Gelatin isn’t vegan (or vegetarian!), but you may be wondering why vegans and vegetarians don’t eat gelatin products, like Jello or marshmallows. Let’s talk about what gelatin is and some veg-friendly alternatives to common gelatin products.
What Is Gelatin?
Gelatin is an ingredient used as a thickener and as the base for certain sweet treats, like gummy candy and marshmallows. It’s why jello is firm and jiggly, and it’s used in cakes, pies and even some low-fat dairy products to make creamy foods thicker.
So why don’t vegans eat gelatin? Because it’s made from ground up animal skin, bones, tendons and ligaments. Usually, gelatin is made from pigs, but kosher gelatin is made from fish parts. Some kosher gelatins, like Lieber’s unflavored gel, are made from plant-based sources.
To make gelatin, producers cut up animal parts into tiny pieces. Then, they use hot water to remove most of the fat and to cook the ground up bones, ligaments, skin and tendons. The cooked meal sits in an acid or akali bath for several days to release the collagen. Then, the bits of animal parts are boiled in super-heated water, and the extra liquid is evaporated off, leaving solid chunks of gelatin behind. Those get ground down to create the gelatin powder used to make jello, gummy candy, marshmallows and other gelatin-containing foods.
Gelatin is a byproduct of the meat industry, like leather. Vegans and vegetarians don’t wear leather or eat gelatin, because animals have to die to create these products.
Most often, we use gelatin in desserts, so the vegan gelatin alternatives listed below are generally not health foods. Jello and marshmallows are sometimes foods, whether they’re made from animal bones or seaweed.
Vegan Gelatin Alternatives
Luckily, you don’t need animal bones to enjoy a roasted marshmallow, thicken yogurt or even to make jello-like treats. Here are some vegan alternatives to gelatin and gelatin-containing products.
This seaweed-derived ingredient gels like gelatin, but no animals are harmed to make it. To replace gelatin with agar agar in a recipe, you need to dissolve it in hot water first. Here’s how to firm up two cups of liquid with agar agar:
- Combine 2 cups of your liquid with 3 tablespoons agar agar flakes or 2 tablespoons agar agar powder. Soak for 15 minutes.
- Transfer to a pot along with any other ingredients your recipe calls for, and simmer until the flakes or powder dissolves completely. Pour into your serving container.
When it cools, you’ll have jello. If you’re using agar agar to make something thicker, just dissolve the agar agar in a small amount of liquid, then add it to your recipe, just like gelatin. You can usually use the same amount of agar agar powder to replace gelatin in a recipe, so if it calls for a tablespoon of gelatin, use a tablespoon of agar agar dissolved in a little bit of hot liquid.
If you want to make a jello dessert, you can also just buy a box of vegan jello. If jello is what you’re going for, this is so easy. Just follow the package directions, and you’re good to go. Vegan Essentials has a few vegan jello options available, both flavored and unflavored.
If you’re looking to make a jello salad, like the kind you ate at picnics as a kid, I’d recommend following a recipe. This one from Fried Dandelions (pictured above) and this from Spabettie are both great options for recreating those nostalgic desserts without the animal parts.
Marshmallows and Jelly Candies
There are a few companies making vegan marshmallows and jelly candies now! Here are my favorite plant-based alternatives to gelatin sweets:
- Dandies – These vegan marshmallows are easy to find. I’ve even seen them at my regular grocery store.
- Trader Joe’s – TJ’s vegan marshmallows are seasonal, and it’s unclear when the season begins and ends. Snatch these up when you see them, though, because they’re definitely your most budget-friendly vegan marshmallows!
- Sweet & Sara – This company was the first ever to make vegan marshmallows. It’s a small, family business located in Long Island City, NY. They have really fun marshmallow varieties. I like their strawberry marshmallows and the toasted coconut ones.
- Surf Sweets – Not all Surf Sweet products are vegan, but the Fruity Bears, Sour Berry Bears, Sour Worms, Fruity Hearts, Peach Rings and Watermelon Rings are!
- Annie’s Homegrown – Annie’s uses tapioca syrup and pectin instead of gelatin to thicken their fruit gummies.
- Tasty Brand – These gummy treats say vegan right on the label.