, how a product looks is also an integral part of the consumer experience – especially for food products that are marketed towards children such as Ring Pops. Although many food items are naturally appealing due to their ingredients, some products have to be actively manipulated in some way to achieve the aesthetic that the companies are striving for.
In order to manipulate the color of a product, food manufacturers look to food coloring agents – substances or dyes that can affect or change the color of a product. There are many different kinds of food coloring agents and many of them are perfectly appropriate for vegans. However, a common argument in the vegan community surrounds the use of artificial coloring agents.
Artificial coloring agents are completely synthetic which means they are produced in laboratories from highly rudimentary substances. From a dietary vegan standpoint, artificial coloring agents are vegan since they are completely devoid of animal products. Unfortunately, ethical vegans would disagree.
Since artificial coloring agents are synthetic, they have to undergo numerous tests and standards before getting approval from various food safety authorities to be approved for human consumption. These safety tests ensure that these substances do not pose any form of toxicity to the consumers. While safety is indeed a priority, the problem with these tests is that they include the use of animal models.
Animal testing has been done for decades now to test the safety of products. However, it is now considered a highly unethical practice due to the inhumane conditions that the animals are typically exposed to. Furthermore, modern methods can now effectively replace the use of animals. These methods include the use of cell models and in silico studies (i.e., the use of computer models and algorithms).
Ring Pops specifically list using red 3, red 40, blue 1, and yellow 5. These dyes have been reported to be used on several types of animals such as mice, rats, dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs, and more (4, 5, 6, 7).