Taffy is an American candy made from boiled sugar and other common ingredients. Gaining popularity in the 19th century, taffy is commonly considered to be the American version of the British toffee. However, the two are distinctly different since toffee is made from caramelized sugar or molasses. Historically, taffy gained popularity as a highly enjoyed form of recreation since people would celebrate parties pulling taffy. Throughout the years, different renditions of taffy have been developed with the most notable being salt water taffy.
Firstly, vegan taffy does exist. There are versions of taffy that should be compliant with vegan restrictions. However, it is still a good idea to know the ingredients used because there are some ingredients that some vegans might want to know – especially if the ingredient is non-vegan. While traditional taffy can be vegan, there are some recipes that might call on butter. There are also ingredients in taffy such as sugar and artificial coloring agents that some vegans might want to avoid altogether.
It is difficult to truly state if whether taffy is vegan or not due to the variations in ingredients used to make it. Traditionally, taffy can be made from sugar, syrup, and water. In this sense, taffy can be very well considered vegan. However, even in this variation, there might be some vegans that would rather avoid taffy due to the use of sugar.
Sugar may not necessarily be non-vegan, but it can be. Depending on how the sugar was processed, sugar can possibly be non-vegan when it is processed with a material called bone char. However, due to the uncertainty surrounding the ingredient, it is typically considered a gray area ingredient. This means some vegans are okay with sugar while some are not.
It is also highly recommended to determine the ingredients in taffy because other ingredients can be problematic as well. Some taffy can be made with butter, which would make it instantly non-vegan. Other recipes would have artificial coloring agents – another gray area ingredient due to ethical reasons.
The problem with taffy is that it is not standardized, thus the recipes that make up taffy can differ from one another. This means while vegan taffy can exist, non-vegan taffy exists as well.
For example, a recipe from Betty Crocker states that taffy is composed of sugar, cornstarch, light corn syrup, water, butter or margarine, salt, and vanilla (1). Since this recipe calls for butter, then this recipe is not vegan because butter is an animal product.
On the other hand, other recipes for taffy can simply include sugar, light corn syrup, and water (2). Compared to the previous recipe, this recipe is definitely more vegan.
As a rule of thumb, it is recommended to be mindful of the ingredients found in food and beverage products when practicing veganism.
Here are ingredients to look out for when deciding on taffy.
Dairy is the term used to refer to milk and other products that require milk as their principal ingredient such as butter, cheese, yogurt, whey, and so on. Although milk can be obtained from a wide range of mammals, commercial milk primarily comes from cows.
Unfortunately, milk and dairy products cannot be vegan since milk is directly obtained from an animal. Specifically, butter is known to be used in some recipes for taffy. Hence, it is recommended to make sure the ingredients for vegan taffy do not include butter.
Aside from milk being a product directly obtained from animals, many vegans and animal rights activists abstain from consuming milk and dairy products due to the inhumane treatment of cows in the dairy industry (3).
It has been well documented that many dairy farms subject the cows to unethical conditions. Firstly, female cows are purposedly impregnated to induce milk production. Once the cows give birth, the offspring are often separated from the mothers to maximize the amount of milk that can be collected. It is also common to see cows in dairy farms to be enclosed in pens that do not allow the cows freedom to move about.
Sugar is a common ingredient that can be found in many food and beverage products. Primarily used as a sweetener, sugar can also be used in preservatives such as in the case of various jams. Although not a non-vegan product per se, there are certain circumstances around sugar that make some vegans behave cautiously around the ingredient.
It is logical to assume that sugar is vegan since it comes from a plant source such as sugarcane or sugar beets. However, it still depends on the processes involved in sugar production.
Once the sugar is extracted from the plant source, it is typically subjected to various refinement processes. Although crude sugar is edible as well, refined sugar is considered to be more appealing to the majority of consumers. These additional refinement processes make the sugar whiter and finer.
One process used in sugar refinement is filtration. As the sugar juice is passed through a filter, debris and non-sugar components are removed – thus, the purity of the product is effectively increased. There are several ways to filter sugar. The problem is that some companies filter their sugar through bone char – the charred skeletal remains of different animals (4). Although bone char is an ideal material for filtration due to its cost-effectiveness, sugar processed with bone char cannot be considered vegan since it is an animal product.
Another problem with bone char and the sugar industry is that details such as refinement processes are not the types of information that are readily available for consumers. Oftentimes, consumers have to contact companies directly for such information. The problem is further exacerbated when sugar is used in food products because large food manufacturers could have multiple sources for sugar to meet their demands.
Due to the uncertainty that surrounds the production processes of sugar, many vegans tend to avoid it as a precaution. Fortunately, vegans from other parts of the world are less worried about their sugar because the practice of using bone char is more prevalent in the US.
Color is an important part of the consumer experience, especially for certain products such as fruit juices, energy drinks, candies, and so on. It is also important for sweets that are typically marketed towards children. Thus, it should come as no surprise why it would be common to find food coloring agents used in taffy.
There are many varieties of food coloring agents used in the food industry, many of which are perfectly appropriate for vegan diets. However, there is a certain group of food coloring agents that are commonly considered problematic in the vegan community: artificial coloring agents.
Artificial coloring agents are substances that are completely synthesized in laboratories from highly rudimentary materials. These are completely devoid of animal products. Thus, artificial coloring agents can be considered vegan from a dietary perspective. However, ethical vegans would argue.
Since artificial coloring agents are completely synthetic, they have to undergo a series of tests and standards to be approved for human consumption. They have to pass the necessary tests to get approval from various food safety authorities that would allow these substances to be used in the industry. Although safety is indeed a priority, the problem vegans have with artificial coloring agents is the type of tests used.
It has been extensively documented that artificial coloring agents undergo animal testing or safety testing using animal models. Animal testing is considered highly inhumane due to the conditions forced upon the animals. Most animals involved either die during the process or are killed for data. The use of animal models in safety testing may have been necessary before but the method can already be effectively replaced with modern alternatives such as the use of cell models and in silico studies (i.e., the use of computer models and algorithms).