Tootsie Pops are chocolate-flavored lollipop candies produced by the Tootsie Rolls Industries, the same company that produces Tootsie Rolls and Junior Mints. First produced in 1931, it is said that the idea of the Tootsie Pop comes from a man who once licked a lollipop while he was chewing on a Tootsie Roll (1). Since its debut, it is estimated that Tootsie Pops are among the best-selling lollipop brands. On average the company produces around 20 million Tootsie Pops a day.
Since Tootsie Pops contain dairy products, the chocolate-flavored lollipop cannot be considered vegan. Aside from dairy, Tootsie Pops also contain other questionable ingredients such as sugar, natural flavors, and artificial coloring agents. These substances, often considered as gray area ingredients, are slightly debatable whether they are vegan or not.
Unfortunately, Tootsie Pops cannot be considered vegan. The lollipop brand contains dairy products, specifically condensed skim milk and whey. These products are outright animal products as these are substances that are obtained from cows. Thus, the presence of dairy products in Tootsie Pops cannot make it vegan.
Furthermore, there are other ingredients in Tootsie Pops that can cause division among some vegans. These ingredients are called gray area ingredients because some vegans are fine with them while some vegans avoid them. These ingredients include sugar, natural flavors, and artificial coloring agents.
The list of ingredients of Tootsie Pops includes (2): sugar, corn syrup, palm oil, citric acid (may contain malic acid), condensed skim milk, whey, artificial and natural flavors, soy lecithin, artificial colors (including FD&C red 40, yellow 5, blue 1), strawberry flavor.
Dairy is the term used for milk and products made using milk as the principal ingredient. These products can include butter, cheeses, whey, yogurt, and so on.
Unfortunately, products that contain dairy are not vegan since dairy and milk products are obtained from animals such as cows, sheep, and goats. Thus, Tootsie Pops are not vegan since they contain dairy – specifically, Tootsie Pops contain condensed skim milk and whey.
Milk and dairy products are considered to be highly unethical due to the treatment of cows in the milk industry (3). Cows are often purposely impregnated to induce lactation and milk production. After the cows give birth, the offspring are also separated from the mothers to maximize the milk that can be collected from the mothers.
Sugar is a common additive used in food and beverages, typically as a sweetener. Thus, it should come as no surprise that a lollipop like Tootsie Pops would have sugar in it. Since sugarcanes or sugar beets are the typical sources of sugar, sugar should be considered vegan – especially for dietary vegans. However, there are some situations where the sugar people are eating is actually non-vegan. This typically depends on how the sugar is produced.
After the sugar has been extracted from the chosen plant source, it is considered a crude and raw form of sugar. To make the sugar more appealing to mass consumers, sugar companies subject their sugar to further refinement processes that make the sugar whiter or finer. Since most of these refinement processes are usually physical or chemical in nature, they are mostly vegan-friendly. However, there is one method that can sometimes include an animal product.
Filtration is one of the many processes used in sugar refinement. Sugar juice is passed through a filter to help increase the purity of the sugar product by removing non-sugar components via particle size. Filtration is a general process and different sugar companies can use different methods to achieve the same effect. Some companies would use granulated carbon. However, some sugar companies use bone char – the charred skeletal remains of animals (4). Although bone char is a cheap and excellent filter, sugar produced with bone char can no longer be considered vegan since it is an animal product.
A problem vegans have with sugar and the use of bone char is that it is not easy to determine which companies use bone char and which do not. Furthermore, it is also not easy to determine where food manufacturers get their sugar. It can even be more difficult to trace since some large food and beverage companies would have multiple sugar sources to fuel their demand. The uncertainty surrounding how sugar is produced is why many vegans consider sugar as a gray area ingredient. To stay on the safe side, many vegans would rather avoid sugar at all.
Natural flavors are a common additive used in food and beverage products. The ingredient primarily serves as a flavoring agent, compared to other ingredients that would serve other functional roles. Natural flavors are definitively composed of substances that can be obtained from nature – this is in stark contrast to artificial flavors where the components are primarily synthetic. The problem vegans have with natural flavors is the definition. Specifically, the FDA defines natural flavors as (5):
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
According to the definition the FDA provides, natural flavors can be made of both plant- and animal-derived products. The umbrella term provided for the widely encompassing definition does not inform the consumers if the constituents of the ingredient labeled as “natural flavors” are all plant-based, animal-based, or a combination of the two.
This uncertainty regarding the definition of the ingredient is the reason why many vegans consider natural flavors as a gray area ingredient.
Color is an important part of the consumer experience, especially for candy products like Tootsie Pops. Some products naturally come in an appealing color due to their ingredients. However, some products have to be actively manipulated to achieve the desired color. For this effect, companies would use food coloring agents. There are many kinds of food coloring agents, but some vegans would debate about artificial coloring agents to be specific.
Artificial coloring agents are synthetic substances used to elicit the desired color in a food product or drink. Since these substances are synthetic, they are made of relatively simple substrates. Thus, artificial coloring agents are undeniably devoid of animal products or derivatives. This means artificial coloring agents are perfectly fine for some vegans. However, other vegans would argue that artificial coloring agents pose an ethical issue.
Since artificial coloring agents are synthetic, it is important that there are guidelines in place to make sure they are safe for human consumption. Various food safety authorities would require these artificial coloring agents to undergo numerous safety tests to prove that they do not elicit any adverse health effects to consumers. While safety is indeed a priority, the issue with testing artificial coloring agents is that they are tested on animals.
The use of animal models in safety testing is a traditional method that is considered by many to be highly unethical by today’s standards. The animals used in these tests are documented to be inhumanely treated and are often killed in the process of studying. This is considered to be highly unethical, especially since there are modern methods that can serve as effective alternatives such as the use of cell models and in silico studies (i.e., the use of computer models and algorithms).
Tootsie Pops are specifically listed to use red 40, yellow 5, and blue 1. These artificial coloring agents have been documented to be tested on various animals such as mice, rats, dogs, cats, pigs, and so on (6, 7, 8).