Tootsie Rolls are a beloved chocolate-flavored candy manufactured by the Tootsie Rolls Industries, a Chicago-based company that also produces popular products including Junior Mints and Tootsie Pops. The candy first began production in the US in 1907 and has been made with the exact same recipe its Austrian immigrant inventor Leo Hirshfield developed since he first opened his small candy shop in New York in 1896. The confectionery was such an American icon that it was even included in military rations during WWII (1).
Unfortunately, Tootsie Rolls cannot be considered vegan since they contain animal products – specifically, Tootsie Rolls contain milk in the form of condensed skim milk. In addition to its non-vegan ingredient, Tootsie Rolls also contain two common gray area ingredients: sugar and natural flavors. These ingredients are considered gray areas because it is difficult to truly determine if whether they are vegan or not.
Since Tootsie Rolls contain milk, an animal product, the candy cannot be considered vegan in any way, shape, or form. Specifically, Tootsie Rolls are made with condensed skim milk which is essentially milk that has been removed of most, if not all, its fat content. Most likely, the milk has also been added with sugar since it is par for the course for condensed milk.
Aside from the condensed skim milk, Tootsie Rolls contain two additional ingredients that cause concern for many vegans: sugar and natural flavors. Although sugar is sourced from plants such as sugarcane and sugar beets, it can possibly be non-vegan depending on how it is made. Secondly, natural flavors are problematic ingredients due to their vague FDA definition. Since these ingredients are difficult to ascertain if whether they are vegan or not, they are considered gray area ingredients.
The list of ingredients of the original Tootsie Rolls includes (2): sugar, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, condensed skim milk, cocoa, whey, soy lecithin, artificial and natural flavors. Contains a bioengineered food ingredient made from U.S. crops.
With the same ingredients, Tootsie Rolls can also come in a variety of sizes such as the Midgees, Mini-Midgees, 5-Cent, 10-Cent, 20-Cent, Giant Bar, Count Good Bag, and Snack Bar.
In 2009, the Orthodox Union announced that Tootsie Rolls are officially kosher which means that Tootsie Rolls are allowed according to Jewish dietary laws.
Tootsie Rolls also have another variant: the vanilla-flavored Tootsie Roll. This variant contains a highly similar ingredients list. The list of ingredients of the vanilla-flavored Tootsie Rolls includes: sugar, corn syrup, palm oil, condensed skim milk, whey, artificial flavor, soy lecithin. Contains milk, contains soy. Contains a bioengineered food ingredient made from U.S. crops.
Dairy products include food products that are made of or contain milk, usually from mammalian sources such as cows. Numerous products can be considered dairy. Common dairy products include yogurt, cheese, butter, cream, and whey.
Although vegan milk alternatives have been developed, dairy products and products that contain milk often utilize milk that is derived from animals. Thus, dairy products are non-vegan.
Milk and dairy products are especially problematic because of how the milk industry treats cows. These animals are intentionally impregnated to force their bodies to produce milk. Offspring are also often separated from the mothers to maximize milk collection. Due to the nature of cows in the milk industry are treated, vegans find milk and dairy products particularly unethical.
Unfortunately, Tootsie Rolls contain dairy products in the form of condensed skim milk. The vanilla-flavored Tootsie Rolls also contain dairy products in the form of condensed skim milk and whey. Due to these ingredients, Tootsie Rolls are definitively non-vegan.
Sugar is a common ingredient used in the food industry, primarily as a sweetener. Additionally, sugar is also a common cause of concern for many vegans. Even though sugar is derived from plant sources such as sugarcane and sugar beets, sugar can possibly be non-vegan depending on how it is produced.
In order to produce sugar that is more appealing to consumers, sugar companies further refine their sugar to gain additional properties (e.g., whiter, finer, etc.). One process used in sugar refinement is filtration. Different companies have different filtration methods such as the use of granulated carbon. However, some companies use bone char to filter their sugar. Bone char is an animal-derived substance since it is the charred skeletal remains of various animals (3).
Although an effective filter, bone char is not vegan. Thus, products that are produced with bone char cannot be considered vegan. However, vegans around the world do not mind sugar as much because it has been documented that the practice of using bone char in sugar production is more common in the US than in other parts of the world.
Natural flavors are a common ingredient found in many food products. Definitively, natural flavors can consist of a wide variety of natural substances that primarily aim to provide flavor to food products. They are also a way for companies to maintain a degree of proprietary information regarding how they flavor their food products.
However, natural flavors are a controversial ingredient in the vegan community due to their FDA definition. The vague definition of the ingredient causes concern to many vegans who strictly avoid animal products in their diet. Specifically, the FDA defines natural flavors as (4):
“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
Due to the umbrella definition used to define natural flavors, it is difficult to ascertain if whether a product with natural flavors is vegan or not since the ingredient definition encompasses both plant- and animal-derived substances. Unless specifically stated in the packaging of the food product, there is no way to determine if a product that contains natural flavors is vegan or not.